Sometimes, it's good to be bad. Disney has no shortage of deliciously devious villains. They often have the best looks, lines and songs, and while they might not be the characters you root for, you can't take your eyes off of them whenever they're up to no good. Over the years, the famous animation studio has crafted many iconic villains under its banner. Whether it's Maleficent, Scar, Ursula, or any of the great bad guys and gals who've graced the silver screen, it's hard to pick any one favorite. That's why we're taking this time to celebrate 10 of the most beloved baddies.
Now, it should be noted that we're not exactly ranking the best Disney villains — though there will certainly be a lot of overlap in this list. We're simply looking at 10 of the most iconic antagonists. They might not be the most dastardly, wicked, deprived, scariest or intimidating (if those were the main criteria, I'd pick The Hunchback of Notre Dame's Claude Frollo). They're simply the ones that you're most likely to remember or love whenever you think back on all the great Disney villains.
Without further ado, let's break down the most iconic villains in Disney's storied history!
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
In what remains arguably the most gorgeously animated film in Disney's long-standing run of stunningly-realized features, Sleeping Beauty is a spellbinding accomplishment. And it's made all the more captivating by its lead villain, Maleficent. Played with splendid presence and captivating radiance by Eleanor Audley, Maleficent has nearly everything that a great Disney villain should hold.
She is wicked and conniving, she is gorgeously realized from a design standpoint, and she is instantly iconic from the first moment she graces the screen. Angelina Jolie did a commendable job playing the part in 2014's Maleficent, and she weathered the bombast of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil as well as any professional could, but it's hard not to think of the truly great work done by Eleanor Audley when watching her performance. Audley created an instantly bewitching villain who was truly spellbinding.
Scar (The Lion King)
There are some villains who are simply delighted in their gleeful, sinister evilness. Scar from The Lion King is certainly one strong example of a Disney villain who loves to be bad. With no shortage of snarl and sneer in his commanding baritone voice, Jeremy Irons delivered one of the most celebrated voice performances in animation history with his ravish turn as the spiteful brother to the noble Mufasa.
Filled with distain and a desire to do anything to earn his place on the throne, Scar is a character who screams villainy — so much so that it's a little odd that the other characters are later surprised to learn that Scar isn't necessarily a lion with a heart of gold. From his electrifying musical rendition of "Be Prepared" to his haunting scenes where he uses Simba's misplaced trust in him to his wicked advantage, Scar is simply one of the best and most well-recognized villains in Disney's history. It's a shame the new remake couldn't produce a version of the character that lived up to his indelible legacy. Nevertheless, Scar remains terribly great.
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Simply put, Ursula is divine. Which is only fitting, since the character was reportedly modeled after the late, great Divine. The fabulously deranged character is someone who carries a sneaky glee for the deception and deviousness she can unleash on the world — sea based and land based alike.
Ursula carries a marvelous design, some wonderfully expressive octopus legs and an extraordinary voice performance from Pat Carroll. The character has been played by several women, many of whom have done solid work in the part. But it's hard to imagine anyone upstaging Carroll in the part, though it'll be interesting to see Melissa McCarthy's version in Disney's live-action remake — even though the actress isn't everyone's choice for the role.
Cruella De Vil (One Hundred And One Dalmatians)
Quite easily one of the most instantly recognizable and famous villains in history, Disney or otherwise, it would be a fool's errand to try to make this list without Cruella De Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The character, much like the characters listed above, has almost everything that makes a great Disney villain.
The look is exceptionally on point, filled with flair, style and clear mania. Her desire to hunt and skin helpless animals is entirely cruel and fuels her wicked heart, and the voice performance by Betty Lou Gerson that accompanies the outstanding character design is one of the finest villain turns in Disney history. Glenn Close did a tremendous job playing the live-action version of this character in both 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians, respectively, but it's hard to top the character's triumphant animation form. Emma Stone has her work cut out for her in this fabulous part.
Jafar (Aladdin, Aladdin: The Return of Jafar)
Though it's safe to say that 1992's Aladdin is usually considered Robin Williams' movie, often overshadowing his fellow screen partners, there is one character in particular who he doesn't upstage: Jafar.
Voiced with ravenous indignation by Jonathan Freeman, Jafar is complimented by his long, wildly expressive face, stunning outfit, flair for the theatrical and dry wit that often is working overtime to compress his wicked glee or building frustrations. It's a marvelously menacing role, one that makes an impression and refuses to be forgotten. It's a shame that his live action version is so utterly bland.
Captain Hook (Peter Pan, Return To Never Land)
You're a crook, Captain Hook! While the villain was certainly not first created by the Mouse House, Disney's version of Captain Hook from its 1953 film, Peter Pan, has often served as the most distinctive and defining interpretation of the literary character.
While not quite as menacing as some other variations of Captain Hook, nor is he completely without his moments of grave terror upon our youthful protagonists, this version of the vengeful sea-based character, voiced with snarling intensity by Hans Conried, merges the character's buffoonish side with his cruel desire to hunt and kill our child lead. It's a striking balance of delightful and threatening that has helped to make this Hook celebrated and recognized for years to come.
Wicked Stepmother (Cinderella)
There are some villains who you hate to love, and there are some villains that you love to hate. With Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother, though, you're left with a character who is simply no good whatsoever. A cruel and relentless force of menace and terror for our title character, the vindictive step parent, voiced with great disdain by the great Eleanor Audley, the Wicked Stepmother has served as the golden standard for terrible parental figures.
The acclaimed actress plays up the foul disgust she harbors for our hapless, down-on-her-luck lead character with a haunting sense of burning hatred and ugly intensity. She is truly, ahem, wicked. Between this performance and her unparalleled work as Maleficent, Audley was truly an incredible talent.
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
At first, Gaston seems like just a lunkheaded dolt who doesn't share Belle's love of reading and doesn't know when to take a hint. But it's clear that the beef-headed guy is among the more sinister of the Disney villains, believing that he is entitled to wed the woman he fantasies and uses his charm and disarming good looks to trick other townsmen into doing his bidding.
Still, Beauty and the Beast's primary antagonist is a stunning charismatic character, one who is recognized and remembered for his bulky character design, his scene-stealing presence and his confidence-booming villain song, simply titled "Gaston." While Luke Evans did a fine job in the live-action version, there is no one like 1991's Gaston, voiced by Richard White.
Evil Queen (Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs)
There is always a first. In the very early days of Disney animation, there was one movie that started it all: 1937's astonishing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It's a movie that's cherished and remembered for a variety of different reasons, though one of its key sources of impact is the movie's central villain, the Evil Queen, voiced by Lucille La Verne.
The antagonistic character isn't necessarily among the most complex or dynamic villains in the history of Disney, but she served as the foundation through which villains were shaped in the studio's expanding history. Her legacy shouldn't be diminished or overlooked. Evil Queen is a character who served as the seed through which many villain characters sprouted out throughout the history of cinema.
While 1997's Hercules isn't necessarily the most critically acclaimed and/or culturally cherished Disney movie, particularly as it was released towards the tail-end of the Disney Renaissance, there's definitely a lot to admire in the late '90s animated film. Chief among them is James Woods' hilariously nasty role as Hades.
The villain is more funny than menacing, admittedly. There are times where Hades seems too inspired by his blue contemporary, i.e. Genie from Aladdin (who is decidedly not a Disney villain at all). But from Hades' hilarious delivery to his mix of cool charm and red hot fury, it's a role that's one of the most memorable and delightful supporting turns in recent Disney history. More so, Hades is a well-designed character who steals quite nearly scene with his captivating command, cunning deception and building frustration with everything around him — including his dumb henchmen.
These are just a mere handful of Disney's iconic villains, and there were certain others contenders we considered here, including the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Shere Khan from The Jungle Book, Chernabog from Fantasia, Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog and Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove, to name a mere few. But we're sure you have your own personal favorites, and we'll look forward to reading them below.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.