Best female villains you’ll love to hate | Sunday Observer

Best female villains you’ll love to hate

11 September, 2022
Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie

Female villains across film and TV often have three things in common: a killer wardrobe, a dramatic beauty look and an arsenal of memorable one-liners that help to ensure the spotlight remains firmly on them. Little wonder, then, that Hollywood’s hottest stars have long been lining up to play the most amoral characters in cinema.

First there are the comic book and Marvel bad girls, like Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn. Just because they’re bad on the inside, doesn’t mean they can’t be glamorous on the outside – think Angelina Jolie in Disney’s ‘Maleficent’ with her signature blood-red pout. Next come the seductresses and killers, like Sharon Stone as the manipulative Catherine Tramell in ‘Basic Instinct’ or Jodie Comer’s well-dressed assassin Villanelle in ‘Killing Eve’.

Then there’s another category: the conflicted villainess. These women can’t quite decide which side they’re on, and will occasionally use their powers for good – especially if there’s something in it for them. Here, British Vogue revisits some of the best portrayals of female villains in Hollywood history.

1. Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls

Is there a more malevolent presence in the annals of high school cinema than Regina George, the ice cold queen bee embodied by Rachel McAdams in Mark Waters’s cult classic? From her skin-tight, baby pink-heavy wardrobe to her scathing asides and propensity for scheduling secret three-way calling attacks, everything about her is lethal.

2. Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All At Once

In Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s mind-bending, multiverse-spanning blockbuster, Joy, the misunderstood daughter of Michelle Yeoh’s beleaguered laundromat owner Evelyn, morphs into Jobu Tupaki, a force powerful enough to destroy all mankind. Despite the outlandish outfits she dons as Jobu’s various iterations – an Elvis-inspired jumpsuit, an Elizabethan ruff, a retina-searing sweatshirt with teddy bears stitched to the sleeves – Stephanie Hsu imbues her with humanity, showing the audience why this weary misanthrope was drawn to the dark side.

3. Rosamund Pike in I Care A Lot

Marla Grayson, the sharply-dressed, shameless con artist at the heart of J Blakeson’s barbed satire, is easily one of the best female villains ever to grace the screen. Played with relish and unrelenting charisma by Rosamund Pike, she’s a shrewd businesswoman who exploits the elderly and vulnerable, manipulating the legal system to gain guardianship over them. In short, she’s pure evil, and yet, when she meets her match in Dianne Wiest’s Jennifer Peterson, a retiree who refuses to go quietly, and her scheme begins to unravel, you almost find yourself rooting for her.

4. Helena Bonham Carter in Harry Potter

As the frizzy-haired, hollow-eyed and utterly ruthless Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter’s high-pitched cackles are enough to chill the blood. Even when she’s surrounded by Voldemort’s most nefarious supporters, from the ominous Lucius Malfoy to the cruel Antonin Dolohov and the bloodthirsty werewolf Fenrir Greyback, she remains the most terrifying.

5. Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Alabama-born Louise Fletcher won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mildred Ratched, the sadistic, tyrannical nurse who presides over the hospital ward which houses Jack Nicholson’s Randle Patrick McMurphy in Miloš Forman’s moving tragicomedy. Thanks to her perfectly calibrated performance, the character became a byword for institutional abuses of power, not to mention one of the most memorable movie villains of all time.

6. Angelina Jolie in Maleficent

With twisted horns, razor-sharp cheekbones, piercing eyes and a billowing black cloak, Angelina Jolie becomes the titular mistress of evil in Robert Stromberg’s fantasy epic Maleficent, and its subsequent, Joachim Rønning-directed sequel – the misunderstood sorceress whose steely exterior belies a heart of gold. But, you underestimate her at your peril.

7. Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her

They say revenge is a dish best served cold, and as Helen Sharp, Goldie Hawn waits seven years to wreak vengeance on her love rival Madeline Ashton, played by Meryl Streep. She also drinks a potion that promises eternal youth in order to seduce the ex Meryl stole from her, and persuades him to bump off her former friend. It ends badly for all concerned, but still, 10 out of 10 for commitment.

8. Jodie Comer in Killing Eve

Dressed in a froth of sugary pink Molly Goddard tulle (or The Vampire’s Wife florals, or blood-red Lanvin, or vintage Alexander McQueen), Villanelle, the Russian psychopath who steals every scene in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s continent-hopping thriller, is as stylish as she is deadly. As played by Jodie Comer across four deliciously deranged seasons, she dons disguises, rides motorbikes and murders men in cold blood, while also showing us her softer side through her infatuation with Sandra Oh’s Eve Polastri.