Stephen King: Top 10 villains |


Stephen King: Top 10 villains

From Big Brother to Voldemort, EW's pop culture columnist shares his picks for the fictional characters that are at their best when they're doing their worst

Cape Fear, Robert De Niro

(Everett Collection)

Stephen King: Top 10 villains

Early this month, a friend sent me a blog post from in which the author, David Finniss, listed ”the top 10 greatest Stephen King villains.” I was a little disappointed to see that his pick for numero uno was Pennywise, the psychotic (and supernatural) clown from It. My personal pick for No. 1 — Annie Wilkes, R.N. — was Finniss’ No. 4. But his piece got me thinking about all the great villains I’ve encountered in fiction, the guys (and gals) I’ve absolutely loved to hate.

Then — there are no coincidences in life, but there is such a thing as fate — EW decided to do its own lists of heroes and villains. Given such a perfect fit, I started making my own list of fictional book baddies, and it was soon two pages long. Below are my picks for the 10 worst, culled from a list of nearly 70. I’m sure I missed some obvious choices, and I’m sure that when you let me know (as you always do, Constant Reader), I’ll slap my forehead and groan, ”Of course!” Because this is a case of so many bad guys (and gals) and so little space.

10. Max Cady Don’t recognize the name? Would it help if I said Cape Fear? Cady is the crazed-for-revenge psychopath who stalks the Bowden family in John D. MacDonald’s The Executioners (1957). Played on the silver screen by Robert Mitchum in 1962 and Robert De Niro in 1991, but never more scary than in MacDonald’s tightly wrapped novel.

9. Anton Chigurh Cormac McCarthy’s scariest creation. Mostly, I think, because of Chigurh’s weapon of choice, an air-driven cattle gun that shoots a retracting pneumatic bolt.

8. Popeye Not the cartoon sailor but the small-town criminal in William Faulkner’s Sanctuary. He commits the most infamous rape in modern fiction. It’s so gruesome that I can’t describe it in a family magazine.

7. Big Brother He’s watching you from every telescreen in George Orwell’s more-relevant-than-ever novel of a nightmare dictatorship where war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and one man struggles for a better, saner life. (Good luck on that.)

6. Harry Powell The preacher who hounds two children through the pages of Davis Grubb’s Night of the Hunter. Has LOVE tattooed on the fingers of one hand and HATE on the fingers of the other. In the film version, Robert Mitchum gave him the face that caused a thousand nightmares.

NEXT PAGE: Stephen King’s top 5 literary villains, and his picks for best of the rest