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The best sci-fi villains ever, ranked

The best sci-fi movies all have one thing in common. Great worlds and heroes come and go, but what makes a sci-fi movie endure is its villain. A sci-fi villain can come in a wide array of forms. Some of them are killing machines, while others are people with incredible powers or skills that make them a problem for our heroes.

In order for a day to be saved, though, all of these villains had to ultimately lose in one way or another. What separates the six villains that made this list, though, is that we weren’t even totally sure we wanted the heroes to win. That’s how good these villains are.

6. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

The T-1000 wagging it's finger in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The first Terminator introduced us to what we thought was a nearly unstoppable killing machine, but it wasn’t until Terminator 2: Judgment Day that we understood what unstoppable really means.

Robert Patrick is excellent as a machine whose only responsibility is to kill John Connor before he can foment rebellion, and what makes him such brilliant casting is how much smaller he is than his primary opponent Arnold Schwarzenegger. You wouldn’t think that Patrick could overwhelm Schwarzenegger under any circumstances, but somehow in the world of the movie, you totally believe it.

5. The Thing (John Carpenter’s The Thing)

copper-using-a-defibrillator-on-norris-in-the-thing-1982
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Because it can be anywhere, the thing feels like a threat that is almost impossible to tamp down or stop. It could be anyone at any time, which makes it scary in a way that most of the villains on this list are not.

Your average sci-fi villain may be ultrapowerful, but they at least have a form that makes them tangible. By contrast, the thing is intentionally shapeless, a creature that can create a perfect imitation of any person or animal

4. Agent Smith (The Matrix)

Agent Smith in The Matrix Resurrections.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The physical manifestation of the Matrix, Agent Smith is so terrifying in part because he’s everywhere. Try as he might to rebel, all Neo can ever do is just hold his opponent at bay.

There will always be more Agent Smiths, and Hugo Weaving’s smug, intentionally generic performance is designed as a reminder that the threats posed by Agent Smith are also those posed by the world of the Matrix more generally. Agent Smith is allpowerful not because he has any special powers, but because he can oppress you until you no longer even see the point of resisting.

3. Xenomorph (Alien)

Ripley fights an Alien queen in Aliens.
20th Century Fox

An unstoppable creation designed to kill everything it meets, the xenomorph is really the ultimate horror villain, stuffed into a sci-fi package. Instead of feeling or thinking, the xenomorph’s only motivation seems to be destruction, and as we dive deeper into the lore of the Alien franchise, it’s easy to understand why.

They were bred for one purpose, and that purpose happens to involve gestating inside of a human and then bursting forth, ready to destroy everything in their way. The aliens are miracles of design, and even more than 40 years after the first movie’s release, they still look just as scary as ever.

2. Khan Nooien Sigh (Star Trek)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Paramount Pictures

The greatest villain in Star Trek history, Khan is an important contrast to many of the villains on this list because he spends most of his time on-screen outthinking his opponents. Like many of the greatest villains in history, Ricardo Montalban ensures that Khan is just as compelling as Captain Kirk and his team of space explorers.

Whatever you might think of Star Trek Into DarknessThe Wrath of Khan remains one of the great sequels ever made, and none of that would be true if Khan himself were not such a commanding force.

1. Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi
Disney

There’s a reason we meet Darth Vader before we meet Luke in the original Star Wars. The movie may not be about Vader, but he’s the ace the movie has up his sleeve. Thanks to the combination of James Earl Jones’s imposing voice and the wonderful character design, Vader is the embodiment of evil from the first moment we see him.

Of course, Vader’s story eventually becomes the heart of the original trilogy as we come to better understand him, and realize that he is not as all-powerful as he may seem. Even so, Vader’s status in the culture, from his iconic lines to his mechanical breath, meant that it was inevitable he would wind up on top of this list.

Joe Allen

Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.

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