I’m a big fan of science fiction movies. In many types of films, such as action and drama, a good villain can make a huge difference. Because science fiction films often feature aliens and technology rather than characterization, good villains in sci-fi films are rather rare. And in many recent films, special effects take the place of a good villain so many good villains come from older sci-fi films. Here are my top ten memorable villains in sci-fi films.
1. Dr. No (in “Dr. No”, 1962) – Dr. No was the first of the major James Bond films. The villain is a Chinese-German scientist, played by actor Joseph Wiseman. True, this film is only marginally science fiction, but Dr. No is number one on my list of great sci-fi villains.
2. Zorg (in “The Fifth Element”, 1997) – Zorg is a rich industrialist who, for not entirely clear reasons, is trying to destroy the Earth. Zorg was played by actor Gary Oldman, who may be best known as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter film series. Zorg is a complex character which adds a lot to the film.
3. Darth Vader (in “Star Wars”, 1977) – Easily the most famous sci-fi film villain of all time. Vader was played by actor David Prowse but voiced by James Earl Jones. Another complex characterization, which made a big, positive difference and contributed enormously to the success of Star Wars.
4. Captain Nemo (in “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, 1954) – There have been several portrayals of Captain Nemo, but my favorite is the one by actor James Mason in the 1954 Disney production. Nemo is a sympathetic villain, who has good motives, but he has no qualms about murder.
5. Wez (in “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior”, 1981) – All of the Mad Max films have good villains, but my favorite is Wez from the second film. Even if you’ve seen this film many times, you might not know Wez’s name – he was the really scary bad guy with a creepy haircut who was the leader of the bad guys.
6. Ming the Merciless (in “Flash Gordon”, 1980) – Ming, played by actor Max von Sydow, is an evil caricature of an Asian villain, and was the ruler of the planet Mongo. Ming is based on the Chinese villain Fu Manchu from a series of pulp novels of the 1930s. Ming’s daughter, Aura, was not really evil.
7. Ra (from “Stargate”, 1994) – Ra, played by actor Jaye Davidson, is the most unusual villain on my list. Ra is vaguely gender ambiguous, which you’d think would detract from his effectiveness as a villain, but Ra is quite menacing.
8. General Zod, from “Superman”, 1978) – Zod, like Superman, is from the planet Krypton and so he has super powers too. This makes him very formidable and really just about the only person who could challenge Superman. Zod was played by actor Terrence Stamp, and he was the best thing in an otherwise mediocre film.
9. Baron Harkonnen (in “Dune”, 1984) – I’m a big fan of this film, probably because I’ve read the book on which the film is based and so I could follow the very complicated plot. Baron Harkonnen has a particularly nasty appearance.
10. Magneto, (in “X-Men”, 2000) – In general I’m not a huge fan of superhero films but the original X-Men movie is really good. And a big reason for this is the complex characterization of Magneto by actor Ian McKellen. McKellen was already in his mid-60s when first playing the role, but in spite of his age, he plays a very good and credible villain.