The 25 greatest female villains in film

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha
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There's something about a female villain that stops us in our tracks. From villain of the moment Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent to the iconic Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz and the nastiest woman you'll ever see in pink tweed, Harry Potter's Dolores Umbridge, here are the most terrifying female villains on film.

As Rudyard Kipling so neatly put it: "The female of the species is more deadly than the male".

Images: Rex Features

  • Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz

    "Just try and stay out of my way. Just try! I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!"

    Defining moment: When the Wicked Witch of the West's sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, is accidentally killed by Dorothy, she makes it her goal to seek revenge and steal the powerful ruby slippers, by using her army of flying monkeys and setting people on fire. She’s green, mean and possesses a shrill maniacal cackle that has now become synonymous with witches.

  • Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty/Maleficent

    "You poor simple fools. Thinking you could defeat ME?! Me, the Mistress of all evil!"

    Defining moment: When she gatecrashes Princess Aurora's royal christening and strikes a curse: "The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her. But... before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger, on the spindle of a spinning wheel - AND DIE!"

  • Annie Wilkes in Misery

    "Now the time has come. I put two bullets in my gun. One for me, and one for you. Oh darling, it will be so beautiful."

    Defining moment: When former nurse Annie Wilkes, and a devoted fan of author Paul Sheldon's work, learns Sheldon is about to kill off beloved character Misery Chastain in his upcoming novel, she becomes obsessive, delusional and dangerous. She traps the author in her basement and demands he resurrects Misery in a new book written just for her.

  • Dolores Umbridge

    "That's right. Because deep down you know that you deserve to be punished. Don't you Mr. Potter?"

    Defining moment: When Dolores Umbridge overthrows Dumbledore and transforms Hogwarts into a totalitarian state. She punishes students, including Harry Potter, by making them etch the words "I must not tell lies" repeatedly onto the back of their hands, all the while maintaining a seemingly sweet exterior. She's the nastiest woman you'll ever find in pink tweed.

  • The Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    "Take her far into the forest. Find some secluded glade where she can pick wildflowers…And there, my faithful huntsman, you will kill her!"

    Defining moments: Seeped in jealously and determined to be the fairest of them all, Snow White’s wicked stepmother orders the huntsman to kill Snow White and bring her heart back in a box. When he fails, she uses dark magic to conjure up poisonous apples and turn herself into a haggard old woman as a disguise.

  • Regina George in Mean Girls

    "And evil takes a human form in Regina George. Don't be fooled because she may seem like your typical selfish, back-stabbing slut-faced ho-bag, but in reality, she's so much more than that."

    Defining moment: When new-girl-in-school Cady Heron makes the mistake of falling for Aaron Samuels, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina George, Regina schemes to destroy Cady's social future.

  • Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction

    "Well, what am I supposed to do? You won't answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I'm not gonna be ignored, Dan!"

    Defining moment: After happily married New York lawyer Dan Callagher has an affair with his colleague Alex while his wife and daughter are away, Alex becomes obsessed with him. She cuts her wrists in a suicide attempt, repeatedly calls Callagher at his office and then his home number when he refuses to answer her calls, sends him an abusive video, kills Callagher's daughter's pet rabbit and puts it on their stove to boil, or perhaps her most evil moment was in the final scene when she suddenly appears at the house ready to kill his wife.

  • Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians

    “If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will!”

    Defining moment: When the wealthy, fashion-obsessed heiress decides she wants to use the skins of 99 Dalmatian puppies for a fur coat. She is even more petrifying when she doesn't get it.

  • Ms Trunchbull in Matilda

    "I cannot for the life of me understand why small children take so long to grow up. I think they do it deliberately, just to annoy me."

    Defining moment: The frightening headmistress of school Crunchem Hall calls an immediate assembly of the entire student body so she can humiliate ‘chubby’ boy Bruce by forcing him to eat the biggest chocolate cake we’ve ever seen.

  • Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter series

    "My Lord, I'd like to volunteer for this task. I want to kill the boy."

    Defining moment: The sadistic witch who is hopelessly devoted to Harry Potter's nemesis Voldemort, tortured Nevill Lonbottom's parents and aurors, Alice and Frank Longbottom with the Cruciatus Curse and killed Sirius Black without a flinch.

  • Ursula in The Little Marmaid

    “I admit that in the past I've been a nasty. They weren't kidding when the called me, well, a witch.”

    Defining moment: When the queen of manipulation tells Ariel that men prefer silence in women and tricks her into giving up her voice. Ursula then takes the form of a beautiful woman named Vanessa and Ariel's voice and lures Prince Eric into agreeing to marry her, sabotaging Ariel's chance of true love.

  • Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

    "The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine."

    Defining moment: Head Nurse Ratched's totalitarian rule over a mental institution begins to slip when new patient Randle McMurphy arrived. He undermines her ridiculous rules and insists that the other patients on the ward stop bowing down to her. She naturally does everything she can to stop him, starting with threats and minor punishments, then leading to electro-shock therapy.

  • Grand High Witch in The Witches

    "Witches of England... You are a disgrace! Miserable witches... You are good-for-nothing worms! Everywhere I look, I see the repulsive sight of hundreds, thousands of revolting little children."

    Defining moment: When the heartless head witch, played by Angelica Houston, instructs her fellow witches of how to rid the world of all children and then peels off her human disguise and unveils her hideous features.

  • Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct

    "Killing isn't like smoking. You can stop."

    Defining moment: It's between the shocking opening sequence which features a graphic sex scene involving a rock-star bound with a white Hermes scarf by an unidentified blond woman, or when said blonde woman, the successful mystery writer and ruthless murderer Catherine Tramell , traps policeman Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) in a cat and mouse games as he tries to find out why everyone close to Tramell dies.

  • Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada

    "By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me."

    Defining moment: When Priestly says, "Details of your incompetence do not interest me. Tell Simone I'm not going to approve that girl that she sent me for the Brazilian layout. I asked for clean, athletic, smiling. She sent me dirty, tired and paunchy. And R.S.V.P. Yes to Michael Kors' party, I want the driver to drop me off at 9:30 and pick me up at 9:45 sharp. Call Natalie at Glorious Foods and tell her no for the 40th time. No! I don't want dacquoise. I want tortes filled with warm rhubarb compote. Then call my ex-husband and remind him that the parent-teacher conference is at Dalton tonight. Then call my husband, ask him to meet me for dinner at that place I went to with Massimo. Tell Richard I saw the pictures that he sent for that feature on the female paratroopers and they're all so deeply unattractive. Is it impossible to find a lovely, slender, female paratrooper? Am I reaching for the stars here? Not really. Also, I need to see all the things that Nigel has pulled for Gwyneth's second cover try. I wonder if she's lost any of that weight yet." The famed editor-in-chief of Runway magazine is ruthless and merciless.

  • Miss Hannigan in Annie

    "Why any kid would want to be an orphan is beyond me."

    Defining moment: When Miss Hannigan, the alcoholic caretaker of the orphanage in New York, wakes up the orphan girls and makes them scrub the floor until it shines "like the top of the Chrysler building". She despises children, particularly girls, but she loves her job.

  • Winifred in Hocus Pocus

    "You know, I've always wanted a child. And now I think I'll have one... on toast!"

    Defining moment: When the Sanderson sisters and witches, Winifred, Mary and Sarah, are brought back to life on Hallow's Eve having been executed 300 years prior for practising dark magic, they lure all the children of Salem once more to drain the lives from them.

  • Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

    "Blanche, you aren't ever gonna sell this house... and you aren't ever gonna leave it... either."

    Defining moment: When former child-star Jane controls her wheelchair-bound sister Blanche in their Hollywood mansion, intercepting her letters and ensuring that few if anyone from the outside has any contact with her, all due to her resentment for her sister's successful acting career.

  • Mama Fratelli in The Goonies

    "Oh, Slothy. I may have been bad. I may have kept you chained up in that room but it was for your own good."

    Defining moment: When Mama Fratelli mistreats her son Sloth Fratelli who is deformed - caused by her dropping him multiple times in his early childhood - by chaining him up to a derelict restaurant.

  • Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions

    "Everybody loves me, and I intend to keep it that way."

    Defining moment: The film is peppered with moments of Kathryn Merteuil's evil manipulation from convincing her step-brother Sebastian to sleep with virgin new school-girl Annette Hargrove and then break her heart, to manipulating a mutual friend of theirs to fight Sebastian, which led him to accidentally be hit by a car and die.

  • T-X Terminatrix in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

    "I like your gun."

    Defining moment: The robot arrives in a clothes shop with mannequins, melting them and killing an onlooking woman, after admiring her car and before taking her belongings. She then goes on to be a relentless John-Connor-fighting-machine.

  • Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin

    "Mammals, a day of reckoning is coming. That's right, the same plants and flowers that saw you crawl from the primordial soup will reclaim the planet. And there will be no-one to protect you."

    Defining moment: She seduced an entire audience and both Batman and Robin with her seductively poisonous charms inciting them to fight one another for her affections before working against them.

  • Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love

    "Training is useful, but there is no substitute for experience."

    Defining moment: The villain proved that not all Bond girls have to be 007's love interest when she famously flipped a poisoned knife out of her shoe and tried to kill Bond.

  • The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

    I have no interest in prisoners. Kill them all.

    Defining moment: She's the witch who froze Narnia in the Hundred Years Winter and stabs the great Aslan with a stone dagger in an attempt to kill him.

  • Elle Driver in Kill Bill

    "That's right. I killed your master. And now I'm gonna kill you too, with your own sword, no less, which in the very immediate future, will become... my sword."

    Defining moment: She shows no vulnerability and no innocence, especially when she murders Pai Mei by poisoning his fish heads and disguises herself as a nurse to inject the Bride with a deadly poison as she lies unconscious in hospital.

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha

Sejal Kapadia Pocha covers stories about everything from women’s issues to cult foods. She describes herself as a balance between Hermione and Luna Lovegood.