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The Greatest Pop Culture Villains of All Time as Chosen By You

The Greatest Pop Culture Villains of All Time as Chosen By You

You have spoken!

Throughout the last month we asked you to vote in our March Badness tournament, to help us determine the greatest pop culture villain of all time. We wanted to crown the premier baddie, whose dark ways overshadow all other scoundrels and wrongdoers. That’s why we pitted 32 combatants across the entire evil spectrum–from video games, movies, television, cartoons, and literature–to find which one stands supreme as the ultimate baddie.


And now that the results are in, we are devilishly pleased to announce that the winner is….

Drum roll plea….nope, forget a mere drum roll, we need a much more appropriate and epic musical choice for this.

That’s right, our March Badness winner is the scariest and coolest Sith Lord in the galaxy far, far away, Darth Vader! He knocked off the worthiest of opponents, the Joker, in the championship round.

We imagine Vader celebrated your faith in him by cutting down the nets with a lightsaber.


But how did we get to this point? What about the rest of the match ups? Since no tournament would be complete without a full, post-championship analysis of everything that happened, we’re doing just that today.

We’ll start at the end and work our way backwards.


Honestly, this feels like an easy answer–“because he’s Darth Vader”–but since we are professionals we can do a little better than that.

Evilness Level: Planet-Destroying, Child-Killing, Son-Mutilating Maximum Evil

A ruthless, cold-hearted killer who uses the dark side of a mystical power to rule the whole galaxy with an iron fist (or whatever metal they use to make cybernetic hands), Vader instills terror in enemies and allies alike with how easily he can–and will–kill you for even the smallest reason. He does more with a simple squeezing of his fingers than most villains do with weapons of mass destruction, yet he still has one (two actually) of those as well. And even if the phrase “younglings” will always make us laugh, he did murder an entire group of little kids. That would be supremely evil even if it was a group of annoying children.

Evil Appearance:
As Magnificent As It Is Terrifying

Wearing an all black suit and cape that make him look like a killer-samurai cyborg, he also sports that heavy breathing apparatus that provides him with his own Jaws-like scary music everywhere he goes. No villain has a more iconic look (and sound) than Darth Vader, which can’t be oversold in explaining why he is the best at being the worst. Especially since he also wields a red sword made of light.


His appearance alone would make him one of the best villains ever.

Quality of Opposing Hero: His Own Hero Son

It’s not just that Darth Vader is the enemy of the Jedi (is it possible to oversell how great Obi-Wan and Yoda are as good guys?), his ultimate opponent is his own son. Their lightsaber duel in The Empire Strikes Back, when Vader cuts off Luke’s hand before he reveals the true nature of their relationship, is arguably the greatest bad guy scene ever, and would probably help him win a “Worst Father in Pop Culture” tournament, too.


Importance in Pop Culture: Monumental

Star Wars is kind of a big deal, spanning four decades and multiple generations of fans, and as a result he might be the single most famous, most iconic fictional villain in the entire world, as well as the most beloved (even if that’s a weird word to use for a big baddie).

Moral Compass: Fully Functioning


This is one of the most under-appreciated elements of what makes Vader the best villain of them all, but it is a huge part of what makes him him. Some villains have no moral compass, or they had theirs broken, and therefore their action feel like those of someone who doesn’t know better, making it easier to understand or even excuse what they do. But not only is Vader not crazy, he knows exactly what he is and why. He is aware of the differences between right and wrong, and he chose evil as his path. It’s this understanding that leads to his redemption before his death, but he lived for decades consciously choosing to be a villain. That’s way scarier than someone who is an unfeeling lunatic.

Darth Vader was the tournament favorite for good reason.


While the four number one seeds–Vader, the Joker, Voldemort, and Sauron–all won their brackets easily (our selection committee did an excellent job with seeding), there were some very close games among our other villains, like the first round battle pitting the Terminator against the Predator.

Predator-Featured-021616Image: 20th Century Fox

In what could be considered a minor upset, the thermal imaging alien eked out a small win against the time traveling cybernetic assassin.

Who would have thought that regular old human Arnold Schwarzenegger would have had more success beating the Predator than the freaking Terminator.

terminator-2-arnieImage: TriStar Pictures

The other nail biter was a battle of Disney super villains, with The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula squeezing out a victory over Aladdin‘s Jafar.

We here at Nerdist were pro (anti?) Urusla, so we were glad to see her come out on top (and think she got robbed in the second round against Star Trek‘s secretly-no-that-evil Khan), but we can’t deny that Jafar had a worthy claim to deserving the nod there.

ursulaImage: Disney

(Somewhere the brother-murdering Scar from The Lion King is still complaining he didn’t even make the tourney, but he probably did very well in the evil NIT.)


The Wicked Witch of the West, whose only real crime was trying to get revenge against the girl who brutally crushed her sister, knocked out Rita Repulsa, an alien witch whose goal was to rule the entire galaxy. Scale of evil should matter!

That was a total travesty.

Rita Repulsa Power RangersImage: Saban

Also, the Predator, whose transgressions are of a much smaller scale, also won his second round battle against Doctor Doom. Doctor Doom! It’s not his fault they keep putting him in these terrible Fantastic Four movies. That guy is a true super villain and deserved the right to get trounced by Darth Vader in the next round.

doctor-doomImage: 20th Century Fox

Also, as someone who thinks Hans Gruber is without question the greatest villain in action movie history, I’m not sure I can justify him as a better baddie than Agent Smith of The Matrix. Hans Gruber is unquestionably cooler, but he was just committing robbery (and yes, okay, some light murder). Meanwhile Agent Smith was a narcissistic nihilist trying to destroy both the human and robot worlds because he didn’t like the smell of the place.



Looking at all of the results, no one really got robbed (some losses were too lopsided though), especially since the final four was perfect. Even though I voted for the Joker, there is an argument to make that Voldermort’s calculated evilness is more sinister than the pure insanity of the Joker… but the Joker has a greater historical claim, and was probably the only one who had a shot against Darth Vader.

The-Joker-Ledger-Batman-08302015Image: Warner Bros.

No, the biggest issue isn’t with how the voting went, but with the villains who didn’t even earn a bid to the tourney. Horror favorites like Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, and Freddy Krueger weren’t included, and single movie terrors like Annie Wilkes, Anton Chigurh, and Jack Torrance were overlooked. There are plenty of grade-A villains, like the Cigarette Smoking Man, Ivan Drago, General Zod, Shredder, and Thanos, who weren’t here either. Even absolute icons like Norman Bates and Magneto were left home when dance cards were given out.

Shining-Jack-103015Image: Warner Bros.

Now don’t yell at us! We gave you the responsibility of picking the field, and in fairness to you, tough choices had to be made, and you made them. In some alternate world, where we have six stations to air games like the actual NCAA tournament, those bad guys and gals would have filled out a 64-villain bracket.

Which Darth Vader would have won anyway.

But hey! We can always do this again next year, with all new villains.

And that wouldn’t be so bad.

What results from the tournament surprised you the most? Which villain do you think deserved a better fate? Pop in to our comments below to help us breakdown the results.

Star Wars Images: Lucasfilm

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