Skip to main content

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)

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

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.

US Olympic trials live stream: Can you watch for free?
2024 Paris Olympics logo.

Before we get to the 2024 Summer Olympics in July, the athletes must qualify in their respective events. Qualifying is done differently across different sports, and many have already booked their spots in Paris, but for others, the most important competition of their lives is about to begin.

In the United States, Olympic qualifying for four major sports are all on the horizon:

Read more
3 underrated Netflix movies you should watch this weekend (June 14-16)
Three people stand and laugh in Wanderlust.

The Bad Boys have saved summer. Last weekend, Bad Boys: Ride or Die topped the box office by earning a healthy $56 million, which exceeded the disappointing openings of The Fall Guy and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. Reports of cinema's demise have been greatly exaggerated it seems, and this weekend's Inside Out 2 is poised to make even more summer cash.

For Netflix, it's business as usual. The Richard Linklater action-comedy Hit Man is deservedly finding its audience, while the schlocky sci-fi movie Atlas continues to attract both the curious and masochists. The streamer also has an extensive library of hidden gems that are still worth watching. This weekend, check out these three underrated movies that should keep you away from the beach or the sun for awhile.

Read more
3 underrated Amazon Prime Video movies you should watch this weekend (June 14-16)
Fighting With My Family

Navigating the new releases coming to streaming services alongside the archival titles the streamer has had for years can be an overwhelming challenge. Prime Video, for example, has plenty of great movies that are often buried on the service unless the algorithm by some miracle decides that they might be right for you.

The best thing to do is probably to avoid the algorithm altogether. Instead, we've pulled together three underrated movies available on the streaming service that you should check out this weekend. You may not have heard of any of these movies, but trust us, you won't regret checking them out.
You Were Never Really Here (2018)
You Were Never Really Here Trailer #1 (2018) | Movieclips Trailers

Read more