The villain of the story serves as a foil to the hero, who we are supposed to be rooting for. But sometimes, a villain completely overshadows the hero and becomes an icon in their own right.
All the villains here became such fan favorites, that they are even more popular than the heroes who are supposed to defeat them.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter
The villain in The Silence Of The Lambs is Buffalo Bill, but for as bad as he is, the bad guy that really sticks with people is Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Thanks to a monumental performance by Sir Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal Lecter has become one of the greatest gentleman villains of all time.
When it comes to horror movies, the villains are the worst of the worst and larger than life. Freddy Krueger may well be the worst of all of them, yet he has a massive fan following and all the merch to prove it. Even the movies acknowledge his popularity, in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
At one time the Trickster God Loki was perhaps only popular among comic book fans and mythology buffs. But since Tom Hiddleston took up the role for the MCU, the God of Mischief has arguably become even more popular than the hero Thor. With his spin-off TV series, that popularity is only set to grow.
Luke Skywalker may have outlived his father, as the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, but Darth Vader has become the character that has defined the franchise and possibly even an entire generation of cinema goers. With the release of the prequel trilogy, Darth Vader’s story has risen to be just as important as Luke’s – perhaps more so.
She might be a sneaky addition to this list, as Harley almost certainly isn’t anywhere near as popular as Batman, who would typically be considered the hero standing against her (in most instances). However, for someone who started her career as a mere henchman for The Joker, it could definitely be argued that she has not only outgrown The Joker, but become the more popular character.
Looking at the way that the character has grown, one could say that The Joker was really her nemesis all along.
Now, with a number of movies and her own animated TV series under her belt, she’s certainly achieved something that The Joker never has.
No one can argue that Sarah Connor isn’t a total badass character and one of the all-time great female movie characters. Yet, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer robot from the future that keeps the fans coming back for more.
But he’s not the only Terminator to achieve iconic status. Robert Patrick as the T-1000, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, was a cinematic marvel when first released and still looks fricking awesome.
You’ve got to love Arnie in The Predator. But let’s face it, there aren’t swarms of fans cosplaying as his character Dutch. Everyone is all about the Predator. Although the latest movie may not have been all that well received by audiences, everyone still loves this race of galactic hunters and is hungry to see more of them.
The hero-villain dynamic becomes a little confused here, as Tyler Durden really is the truest example of being one’s own worst enemy. But Fight Club‘s bad boy Tyler (played by Brad Pitt) is certainly more popular than his good-guy other half (played by Edward Norton).
Though, given Tyler’s rather alternative way of looking at life and the world, perhaps the thing that makes him popular is the blurry line he brings to the question of whether or not he’s even a villain, at all.
One of the most popular villains of all time. Maybe even as popular as his arch-enemy, Batman. Maybe.
But when Heath Ledger donned the purple suit to play the role of the clowned prince of crime, he absolutely stole the show and massively overshadowed Bale’s Batman. While fans may argue about the comic accuracy of Ledger’s Joker, it’s at least true to say that Ledger’s performance made The Dark Knight a movie that was more about The Joker, than the Bat.
Being a homicidal criminal trapped in the body of a child’s toy, can’t be easy. But Chucky makes it look like Child’s Play (see what I did there?). In fact, Chucky does it with such style and glee, that it’s hard not to cheer him on.
His popularity has grown to the point that he’s even got a wife and child, and this killer family is so much fun to watch, that nobody even remembers the names of the good guys in the story.
A Disney villain most notable for the curse she placed on Sleeping Beauty (and for transforming into a cool dragon at the end of the original Disney animation). But she was never set to become more popular than the movie’s Disney Princess, Aurora.
However, fast-forward 55 years and give the role to Angelina Jolie and things completely turned around. Now, Maleficent is a larger than life character, beloved by fans. Not to mention a staple costume for Disney lovers, at Halloween.
Given Jason’s well-known image, it’s strange to think that he wasn’t even really in the first Friday The 13th movie and didn’t even get his trademark hockey mask until the third movie. But once he finally nailed that look, he was a horror-movie favorite.
Now, half the fun of those movies is in seeing what creative ways Jason will come up with, to kill his latest batch of teenage unfortunates.
He was supposed to be just one Cenobite among many. But he stood out so much, that now it just doesn’t feel like a Hellraiser movie without him. Doug Bradley played the role of Hell’s chief torturer and he did it with such cold, callous skill, that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Indeed, when others have tried, the result has been just terrible.
Other Cenobites may come and go, but Pinhead is forever.
While movies about psychotic killers had been hitting the big screen for years, going all the way back to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, it was Michael Myers in Halloween that really defined the slasher genre. Michael, with his dark workman’s overalls and creepy, plain white mask, is the template upon which all other slashers are built.
While we may love Jamie Lee Curtis, as the Halloween scream queen, it’s Michael that fans come to see.
With her goth look and rebellious attitude, The Craft’s Nancy Downs was sure to appeal to many. When her own magical power twisted her already fragile mind, into a vengeful and unapologetic witch, she really became the star of the show. In many ways, Nancy is a tragic villain, but we love her anyway.
Given that Leatherface comes across as a lumbering, somewhat simple-minded killer, who is low on his crazy family’s pecking order, it’s quite an achievement that he became the face of the entire Texas Chainsaw franchise (even if that face is borrowed from a series of unfortunate victims).
Then again, that final scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with Leatherface psychotically spinning on the spot, brandishing his chainsaw in frustration, has become a classic scene of horror cinema.
Cruella De Vil
She’s certainly evil in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, but compared to a lot of other Disney villains, she’s also a bit lame. No magic powers, no world-altering agenda, and her enemies are really just a bunch of dogs. Even so, it’s fair to say that she’s probably still more popular than the dalmatians. Especially when portrayed by the legendary Glenn Close.
But give the role to Emma Stone, with a sly, sassy back story, and things are bound to go to the next level. Now this villainess has a new wave of fans and you can expect to see a lot of people dressed as her, at the next costume party you go to.
Nobody wants to see a bunch of kids getting killed by a monster and yet, this Stephen King creation has really stuck in the public consciousness with a strange kind of appreciation.
Whether it’s Tim Curry’s brilliant portrayal of It from the 90’s or the newer version acted by Bill Skarsgård, Pennywise has become one of the first things people think of when they think of a clown. Especially if you put the word “scary” in front of it.
A character like Pennywise is a good example of the villain becoming more popular than the heroes. After all, nothing says popularity quite like taking a terrifying character and turning them into a sexy cosplay. That’s when you know you’ve made it.
The Wicked Witch of The West
It took a while to get there, but this villain finally rose to outshine her nemesis. For almost 65 years, Dorothy held the spotlight in the magical tale of Oz, but then with the release of the musical Wicked, audiences were introduced to a different side of Elphaba – The Wicked Witch of The West. Things haven’t been the same since. Now, thanks to that show and the book it was based on, the green-skinned Wicked Witch is now the one in the spotlight.
Want more villainous content? Check out 26 Most Unwanted Fictional Characters In The Real World