15 TV Villains Who Redefined On-Screen Antagonism

Arguably very protagonist needs their obstacles in order to generate a compelling story. Sometimes the resulting conflict comes from the protagonist and their own mental struggles, sometimes it’s external forces. But we’re going to go the classic route and talk more about the antagonist, or more specifically: the villain.

Over on our poll at Ranker, we’ve gathered over 240,000 votes and people agreed that these were some of the coldest villains of all time. You’ll definitely debate whether or not these people even qualify as villains but we’re here to stir the pot. Do you agree with the top pick? Who did we leave out? See more below.

Gustavo Fring

Photo: Breaking Bad/AMC

A cold and calculating drug lord with a penchant for violent discipline, this unforgettable villain’s performance by Giancarlo Esposito in Breaking Bad showcased a terrifying wrath lurking beneath the facade of a mild-mannered businessman. Expertly manipulating events behind the scenes and fostering a network of fear and loyalty, this character’s ultimate downfall is as explosive as his reign, remaining in the minds of viewers long after his departure.


Photo: The Walking Dead/AMC

With a sinister charisma that captivates and horrifies, Jeffrey Dean Morgan brings this brutal, bat-wielding leader to life in The Walking Dead. His ruthless demeanor and twisted sense of humor underscore a willingness to go to any lengths to maintain power, including inflicting gruesome and unforgivable acts upon his enemies. Negan’s presence leaves an indelible impact on both the show and its fans, earning him a place among the most feared and loathed villains.

Walter White

Photo: Breaking Bad/AMC

Through Bryan Cranston’s masterful portrayal, Breaking Bad’s Walter White transformed from a humble chemistry teacher into the ruthless and morally corrupt drug kingpin Heisenberg. His descent into darkness and the resulting destruction of those around him paints a chilling portrait of humanity’s capacity for evil, which coupled with Cranston’s Emmy-winning performance, cements Walter White’s status as one of TV’s most iconic antiheroes.

Ramsay Snow

Photo: Game of Thrones/HBO

In Game of Thrones, Iwan Rheon embodied the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, whose penchant for physical and psychological torture knew no bounds. His vicious acts continue to haunt viewers, and his cunning tactics and manipulations solidified his place as one of Westeros’ most formidable adversaries. Despite meeting a fittingly grisly end, the sheer malice and depravity of his character ensures that he remains an unforgettable force of evil in television history.

Hannibal Lecter

Photo: Hannibal/NBC

Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of the sophisticated and sadistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter on the show Hannibal was nothing short of chilling. With his insatiable appetite for human flesh and an unnerving ability to manipulate those around him, his character left audiences both repulsed and captivated. Mikkelsen’s nuanced performance solidified this timeless villain as a haunting force in television history.


Photo: Star Wars: The Clone Wars/Cartoon Network

Ian McDiarmid gave a sinister and captivating performance in his role as Emperor Palpatine on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. As the mastermind behind the Empire’s rise to power, his cunning manipulations and ruthless ambition defined his villainous nature and contributed to the series’ epic storyline. His character’s enduring impact on the franchise cements his place among the darkest figures in television history.

Cersei Lannister

Photo: Game of Thrones/HBO

Lena Headey’s portrayal of the cunning and ruthless Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones electrified audiences and made her one of the most iconic villains in television history. Her unapologetic pursuit of power and willingness to sacrifice everything for her family made her character both complex and deeply unsettling. Headey’s Emmy-nominated performance ensured that Cersei remained a force to be reckoned with throughout the series’ run.

Joffrey Baratheon

Photo: Game of Thrones/HBO

As the spoiled and sadistic King Joffrey on Game of Thrones, Jack Gleeson delivered a performance that was truly despicable and horrifying. Through his character’s cruel actions and shocking acts of violence, he became one of the most hated figures in the show’s extensive roster of villains. Gleeson’s masterful depiction of Joffrey’s descent into madness culminated in a demise that was as satisfying as it was gruesome.


Photo: Batman: The Animated Series/Fox Kids

Mark Hamill lent his iconic voice to the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, creating a version of the character that was equal parts humorous and horrifying. His chilling cackle and twisted sense of morality showcased the character’s chaotic nature, as well as the intense rivalry he fostered with Batman. Hamill’s unforgettable performance immortalized this clown prince of crime as one of the most legendary villains in TV history.

Professor Moriarty

Photo: Sherlock/BBC One

Andrew Scott’s portrayal of the cunning and manipulative Professor Moriarty on the BBC series Sherlock redefined the character for a modern audience. This intelligent and ruthless villain served as the perfect foil to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, culminating in thrilling and suspenseful encounters between the two. Scott’s captivating performance of Moriarty’s twisted psyche elevated him to legendary status among TV’s greatest adversaries.

Pennywise the Dancing Clown

Photo: It/Warner Bros.

Bill Skarsgård brought the nightmarish Pennywise to life in the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It, instilling a palpable sense of dread in viewers everywhere. Capable of shape-shifting and tapping into his victims’ deepest fears, Pennywise’s sinister grin and malevolent presence cemented him as a terrifying figure in the annals of television history. Skarsgård’s chilling performance ensured that this iconic character remains a haunting symbol of fear for generations to come.


Photo: SpongeBob SquarePants/Nickelodeon

The diminutive yet diabolical Plankton, voiced by Doug Lawrence, has been the bane of SpongeBob SquarePants’ existence for over two decades. Obsessed with stealing the Krabby Patty formula and ruling the fast-food world, his character’s constant scheming and nefarious plotting have made him a beloved antagonist in the animated series. Despite his small stature, Plankton’s tenaciousness and cunning make him a larger-than-life villain on the small screen.

Wilson Fisk / The Kingpin

Photo: Daredevil/Netflix

Vincent D’Onofrio’s chilling portrayal of Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, on Marvel’s Daredevil showcased a villain whose cruelty was matched only by his sophistication and intelligence. As the criminal mastermind behind Hell’s Kitchen, Fisk’s ruthlessness struck fear into the hearts of both his enemies and his allies. D’Onofrio’s powerful performance solidified Kingpin’s place as one of the most formidable and complex antagonists in television history.

Darth Maul

Photo: Star Wars: The Clone Wars/Cartoon Network

Sam Witwer lent his voice to the menacing Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, bringing new depth and complexity to the character first introduced in The Phantom Menace. With his terrifying appearance and deadly mastery of the dual-bladed lightsaber, he became a formidable antagonist who left a trail of destruction in his wake. Witwer’s captivating performance, coupled with the rich backstory provided by the series, cemented Darth Maul as one of the most iconic villains in the Star Wars universe.


Photo: Avatar: the Last Airbender/Nickelodeon

Grey DeLisle’s voice work as the skilled firebender Azula on Avatar: The Last Airbender brought the twisted, power-hungry princess to life in a chilling and captivating way. Her manipulative tactics, cunning strategies, and ruthless ambition made her a formidable antagonist for Team Avatar throughout the series. DeLisle’s nuanced performance imbued Azula with an emotional depth that resonated with viewers, solidifying her status as one of the show’s most compelling villains.