21 April 2018

Mean Girls

A few weeks ago I posted a column about female protagonists ("Let's Hear It for Heroines"), and in putting together my list of those I was a little surprised at how few female heroes have been featured in novels and movies. The same thing goes for female villains, but even more so--Hollywood doesn't seem fond of casting a woman as the bad guy. But I'm fond of those in the following list. I've ranked these evil folks backward, by the way, from least creepy (#25) to most creepy (#1). My opinion only.

NOTE: Evil, in this case, doesn't necessarily mean criminal. It means those who scared me the most. How many of these do you remember?

25. Eleanor Shaw (Angela Lansbury) -- The Manchurian Candidate

24. Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) -- Body Heat

23. Bellatrix Lastrange (Helena Bonham Carter) -- Harry Potter

22. Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) -- Snow White and the Huntsman

21. Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler) -- Hocus Pocus

20. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) -- Maleficent

19. Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) -- Friday the 13th

18. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) -- The Chronicles of Narnia

17. Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) -- Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

16. Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek) -- From Dusk to Dawn

15. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) -- Sunset Boulevard

14. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) -- The Wizard of Oz

13. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) -- Gone Girl

12. Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) -- Play Misty for Me

11. Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) -- Monster

10. Ellie Driver (Darryl Hannah) -- Kill Bill

9.   Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) -- Natural Born Killers

8.   Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) -- Rebecca

7.   Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone) -- Basic Instinct

6.   Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) -- Mommie Dearest

5.   May Day (Grace Jones) -- A View to a Kill

4.   Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) -- From Russia With Love

3.   Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) -- Fatal Attraction

2.   Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) -- Misery

1.   Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Following up on that, here are ten female antagonists who weren't all that scary to me--but I just didn't like 'em. At all. I've ranked these from the least unlikable (#10) to the most unlikable (#1):

10. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

9.  The Warden (Sigourney Weaver) -- Holes

8.  Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett) -- Annie

7.  Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) -- The Goonies

6.  Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) -- The Help

5.  Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) -- The Graduate

4.  Regina George (Rachel McAdams) -- Mean Girls

3.  Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) -- Working Girl

2.  Cinderella's stepmother (Cate Blanchett)--Cinderella

1.  Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) -- The Devil Wears Prada

These lists don't include, of course, bad girls who are likeable--Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis), Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon), etc. But audiences are expected to like them: they're protagonists, not antagonists.

I also left out good/bad shapeshifters like Regan McNeil (The Exorcist) and Carrie White (Carrie), villains from TV series--Cercei Lannister (Game of Thrones), Sister Mary Eunice (American Horror Story), and a bunch of meanies from Buffy the Vampire Slayer--and animated female villains like Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians) and Ursula the Sea Witch (The Little Mermaid). And so on and so on.

As usual, I've included only characters from movies I've actually seen, which leaves out a lot of candidates. Who are some of your favorite female movie villains? Also (he asked, holding up a gender-equality sign), have you featured women as villains in your own writing?

I have. And it's fun.


  1. Wow! "The Wizard of Oz" has three powerful women in lead roles: The two witches and (of course) Dorothy, who is very powerful in her own way!

  2. Great list! So many of my own favorites here as well.

  3. You're right, Jeff. And that was 1939! (The flying monkeys will always be the scariest think in that movie, for me.)

    Thanks, Art. It was fun trying to remember all these villains--and reminded me that not all villains are evil. The female lead's family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding weren't villains at all--they were just antagonists. Forces standing in the way of the protagonist's needs and desires.

  4. The scariest thing, not the scariest think.

  5. Funny you would mention that - grin.
    I have a story coming out this summer in an anthology called The Dame Was Trouble, in which the protagonist is bad-ass, and breaking the law big time.
    I have another story coming out in Mystery Weekly very soon, in which the protagonist is actually more of a villain than the villain she's supposed to be protecting.
    Not to mention, the protagonist in The Goddaughter series is a mob goddaughter. People usually like her, happily. It's a tough thing to write: where the protagonist is actually not one of the good guys. I couldn't have done it early in my career.

  6. Melodie, I thought about your series, when I was writing this. And I think making the protagonist a less-than-good guy (or gal) is fun to do--we see it all the time: Butch Cassidy, Get Shorty, Thelma and Louise, the Sergio Leone westerns, etc. As for ladies as bad guys, they're always among the most interesting, to me. And Ellen Ripley remains one of my favorite protagonists ever, so it works both ways.

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. I keep thinking of Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter. Hated her in the books. Continued to hate her in the movies.

  8. Hey Barb. Yep, she was maybe even more villainous than Bellatrix. I think all of us who read the books first enjoyed the movies that much more. Thanks!

  9. Great post John. if you were including animated characters you can't beat the evil queen from Disney's Snow White. And if you include female antagonists you never see, how about the Blair Witch (from the first film, not the later ones).

    But the greatest bad lady of all? Mary Astor as Ruth Wonderly/Brigid O'Shaughnessy from the Maltese Falcon. You don't know she's bad until the end, but she uses and manipulates everyone and she killed Sam Spade's partner.

    Best, Bill

  10. Bill, I actually considered listing the Maltese Falcon lady--my problem was, she wasn't all that scary. As you said, you don't know until the end that she was so evil. As for the Blair Witch, good thought there, too--she should've probably been in the lineup.

    Trying to remember all these female villains was a lot of fun, even though the list was really incomplete. Thanks for stopping in, here!


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