Handsome Jack standing with arms folded in a poster for "Borderlands"
(Valve)

The 10 Best Video Game Villains, Ranked

A story is only as good as its villain. Did you think that video games were an exception to the rule? To quote someone on this list, would you kindly remove that notion from your mind? Games are made good by gameplay and great by villains, and these are the ten best villains of all time, ranked.

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10. Bowser – Super Mario Bros

Bowser in the trailer for the Super Mario RPG remake
(Nintendo)

Bowser is not the most evil being on this list. He’s not the most powerful. He’s not the most charismatic. But what does this dinosaur turtle monster have that the other character present here don’t? Staying power. Bowser has been around. He’s the oldest villain on this list, and has been torturing Mario since the very beginning of gaming. He’s just a total jerk. A bully. A princess-napper. An eternal thorn in the Mushroom Kingdom’s side. Why does he do it? Love? Power? No, I think it’s all for Mario’s attention. He has some deep seating feelings that need to be unpacked.

9. Pyramid Head – Silent Hill 2

The villain Pyramid Head in 'Return to Silent Hill'
(Aleksandar Letic)

The mere image of Pyramid Head is a form of psychological torture. He terrifies people who haven’t even played Silent Hill 2! And honestly, the sight of him makes people not want to pick up the sticks in the first place! A bloody man with pyramid-shaped headgear who drags around a hunk of sharp iron too massive to be called a sword. Never has there been a video game villain capable of such terror based on looks alone. But what he represents is even worse. Pyramid Head is the desire for self-punishment made manifest. The scariest aspect of PH is that the protagonist of Silent Hill 2 actually wants to be caught due to his own feelings of guilt and shame. Pyramid Head is a creature created by self-hatred, what could be worse?

8. Frank Fontaine/Atlas – Bioshock

BioShock Collection featuring the Rapture.
(2K Games)

Atlas started as your best friend in Bioshock. A helpful navigator with a soothing Irish lilt that always asked to do things with the charming phrase “Would you kindly?” You don’t find out until later in the game that the question is actually an unignorable demand. Atlas later reveals himself to be the gangster Frank Fontaine, who is attempting to take over the underwater city of Rapture and use you as the brainwashed pawn to do it. The reveal that “would you kindly” is actually a mind control phrase for your character’s psyche is shocking because of how deep a betrayal it is. Of all the villains in gaming, few pretend to be your friend from the beginning. Frank Fontaine is a special kind of evil.

7. Handsome Jack – The Borderlands Series

Handsome Jack standing with arms folded in a poster for "Borderlands"
(Gearbox)

Handsome Jack. The CEO of the Hyperion Corporation attempting to place the lawless Pandora under corporate control. He represents the evils of unchecked capitalism taken to its ultimate ends, a businessman who is able to use his untold wealth to become a planetary dictator. Detestable as he is, he is arguably the most entertaining character in the Borderlands saga. With lines like “I just bought a pony made of diamonds because I’m rich” and “stop shooting yourself! stop shooting yourself!” it’s hard not to crack a smile. But his true villainy comes with the line “I could have saved this planet, I could have restored order”. The path to hell is fraught with good intentions, after all.

6. Vaas Montenegro – Far Cry 3

The villain of "Far Cry 3" holding a machete while his goons look on
(Ubisoft)

Vaas Montenegro was a landmark moment for gaming. It was the first time in history where a video game character’s onscreen appearance actually felt like a performance. A true moment of acting greatness worthy of a videogame Oscar. Vaas’s dread-inducing presence comes from the raw talent of actor Michael Mando, who appeared as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul. The sociopathic pirate seethes with a cool malice that is both mesmerizing and revolting to behold.

5. Sephiroth – Final Fantasy 7

Sephiroth smiles down menacingly with one dark wing extended in "Final Fantasy 7"
(Square Enix)

While the evil clown Kefka Palazzo from Final Fantasy VI is far more evil, Final Fantasy VII‘s Sephiroth is, by and large,e the most iconic villain in the franchise. The One Winged Angel is the perfect character foil for protagonist Cloud Strife, showing the divergent paths that participants in the Shinra Corporation’s SOLDIER program were capable of taking. His nine-foot-long katana is as graceful as it is menacing, and he uses it to create one of the most shocking moments in video game history: the violent death of Cloud’s comrade Aerith Gainsborough. A bigger jaw-dropper there never was.

4. Majora – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Skull Kid wears Majora's Mask and floats through the air surrounded by fairies in "Majora's Mask"
(Nintendo)

Ganon may be the most enduring Legend of Zelda villain, but he’s far from the best. Ganon is the dark side of existence, that inevitable evil that comes as a shadow to good. He has little character motivation, and hungers for power and destruction because the plot demands it. Majora on the other hand? Majora is built different. Ganondorf thirsts for power, but Majora thirsts for suffering. The dark god’s entire existence is based around the suffering and torture of other beings. Why? Because it enjoys it. Majora twists an innocent child into summoning the moon to crash down upon the planet purely for the yucks. It doesn’t have a master plan. No grand design. It doesn’t want anything but death and pain for its own sake. Ganon is bad. Majora is pure evil.

3. The U.S. Government – Metal Gear Solid 3

Big Boss salutes a grave with a tear running down his cheek in "Metal Gear Solid 3"
(Konami)

A running theme in the Metal Gear Solid franchise is don’t get involved with the government. During a covert American mission on Soviet soil, a renegade Russian officer launched a nuclear warhead that blew up a Russian military base. The Soviet government was looking for someone to blame. To avoid an international incident, the Americans offered up decorated patriot The Boss as a scapegoat. The Boss took the fall for the explosion, and America’s secret meddling in Russian affairs died with her. The Boss’s betrayal by her own government caused her student Naked Snake to become disgusted with his nation, leaving it to create his own paramilitary organization that would later threaten the world with a nuclear holocaust of their own. The gut-wrenching reveal at the end of the game? You were just a pawn of the American government too. It’s enough to make anyone so fed up with their country that they create their own private military nation in the middle of the ocean. And that’s exactly what Big Boss did.

2. GLaDOS – Portal 2

Chell facing GLaDOS in Portal 2.
(Valve)

Diabolically evil. Darkly hilarious. Kinda hot. GLaDOS is one of the greatest villains ever conceived in gaming. Portal 2‘s renegade AI is with you from the very beginning, the robotic devil on your shoulder that cynically jokes about your shortcomings and failures. Her words are so cutting that some of them were actually removed from the game for being too mean. There’s a rumor that some of her dialogue, which displays I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream levels of computerized hate, were cut for making playtesters cry. Diabolical.

1. Dutch van der Linde – Red Dead Redemption 1 and 2

Dutch van der Linde smokes a cigar in a tent in "Red Dead Redemption 2"
(Rockstar)

The Red Dead Redemption series is full of villainous bastards. Micah Bell. Edgar Ross. Colm O’Driscoll. But the most complex of them all? The man who was once a hero: Dutch van der Linde. Dutch began his outlaw career with noble intentions, to create a society independent of the American government, where men and women of all cultures and creeds could live equal and free beyond the yoke of the law. Then he took a bump in the head in a trolley accident, and things went south quick. Dutch became paranoid and violent. He began to believe that his trusted friends sought to betray and undermine him. His megalomania and suspicion ended up toppling the utopia the Van der Linde gang sought to establish. And Dutch? He died alone and half-crazy in the frozen mountains, a shell of the man he once was. Perhaps the greatest hero-to-villain arc in all of gaming.


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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.