Looking for more villains like these? Check out The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains by Jon Morris!
The best villains are the ones that are truly scary. The bad guys who make us quake in our boots, who leave us terrified and truly convinced that becoming their enemy would be the worst possible scenario. Take Amy in Gone Girl, a woman who isn’t at all physically threatening, but whose meticulous scheming and total lack of a conscience make her utterly terrifying. Or consider Thanos, the recent big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s a villain who may be bright purple, but who is physically intimidating and emotionally unperturbed by wiping out half the living things in the universe in a single snap.
These are the villains that are true nightmare fodder, that all other villains aspire to emulate. Of course, there are also the truly sympathetic villains — the cool kids, the guys who may want to raise hell, but are so charming that we’d probably just let them do it. And then…there are these guys. The ones who may dream of being true villains, but who barely make it out of laughing stock level who couldn’t make a chihuahua tremble if they tried.
Vizzini, The Princess Bride
If you want a princess kidnapped and murdered, perhaps there are better choices than this bullying Sicilian from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. In both book and film, Vizzini is a pompous, arrogant fool — one who constantly underestimates his opponent. He’s always referencing his intelligence, but we can’t see any evidence of it anywhere. And it’s no wonder that he dies in a duel of wits (although he’d say that such a thing would be inconceivable!).
Vector, Despicable Me
Gru, the central hero/villain of Despicable Me, might not be the most successful supervillain in the world, but at least he commands a certain amount of respect…which is a whole lot more than this dorky little dude in a sweat suit ever will! Vector, a wannabe supervillain who gets his funding from his Daddy, invents such utterly unthreatening weapons like the squid gun. Plus, he's easily taken in by a bunch of little kids selling cookies. Hardly scary or villainous at all.
Paste Pot Pete, Marvel
There are plenty of supervillains in the pages of comics who set the standard for scary. The Joker is a masterpiece. Loki is the ultimate villain that we love to hate. But titans like these share the same universe as hilariously bad bad-guys like Paste Pot Pete. A villain who created a paste-gun (yes, it shoots glue at people), he’s not only unthreatening, but lacks any real motivation. He was already rich, but now he robs banks with a glue gun for fun. Even Spidey failed to take him seriously.
Serena Joy, The Handmaid’s Tale
There’s no doubt that Serena Joy, the Commander’s Wife, is nightmare fodder. She has more power than almost any other woman in Gilead, and her complicity in the system is what makes her so frightening. The idea that any woman could not just accept, but actively endorse this world is sickening. However, this also makes her slightly sad, and relatively unthreatening. Despite fighting for this world, Serena is now trapped in it. She is just as incapable of resistance as the handmaidens, trapped in the system she created. Heartbreaking, frightening…but not threatening.
Yzma, The Emperors New Groove
A murderous Incan witch would seem to be a pretty threatening villain, but Yzma is actually quite hilariously weak — helped along, of course, by her utterly incompetent henchman, Kronk. Although Yzma has some impressive magical powers, they seem to be limited to turning people into animals, and physically, she is probably the weakest of all the Disney villains. She’s got a vicious and ambitious mind, but she also gets turned into a fluffy pink cat, so…
Never Again, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared
A biker gang is usually a pretty good starting place for a villain. These characters are usually criminally minded, violent, and look like the kind of people you would cross the street to get away from. However, in The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, Never Again are in the running for Sweden’s least threatening bikers ever…especially because they are taken out by a centenarian who has stolen their millions.
King Haggard, The Last Unicorn
Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel is an absolute classic, and it’s easy to see why. This magical world is one where unicorns are real, where love is true, and where magic still exists. However, it's also a world where an evil king guards an ocean full of trapped unicorns from his forboding castle. However, King Haggard may be hideous and cold hearted, but he’s not actually that threatening. He keeps no army, he’s old and decrepit, and he’s utterly incapable of stopping Schmendrick, Molly and the Unicorn. If it weren’t for the Red Bull, he’d simply be a sad old man in a ruined castle.
Who is your favorite threat-free villain? Tweet @quirkbooks and let us know!