Bad Girls: The Greatest Female Villains In Films (Part 3)

From Wicked Witches, to Ice Cold Bitches…This is the ITOL countdown of cinema’s greatest and meanest “Bad Girls” as voted by you! Join us for our countdown from Number 5 to Number 1 in our Part 3!

Number 5: Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” (1989)

By Dominic Corr

There have been mistresses of evil, wicked witches, sociopaths with a fur fetish – but there has only ever been one large, in charge, independent, purple octo-woman who is front and center, the shining glory of Walt Disney Pictures rogues gallery. In 1989, ‘The Little Mermaid’ revived faith in the companies’ ability to entertain the masses. Amidst the vivid colours, exceptional composition and return to the formulaic, profitable princess narrative, one aspect would stand out as the vivacious star of the film – sea witch Ursula.

Let’s just admit something now, without antagonists like Ursula, several films wouldn’t be nearly as successful. This list, filled with female villains who defined their movies, is a fitting home for the sea witch who struck a deal with a naïve, foolish mermaid, who sought freedom from her overbearing father.

When supervising animator Ruben Aquino first concocted this cephaloidic villain, he had one clear decision – focus on facial expression. You’ll note this in the movie, Ursula’s beady, heavily shadowed eyes communicate far more than anything Ariel can, even with her voice. To quote the fabulous villainous herself; “don’t underestimate the importance of body language”. For an animated children’s film, Ursula has a forcibly, a no-nonsense self of body security, sexual insinuation and zero-fucks attitude for patriarchal enforcement. It’s little wonder that with a design heavily borrowed from infamous drag-queen Divine, Ursula has gone on to become an LGBTQIA+ and plus-size role model for communities.

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“If you want to cross a bridge, my sweet. You’ve got to pay the toll” Ursula (Pat Carroll)

 

And there is no one, other than legendary American star Pat Carroll who captures this jaded, crass woman who seeks out every advantage. The best lines, the richest laughs and by far, the greatest song, Carroll relishes each sinfully lip-smacking moment Ursula can conjure. All one has to do is take a moment to re-live her number Poor Unfortunate Souls, to gain insight into Carol’s sensational energy with the character, as well as Ron Clements, John Musker and Aquino’s illustrations to understand why she is such a popular force in animation.

Credit is also due for voice performer Jodi Benson, who takes on the role of Vanessa, Ursula’s human disguise to fool Prince Eric into rejecting Ariel for herself. Heavily symbolic of a woman’s need to ‘degrade’ herself, seek out a slimmer, younger body to appeal to a man, it is by Ursula’s own decision to forgo her large physique into an attractive human where her plan unravels.

Beyond aesthetical design, superb vocal work and playfulness, there’s an intense depth to the character’s place within the narrative. Disobeying daddy, Ursula’s role goes beyond primary antagonist, she’s a surrogate mother of sorts to Ariel. Encouraging a sense of womanhood, to remove herself from under her father’s rule, and to use her body as a means to capture a man, there’s an odd, bitter ex-wife element to Ursula’s vengeance upon King Triton, Ariel is a means to an end, an entrée before the main course.

So, there you have it, put your flippers, hands or tentacles together for a woman whose thirst for vengeance, fuels an attitude few can claim to possess, Ursula is the rightful ruler of the seas for our list.

Number 4:  Dolores Umbridge from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007)

By @kboyle88

The Harry Potter films have introduced us to many unforgettable characters, both good and evil. One of the most memorable villains is Dolores Umbridge, introduced in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007) and portrayed by Imelda Staunton. She’s such an interesting, relevant, and evil person, and makes the fifth movie one of the best in the series. The story takes a dark turn at the end of the fourth film, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005) and continues in the fifth movie building tension to ultimately confirm that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has really returned.

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The REAL bad teacher. Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton)

We first meet Dolores Umbridge as a member of the Wizengamot (a council or supreme court of wizards) and Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge’s right hand. She reveals her odd personality right away by interrupting Harry, Dumbledore, and others with her high pitched “ah-hem” cough when she wants to make her opinions known. Both she and Cornelius Fudge are in such deep denial that Voldemort could be back that they’ll stop at nothing to discredit Harry and Dumbledore and maintain the illusion that everything is fine.

Umbridge is then appointed to Defense Against the Dark Arts opening at Hogwarts, but after a few weeks on the job, she decides she doesn’t like how things are run at the school and is appointed to the newly created position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor. This position gives her almost absolute power to judge teachers, fire them, and eventually take over as headmaster. She threatens and punishes anyone who doesn’t follow her many decrees, and acting against her is considered disloyal to the Ministry.

Deep down, you know that you deserve to be punished. Don’t you, Mr Potter?

-Dolores Umbridge
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Umbridge is a classic example of lawful evil; she does terrible things but in the name of the greater good, especially if it advances the mission of the Ministry. She does not view her actions as wrong, she’s totalitarian and devoid of any ethical or moral center. She tortures children, dosing them with truth serum, using illegal curses on them, and scares them with a quill that carves lines written into the hands of the writer. She’s also prejudiced against Muggle-borns, half-bloods, and any non-human magical creatures.

On the outside, Umbridge looks like someone’s charming aunt; she dresses exclusively in pink, is always perfectly put together, has an almost sickeningly sweet voice, and she decorates her office walls with images of adorable kittens. I think this combination makes her one of the “best” villains in the film. She is often voted “hated more than Voldemort” and it’s easy to see why. I despise her character but love her at the same time. Umbridge is a terrifying and successful villain. It’s easy to see how someone like her could work her way into a position of power and stay there. I applaud J.K. Rowling and Imelda Staunton for creating such an iconic villain who (even after 12 years) feels very relevant to today’s political climate.

Number 3: Annie Wilkes from “Misery” (1990)

By Kristy Strouse

Oh, Annie.

Kathy Bates becomes Annie Wilkes in Rob Reiner’s Stephen King adaptation “Misery” (1990). She’s a mercurial wonderment in the way that she can go from an adoring and seemingly innocent fan to an unhinged villain. The switch is all dependent on how her captor, Paul Sheldon, excellently portrayed by James Caan, acts. Her admiration for him, as his “number one fan” has her first saving his life, only to keep him in her clutches.

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“I’m your number one fan.” Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates)

 

Deep in a snowed-in town, there’s no one around to discredit her nursing skills, and he’s left at her mercy. When she reads the newest novel with an ardent disappointment, things take a turn for the worst. Bates is downright terrifying at times in the film, there’s no doubt about it. She can be childlike with some of her choice of words and actions, and her occasional swooning over Paul and his novel make her seem fantasy driven making her switch even more intense. Her passion for the character of Misery, the reason for her obsession, but also her violent turn, is just another element of her complex portrayal.

While there are moments you can laugh at, more at the absurdity and randomness than anything else, there’s an underlying panic at the heart of “Misery” that doesn’t let you go. Kathy Bates proves that horror can come in even the ostensibly pleasant packages. She’ll trick you into submission then cower you with a hardened stare, (nothing a sledgehammer won’t fix). It’s an Oscar-winning performance for a reason, and she is one of the best female baddies to hit the screen.

Number 2: Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

By Movie Reviews In 20 Q’s

In the landscape of iconic cinematic villains, there’s really no reason why Nurse Ratched should stand out. There’s no excessive makeup and cackling, like the Joker or the Wicked Witch of the West. There’s no mechanical intimidation, like the Terminator or Darth Vader. And even when compared to another sociopathic medical practitioner, Hannibal Lecter, there’s no pageantry and excessively malicious tone of voice.

Louise Fletcher effectively does so much with so little. She manages to be just as terrifying as the rest with her steeled glare, her relatively quiet demeanor, and uneasy confidence. Every word is measured and intentional. Every action is calculated and deliberate. She wants her environment to be a product of her and is desperate to exert a level of order on a group that is prone to acts of disorder. She easily draws the audience in with this cold passive-aggressiveness. Death and taxes are unavoidable, but so is encountering some sort of bureaucrat who’s riding a power trip with all the warmth of an iceberg. This, of course, makes her the perfect foil to the insanity that Jack Nicholson brings to Randle McMurphy.

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The nurse from hell, Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher)

 

In today’s world, it’s somewhat hard to not sympathize with her just a little. The protagonist is someone who’s been convicted of assault and statutory rape and is trying to game the justice system to avoid jail time. She’s also been given a relatively thankless task of trying to care for a group of people that most of society wants to forget. While she exerts a level of tyrannical behaviour over these people, its often in a “cruel to be kind” way to ensure that they live a relatively peaceful and uneventful life. Her world falls apart when Randle arrives, and her levels of malevolent behaviour rise as a direct response to his actions. How she treats the people she is supposed to care for soon becomes reprehensible, but the path that leads her there is almost inevitable, given her personality.

Ultimately, she becomes the embodiment of pure evil and the villain that I love to hate. Louise Fletcher even acknowledged this in her Oscars speech, starting it with “Well, it looks like you all hated me so much that you’ve given me this award for it, and I’m loving every minute of it. And all I can say is I’ve loved being hated by you.” And this self-awareness can’t help but make me appreciate her portrayal even more.

Number 1: The Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”

By Brandon Gregory

Fun fact: I live in Kansas, and our most famous celebrity is Dorothy Gale from “The Wizard of Oz”. Both my wife and I, while traveling abroad, have had people in other countries ask us to say hi to Dorothy when we return home. (Another fun fact: we are sick of hearing this.) But both Dorothy and that film are pretty popular here in Kansas, so the Wicked Witch of the West is kind of like my personal villain.

And what a villain. While many of the villains on this list come later in film history and needed to be complex and interesting, there’s something strangely satisfying about this wicked witch that is everything you would expect from a wicked witch. Powerful magic and an army of flying monkeys? Evil cackle and murderous intentions? You bet! She’s iconic, archetypal, and thoroughly evil, and she’s just so good at that. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad we have complex and interesting villains—but there’s something to be said for a simple concept executed flawlessly, and that’s exactly what this wicked witch is.

True to her title, this wicked witch is evil to the core. In fact, when we first meet her, she’s actually given a pretty sympathetic problem: her sister is killed and she just wants her shoes back. Glinda, the good witch, is quick to warn Dorothy that this nameless wicked witch is evil and is not to be trusted, and she quickly proves she’s just as evil as the reputation that precedes her by taking the low road at every opportunity.

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I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!” The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)

 

She’s not afraid to poison Dorothy, take hostages, or set Scarecrow on fire. She’s also shown to have used magic to control her guards, and the Winkies lived essentially as her slaves for years before Dorothy showed up. This villain is truly wicked to the core.

In many ways, “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the first feminist movies. It has a female protagonist that solves problems for her male companions, the famed Wizard of Oz—the man in charge—is shown to be a fraud, and the true power-holders in Oz are all women. It’s easy to look at this campy and fun film and forget that this came at a time when women were often a prize to be won. Dorothy, Glinda, and the Wicked Witch of the West are all stronger than a lot of female characters in film even today. The Wicked Witch may not be the most emotionally complex villain on this list, but she undoubtedly set the standard for female villains for years after the film came out.

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