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The Best Mastermind Villains of All Time

We all love heroes. What’s not to love between their unimpeachable moral compass and take-charge attitude? But, you have to give it up to the bad guys for having downright psychopathic tendencies and a deadly charismatic personality to go with it.

The world of films has created a long list of evil masterminds for us to applaud. From Professor Moriarty to Ursula the Sea Witch, we were served with many characters to target our hate. Out of that seemingly unending list of crazed maniacs, here are our top 4 picks of mastermind movie villains.

The Joker

Movie – The Dark Knight (2008)

Played By –  Heath Ledger

One of the greatest performances in modern Hollywood cinema, The Dark Knight’s Joker’ has left its mark on all our hearts. The fact that Joker was a master manipulator that turned Harvey Dent, an uptight citizen, into a two-faced whimsical madman or that he wasn’t hesitant of discarding his allies didn’t make him the bone-chilling figure he is.

He was a villain who came out of the blue, whose backstory was unknown to the movie’s characters and the audience. He seemed to be driven not by a tragic sob story, fueled by hate but by the simple desire of wanting to watch the world burn down around him. There’s nothing more terrifying than a mad genius with a devastatingly beautiful image of a burning world who can’t be shown reason.

Perhaps this is why the origin of his notable scar becomes unimportant. The knowledge of who he is, where he comes from becomes meaningless. Joker becomes even more memorable because he has the potential, which he repeatedly proves throughout the film, to outsmart the hero, Batman, and the other major players at a psychological and violent game.

But, the movie does not have a happy ending. Even with the Joker gone, the city is up in flames, Batman is forced to flee, the bat signal is destroyed, people start losing hope, and Gotham loses its symbol of peace.

Keyser Söze aka Verbal Kint

Movie – The Usual Suspects (1995)

Played By-  Kevin Spacey

Who is a mastermind? A genius, a matter of spinning an impenetrable web of intricate lies. If that’s true, then a prime example of a compelling mastermind is perfectly played by Kevin Spacey in the 1995 blockbuster movie, ‘The Usual Suspects.’

Kevin Spacey’s role as Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint; a physically disabled con artist, was one of those unexpectedly deceitful fabrications of imagination that seemed to alter reality. When U.S. Customs agent Dave Kujan interrogates verbal Kint, his fake persona of a crippled man, his detailed fable of the criminal exploit was the movie’s main focus. His convincible performance made us all fall in love with a criminal.

The simple and yet ingenious deception conjured by Verbal, who was Keyser Söze – the Devil’s incarnate (as described by himself) – baffled the mind of his interrogator, Kujan. Who in his right mind would invent a story with all of its elements taken from the very room he is arrested, convince everyone his dubious lie is the truth, prove his innocence, and walk a free man? One mega mastermind.

Hannibal Lecter

Movie – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Played By- Anthony Hopkins

We can’t talk about masterminds and evil geniuses without mentioning Hannibal Lecter, perhaps the most famed ‘perfectly polite monster’ created.

The unique serial killer character who eats his victims was first imagined by Thomas Harris in his classic novel, “Red Dragon” in 1981. Inspired by Dr. Salazar; often deducted to be Alfredo Ballí Treviño – an affluent physician who lived in Monterrey and a serial killer.

Harris thought it to be surprisingly quirky that a cold-blooded murderer could have impeccable mannerism and be a complete gentleman at first sight. Our infamous cannibal killer shares this eccentric personality. He may eat humans, but he has refined taste, is an intellectual who used to be a forensic psychiatrist, and likes to amuse and be amused by others.

What he doesn’t like are bad-mannered, rude humans. He is deeply bothered by rudeness and turns pretentious people into his victims – “he prefers to eat the rude.”

In the movie, he is described as “they don’t have a name for what he is,” and yet the audience can’t help but be drawn to the enigmatic character.


Movie – Watchmen (2009)

Played By – Matthew Goode

The smartest man in the world who drags the Earth towards utopia is the last entry on our list of the cinematic universe’s best masterminds.

Alan Moore created Ozymandias in his renowned graphic novel miniseries ‘Watchmen.’ He was knowledgeable but hid the fact from everyone that surrounded him. Born as Adrian Veidt, he gave up all his inherited wealth to make something of himself. Pledging to help the world’s people, he became a vigilante and took on the name ‘Ozymandias’- the Greek name for Ramesses II, a figurehead he admired.

Unfortunately, in an alternate reality that the movie is set in, the superhero vigilantes started getting a bad reputation. This lead Veidt to give up his title as Ozymandias and become a billionaire philanthropist. However, unbeknownst to everyone, he secretly planned to blow up New York city and frame Dr. Manhattan for it, ensuring a semblance of peace and unity in the face of a common enemy.

For our misguided vigilante-turned-billionaire, ends justify the means, whatever they may be. But, in the future, his plan worked, at least for a while.

That’s the end of our list of mastermind villains who we all love and hate. We are sure there are many others still out there and several more that are yet to be created. For now, let’s keep asking others  – ‘Why so serious?

If you would like to know how to write your own villain make sure to check out this post.

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