Putting together a 10 best television villain of all time list is a hefty proposition as your bound to leave off somebody’s favorite. Oh well!
I decided it only made sense to go with a mix of newer and classic villains that stand the test of time. Too many of these lists online only have shows from the last 5 years or so. Our list is going to be broader and hopefully a better representation of television history.
1. JR Ewing – Dallas
Larry Hagman’s “JR” is arguably the most iconic television character of all time, playing the role for 17 years. Originally intended as a minor supporting role the showrunners thought Hagman was so great they revamped the show and turned him into the star.
JR was a Texas oil tycoon that loved money almost as much as lying, scheming and blackmailing his enemies to get it. The 1980 “Who Shot JR” episode was the most-watched television episode up to that time with an estimated 83 million viewers, more than the number of voters in that year’s presidential election.
2. Daenerys Targaryen – Game Of Thrones
Song of Ice and Fire readers had ol’ Dany pegged as a villain from about the get-go but most TV viewers thought she was a hero for most of the series 8 seasons. An arrogant, condescending, entitled, megalomanic that will stop at nothing to rule the Seven Kingdoms because she believes it is her Birthright (Spoiler – It isn’t) Dany is an interesting, complex character and a terrific villain played brilliantly by Emilia Clarke.
Over the course of the series, she uses 3 dragons that she controls to amass great power and does a lot of things that the audience likes (taking down slavers, etc.) and make her seem heroic. However, her motives are completely selfish and she only does these things for personal gain and not for the greater good.
In the show’s final episodes, Dany learns she is not the rightful heir but continues with her plan to conquer Westeros anyway. This culminates in her using the breath weapon of her dragon to raze the city still full of civilians to win, killing untold thousands of innocent people to win something that was never legitimately hers.
3. Barnabas Collins – Dark Shadows
Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is an 18th Century vampire that is unintentionally freed in the mid-1960s by a would-be graverobber. He endears himself to the 20th Century Collins family by claiming to be a direct descendant of the 18th Century Barnabas who traveled from England to further his genealogical research and restore the dilapidated “Old House” (aka his home from the 1700s) on the Collins’ property in Collinwood.
It doesn’t take long for Barnabas to put his plans in motion including kidnapping and trying to brainwash a girl into believing she is his long-dead love Josette so he can turn her into his vampiric bride.
4. Arthur Mitchell – Dexter
Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow) is a Deacon and teacher. However, he is also “The Trinity Killer” because he is a serial killer that kills in a pattern of three: the first victim is a young woman that he kills in a bathtub with a straight razor, the second is a woman who is forced to commit suicide by jumping off a building and the third victim is a man who he beats to death with a hammer.
Dexter Morgan, a serial killer, studies Mitchell before ultimately deciding to kill him. However, before Dexter can complete the deed Mitchell kills Dexter’s wife as a final act of vengeance.
Lithgow won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance.
5. Khan Noonien Singh – Star Trek
Khan (Ricardo Montalban) is on the list because Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is so great it elevates the Star Trek his lone episode appearance in “Space Seed” to iconic status.
Khan is a genetically engineered superhuman who ruled approximately 25% of the planet Earth before being defeated during the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. Khan along with several dozen superhumans escaped justice in space aboard the SS Botany Bay spacecraft where they were in a cryogenically frozen state of suspended animation for centuries.
Upon being awoken Khan and his crew attempt to take over the Enterprise by force and escape in the Federation vessel. Captain Kirk eventually defeats Khan with a random piece of plastic and then Khan and his crew are exiled to an uncolonized world.
6. Walter White – Breaking Bad
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher, terminally-ill with lung cancer, who starts producing meth in order to get enough money so his family will be taken care of when he dies. However, over the course of the series, he becomes more and more selfish as he falls in love with the money and power that his criminal lifestyle brings with it.
His illegal actions and cowardice lead to the deaths of many people including his brother in law, Hank Schrader, a DEA agent.
Cranston won 4 Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Walter White.
7. Boyd Crowder – Justified
Boyd Crowder is essentially a Walton Goggins catchall character. He’s basically a criminal for the entirety of the Justified series, however he tries (and fails) to reform several times. Whether he’s selling illegal weapons or working as a preacher or the acting crime boss of Harlan County Boyd’s hillbilly antics are a national treasure.
8. Gillian Darmody – Boardwalk Empire
Gillian (Gretchen Mol) is in many ways a tragic and sympathetic character, more so than many on this list. Raped and impregnated at the young age of 13, Gillian has been driven completely insane by her hard life of prostitution and loneliness. A victim of monsters her whole life she became the worst one.
Some of her most despicable acts include incest with her son, drowning of an innocent man for financial gain and an attempt to brainwash her grandson into forgetting his parents.
9. The Joker – Batman
Caesar Romero’s Joker is about as iconic as a role as any on television. Moustache aside, he plays a perfect version of the Silver Age Joker from the comics.
10. The Borg – Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Borg are cybernetic organisms, linked in a hive mind called “the Collective”. The Borg co-opt the technology and knowledge of other alien races to the Collective through the process of assimilation, which includes forcibly transforming individual beings into “drones” by injecting nanoprobes into their bodies and surgically augmenting them with cybernetic components. The Borg’s ultimate goal is “achieving perfection”. Their line “Resistance is futile” is one of the greatest catchphrases of all time.