In honor of Once Upon a Time bringing in a trilogy’s worth of badass villainesses, from comics to movies to animation, I present thirteen of the most badass chicks in pop culture history. Better watch out, ’cause these girls will totally cut you.
13. Varla (Faster, Pussycast…Kill! Kill!)
You may not know the name, but you’ve certainly felt her influence in pop culture. Varla, as played by the fabulously-named actress Tura Satana, was the ring leader of a wild pack of killer go-go dancers in director Russ Meyer’s 1965 cult classic film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Varla was a stone cold monster who, within the first thirty minutes of her movie, drag races in the desert, karate chops a dude to death, and kidnaps his girlfriend. Sporting a black cat suit that showed off her rather abundant gifts, long black hair with bangs, and painted-on eyebrows, Varla was the template for every bad ass chick you ever met at a dive bar or at a tattoo parlor who ever gave you the stink eye for staring at her for too long.
12. Gozer the Gozerian (Ghostbusters)
This entry is cheating a little bit, after all, Gozer the Gozerian isn’t really a woman, it’s an ancient Babylonian God who can choose any form it wishes. However, when it finally makes its big entrance on the roof of Sigourney Weaver’s building at the climax of Ghostbusters, it chooses the form of a back up dancer from an early eighties music video. But it’s a female backup dancer, so it counts in my book. Although only existing as a female form for a grand total of three minutes before becoming a giant marshmallow creature, Gozer made the most of her time as a “nimble little minx.”
11. The Borg Queen (Star Trek: First Contact)
When the Borg were introduced as the new villainous alien species in Star Trek The Next Generation, they were a single minded hive with no personality. As cool as that concept is, when it came time to make Star Trek: First Contact for the big screen, the producers knew that they needed someone to act as the “face” of the Borg, so they came up with the notion of the Borg Queen. Played by Alice Krige, who brought a creepy sexuality to the role, the Borg Queen ended up being the franchise’s most memorable villain next to Khan. And her grand entrance, where her head and shoulders are lowered into her body from above, was super badass back in 1996. She would later be used several times on Star Trek: Voyager, as that show ran the Borg into the ground, but she was never cooler than in her first appearance in First Contact.
10. Annie Wilkes (Misery)
While most of the female villains on this list are “sexy” in some way (which says a lot about our culture’s views on sex and “badness,” but that’s another article for another day), no one can claim to have ever called Kathy Bates’ breakthrough performance in 1990’s Stephen King adaptation Misery “sexy” in any way. Bates won an Oscar for her portrayal of Wilkes, a deranged obsessive fangirl of fictional literary character Misery Chastain, who ends up caring for her favorite novelist (and Misery Chastain’s creator) Paul Sheldon after he’s injured in a car accident. She’ll only help him recover on the condition that Sheldon writes a new novel resurrecting the character with whom she is obsessed. Needless to say, there are complications. In all my decades of movie-going, I have never seen anyone literally get up out of their chair and fist pump when a movie bad guy “gets theirs” like I did at the climax of this movie.
9. Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest)
I have no idea if the real Joan Crawford was as much of a monster as the 1981 biopic film Mommie Dearest would suggest (actually, I read the book…she was that bad), but Faye Dunaway sunk her teeth into the role of Hollywood golden era acting legend Joan Crawford, who at the height of her fame decided to adopt two cherubic orphans “for a little extra publicity” and then proceeded to make their lives a living hell. Dunaway’s performance is part kabuki theater, part campy horror flick, and entirely something you’ll never forget. Dunaway was coming off over a decade’s worth of critically praised performances and an Oscar win when she made this, and she blames the film’s reception as a camptastic schlock fest for ruining her career. (According to urban legend, Dunaway also claims to be haunted by the ghost of the real Joan Crawford for ruining her reputation. I desperately want to see someone tackle a movie based on that scenario.) For thirty plus years now, gay men the world over have become grateful for the endless amount of quotes Mommie Dearest has provided us, and for everyone else, the movie can serve as reminder that your mom isn’t really that bad.
8. The Alien Queen (Aliens)
Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie introduced us to the Xenomorph, one of the most terrifying creatures in sc-fi movie history. James Cameron’s sequel Aliens raised the stakes even higher by introducing a whole colony overrun by Xenomorphs. But the worst was still to come for Ellen Ripley and her crew of Colonial Marines, when we discover that these aliens are merely the children of a ginormous Alien Queen, a creature that is the living embodiment of the phrase “never come between a mother and her cubs.” The Queen is one mean mother… literally. When Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley says, “Get away from her, YOU BITCH!” you are right there with her.
7. Mystique (Uncanny X-Men)
When Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont created the mutant shapeshifter Mystique, he probably had no idea she’d grow into one of the franchise’s most popular and enduring villains, and even come to symbolize the entire franchise due to a brilliant make-up idea conceived of for the first X-Men movie. Although her portrayals in the comics and the movies come with starkly different backstories, one thing remains the same about her: her single-minded devotion to protecting the mutant race at all costs….regardless of innocent humans getting in the way. Although originally just part of a team, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, she quickly became the standout character, and is now the X-Men’s most notorious female adversary.
6. Catwoman (Batman)
Batman doesn’t only have all the best villains, he also has all the best villainesses. So when it came time to pick one for this list, I almost gave this spot to Talia al Ghul, Poison Ivy, or Harley Quinn. But in the end, this entry belongs to Batman’s longest running femme fatale, Selina Kyle, a/k/a Catwoman. While Catwoman teeters the line between hero and villain more than anyone else on this list, truth is, she’s still a master jewel thief, and last time I checked, stealing was still considered bad. Besides, for the first fifty or so years of her existence, she was definitely considered a villain, so I say that’s where she really belongs. Aside from a long career in the comics, Catwoman has also had a ton of memorable portrayals in the media over the years, including Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, and most recently Anne Hathaway (I won’t mention C.I.N.O, or “Catwoman In Name Only.” You know who I mean.) For decades now, this badass villain has been inspiring young boys to visit dominatrixes when they grow up, and had no doubt inspired young girls to be dominatrixes themselves. Nothing more badass than that.
5. Cersei Lannister Baratheon (Game of Thrones)
I know many out there that would argue that King Joffrey is the “big bad” of Game of Thrones, and while he is indeed the most inherently hateable, I would say the biggest villain would be none other than his mother, Cersei Lannister Baratheon. It is she who is the real power behind the throne at King’s Landing, and she is the puppet master who is pulling all the strings in a quest to seek absolute power for herself and her family, possibly even more so than her father. Just why is Cersei so awful? For starters, she had three kids with her twin brother (ew), then plotted to kill her husband the king, and when the King’s Hand Ned Stark found out the truth and tried to expose her, well… let’s just say it didn’t go very well for him at all. Cersei is the perfect villain for an ongoing series like Game of Thrones, because no matter how much you hate her, you kind of love to hate her, and realize the show would lose a vital element were she to go away. Actress Lena Headey brings an actual humanity to Cersei that makes you almost sympathize with her at times, and actually not want her to die a horrible death… if only for a little while.
4. Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
The fictional embodiment of what happens whenever a bully is given to much power and free reign. Played by actress Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for her performance, Nurse Ratched is on a massive power trip and gets sadistic glee from brutally terrorizing the assortment of outcast patients that live in her psychiatric ward, including Jack Nicholson, Danny Devito, Christopher Lloyd, and Brad Dourif, in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Far more than anyone else on this list, you know there are real Nurse Ratched types out there, making her all the more horrible. Louise Fletcher didn’t have much of a movie career after this, but she would go on to play the evil Kai Wynn of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, becoming one of the primary antagonists for that series, and she infused her with more than a little of Ratched’s cold evil.
3. May Day (A View to a Kill)
There is quite the long list when it comes to female 007 villains, and therefore it’s hard to pick one to represent them all. A great deal of people would probably say it’s Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman in 1964’s Goldfinger, but I’d have to disagree. I think the best Bond girl villainess would have to be May Day from 1985’s A View To A Kill. First and foremost, she’s Grace Jones, a statuesque goddess with fierce style (hello, look at her awesome haircut and those shoulder pad suits!) She base jumps off of the Eiffel Tower, and while she does sleep with Bond, she uses him just as much as he’s using her. Heck, for a second I thought he might give the old boy a heart attack (Roger Moore was already fifty-seven years old when he made this one, it could have happened.) Like most female 007 villains, the power of Bond’s penis makes her switch sides at the end, and she ends up sacrificing herself and saves him. In the end however, I think if May Day went toe to toe with any other Bond girls she’d kick their butts hands down. May Day for the win.
2. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)
The Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz is the original scary bad guy most kids are exposed to for the first time, and she is certainly one that makes an impression that lasts a lifetime. Not only does Margaret Hamilton’s character make one of the best entrances of any villain in movie history (“Who killed my sister?”), but she goes out in one of the best ways too (“Oh, what a world, what a world”). The original character as found in the L. Frank Baum novel wasn’t that much to write home about; it was Hamilton who infused her with that manic cackle and that green skin. The Wicked Witch of the West is so iconic, in fact, that if you were to say the word “witch” to the average person on the street, the image that their mind that would conjure would probably be that of Margaret Hamilton’s character above anything else. Despite attempts to make the witch seem more sympathetic in things like Wicked and Oz, the Great and Powerful, it’ll take a lot more than that to undo the Wizard of Oz‘s legacy of the green hag as the ultimate evil.
1. The Disney Villainesses
Starting in 1937 with the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney has had, hands down, the greatest assortment of female villainy anywhere. All of these ladies are dripping in malevolence and glamour, from Cinderella’s wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine, to the ultimate bitterness of Maleficent (sixteen years of making a kingdom suffer because she wasn’t invited to a baby shower? That’s devotion, baby), to Cruella de Vil, someone who wanted to kill adorable puppies to make a coat, for heaven’s sake. Take that, Hannibal Lecter. Then there’s the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, Ursula the Sea Witch from the Little Mermaid.… the list goes on and on. Any one of these ladies could have earned a separate spot on this here list, but collectively, they own the number one space by a landslide.
Who is your favorite bad ass female villain? Let us know in the comments below.