A Ranking of Disney’s Best Female Villains (Based on Extremely Scientific Methods)
Gather your childhood nightmares, fellow 90s kids.
*** Spoilers for pretty much the whole Disney and Pixar canons, so be warned just in case. ***
As with every self-respecting nineties kid, I do have “growing up watching Disney Animated Classics” as a core personality trait. They were some of my first encounters with complex storytelling, musicals, and brilliant heroines, who would become guiding beacons for the rest of my life (looking at you, Mulan), and also, spectacular villains—who made me laugh and terrified me to no end.
After all, Disney Villains are just as iconic—and as marketable—as Disney Princesses. Their character designs are uniquely recognizable and their songs are just as catchy. Plus, they have the bonus of being villains, which makes them immediately more charming and fascinating. Or maybe that’s just because of the queer-codedness of so many of them.
When it came to making this ranking, I ended up overthinking it by a long shot. When you argue with me in the comments, know that this was no haphazard list. I questioned everything: Should I rank the characters by how powerful they were? How evil? How much they scared me as a child?
I ended up setting guidelines for myself and creating my very own ranking system—so here it is:
- All characters must be animated: Which means no live-action evil queens like Susan Sarandon’s Queen Narissa in Enchanted.
- They must be the main antagonist of their respective stories: So no Shenzi from The Lion King, since she acts more as a hench-hyena to Scar.
- Each villain will be ranked on a score from 1-5 (in four categories): From one being, sneered at a puppy once, to five being, decided to make a coat out of said puppy.
- The categories are: Motive (How solid or cool was their reasoning? Were their actions backed up and supported?), Character Design (How iconic is it? Are they immediately recognizable?), Fear Factor In-Universe (Are they funnier or do they actually scare the pants off the characters), and finally, Fear Factor If Real (Meaning, if these characters existed in our world, how many chills would they give you? To give you an idea of how I ranked this, I dub the Voldemort-type less scary, because it’s an archetype so absolute that you’re unlikely to encounter them in day-to-day life. But the Umbridge-type, people who might not be “ground-shaking lords of darkness” but feel like they have the same motivations and grounded horror as actual people, those to me are much more scary. And then, I did award (up to) three bonus points if the villainess performs a song during their movie—and if that song slaps. As I said, this is scientific.
Okay here we go—the Female, Disney Villains ranked from worst to best. Let me know in the comments what your own list would look like!
11. Yzma (Emperor’s New Groove)
I was terribly sad when I realized Yzma was in last place—but the method is the method and it must be followed. Yzma, the advisor to Emperor Kuzco, ranks very high in both motive (wanting power, which is always debatable but at least it’s understandable) and iconic-ness (the Italian dub of Emperor’s New Groove is forever seared into my brain). But she’s not particularly scary, not even in the movie world. She’s definitely one of the “funny villains,” something that also affected her “real-life chills” score. Does that mean that she’s an awful villain? Absolutely not. Yzma is one of the many parts that make Emperor’s New Groove the delightfully hilarious movie that it is—and like every good villain, she’s also the one that sets the story in motion. There would be no llama without Yzma, and there would be no story without that llama. Sorry, Yzma, you can collect your complimentary coupons, and parking discount, and head home, in last place.
10. Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
The Queen of Hearts, the main villain of 1951’s Alice in Wonderland, had a score that was neck-and-neck with Yzma. So, why is she ranked higher? While the Queen’s motive is weaker than Yzma’s—she’s the villain because she’s the villain, and the movie doesn’t bother with any deeper explanation than that. I actually find her a bit scarier. A moody, temperamental ruler with a penchant for cutting heads left and right? Even if the story generally plays it for laughs most of the time, it’s still something to be frightened of, both inside and outside the story.
9. Te Kā (Moana)
Yes, Te Kā is really Te Fiti and Te Fiti is a force for good—her return at the end of the movie marks the end of the growing darkness. But Te Kā was a fearsome thing to behold without her heart, which means she has definitely earned a spot on this list. Her motive is the only one with full marks—Maui stole something precious from her that completely transformed who she was, so her raining flames and smoke down on everyone is perfectly understandable. She’s also particularly scary in-universe, and in no small part thanks to the amazing job the animators did on her character design, you can almost feel how incandescent she is during the final battle. She doesn’t get a lot of “real-life chills” points, though, what are the chances you’ll ever meet a sentient volcano? She’s too much of a larger-than-life villain to live anywhere outside her narrative universe.
8. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
There’s this shot of Lady Tremaine narrowing her eyes while the scene gets darker (but her eyes keep shining green) which absolutely terrified me as a child. Cinderella’s evil stepmother is as iconic as they come, but overall her marks are pretty average. Her motive is solid but not the strongest out there, as is her in-universe scariness level. She does get an almost perfect ranking in “real-life chills” though, because I do not have any trouble imagining a version of her strolling around the real world doing damage to her stepchildren.
7. Madame Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Madame Mim is another one who used to fright me a lot when I was little and watching The Sword in the Stone. It was something about the scene where she turns into a cat and chases Arthur the bird around. And also, the transformations she chooses as she duels Merlin. She still resides in the middle of the ranking, with a so-and-so motive—she, again, is one of those villains who’s evil because she’s evil. And she’s so-and-so in iconic-ness (probably due to her movie not being one of the most famous in the Disney canon). She’s also probably still a borderline “funny villain.” She does get bonus points for having a song, though—one of the only three characters on this list who does.
6. Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
The Rescuers is a movie that remains a bit in the background when compared to other Disney classics, but its main villain, Madame Medusa, definitely holds her own against all the villainesses on this list. She’s obsessed with getting her hands on a massive diamond, and she does not bat an eye at using a child for her purpose. Her scores are mostly average, as for all the other characters around this area of the ranking, but she does get full marks for the “real-life chills” category. And why wouldn’t she, when she’s shoving Penny down a dangerous well all the time, and threatening her with crocodiles if she doesn’t do as she’s told?
5. The Evil Queen (Snow-White and the Seven Dwarves)
The Evil Queen needs no introductions—her name is an archetype in and of itself! Her iconic-ness and in-universe scariness are definitely her strongest suits, since there’s really no mistaking her character design and she’s definitely pulling no punches when it comes to eliminating Snow White. Her motive could use some more definition, though, and her “real-life chills” scale is affected by her being such a famous and stereotypical villainess. She couldn’t live anywhere else but in a fairytale.
4. Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Cruella de Vil and the Evil Queen were also very close, but the former ranks higher because she’s not as much an archetypical villain as the latter. Cruella is larger-than-life, yes, and also unhinged most of the time she’s onscreen, but she’s also much more realistic when compared to a villainess straight out of the most classic of fairytales. Cruella has a much higher “real-life chills” score. And she harms puppies. So, I mean, her place in the top five is more than justified.
3. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
We’re really in the endgame now that we’re talking about the top three spots. And this is where the big guns come out to play, Maleficent being one of them. She terrified the living daylights out of me as a child, so much so that I still feel a sense of unease watching the scene where she lures Aurora into pricking her finger on the spindle. It was something about her character design, her tranquil voice which shifted into bursts of rage, her green magic…she was, and is, the stuff all the best villains are made of. She got full marks for both iconic-ness and in-universe scariness, and stopped only a point away from getting a five out of five for her motive as well. Look, I definitely respect doing everything out of spite. Her “real-life chills” factor was what brought her overall score down—like the Evil Queen, Maleficent is a bit of an archetypical villain and couldn’t exist anywhere else besides a fairytale.
2. Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Mother Gothel’s arrival in the canon of Disney villains is quite recent, Tangled came out only in 2010, but she’s such a masterfully created antagonist she deserves the silver medal position. Her motive is solid and in line with her character; she’s scary both in-universe and even scarier when brought out into real life, what with her being a master manipulator and gaslighter. Every scene she has with Rapunzel is just red flag after red flag. She also got points on Maleficent for her song, even though she didn’t get full marks for “Mother Knows Best.” Only one song got the full three points, and it is comes next.
1. Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Ursula is the undisputed victor—because everything about her is just legendary. Her character design? Amazing. Her song? No one could hear “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and not think it’s one of the best villain songs of the entire canon. Her motive? Solid. Her in-universe scariness? I have never once forgotten the way she grows and rises out of the sea during the final battle of the movie. She’s the perfect balance of funny and frightening, with the right amount of iconic lines. And also, what has got to be the best evil laughter ever heard in a Disney movie.
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