It should never be underestimated how effective a scary villain can be for any movie. But while the main villain is usually meant to be the most intimidating figure in a story, there are sometimes other characters who are even scarier.
Sometimes a secondary villain or henchman steals the show from a lackluster main villain. In other cases, the main antagonist might be more central to the story only for a bigger threat to be lurking in the shadows. The result is a surprising result in which the main villain is not the scariest character in the movie.
10 Doctor Strange (2016)
In his first solo movie, Doctor Strange faces off with Kaecilius, a former student of the Ancient One who has embraced a new leader. Kaecilius is the villain Strange battles throughout the movie and makes for a formidable enough foe.
However, his plan to unleash the Dark Dimension on humanity exposes the much bigger threat of Dormammu. The lord of the Dark Dimension is a giant floating head of fire who instantly fills viewers with fear with displays of his immense power. While Kaecilius was just a failed follower, Dormammu could become a major villain in the MCU.
9 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
While The Shawshank Redemption is a prison movie about hope, it also shows the horrors and cruelty of incarceration. The prison’s warden, Norton, serves as the main villain, a corrupt man who orders a prisoner to be killed simply to keep Andy Dufresne behind bars.
However, the most feared man in Shawshank is the prison’s head guard, Captain Hadley. He is a remorseless thug who beats prisoners to death for nothing more than crying in their cells, nearly throws Andy off the roof for a perceived insult, and acts as Norton’s triggerman in the illegal execution of an inmate.
8 Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s first Batman adventure, Batman Begins, used the villain Ra’s al-Ghul as the Caped Crusader’s main antagonist. The choice fits very well for this origin tale as he serves as a mentor to Bruce Wayne before revealing his cruel idea of justice.
While Ra’s al-Ghul’s evil plans were certainly extensive, it was one of his minions who really inspired fear in others. Scarecrow is another classic Batman villain who is made more grounded in Nolan’s movie yet still terrifies with his nightmarish mask. It is no surprise that he is the only villain to appear in all of Nolan’s Batman movies.
7 The Road Warrior (1981)
As the second Mad Max adventure, The Road Warrior finds the hero teaming up with a band of desperate survivors in the dystopian wasteland to protect their home from a powerful warlord known as The Humungus.
He is an effective main villain with his muscle-bound body and face hidden behind an intimidating mask. But it is his henchman Wez who steals the show. With his wild eyes and animalistic behavior, he feels like a dangerous force of nature who cannot be reasoned with.
6 The Shining (1980)
Jack Nicholson’s turn as Jack Torrance in The Shining is an iconic figure of the horror movie genre. The image of him wielding an axe and coming through the door is truly unforgettable. But while his wild performance is effective, there is a smaller and creepier aspect that seems to have made an even bigger impression.
In a single scene, the two ghostly twin girls standing in the hallway and eerily asking young Danny to play with them is something that still haunts fans. And they didn’t even need an axe to be so chilling.
5 Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King (2003)
Throughout the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron was the main villain who loomed over everything. His dark forces spread out through Middle Earth searching for the One Ring that would return him to his great power.
But with only his flaming eye looking out over everything, he failed to be too intimidating and it fell upon his minions to make an impression. In Return of the King, the Witch-King is the truly scary foe. He is a powerful warrior who is said to be unbeatable and serves as a haunting threat in the final battle.
4 Robocop (1987)
The wild 80s action movie Robocop finds a hero cop being resurrected as a mostly machine police officer. While he is effective at cleaning up the streets, he also discovers the corporation that made him is corrupt and the greedy executive Dick Jones is behind it all.
Jones makes for an appropriately detestable villain, but the mercenary he gets to carry out his evil deeds is far more entertaining. Clarence Boddicker is a sadistic and ruthless criminal who seems to take genuine joy in his violent acts, including his brutal execution of Alex Murphy.
3 Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Given how iconic of a hero Indiana Jones is, his chief antagonist of Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark is not overly memorable in comparison. He serves as a mirror version of Indy, recovering ancient artifacts simply for his own greedy desires.
But as Belloq works alongside the Nazis to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant, the Nazi officer Toht makes for a creepy secondary villain. He is cruel, willing to kill his own men, and always has an unsettling smile on his face that puts the audience on edge as soon as he appears on screen.
2 The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
At the center of The Silence of the Lambs is a gripping detective movie about Clarice Starling hunting down the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. In any other movie, Buffalo Bill would have been the most terrifying character as he makes for a horrific threat. But in comparison to Hannibal Lecter, he is just not as frightening.
Even though Hannibal spends most of the movie in a cage and doesn’t serve as a main threat in the story, he is a chilling presence throughout the movie. And his incredible escape sequence proves audiences were right to be so afraid of him.
1 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
As the first Star Wars spinoff movie, Rogue One cleverly filled in the blanks in the adventure about the Rebels securing the plans for the Death Star. The chief villain is Krennic, an Imperial officer seeking to make a name for himself with the creation of this weapon.
But Krennic is just a minion working for the more powerful villains, including Darth Vader. Though Vader only appears in a couple of scenes, Krennic is shown to cower in his presence. And Vader’s final scene as he attacks a Rebel ship is the most terrifying the character has ever been.
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Author: Colin McCormick