The 40 Best TV Villains, Ranked from Somewhat Sinful to Downright Wicked

A wise man—or shall we say, a wise fictional character—once said, "Every fairytale needs a good old-fashioned villain." (Shout-out to Jim Moriarty from Sherlock.)

In other words, no story feels complete without at least one compelling villainous character, whether it’s a shrewd and calculating boss or a deeply sadistic killer with a complicated past. These are the characters that keep us on the edge of our seats and, oftentimes, force our favorite protagonists to step up as fearless heroes. And of course, we can’t forget about the antagonists who blurred the lines between good and evil, making us totally rethink what it means to be a villain. Keep reading for a ranking of the 40 best TV villains.  

best tv villains oc

40. Oliver Trask from The O.C.

A habitual liar with mental health issues, Oliver is nothing but trouble from the moment he first appears. “[He] was truly the most chaotic and disruptive force,” said Katherine Gillen, PureWow’s Senior Food Editor. “He totally changed the trajectory of everything in just a few episodes of season one. And I'm pretty sure he's the most hated character to ever grace the show. What a troubled, evil little teen.”

best tv villains the gays

39. The Gays from White Lotus

A charming group of seemingly harmless queer men who turn out to be deceptive, A-list scammers. And to make matters worse, they target the crown jewel of the show: Tanya McQuoid (Jennifer Coolidge). Philip Mutz, PureWow’s VP of News & Entertainment, said, “What could qualify you for villain status more than coming for our favorite character?”

best tv villains 30 rock

38. Devon Banks on 30 Rock

The gay executive pretends to be straight, so he can marry the CEO’s daughter and then manipulate her behind the scenes. His goal is to gain more control within the company and, ideally, take Jack’s job. It’s no wonder he is Jack's ultimate nemesis.

best tv villains barrow

37. Thomas Barrow from Downton Abbey

We know, we know, Barrow's villain status eventually changes throughout the series. But boy, he is cold-hearted. Not only does he take his misery out on other people, but he also uses bullying and manipulation to get his way. Fortunately, his personal struggles and backstory prove there’s more to him than secret schemes and snarky remarks.

best tv villains petra

36. Petra Solano from Jane the Virgin

Ah, Petra. She starts out as a cunning villain we love to hate, but then she grows into a fan-favorite protagonist. “She was so disruptive to Jane and Rafael's relationship,” said Rachel Bowie, PureWow’s Senior Editor of Special Projects. “YET (yet!) you had so much empathy for her at times—like when you met her mother in the later seasons.”

best tv villains barrow willa
Paramount Network

35. Willa Hayes from Yellowstone

Every fan of the show knows that it’s hard to intimidate Beth Dutton. But the fierce businesswoman finally meets her match with the ruthless, cut-throat CEO of Market Equities, Willa Hayes. Not only does she go toe to toe with Beth, but she also takes over Beth’s office and fires her on the spot, looking totally unfazed when she is threatened. Talk about bold.

best tv villains reign
The CW

34. Reign from Supergirl

Samantha goes from being a caring single mom to a terrifying, power-hungry vigilante. Still, it’s hard to not empathize with her, given that she is originally clueless about her dark side as Reign. After experiencing a series of mysterious blackouts, Sam finally learns that she’s a Kryptonian with a dual personality. Naturally, Reign unleashes a new kind of hell after taking over her body. 

best tv villains lamar

33. Lamar Silas from BMF

After escaping from jail, the serial killer returns to Southwest Detroit to reclaim his belongings. When he realizes that he’s been replaced, he prepares for war. PureWow’s Assistant Editor Destinee Scott said, “He is certifiably insane in the first season. Definitely had me shook! He does the most off-the-wall things where you can't help but laugh because it's really crazy.”

best tv villains shawn

32. Shawn from The Good Place

Initially, he is thought to be “The Almighty Judge on High of All Beings Living and Dead for All Eternity." But really, the emotionless being is from The Bad Place—and he can’t die. Mutz said, “The only thing worse than a TV villain is an immortal TV villain.”

best tv villains mr burns

31. Charles Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons 

Springfield's most powerful citizen may be elderly, but he still abuses his power and wreaks havoc. A literal personification of corporate greed, Mr. Burns uses devious tactics to get whatever he wants without facing the consequences. And despite his ridiculously high net worth, he’s always obsessed with making more money. (Sounds familiar.)

best tv villains cartman 1
Comedy Central

30. Cartman from South Park

Immature, selfish, evil, destructive and mean are just a few words that come to mind when we think of the character. Mutz said, “In a show known for having quite a few villains (the Devil was a literal character), Cartman still takes the cake.”

best tv villains lady featherington

29. Lady Featherington from Bridgerton

Lady Featherington ought to win an award for “Most Ambitious Mama of All Time.” But if we’re being honest, she’s spiteful, she’s conniving…and her manipulation is next level. For instance, in season two, she manipulates Prudence without considering her feelings. 

best tv villains claudia
David Hindley/Prime Video

28. Claudia Richards from Riches 

Although the scheming matriarch has a bit more nuance by the end of season one, she is introduced as a worthy villain, using her influence and tact to get exactly what she wants. After learning that her late husband left his empire to his estranged daughter, she makes a vow to take Nina down and get the company back—even if that means manipulating her children in the process. 

best tv villains katherine

27. Katherine Pierce from The Vampire Diaries 

The remorseless vampire knows how to shake things up, to say the least. PureWow’s Assistant Editor Karelle McKay said, “She was always trying to stab someone in the back (especially the Salvatore brothers) or manipulate someone. But she was a really good villain and after she was gone, I started to miss her. When we finally got to see her backstory, I could see why she was the way she was.”

best tv villains sue

26. Sue Sylvester from Glee

Sue may have been cold, conniving and unnecessarily mean, but let’s face it: She was the best part of Glee. Joel Calfee, PureWow’s Assistant Editor of News and Entertainment, said, “She literally had a cutting comment to make about every single person on that show, and her lines could be simultaneously offensive but hilarious at the same time. Glee would’ve been nothing without her.”

best tv villains governor

25. The Governor from The Walking Dead 

You’d think that zombies are the scariest part of this show, but The Governor (AKA Brian Blake) proved that humans can be even more terrifying. With his intimidating eyepatch, the survivor rules over his community with an iron fist, but he isn’t much of a leader or protector, given his selfishness, manipulation and violent tendencies.

best tv villains fargo

24. Lorne Malvo from Fargo

Billy Bob Thornton delivers an unforgettable performance as the contract killer, who believes that all humans fall into two categories: hunters and prey. Lorne has no sense of morals and no conscience, so he genuinely enjoys corrupting other people and making them suffer. 

best tv villains kilgrave
Marvel Television

23. Kilgrave from Jessica Jones

A sociopathic criminal who uses mind control to get whatever he wants, regardless of the cost? We’d say that’s worth a spot on this list. Kilgrave has no remorse for the lives he destroys, which makes him downright evil.

best tv villains fisk

22. Wilson Fisk from Daredevil

The powerful crime lord tends to blur the lines of morality with his complex character. One moment, he’s a shy man who genuinely cares for his partner, and the next, he’s a vicious kingpin who will stop at nothing to gentrify and gain control of New York City.

best tv villains eli

21. Eli Pope (aka Rowan) from Scandal

Joe Morton is genuinely terrifying as Olivia’s dad, who can immediately incite fear with a cold glance, a simple threat or, worse yet, an intense rant. “He's not winning father of the year,” said Chelsea Candelario, Associate Editor at PureWow. “But man, did they give him the best monologues on the show. His quotes will forever go down in TV history.”

best tv villains agatha
Marvel Studios

20. Agatha Harkness from WandaVision

She's an evil witch who tricks Wanda into thinking that she's a harmless—albeit nosy—neighbor, then makes the big reveal with a seriously catchy tune. Played brilliantly by Kathryn Hahn, Wanda's arch-enemy wields enough power to control her magical dreamland from behind the scenes, proving she'll stop at nothing to harness Wanda's magic.

best tv villains black mariah
Marvel Television

19. Black Mariah from Luke Cage

She does a stellar job of maintaining her public image as a poised councilwoman, but in reality, she’s power-hungry and unhinged. Perhaps what makes her so terrifying is that she convinces the community to trust her, even though her decisions are destroying Harlem.

best tv villains angelus

18. Angelus from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Angel without his humanity is as close to pure evil as you can get, and it’s pretty scary to see. For instance, he goes to extreme lengths to destroy Drusilla’s sanity by killing her entire family and turning her into a vampire.

best tv villains cersei

17. Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones

Don’t sleep on Cersei, better known as one of the smartest and most complex female characters to grace the small screen. In fact, PureWow’s Editorial Assistant Delia Curtis describes her as “the best kind of villain.” She said, “While I despised her and hated what she did to every character she came in contact with, she always did it with her children in mind. It was always under the guise of trying to protect them. It’s like the epitome of toxic mothering.”

best tv villains the thinker

16. The Thinker from The Flash

Thanks to his increased intellect, The Thinker (formerly Clifford DeVoe) is always 20 steps ahead of Barry, predicting the speedster’s every move before he retaliates. But in addition to being a flawless planner, The Thinker is also a master manipulator with the ability to absorb other people's powers, from telepathy to shapeshifting. Even with Barry’s speed and the impressive tech at STAR Labs, The Thinker is easily one of the most challenging villains the team goes up against.

best tv villains logan roy

15. Logan Roy from Succession

And the Worst Father of the Year Award goes to…Logan Roy. Even as his health declines, the calculated patriarch runs on arrogance and ambition. Leave it to Logan to sow discord and blackmail his own kids for the sake of his company.

best tv villains homelander
Prime Video

14. Homelander from The Boys 

Ah, where do we begin? For one, Homelander is narcissistic and couldn’t care less about protecting humanity. He also takes pleasure in brutally killing people, and he’s a master manipulator who knows how to sway the public. Even so, The Boys wouldn’t be as entertaining without this evil version of Superman. 

best tv villains vee
Jessica Miglio/NETFLIX

13. Yvonne "Vee" Parker from Orange Is the New Black

What makes Vee so terrifying is her natural ability to identify a person’s biggest weakness and use it against them. Not to mention her divisive tactics and unmatched coercion skills. The charismatic sociopath stops at nothing (and we mean nothing) to tear someone down if they dare to cross her.

best tv villains kreese

12. John Kreese from Cobra Kai 

It's one thing for a villain to fully embrace their dark side and embark on a killing spree. But when they use their authority and power to encourage more evil and violence—especially amongst kids—that's next level. Kreese essentially births a new generation of vicious bullies (including Johnny Lawrence) who are taught to show “no mercy.”

best tv villains klaus
Quantrell D.Colbert/The CW

11. Klaus Mikaelson from Vampire Diaries and The Originals

Sure, he commits mass murder and terrorizes Mystic Falls, but Klaus is one of the few villains we can actually root for, thanks to his incredibly nuanced character and irresistible charm. PureWow’s Assistant Commerce Editor Natalie LaBarbera said, “You know most of the things he does are terrible, but there's so much depth to his character that you can't help but love him.”

best tv villains he who remains
Marvel Studios

10. He Who Remains from Loki

He may not have Devil's horns or an imposing appearance, but the darkness that lies beneath his seemingly gentle demeanor is what makes him so terrifying. Jonathan Majors simply shines as one of Kang the Conqueror's variants and the mastermind behind the Time Variance Authority.

best tv villains villainelle

9. Villanelle from Killing Eve 

She could pass for a quintessential charming protagonist in a modern-day rom-com, thanks to her playful outward appearance. But upon closer inspection, she’s a cold, brutal killer with no conscience. PureWow’s Fashion Editor Abby Hepworth argues that her complex character is what makes her so compelling. She said, “The things she does are horrifying, but damn, is she fascinating. And dare I say, likable? She was a super interesting twist on what a villain could be.”

best tv villains ben linus

8. Benjamin Linus from Lost

He has a calm, slightly creepy demeanor, but he also proves to be extremely reckless, manipulative and vindictive, going to extreme lengths (like sacrificing his own daughter) to maintain control of the Island. His motives remain unclear for quite some time, which makes him even more terrifying as time goes on.

best tv villains trinity killer

7. Arthur Mitchell (AKA The Trinity Killer) from Dexter

There's something about sinister villains who lead double lives. But one of the standouts? The Trinity Killer. Although he pretends to be a kind high school teacher and family man, he’s also a child abuser and brutal serial killer. The seemingly harmless criminal proves to be one of Dexter's most challenging victims.

best tv villains moriarty

6. James Moriarty from Sherlock

Andrew Scott brings the iconic James Moriarty to life in the best possible way, balancing his humor and smarts with the character’s psychopathic tendencies. According to Hepworth, he’s “insane and unpredictable in the absolute best ways.” She added, “He gave me nightmares. I loved it.”

best tv villains gus

5. Gus Fring from Breaking Bad

To the average person, he's a kind and humble businessman, but on the flip side, he's calm, calculated and extremely manipulative. Gus, AKA the Chicken Man, flies under the radar while secretly running a massive drug empire with an iron fist. He even threatens Walter’s family—including his newborn—when he fires him. Talk about ruthless.

best tv villains brainiac
Warner Bros. Television

4. Brainiac from Smallville

Kryptonian artificial intelligence gone rogue is never a good sign. After getting corrupted by Zod, Brainiac comes to Earth, assumes a new identity and wreaks havoc on Clark's life. After Brainiac is defeated, the Kryptonian still finds a way to resurface multiple times—posing an even greater threat with each return.

best tv villains hannibal

3. Hannibal Lecter from Hannibal 

Well-mannered, whip-smart, sophisticated and charming are just a few words that describe Dr. Hannibal Lecter. But quite frankly, he’s also the definition of evil. Anyone who has seen the series can agree that Hannibal is severely psychopathic and sadistic, having zero empathy and virtually no sense of morality. Even as he cooks and eats his victims.

best tv villains ramsay

2. Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones

He’s a sexual sadist who takes pleasure in murdering victims and keeping their skin as a trophy (*cringe*). But it’s the element of unpredictability that makes him so fascinating and difficult to read. Rachel Gulmi, PureWow's Operations Director of Branded Content, said, “Was he an absolute psychopath? 1000%. But in a show where everyone’s characters are somewhat predictable, you could never guess what he would do next.”

best tv villains sylar

1. Sylar from Heroes

The watchmaker-turned-supervillain is essentially a misunderstood soul who spirals after not getting what he wants most: love, recognition and a sense of belonging. To fill the void, he morphs into a serial killer with no empathy and tries to gain as much power as he can. And yes, we still get chills every time we think of Sylar slitting someone's head with his finger.

nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...