For some of us, Disney movies are our introduction to the wonderful world of Cinema. Because of this, the villains in Disney movies may be the first villains we ever experience. They frighten us, make us cry, and possibly scar us for the rest of our childhoods (I’m looking at you, Ursula!). For me, Disney villains were a perfect hybrid of horror and awesomeness. Disney movies weren’t good unless the villain was.
If you had asked me my favorite villains as a kid, my list would have been completely different. I probably would have gone on which ones scared me the most, but that, in some ways, isn’t fair. Sure… it’s important in a disney movie for a villain to be “scary.” But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned there’re different kinds of scary.
My top ten Disney Villains were extremely difficult to come up with. In the end, I weighed a few different things to determine who should be on my list. 1) just how scary are they? 2) I took their overall plans into account. How diabolical are they? 3) Did they actually succeed? I think villains are scarier if they actually succeed at stuff and for a while we can see their vision, and 4) Their personalities: Do they have a moral compass, regret, etc?
** I must also mention these might not be my favorite Disney villains. Hades, Gaston, and Yzma get no love on this list… **
Honorable Mention #1: Hans from Frozen (2013)
Ok, so go with me on this. Hans doesn’t seem that evil the entire movie. In fact, we think he’s a good guy. But once he’s revealed as the real “villain,” his actions become clear. He had an entire plan to essentially get rid of two sisters and rule Arrendale for himself. Things go awry when Elsa goes all ice crazy, and he’s left to tweak his plans. This guy is nothing but slimy and incredibly able to go with the flow. So why doesn’t he make my actual list? Because despite the fact he was willing to kill 2 sisters to gain power, I honestly don’t think he would have ruled Arrendale as an evil King. He probably would have been good at it. He probably would have actually cared about the people. For that, Hans isn’t as evil as he seems.
11) Shere Khan from The Jungle Book
Everyone can admit it: Tigers are bad-ass. They’re one of my favorite animals, but that’s beside the point. When The Jungle Book was written, Tigers had a stigma, which i’m sure still exists in India. They were man-eating horrible, villainous creatures. Shere Khan is the fears of the people embodied in a single character. Yes, it’s true we don’t see him for most of the movie. That doesn’t matter. His name is mentioned throughout, as is what he will do to Mowgli if he finds him. We understand by the time the tiger shows up exactly what his personality is like. He’s ruthless, has a seemingly blind hatred of man, and wants nothing more than to get rid of them. And if killing one boy can help bring him closer to that goal, he will do it. There’s also something about the tiger and how he handles himself. He’s confident and smooth, calm but demeaning. He exudes this feeling of uneasiness. He’s not in the movie long, and yes, he’s only trying to kill one boy, but he’s done it before, and possibly worse. If anything, it’s his demeanor and his past actions that have gotten him this reputation, and those are the same things that have gotten him on this list.
10) Shan Yu from Mulan
This is possibly the only Disney villain that frightens with actions instead of words. I think this guy utters a total of 20 lines in the entirety of the film. I have to be honest: when this movie came out, I thought this was a horrible villain. He wasn’t scary, you barely saw him, and he seemed easy to beat. Then I grew up and understood just how awful this villain really is. This guy gets on my list because of his plan (and to a lesser extent his quiet confidence, much like Shere Khan). This is a guy who is invading China and KILLING everyone who gets in the way. Entire villages are flattened. Children are killed with no remorse. This guy wants to rule, will stop at nothing to get it, and wants to take out the emperor with a huge audience just to show how frightening he can be. He was in the movie a perfect amount to convey what he wants. He puts his scariness into actions, not words. That, in some ways, is better than a villain who talks a ton. Plus he survives an avalanche.
9) Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
In a movie where the titular character has the least lines of any Disney protagonist ever, the villain sure makes up for it. Other than the fairies, Maleficent really is the focus of this film. While it’s true we don’t quite know her backstory (and I don’t count the shitty live action movie and you shouldn’t either!), this is a villain that is just fun to watch because we know something had to have happened to make her the way she is. While my last two villains have been quiet but scary, Maleficent is just flat out scary! Her character design, her residence, her confidence, the fact she turns into a freaking dragon! This woman is someone you don’t want to mess with. Her plan seems like one of revenge, and go figure, it actually works! It’s only the fairies that saved it from killing Aurora in the first place. Otherwise she would have won! Every scene with her is memorable, and she is honestly the only reason I can stand this movie. (plus that scene in her castle with her minions dancing around the fire? how did I NOT get nightmares from that??). Maleficent. Is. Awesome.
8) King Candy/Turbo from Wreck-it Ralph
Alright, I can hear the sighs now. “Really?? How is this guy on your top 10?” But seriously, hear me out. I didn’t even mention that this guy was the villain in my review of Wreck-it Ralph, because it is one of the movie’s biggest twists. Turbo was in a racing game that was popular, and once he wasn’t he grew jealous and started showing up in other games. His game got unplugged, and instead of dying with his game, he infiltrated another one and literally re-wrote it so that he would always come out on top. He took the characters lives, changed them and erased their memories. He exiled the original ruler of Sugar rush to believe she was a mistake. He has all these rules in place to make sure that he will always stay ruler. And the whole time he acts like he’s got everyone’s best interests in his heart. But he doesn’t. He’s selfish and sneakily evil. And sometimes that’s worse than just flat out evil. At least in my opinion.
7) Cruela DeVil from 101 Dalmatians
I can’t have a villain list without Cruela on it. No, she’s not planning on taking over a country or a world (real or virtual). She’s not seeking revenge for a wrong-doing or something that happened in her past. She’s not jealous. But all those reasons are what make her so scary. This woman is evil just for the sake of it, and it’s like she doesn’t even realize or care. In her mind, she thinks that taking PUPPIES and SKINNING them is perfectly acceptable. She thinks kidnapping them is normal. This movie and this villain capitalizes on our moral compasses by creating a character that acts exactly the opposite. She grows more and more unstable as the movie progresses, at the end just seeming absolutely bonkers. While the rest of us are saying “they’re just dogs, get over it!” she’s believing this is the worst thing that is happening in her life. Her character design is brilliant, and she’s just…. crazy.
6) Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective
Alright, I admit it. This one may be a personal choice. I LOVE Ratigan, but I’m gonna try to justify my decision. We have a villain with a diabolical plan: he wants to take over the world. Nevermind he’s a rat (er.. mouse…). Why can’t he take over the world? That’s a pretty big order, but Ratigan is smart enough that you can see him accomplishing his goal. He’s not just some run of the mill dumb villain. He’s calm and collected in the face of adversity (for the most part). He really is a mastermind that has everything laid out in front of him. He’s not afraid to kill anyone, and does numerous times in the movie. Not only does he kill them, he allows them to get tortured and mutilated by his cat, Felicia. He also tortures Basil and kidnaps the toymaker. He ALSO goes bat-shit crazy at the end of the movie, proving to everyone that even those that are calm and collected can break when things don’t go their way. He’s an great villain.
5) Dr. Facilier/the Shadowman from The Princess and the Frog
I feel like a lot of people pass this movie over, and with it they pass over a really great villain. I prefer to call him the Shadowman, because it sounds cooler. This villain has a lot going for him. His diabolical plan (like so many in the Disney-verse) is to take over the city of New Orleans, but he also wants to release all the evil spirits to help him. And this is why the Shadowman is a little bit above the others in my list: he deals with Voodoo evil spirits. It’s a whole level that I really think works for this guy. Because in all honesty, The Shadowman is a little… well… let’s just say we don’t get the feeling he’s a smart guy. It’s only his dealings with the spirits that really turn him into a legit villain. But he’s willing to sell his own soul to get what he wants. He’s willing to kidnap and even kill a prince. He has one of the best songs we’ve seen in a while (one that legitimately frightened me in the theater… or at least gave me chills… and I was 23 at the time…). He’s not smart but he’s confident, and an incredibly smooth talker. A feeling of uneasiness just drips off this guy, and that’s part of the reason he’s all the way up at #5 on my list.
4) Jafar from Aladdin
Ahhhh Jafar. In this villain we have a lot of things that have made our other villains on this list so great: confidence, a diabolical take-over plan, and a lot of smooth talking. We also have an amazing character design and a voice that just drips with evilness. There is just nothing about this guy that is good. Again we have no idea why he wants to take over Agrabah, but it doesn’t matter. He just wants to be sultan and nothing is going to stop him. He has a perfect plan that goes awry, but unlike a lot of other villains, he figures out what happened and actually fixes it to “win” at some point in the movie. This is why Jafar is higher than a lot of other villains. We actually see his plan, and, well, it’s not too great. He punishes those who had him in his place before. He paints the sky red (that’s scary right?) He’s just got a scary vibe to him too.
3) Ursula from The Little Mermaid
I can’t even believe this but I completely forgot about the Sea Witch when I started writing this list (that’s why it’s now a top 11 instead of top 10…) How could I forget about her??? Honestly, I had her lower in numbers earlier, but had to move her up to #3 after really thinking about it. Here’s the thing about Ursula. 1) She’s scary as hell. Her design is perfect, her voice is perfect, her “setting” wonderful. When we see Ariel go to her lair… nightmares! 2) She is totally just taking advantage of something that happened to walk right into her lap. While it’s true she was keeping her eel-eyes on Ariel, she didn’t actively do anything except have Flotsam and Jetsam give her a little push to get her to visit. She has ALWAYS had her eye on King Triton, but dear sweet lord she has been extremely patient about it. In the meantime, she has taken advantage of those less fortunate and taken advantage of them, literally turning them into worms. How has no one caught her? does anyone realize all these merpeople are missing? Somehow she can operate without being detected. Seriously! Ursula is badass. And again, at the end, she is scary as shit (my 4 year old self still can’t get over it). She takes advantage of people, She’s smart (I mean she has people sign a contract so it doesn’t even seem like it’s her fault if they fail!!), and she’s #3 on this list.
2) Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
While a lot of people would put Ursula or Jafar or some villain like that as #2 and #1, I’m choosing to go a different way, at least for the second spot. Frollo is like a majorly amped up version of Shan Yu. He’s cool, calm, collected, but my god is this guy messed up! In the first few minutes of the movie he arrests a number of people, kills another and attempts to murder a baby. His hatred of those that are different (gypsies) is really something I can’t stomach, and a huge reason he’s so high on my list. This guy, left unchecked, is essentially Hitler. He’s killing without remorse, setting people on fire, locking people up, and allowing torture to happen because… well… that’s ok? In his mind, it is. In his mind, there is nothing wrong with anything he is doing. He’s mistreated our protagonist his whole life, causing him to believe he’s worthless. I call emotional and mental abuse! Seriously, this guys rap sheet is so long I can’t even list it all here. He’s scary as all hell, but in a suave, collected kind of way. I love this villain. Love love love him because he makes me so uncomfortable and he is such a GOOD villain. In my mind, there’s only 1 that’s better.
1) Scar from The Lion King
Really, was there ever any question? For me, Scar and Frollo could have been switched, because for me they’re just as evil. Scar, first of all, is perfect in his character design and voice acting. He’s smart, like so many of my top villains, and he is so incredibly patient. You can tell he’s harbored hatred for his brother probably his whole life, but takes his time and doesn’t attempt to act until the moment is right. He has followers that worship him and do his dirty work. It’s only when they fail does he come out and show us what he’s really capable of doing himself, giving us one of the most memorably disturbing scenes in all of Disney-dom (“Long Live the KING!”). He’s number 1 on my list because he succeeds and although he thinks himself a marvelous king, manages to run an entire savannah into the ground. But he’s power hungry and you could argue goes a bit insane by the end of the movie. But through all, he’s still incredibly smart about the way he handles himself. He manages to ruin his nephew’s life by saying he’s responsible for Mufasa’s death (again, Mental and emotional abuse!) and our main character is haunted by that his whole life. He murders one and attempts to murder another, and has no problem doing it. Not to mention he’s slimy, trying to apologize only to turn the second a back is turned. He’s untrustworthy, evil, and so incredibly wonderful.
So there you have it. My top 11 (plus some) Disney Villains. I know not everyone will agree with my choices, but I enjoy watching every single one of these characters thoroughly. They enhance the movies they’re in, sometimes making them exactly what they are. We love to hate villains, but I personally love to love them.
Up Next: Underrated Disney Movies