Some of the greatest and most beloved movie characters of all time have come in the form of villains. With their dastardly plans, snarky cruelty, and all-round wickedness, they so often become the characters audiences find most resonant as their wicked ways allow us the kind of eccentric, erratic, and evil escape from reality we crave when we go to the pictures.
Many of the greatest villains to ever grace the screen have also boasted a venomous comedic talent which has only made them even more enthralling to viewers. From abhorrent serial killers to violent crime lords, horror movie sensations, and even superhero adversaries, we may well have hated these vile villains had they not been so good at making us laugh.
Alan Rickman has been the amusing bad guy audiences have come to love on many occasions, but it was his performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that was his most hilarious. Petty, domineering, and abusive of his power, the Sheriff of Nottingham is a vile man, but the manner in which he seems to be so constantly inconvenienced is a joy to watch.
Rickman raised his eyebrows, rolled his eyes, and scoffed aghast at all the right moments to make his petty, ambitious Sheriff a constant scene-stealer. Despite being the major antagonist, he came to be viewed as the best part of the movie which probably took itself too seriously.
Martin Scorsese has a peculiar tendency to imbue his most violent and horrific characters with a twisted, maniacal sense of humor. In the hands of the legendary Daniel Day Lewis , Bill “The Butcher” Cutting became one of the director’s greatest antagonists as a vicious 19th-century New York crime boss with a penchant for showmanship.
As a part of his unpredictable demeanor, Bill exuded a warped sense of humor which was as hilarious as it was unnerving. The Oscar-nominated performance from Lewis was pivotal in making Gangs of New York as captivating as it was and often had audiences nervously chuckling, wondering what would happen next.
With its main character being a freed slave in the deep South during the 1860s, Django Unchained has no lack of great villains. While not the biggest nor baddest of the bunch, Don Johnson ’s Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett is one of the most memorable due to how outrageously and inappropriately hilarious he is in his brief appearance.
In a typical twisted turn from director Quentin Tarantino, Big Daddy’s best moment comes when he rounds up his racist posse to lynch Django (Jamie Foxx). The comical mishaps as the mob plan their attack while ruing the poor quality of their masks is a spark of absurd comical genius that only Tarantino could come up with.
Admittedly, the clue may be in the name, but Heath Ledger ’s Joker is less about the painful puns and wicked wordplay of his predecessors and all about bringing down a reign of anarchy upon Gotham City. The fact that Christopher Nolan was able to keep even a shred of the character’s comedic roots while making him such a terrifying figure in The Dark Knight is quite remarkable.
Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance deserves full credit for the feat, making audiences grin and wince simultaneously with his extreme mannerisms and by taking such pure delight in the mayhem he creates. From his magic tricks to his annoyed disbelief when the hospital bombing doesn’t go to plan, so much of what made the Joker so engrossing was Ledger’s unusual comic quirkiness.
There have been few leading characters as utterly villainous as Patrick Bateman ( Christian Bale ) in the cult classic picture American Psycho . A figure of pure evil, Bateman is a homicidal investment banker who indulges in his sadistic and often misogynistic fantasies by night.
The violence itself is rarely funny, but the surreal aura the movie sets around it does make for some moments of genuine hilarity. Paul Allen's (Jared Leto) murder scene is evidence of this, with Bateman's dancing to, and monologue about "Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News still one of the most outrageously funny scenes to come from a major Hollywood film.
Coming from the delightfully deranged mind of Wes Craven, the famous Ghostface killer in the Scream franchise has always been a figure laced with comedic moments. As the masked serial killer who terrorizes residents of the small Californian town of Woodsboro, Ghostface is an evil sadist stalking Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and killing her friends.
A self-aware film franchise that pays tribute to the slasher genre at times and parodies it at others, the Scream films have always had a strong comedic undertone to them as copycat killers continuously picked up the Ghostface mantle. It's the original Ghostface killers who remain the funniest though, especially once the duo is revealed and Stu ( Matthew Lillard ) is given full reign to show off his comedic prowess.
Sometimes when a depiction of pure evil graces the screen, audiences can do nothing but cackle as they struggle to think of an alternative, more appropriate response to what they’re seeing. That was the case in The Silence of the Lambs , with Hannibal Lecter ( Anthony Hopkins ) filling every second he was on-screen with an intoxicating dread that audiences couldn’t look away from.
Institutionalized in a hospital for the criminally insane, Lecter’s horrific reputation precedes him, so to finally introduce him as a polite, well-educated man – while never shying away from his intense evil – had plenty of viewers giggling nervously. He would be better remembered for his comedic moments if he wasn’t aptly regarded as one of the most chilling characters to ever appear on-screen.
You don’t get to be one of the most iconic horror characters for nothing. While he’s best known for his dream-stalking nightmarish terror, Freddy Kreuger ( Robert Englund ) has become a beloved pillar of the genre for his haunting appearance and his warped sense of humor.
While he started off with a comedic mean streak in A Nightmare on Elm Street , such as when he licked Nancy’s face through the telephone receiver, it wasn’t until later installments in the franchise that he became the wise-cracking punster horror fans came to adore. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors showcases the character at his absolute comedic best.
Another sick and twisted villain from Tarantino’s filmography, Hans Landa is one of the acclaimed director’s greatest creations. Introducing the world to acting genius Christoph Waltz , the role utilized every ounce of talent he has to make Landa chilling yet charming, and one of the most gripping, scene-stealing villains ever put to screen.
As true a depiction of pure evil as ever has been, it seems ridiculous that so many of Landa’s most memorable moments come when he is making audiences laugh hysterically. From the misuse of American idioms to the enthusiasm with which Waltz plays the monstrous character, Hans Landa is the finest example of absurdist comedy Tarantino has ever come up with.
While he’s come a long way since his villainous beginnings, Loki ( Tom Hiddleston ) is still viewed by many as the MCU’s greatest antagonist. After being introduced to the franchise as Thor’s treacherous adoptive brother in Thor , he made an unforgettable mark in 2012’s ensemble feature The Avengers with his plan to enslave humanity.
Using his scepter to turn people into mindless slaves and showcasing at every turn just how cruel, ruthless, and even murderous he could be, Loki was an intimidating villain. However, he was also a villain who always had a great knack for comedy, a trait that would later endear him to Marvel fans all over the world.
NEXT: Disney's 10 Funniest Animated Movie Villains, Ranked