As an adult pursuing a forensics career in the swamps of Louisiana, Jeremy retains his love for Disney films.
Who Are the Best Disney Villains?
From maliciously evil to surprisingly sympathetic, Disney's decades-long cast of villains vary greatly but offer a dose of corruption to the innocent worlds seen in Disney movies. From the jealousy of Snow White's Evil Queen to the brutality of Mulan's Shan Yu, we've experienced dark antagonists of all shapes and sizes.
The best villains are lovably energetic (perhaps with a catchy villain song), eerily relatable, or frighteningly powerful, making them enormous challenges for our heroes to surmount. So, which ne'er-do-wells reign supreme? These are the 10 best villains throughout Disney history! We're going by strict-Disney rules; no Star Wars or Marvel villains, awesome though they are.
10. Mother Gothel
An intelligent manipulator, Mother Gothel steals her scenes thanks to her dramatic flair, wit, and sass (contrasting Rapunzel's pure naivety). Gothel hides Rapunzel away in a tower, supposedly for her protection, but truthfully to protect and utilize her magical hair, which keeps Gothel young. Her selfishness and vanity eventually prove her undoing when Rapunzel (with help from Flynn and Pascal) thwarts her plans and Gothel fades to dust.
Despite her death, Gothel remains a favorite for her dynamic personality and almost-emphatic nature. She found the magical flower that lent eternal youth before the queen's guards unknowingly cut it (in an attempt to save their ruler). That doesn't give Gothel the right to kidnap the queen's daughter, but hey, I'd be mad too, and she did first try to simply steal a lock of Rapunzel's hair. At times, Gothel even comes astonishingly close to displaying real affection for Rapunzel, cooking her favorite dinners and agreeing to lengthy trips to obtain her desired paints.
Film: Beauty and the Beast
Disney tends to have its heroes be beautiful and its villains ugly, but Gaston offers a refreshing twist on this standard, proving handsomeness doesn't always make a prince. The reverse of the Beast, he's good-looking on the outside but ugly within, and his inability to look past Beast's ferocious appearance (and heed Belle's words) eventually leads to his demise as he ignorantly attacks Beast's castle.
Still, Gaston was enjoyably narcissistic, popular within the village, and not as brainless as he seemed—his schemes to force Belle into marriage (by jailing her father if she refused) nearly succeeds, and Gaston manages to unite the entire town against his main competitor. Cruel, but surprisingly cunning, Gaston reveals true beauty isn't outward, but comes from within.
8. Captain Hook
Film: Peter Pan, Hook
Blending cruelty, humor, and sympathy into one potent package, Captain Hook remains one of Disney's most complex villains. While he's undeniably ruthless (shooting and killing his own minion for singing), Hook is perhaps the most relatable villain yet. After all, our "hero" Peter Pan cut off Hook's hand and fed it to Tick-Tock the crocodile, causing it to relentlessly pursue Hook.
Shoot, if some eternally youthful brat with flying powers cut off my hand and had me hunted by a reptile, I'd probably want to slice him up too. Hook also harbors a close relationship with his first mate Smee, with the two (unlike several Disney villains) never betraying one another. Hooks also proves his strength as Pan's equal in swordplay after cleverly insulting Pan's pride and convincing his nemesis to abandon his flying advantage.
Film: The Emperor's New Groove
In my humble opinion, The Emperor's New Groove remains the most criminally underrated Disney film, with its entire cast offering hilarious lines throughout the film—including the Emperor's adviser, Yzma. She's a comical villain whose antics often have us laughing, especially when paired with her dim-witted assistant Kronk.
Plus, Yzma's scheme is blessedly simple: poison the Emperor, and take his throne. Not only that, she only turned on him after he suddenly and callously fired her, showing she wasn't treacherous until prompted. Finally, Yzma manages to survive her original film as well as sequels Kronk's New Groove and The Emperor's New School, showing she's often down but never out.
For all his scheming and greed, Jafar deserves some credit for mastering hypnosis in the ancient city of Agrabah and successfully locating Genie's lamp. He's a more solemn antagonist, leaving most of the comic relief to sidekick Iago, but this helps cement his nefarious nature.
Jafar very nearly wins, as he attains the power of a genie, kisses Princess Jasmine, and even mocks Aladdin with a reprise of "Prince Ali." Turning your own song against you? Now that's true evil. Jafar eventually returns in, well, The Return of Jafar, but is gone for good by the sequel's conclusion, though he was revived by Hades for an episode of Hercules: The Animated Series.
5. Judge Frollo
Film: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Another personal favorite, Hunchback remains one of Disney's darkest endeavors, dealing with themes of isolation and lust. Protagonist Quasimodo is shunned for his ugliness, and he doesn't get the girl (well, he finds love in the sequel, but that's a much less-enticing tale).
Contributing to the film's melancholy nature, Judge Claude Frollo isn't an outcast like some villains—he's an elected official, constantly abusing his power but believing his acts represent God's righteous will. Frollo isolates Quasimodo in the belltower, lusts after Esmeralda, tries to wipe out the gypsies, and still considers himself a good person. Yet, when he's deep in private, Frollo occasionally shows signs of guilt, like when he begs God's forgiveness at the end of his memorable "Hellfire" song. In short, Frollo offers a scary but multi-layered antagonist blessed with the voice of the late Tony Jay.
Film: The Little Mermaid
A nefarious sea witch, Ursula's flamboyance and self-assurance quickly made her one of Disney's most beloved antagonists. Ursula "helps" merfolk by making deals with them, in this case offering Ariel a chance to woo Eric as a human. However, Ariel must forfeit her voice and attain a kiss in three days, or she reverts to her mermaid form and "belongs" to Ursula.
Sure, Ursula actively sabotages Ariel's attempts to court Eric, but she never said she wouldn't, and did technically fulfill her end of the deal; without her, Ariel may never have found true love. Not that Ursula isn't evil; her magic and cleverness trick victims into willing entering treacherous schemes. She'll have you signing the warrant for your own execution, thinking you got the better deal.
Film: The Lion King
Scar's malicious plans really hit home as he kills Mufasa, one of Disney's most beloved characters and his own brother. He also orders his nephew Simba murdered, all because of his lust for power. Scar's a deviously cunning villain, recruiting the outcast hyenas to assist his plans and successfully usurping the throne for many years.
He's also no slouch in battle, holding his own against an adult Simba despite his advanced age. His villainous "Be Prepared" melody remains sinfully delightful, and the fact that he's voiced by Jeremy (a name I happen to be fond of) Irons certainly isn't hurting his case. Occasionally, I even feel twinges of sympathy for this lion, forfeiting the throne to his older brother simply by a later birth, then losing the promise of it thanks to Simba's arrival.
As god of the underworld, Hades wields several formidable powers that make him a fearsome foe, but his comedic portrayal really cements his status as an iconic villain. And after learning that Zeus forced Hades to govern the afterlife—which he understandably finds gloomy and depressing—his rebellion doesn't seem quite as malicious.
Hades's coup against the Olympus deities goes surprisingly well thanks to his monster recruitment skills, and he's an uncommonly honest antagonist, keeping his end of any deals he makes. Hades survives his film (albeit having been trapped in the River Styx), showing he may again emerge for more evil deeds.
Film: Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent
Dark and elegant, Maleficent remains arguably Disney's most popular villain, and whenever the baddies are grouped up, she often serves as their leader. Whether she's hexing foes with black magic in her human form or dominating them in her dragon transformation, Maleficent is as powerful as she is cunning, a master of battles both physical and political.
This iconic sorceress even gained her own live-action film sharing her name, which explains her evil by offering a far-more sympathetic version of events, and she's firmly good by the film's conclusion. From her two movies to cartoon House of Mouse to the Kingdom Hearts video games, Maleficent appears across several different media, repeatedly asserting her position as Disney's No. 1 villain.
Future Disney Characters
Greedy, bloodthirsty, and sometimes disturbingly understandable, Disney's rogues remain a diverse and enjoyable cast. With their vibrant costumes, memorable quotes, and origins in real-world fairy tales, they provide engaging challenges for our heroes to surmount.
But for now, as we eagerly await future Disney tyrants to surmount, vote for your favorite malefactor and I'll see you at our next Disney countdown!
Questions & Answers
Question: Who is your favorite Disney Villain?
Answer: Scar (from the original Lion King of course, not the remake).
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on January 15, 2019:
Good observation! Jafar also succeeded in attaining massive power (albeit for a briefer time). However, remember that Gothel and Scar didn't survive their films, whereas villains like Yzma and Hades (who lived) could potentially strike again one day.
Lola Lopez on January 12, 2019:
Scar and Mother Gothel should be 1 because both succeeded
Liz Westwood from UK on November 01, 2018:
Captain Hook was one my son feared as a child and also the wicked queen in Snow White and the 7 dwarves.
Zia Uddin from UK on October 30, 2018:
Nice and fun to read about Disney villains. I'd vote for Scar as the best villain and that song of his 'Be Prepared' is rough and tough. Will be sharing this hub.