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Great Female Movie Villains: Top Ten Terrifying Women

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorWould you rather be trapped in a room with Nurse Ratched, Annie Wilkes or the Wicked Witch of the West? Tough call. ~ Jonny Sweet

In another article, Top 10 Movie Villains, I discussed the top 10 movie villains of all time, focussing entirely on male characters.

In the interests of equality, and to give females their due as being an equally (if not more) terrifying species, here is the equivalent list of female baddies that will send a shiver up your spine.

As with the guys, most fairytale characters and femme fatales from Bond films have been omitted, since they are too detached from reality to really qualify as scary in my eyes.

So without further ado, here are my personal top 10 great female movie villains.

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10. Faye Dunaway – Joan Crawford

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about this character is that it’s based on a real person.

The film Mommie Dearest was adapted from the autobiography of screen legend Joan Crawford’s real life daughter… and if the book and film are anything to go by, she was far from dearest.

Shrubbery sabotage, coat hanger destruction and irrational scolding of her daughter makes Crawford seem like the mother from Hell.

9. Sissy Spacek – Carrie

From the mother from Hell to the daughter from Hell, Sissy Spacek’s performance in the classic version of Stephen King’s novel of the same name is truly terrifying.

Whilst normally the characters in horror films are too outlandish to really strike a chord with me, Carrie’s humanity and fragility, up until the final scenes, brings home the terror of her final acts.

The cruel pranks played by her classmates could also clearly label them as the villains of the piece, but all the fear is derived from Carrie as she explodes in spectacular fashion in the denouement of the movie.

8. Imelda Staunton – Dolores Umbridge

Harry Potter might qualify as too much in the realm of fantasy for some people – and it did rule Snape out of making my list for the male villains.

However, something about the chilling cruelty with which Dolores Umbridge dishes out punishments – especially forcing Harry to scratch out letters into his skin – really got under my own skin.

Belatrix Lestrange, brilliantly played by Helena Bonham Carter, was another strong shout for one of the greatest female movie villains of all time, but in the end, Umbridge’s quiet insidiousness unsettled me more than Lestrange’s cackling pomposity.

7. Glenn Close – Alex Forrest

The affair gone wrong is a common theme, especially when it turns from a passionate mutual attraction into a violent stalking session.

Having a whole new phrase coined about your character certainly demonstrates that it made an impact, and that’s exactly what happened with Close’s ‘Bunny Boiler’ in Fatal Attraction.

Michael Douglas certainly regretted playing away in his wife’s absence after Forrest’s fixation on him took a turn for the manic.

6. Sharon Stone – Catherine Tramell

Michael Douglas definitely has no luck with his choice of partners for love affairs.

After escaping the clutches of Close in Fatal Attraction, he again falls for a psychopath in the shape of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (find more great similar films here).

The ending of the film makes her character all the more chilling – I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it for those yet to watch the classic film.

5. Marion Cotillard – Mal

Christopher Nolan’s 2010 thriller Inception is riddled with intriguing subplots, unexpected twists and dreams within dreams within dreams.

Yet looked at objectively, it lacks a real villain of the piece; step forward Marion Cotillard.

Playing DiCaprio’s wife, Cotillard pops up at the most inconvenient moments, throwing herself from balconies, attacking Ellen Page and becoming almost synonymous with the furious power and destruction of a steam train.

Her chilling delivery makes the character all the more potent.

4. Margaret Hamilton – The Wicked Witch of the West

Again, The Wizard of Oz’s fairytale nature might make it seem an unlikely choice for a list ostensibly distancing itself from such genres.

Again, however, Margaret Hamilton’s terrifying cackles haunted me as a child and will probably continue to do so until the day my own boots curl up at the toes.

The fact that a whole musical, Wicked!, has been written to try to justify her callous nature speaks volumes about the far-reaching effects of this particular character: one of the most classic female movie villains of all time.

3. Kathy Bates – Annie Wilkes

Misery tells the story of a successful novelist who happens to crash his car right near the home of his self-proclaimed “number one fan”.

All appears to be well, with Wilkes helping to nurse the injured author back to help, until she realises he plans to kill off her favourite character… and she resorts to perhaps killing off him.

A disturbing tale of hero worship and character idolisation gone too far, Bates puts in a great performance as the deranged fanatic.

2. Juliette Lewis – Mallory Knox

I mentioned in my other article that Quentin Tarantino has a flair for creating memorable villains, and though he didn’t direct Natural Born Killers, he did write the story upon which it was based.

Juliette Lewis plays the perfect counterpart to Woody Harrelson’s deranged Mickey, with the pair embarking on spree after spree of senseless murder.

The psychedelic and manic cinematography of Oliver Stone, along with other loose canon characters played by Robert Downey Jr and Tom Sizemore, make the film one to remember, and Mallory a character to fear.

1. Louise Fletcher – Nurse Ratched

My most terrifying female villain is… a nurse.

Jack Nicholson gave one of his finest performances as kooky upstart Randall P. McMurphy as he tries to inject some life into the lacklustre nursing home where Nurse Ratched works.

Her dealings with McMurphy are like a game of chess; the outcome of which leaves me sick to the stomach and terrified of her ice-queen efficiency and ruthlessness.

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Which Female Villain gives you the Heebie-Jeebies?

Quite apart from missing out Bond femme fatales and comic book villainesses, there must be many more dastardly female characters I haven’t seen or remembered here.

Leave your best female movie villains of all time below, so that the rest of us can develop complexes about them as well. 

I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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