More and more names kept coming to mind as I researched this piece. Putting them in order was a real pain and I had to think about a number of different criteria on which I would rank them. This included the scope of what they did and the reasons behind their actions and sometimes by how much they freaked me out as a kid. I thought long and hard about including Gort from either version of The Day the Earth Stood Still but decided that he was one of the heroes of those films; the human race was the villain. I’ll preface the list by stating that THESE ARE ONLY MY OPINIONS. People are entitled to their own and, as usual, many will disagree with me on more than a few entries and positions below. I haven’t seen every piece of science fiction ever produced, I haven’t read every book, seen every film, looked at every manga story or played every game set in space. Let me know how wrong I am in the comments. I have seen quite a bit, though. As I said, I kept stacking up names and every time I thought of one, another two sprang up with it. Therefore, before I get into the Top 50, I thought I’d share some of the villains that didn’t quite make the cut. All in all, I think I considered about 80 characters and races. So, here are the some of those who were just not quite villainous enough…
Wirrn – Doctor Who
These nasty creatures are the stuff of nightmares first seen in the wonderful fourth Doctor adventure, The Ark in Space. I have no fondness for giant insects and can remember being quite disturbed by the sight of them. They lay eggs in a living host and may well have been an inspiration for the plot of Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Queeg 500 – Red Dwarf
I couldn’t include him in the top 50, despite how much I love him. He’s not real: only an elaborate scheme by Holly to show the crew just how lucky they are to have him. Charles Augins has a wonderful time putting Lister and the others through their paces, his character modelled on movie drill instructors like Louis Gossett Jr in An Officer and a Gentlemen. Now, move it suckas! Bonus points for telling me in the comments where his name came from.
Boris and Griselda – Fireball XL5
Voiced by David Graham and Sylvia Anderson, the recurring villains who posed so many problems for Steve Zodiac and the World Space Patrol, such as stealing secret plans, planting bombs and other things designed to make people more afraid of communism than they already were at the time.
Omega – Doctor Who
One example of a fallen hero. Omega was one of the Time Lords’ greatest heroes until he vanished into an antimatter universe and was stuck there until he went as crazy as Amazing Amy. Steven Thorne played him first in the story, The Three Doctors. He’s back and in search of revenge on those who abandoned him to that long exile.
Dr Zachary Smith – Lost in Space
Later in the series, Dr Smith became something more of a figure of fun, cooking with the robot and trading alliterative insults. Creator Irwin Allen had moved by this point away from the show’s original sci-fi roots because of the popularity of the aforementioned duo. Lest we forget, Dr Smith was the one who sabotaged the Jupiter II and planned the death of the entire Robinson family, children and all.
Princess Ardala – Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Pamela Hensley deserved a more regular role in Buck Rogers. It’s hard to believe she appears in so few episodes. She slinks on and off screen wonderfully. She didn’t make the list because unlike one of her contemporaries, Servalan from Blake’s 7, she seems written to be less interested in ruling the galaxy and more into securing the attention of the hero.
“Red Eye” Cylon Centurion – Battlestar Galactica – The Lost Warrior
I much prefer the original design from the 70’s to the updated version. They have a much chunkier appearance and look a bit more real. The cruellest example of one is Red Eye, the enforcer who terrorises the people of Equellus in the style of Beast Rabban from Dune. He was portrayed by Rex Cutter. It does make you wonder what Centurions are in charge of. The name Centurion implies that they command 100 other things, but they seem to be the lowliest soldiers in the Cylon army.
Boba Fett – Star Wars
He was on the list at one point but then others overtook him. He looks the business, there’s no denying it. He just doesn’t do a great deal. I’m going to be in for so much stick for saying that, I’m sure. I haven’t watched the Extended Universe stuff and he probably plays a major role in that and I just don’t know anything about it. I’ll just refer you to what I said at the start about opinions. Jeremy Bulloch won the role in The Empire Strikes Back because the costume fit him so well. He never had to read or do a screen test. Think about it, though. All he does is track Han Solo to Bespin, hand him over to Vader, get stiffed literally as Solo is frozen in carbonite, then he gets unceremoniously tipped into the Sarlacc pit. George Lucas has since stated that, had he known the character was going to be more popular, he would have conceived a more interesting death scene. It’s a big fall for a character who at one time was going to be Darth Vader’s brother!
Sador – Battle Beyond the Stars
Considering the film has a score by James Horner, special effects by James Cameron and a plot that ripped off two films that are highly regarded (The Seven Samurai and its western remake, The Magnificent Seven), it should have more of a place in the pantheon of space operas. Add to that the fact that you have the marvellous John Saxon as its villain and the bar should rise even higher. Unfortunately, his character is never given the chance to be anything more than derivative. Roger Corman wanted to cash in on Star Wars and despite some interesting ideas (Sam Jaffe as Hephaestus, anyone?) the film never lives up to its inspirations.
The Mekon – Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
Ruler of the Treens, a race from Venus, the Mekon popped up regularly across the history of Dan Dare stories. His unusually large head is a product of his high intelligence. He has psychic powers, develops super weapons, works with the British Prime Minister but, fortunately is no match for the Royal Marines.
So, now, without further preamble, here are my Top 50 villains in space:
50 – Hugo Drax – Moonraker
Michael Lonsdale seems incredibly bored with things throughout this Bond adventure. Everything is either a slight inconvenience or a minor amusement to him. He does have a dastardly plot to relieve the Earth of its entire human population, except for the carefully selected cast of floppy-haired, catalogue model, hippy master race that he has stashed away on his space station. If only he was more animated about it, he might be further up the list.
49 – Gul Madred – Star Trek: The Next Generation
It seemed inevitable that David Warner would appear somewhere on this list. I chose the last of his appearances on Star Trek, as the Cardassian interrogator who tortures Captain Picard in the season 6 two-parter, Chain of Command. Warner puts in his usual great performance. The character is a very interesting one, refined and intellectual on one hand but brutal and sadistic on the other. He even brings in his child at one point to witness what’s going on.
48 – Ash – Alien
There’s something deeply unsettling about Ian Holm’s performance in Ridley Scott’s Alien. You can see it in the rest of the crew’s reactions to him, especially Yaphet Kotto’s, as if he were a kind of Hannibal Lecter character but no-one knew quite what he was up to. Obviously, as an android, we can only see him as the instrument of his masters, not responsible for his actions. It’s just that he seems to enjoy it all so much. Well done to Holm for creating such a creepy on screen presence in a film where there is already so much to be creeped out by.
47 – Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg – The Fifth Element
Gary Oldman does a wonderful job of making Zorg a three dimensional character. In a film where there is so much to look at, he commands your attention in every scene. My favourite is the meeting he has which culminates in him having to be saved from choking to death by Ian Holm (him again). Zorg is never shy of double crossing people, killing or being generally unpleasant to get what he wants, but in this moment he shows that human frailty which makes him all the more relatable.
46 – Jubal Early – Firefly
The highly skilled (and deeply unhinged) bounty hunter who finds his way aboard Serenity in the last episode of Firefly is a great villain. It would have been great, had the series continued, to see him as a recurring character at the crew’s heels. His brilliant dialogue makes him even more scary, as does his frequent, (intentional?) mishearing of things that are said to him. He’s up against someone out of his league in River Tam, however.
45 – Cavil (Cylon no.1) – Battlestar Galactica
Oh, Dean Stockwell. Planning to dissect babies? Trying to sabotage peace talks? These sorts of things make your embittered character all the more villainous. The ruthless nature of the character, even with his own kind, is staggering.
44 – Arnold Judas Rimmer – Red Dwarf
An odd choice, you might think. He really is a smeghead though when you think about it. The most cowardly, self-serving, deceitful person in the Universe. He proves it in just about every episode, whether this is by abandoning his shipmates, cheating despite his fixation with rules and their importance, or putting others in harm’s way to protect himself. Lord, what created such foulness?
43 – Ming the Merciless – Flash Gordon
The evil Emperor of Mongo didn’t even have a name for the first few editions of Alex Raymond’s comic strip. He was simply referred to as the Emperor. In every interpretation, he is entirely ruthless, attracting comparisons through the ages to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and has access to a wide range of science fiction gadgets in order to bring misery to his subjects: Nitron lamps, death rays, missiles, robots. He also has a disturbing obsession with Dale Arden. Charles B Middleton portrayed Ming in the first television adaptation, but my favourite portrayal is by the great Max Von Sydow (pictured above) in the film from 1980. There are some unfortunate associations in the inception of the character; the way it betrays the 1930’s era mistrust of all things Far Eastern by the West. It’s not as horrifically on-the-nose as Breakfast at Tiffany’s or those senators at the start of Phantom Menace but still a little ‘of its time’.
42 – The Mysterons – Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
They’re just based on Mars. They’re not Martians. That will be important later on. The Mysterons are the remains of a race from somewhere else that live in a city on Mars discovered by astronauts. Captain Black destroys the city by mistake (oops) but it is rebuilt before his eyes. The Mysterons then take control of Captain Black and use his to act out their evil schemes on Earth. The best thing about the Mysterons are that they are never seen on screen except as a pair of green energy rings. It is only a voice broadcast that communicates with us. They operate through mind control and can recreate exact replicas of anything or anyone they like. these tulpas or doppelgangers can then be controlled. The whole process is called, with stunning originality, Mysteronisation.
41 – Silverman – Zoids
The writers of this forgotten comic from the 80s riffed off so many pop culture references to create the evil android, Silverman. Everything from The Terminator to The Thing. The result was a genuinely creepy and menacing villain who wormed his way into the nightmare life of Captain Heller and the rest of the crew, especially when he took control of The Black Zoid.
40 – Klyntar symbiote – “Venom” – Marvel Comics
The original idea was just to have a new costume for Spiderman. The idea came from a reader called Randy Schueller from Illinois. It was only later, after playing with the idea that the costume could have some biological abilities of its own, specifically healing powers, that the new life form was conceived. I read the story when I was about ten years old. The idea of this evil parasite moulding itself to your flesh seriously disturbed me. I wonder if there was any inspiration from the sandtrout scene in Children of Dune. Anyway, the idea that this thing could then infect your mind and influence you was quite dark for me as a youngster. I’m looking forward to seeing Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the character this year. There was talk that Life, released last year, was originally slated to be a prequel to Hardy’s film. If that had been the case, it would have been a marvellous introduction to how I see the character.
39 – Galactus – Marvel Comics
Galactus was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, originally appearing in The Fantastic Four in 1966. They wanted to come up with something new; away from the standard villain. He is presented as amoral, devouring worlds without regard. Galactus was once a space traveller called Galan who existed before the Big Bang. Passing close to a star gave him exceptional power and metamorphosed him into Galactus. His power requires him to consume the energy of planets in order to survive. This lack of evil intent gives the character real depth and makes us challenge our concept of evil.
38 – Hector – Saturn 3
Harvey Keitel is unsettling enough in this film, the script for which was written by none other than Martin Amis. It takes a lot to upstage Keitel but they managed it with his robot companion. Saturn 3 was released in 1980, another attempt to ride the sci-fi tide created by Star Wars and combined with horror so successfully in the previous year’s Alien. You can read about the fascinating and blighted production of this film in a great article here. The eight foot robot, Hector, was modelled on anatomical drawings by Da Vinci and was designed and made by members of the team who had worked on Superman: The Movie. It was a scary creation for sure. Farrah Fawcett said that in the scene where she was lifted off the ground by it, she was not just acting scared; she was actually scared.
37 – Roy Batty – Blade Runner
His imposing presence and gravitas earn him a well-deserved place on the list. He does some fairly villainous things in his quest to return to his ‘father’, Eldon Tyrell, that’s for sure. Among them killing his aforementioned creator. Ridley Scott cast Rutger Hauer in the role without ever meeting him, having been so impressed with his work elsewhere. Hauer repaid this faith by making the character iconic, adding many touches of his own to what had been written for him.
36 – Davros – Doctor Who
One of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, Davros was a brilliant scientist and creator of the Daleks. He was created by Terry Nation to provide a voice for them. After all, he reasoned, any time that Daleks made prolonged speeches, their distinctive voices made for a very boring, monotone experience. His appearance (developed by Peter Day and sculptor John Friedlander) and character was based on Nazi scientists. The first actor to play Davros on screen, Michael Wisher, did all his rehearsals with a paper bag over his head to prepare him for the limited vision he would have once all the makeup was applied. He based his performance on philosopher Bertrand Russell.
35 – The Aliens – UFO
In an era where transplants were something new, the idea of an alien race coming to Earth to abduct us and harvest our organs was a good way of tapping into people’s fears. This, added to the widespread UFO sightings in the USA at that time, made Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s sinister aliens doubly worrying. The green, liquid-filled helmet effect was created by having a double wall of glass, the outer layer being filled up to make it look like the wearer was being submerged.
34 – Diana – V
An entire generation was raised on the sight of Jane Badler stuffing a rodent into her mouth and it remains a landmark moment in TV sci-fi even now. Badler worked her way up through acting in commercials to soap operas and on to her trademark role as the commander of the Visitors. Her role changed as the series went on but the original miniseries gave her a deliciously cold-blooded air. That hamster-eating scene took two days to shoot, being cutting edge in terms of special effects for the time.
33 – The Flood – Halo
This parasitic alien species from another galaxy was responsible for wiping out most of the sentient life in our own. The name is a reference to the Biblical flood that wiped out life on Earth. They made their first appearance in the very first Halo game and have been regulars throughout the series and accompanying media. They have been criticised as being too derivative by some while others hold them up as grisly and unforgettable and one of the most hated video game villains of all time.
32 – The Brood – Marvel Comics
Another parasitic alien race, the Brood were invented as henchmen for the main villain in an X-Men story. Dave Cockrum was the one who drew them. According to him, he just drew the most horrible looking thing he could think of. It’s like someone just put all the nastiest bits of every animal into one creature: fangs, a stinger, big eyes, tentacles. They’ve been part of some great stories from the depths of space to Ancient Egypt. I’m still holding out hope that they’ll make an appearance in Infinity War.
31 – Kylo Ren – Star Wars
Adam Driver, who often wears the mask in between takes to stay in character, has done a fantastic job thus far in bringing the character of Kylo Ren to life. He brings such caprice and passion to what could so easily have been a one dimensional Vader rip off. The first time he takes off his mask in The Force Awakens was a great moment. It revealed his character to be a human being; a young man just like every other young man who’s ever been taken in by bad ideas. His temper tantrums, his inferiority complex and his incredibly well-written and intriguing bond with Rey all make for a very memorable villain. Plus, he stopped a laser blast in its tracks. That was awesome.
30 – Dr William Weir – Event Horizon
“Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see!” Sam Neill is brilliant as the insane, demonic, homicidal creator of the Event Horizon. His obsession and paranoid nature about his creation lead to him killing just about everyone else on board in some extremely grisly ways. Sam Neill is compelling in just about everything he does, but he’s usually one of the good guys. That’s why it’s such a treat to see him playing someone so completely nuts.
29 – Darth Sidious – Star Wars
One would be forgiven for thinking it was different actors who portrayed the Sith Lord in the original Star Wars films and in Lucas’ prequel trilogy nearly twenty years later. Ian McDiarmid played an old, disfigured Emperor in the originals and then a younger, almost fresh-faced version of the character all those years later. McDiarmid brought real malice to the character in all his appearances, rising from a plotting senator to a withered but dangerous husk in Return of the Jedi. The robe, the voice, the evil that he infuses the performance with make him a memorable villain in a series which has more than its fair share.
28 – Thanos – Marvel Comics
Before he finally plays a full part in the MCU in a few weeks time, its worth noting that Thanos has been around since 1973, when he first appeared in an issue of Iron Man. His character, invented in a psychology class by Jim Starlin and becoming more and more akin to DC’s Darkseid in terms of appearance over time, hails from Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. Throughout the life of his character he’s murdered his own children, his colleagues and just for good measure, he’s nuked his own home killing millions, all to please Mistress Death.
27 – Dr Gaius Baltar – Battlestar Galactica (2004)
He finds some measure of redemption in the end but that would hardly salve a conscience that has the weight of so much death upon it. Dr. Baltar gave up the codes to the defence network of 12 worlds which resulted in the death of billions of innocent people, all to impress a woman he barely knew. He lied, cheated, manipulated and blagged his way out of all kinds of responsibility in a fantastically debonair and lovable fashion. I could go on and on about James Callis’ wonderful portrayal but I already have in other articles so I’ll let it go unsaid (apart from just now when I said it).
26 – Regenerator – Dead Space
I must have been torn limb from limb about a hundred times by this ghastly thing; probably in a hundred different grisly ways. It was by far the best thing about the game, Dead Space in my opinion. There’s a section or two when you’re trapped in a room with this thing and (before you figure out how to beat it) you just spend ages pumping ammunition into it, seeing it drop to the floor, only to see it rise up again and shuffle towards you. It’s hideous, utterly malevolent and the reason I played that game with the lights on.
25 – Space Commander Travis – Blake’s 7
Whether it’s Stephen Greif or Brian Croucher, Space Commander Travis is a wonderfully drawn character who steals so many of his scenes in Blake’s 7. He tracks Blake across the galaxy with all the determination of Ahab. He is utterly ruthless, to the point that even someone as unhinged as Servalan wonders if he’s all there. He routinely executes people under a flag of truce and sacrifices his own colleagues to get what he wants. His plans frequently work and it’s only through luck that Blake escapes death.
24 – The Thing – John Carpenter’s The Thing
A protégé of genius Rick Baker (the man behind THAT transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London), Rob Bottin was the man behind the grotesque special effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing. He had previously worked on Star Wars designing some of the cantina creatures – and playing a member of the band – but was very keen to work with Carpenter. After doing so on The Fog in 1980, he worked night and day without a break for over a year to produce every single creature effect for The Thing. I tell a lie, Stan Winston apparently did the dog! The creature he created for The Thing was one of the most memorable ever on screen, appearing in so many guises, each more horrific than the last. Bottin went on to win an Academy Award for his work on other projects and deservedly so, but that scuttling upside down head is what I’ll always remember him for.
23 – The Master – Doctor Who
There’s nothing so scary as when a villain is a shadowy version of the hero with comparable knowledge and abilities. From Terror of the Autons in 1971, all the way through to Michelle Gomez’ Missy, the female version in the present day, the Master has been a recurring foe of the Doctor. The name was chosen on purpose as, like the Doctor, the title inferred an academic qualification. In fact, it was designed to imply that the Master was his superior in rank. My favourite stories involving the Master are Castrovalva, Utopia and The Mind of Evil. The latter features Roger Delgado in the role. He and Jon Pertwee were great friends off camera and their relationship really helps the banter between them in the story come over very well. Delgado plays it brilliantly here.
22 – Q – Star Trek: The Next Generation
Like the Master to the Doctor, Q appears with regularity throughout the run of Star Trek: TNG as an intelligent foil for Picard. A capricious, seemingly amoral being who toys with others seemingly just to fend off boredom John de Lancie plays a God very well indeed throughout all his storylines. He becomes something of a teacher to Picard but his unreliable motivations, petulance and the fact that he is almost omnipotent make him very dangerous indeed. I’ve always thought that the character bears a strong resemblance to Trelane, the villain from the original Star Trek episode, The Squire of Gothos. This similarity has been noticed by others and was developed in a spin-off novel in which the two characters are related.
21 – Goa’uld – Stargate
Parasites! Creatures in your bodies that control your mind! The Goa’uld were created as the major antagonists for Stargate. Although you never see them in the original film, it’s been revealed in the Pilot episode of SG-1 that the Goa’uld were in control of Jaye Davison’s Ra character in that first story. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich came up with the idea for these emotionless, merciless conquerors who use host bodies to wage war across the galaxy. They look just nasty, too.
20 – Cellini’s Monster – Space 1999
One of the main writers on the series, Christopher Penfold wrote the screenplay for Dragon’s Domain, one of the most beloved episodes of Space 1999. It’s a great story with a terrifying monster at its core. Tony Cellini escapes from it after seeing his crewmates enthralled and eaten. It haunts him for years and years until he finally has the chance to confront it once more. This final encounter leads to his death but not before his story has been vindicated. It’s a huge, tentacled beast with a massive glowing eye. If this were a video game, you can guess what the weak spot would be, can’t you?
19 – Sutekh The Destroyer – Doctor Who
You can tell when a villain is worth worrying about in a Doctor Who story. Usually, if the Doctor himself is scared of just the name of the thing, you should clear a space behind the sofa. The gothic horror story, Pyramids of Mars (which was filmed in Mick Jagger’s house if you didn’t know) is one of the best Doctor Who stories out there. Sutekh’s power is immense and he is easily able to defeat a timelord. His plan is to extinguish all life in the Universe. That’s setting the bar pretty high for villainy. Gabriel Woolf provides the voice for Sutekh, the extra-terrestrial who the ancient Egyptians worshipped as Set but we also know as Satan. Woolf’s work is exemplary, really oozing malice.
18 – The Operative – Serenity
Chiwetel Ejiofor is great in everything. Joss Whedon was over the moon when he managed to land him for the role of The Operative in his movie follow up to TV’s Firefly. He brings a cold, calculating, methodical air that contrasts so wonderfully with Nathan Fillion’s Mal Reynolds. Their exchanges on screen are fantastic as they are such polar opposites. Ejiofor’s character’s rationale for what he does and his knowledge that he is, himself, a monster, is what makes the character so rounded and fulfilling. It is telling that he appears so early on in the film. It’s a statement of intent that this character is a serious threat.
17 – Dr Hans Reinhardt – The Black Hole
Maximilian Schell plays the role of the mad scientist in Disney’s The Black Hole. This film was an attempt by Disney to cash in on the success of Star Wars. They finally found the solution to that, now didn’t they? In any case, they managed to produce a fine story with some memorable villains. Dr Reinhardt earns his place here by lobotomising his crew and turning them into automatons who will serve him without question. It’s not destroying all life in the Universe but it’s low when you consider these are people under your command that you are responsible for. He’s another obsessed character in the mould of Captain Ahab, this time chasing the realisation of his theories at the expense of all else.
16 – Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Dune
In David Lynch’s 1984 film version, the make up work for the Baron, combined with Kenneth McMillan’s sleazy, putrid portrayal, emphasising the pleasure obsessed nature of the character make him a very memorable villain. McMillan did an excellent job bringing the ‘floating fat man’ to life. Unfortunately the nuance and intelligence, the ruthless scheming of the Baron’s character as it appears in Herbert’s original novel is all but absent. The version of the Baron in the novel is far superior. There is an audiobook version out there on Audible which features a wonderful voice actor portraying the Baron, but I can’t find his name anywhere. Whoever he is, he really brings all the different aspects of this complex character to bear on the narrative.
15 – The Klingons – Star Trek
So, we all get friendly by the time The Next Generation comes around, but there’s no denying that the Klingons made a wonderful villain throughout the original Star Trek series and films. A warlike race created by screenwriter Gene Coon (no-one but him really liked the name but no-one could suggest a better alternative so it just stuck) they became the primary antagonists of the original series: bloodthirsty, ruthless, lacking all the code of honour stuff. That would be written in for them later on when the idea of just putting boot polish on white men to make them look sinister and evil rightly went out of fashion. The Romulans would have featured more heavily as villains in the original series but the Klingons’ makeup (the aforementioned boot polish) was cheaper and quicker. For all the negatives, they make for a great foe in so many stories. My personal favourites are Christopher Lloyd’s Bird of Prey Commander in The Search for Spock and Michael Ansara’s Kang (pictured above) in Day of the Dove.
14 – HAL 9000 – 2001: A Space Odyssey
Lots of people assume that the name HAL was a dig at computer giants IBM, being that the letters are one ahead. Writer Arthur C Clarke denied this over and over again, saying how it was quite embarrassing as IBM gave them a lot of help in the production of the film. The name HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. This was pretty much the birth of the ‘evil AI’ in mass media culture. The success of the character in the film was largely down to casting. There were a number of voice actors used in production and rehearsals including Stefanie Powers and Nigel Davenport. Martin Balsam (the foreman from 12 Angry Men) was originally considered for the final voiceover but his voice was considered too American. Eventually, Douglas Rain was given the role. He never received a full script; just his lines. This, I think, is a massive help in conveying an AI character. It gives a real disconnect between human emotions and the responses of the computer.
13 – The Predator – Predator
I learn a lot researching these lists. Today I learned that Jean-Claude Van Damme was the original choice to play the Predator. I find that unbelievable. He complained too much about the suit being hot and other things and it was felt that he was not physically imposing enough on screen next to people like Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura so he was dumped and replaced with Kevin Peter Hall. The result is one of the most memorable antagonists in all action movies and a film nominated for an Academy Award for its visual effects. A hunter from space, here on Earth to enjoy some sunshine and sport, the Predator is a brilliant creation, wily and skilled but also massive and physically threatening. Another thing I learned is that the idea for the film came from Rocky IV and the joke around Tinseltown that Rocky had beaten everything on Earth and so would have to fight someone from outer space in the next film. Someone picked up that idea, ran with it and created what has become a massive franchise. The original film stands up very well today in terms of its pacing and effects. Personally, I love it for the one-liners. It’s up there with Robocop for quotability.
12 – Servalan – Blake’s 7
Jacqueline Pearce’s character was only originally intended to appear once. As it happens, she was such a success that she finished up being the only guest character to appear in all 4 seasons of Blake’s 7. She’s a ruthless, calculating villain who is not above selling out her closest allies (looking at you, Travis) and supporters to further her journey towards ‘maximum power’. She does it all in such style with a selection of such wonderful outfits by people like June Hudson. Servalan worked her way up all the way from cadet to Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation which shows the drive and ambition that make her character so great to watch.
11 – The Reapers – Mass Effect Trilogy
There are two moments from the Mass Effect Trilogy which I’m going to use to illustrate just how great the Reapers are as characters. The first is from the original game. It’s the first time you come face to face with the notion that Saren’s ship is a being all of it’s own. There you are on Virmire and, before you get to the point where you decide to sacrifice Kaiden, you end up in a video chat with Sovereign. The voice, the look, the conversation, they all give me chills just to think about, and that’s about ten years later. The second moment is in Mass Effect 3 when it’s just you, Commander Shepard, on foot, going toe to toe with one of these things. Now that’s an end of level boss! The Reapers: old synthetic creations from dark space, make a relentless, all-consuming enemy that you never get blasé abut facing.
10 – Shadows – Babylon 5
The Shadows have no physical form so must find a way to present themselves to others. Whether appearing in their mantis-like suits or in huge, black spider-shaped ships, the Shadows instil a deep fear into all who encounter them. This was the desired outcome of series creator Michael Straczynski. They are ancient, mythic and deadly, having seeded hundreds of planets to avoid extinction. They use biological weapons and planet killing machines to lay waste to their opponents.
9 – The Borg – Star Trek
There was no significant enemy in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Klingons were friends now and the Ferengi didn’t have the impact on viewers that they creators wanted. The idea of some kind of species that would take control of people’s minds was touted pretty early on in the development of the series but it wasn’t until season 2 that the Borg made their first appearance. They went on to be the primary antagonist throughout the TNG and Voyager stories. Their zombie-like resolve and collective mind makes them like a rising tide that cannot be beaten back. Also, the massive firepower of their ships makes them such a threat. This is seen at the Battle of Wolf 359 when one Borg cube takes out an entire fleet of Federation ships with ease.
8 – Khan Noonien Singh – Star Trek
The quintessential Star Trek villain, Ricardo Montalban made such an impact in his two appearances that he was one of the first names on my list. It’s also, I think, the third time I’m going to make a Captain Ahab reference. The reference is a little more ‘in your face’ in this case as Khan frequently invokes Melville in his revenge mission. Montalban did fantastic work in both his outings as Khan, realising early on in the production of Star Trek II that he could make his character a great villain by having himself believe that he was not a villain at all; that he was acting with righteousness. Khan was written as an equal to Kirk, superior in some ways and with lots of fine qualities, grace, manners, intelligence that make his character more than just a paint by numbers villain. He ranks highly on many lists of screen villains, not just in the realms of science fiction and he’s one of my personal favourites.
7 – Darth Maul – Star Wars
Was there ever a more criminally wasted character in the history of film? Can you imagine if the fight between Maul and Kenobi at the end of Episode I had ended in stalemate? Can you imagine if it had been Darth Maul, and not General Grievous, against whom the Jedi Master had squared off in Revenge of the Sith? That would have made for a much more satisfying duel and one with much more emotional weight. Ryan Lamble at Den of Geek wrote about that possibility in 2014 and I have to agree with his analysis. Ray Park’s martial arts skills, the make up department’s mistake in applying horns instead of feathers to his head (the original sketches feature feathers), the samurai-style costume and that double-ended lightsaber made for a fantastic, heavy duty villain that was a serious threat. He should have been given a longer run. They did bring his character back for the animated Clone Wars series but he could have made the prequel trilogy so much more memorable. Even with his limited screen time, he still deserves his place high up my list.
6 – Maximillian – The Black Hole
Coincidentally, the robot had it’s name before the casting of Maximilian Schell to play its master. Despite the fairly static design of this robot, the servant of Dr Reinhardt, it’s a terrifying creation: a huge, floating, Blood red Gort-like sentinel that has no place in a PG film. The spinning rotor blades cutting through that book lived with me for a long time after my first viewing. There’s something so basic about the design and yet so perfect. Because of it’s rigidity, there are no cues to respond to and no sense of what is coming next. There is only a faint sense of inevitability. The hellish ending of the film features Maximillian fusing with Reinhardt in some sort of hell dimension within the Black Hole; another nice image for the kids to take home with them from the cinema.
5 – Daleks – Doctor Who
Another creation of Terry Nation, the Daleks have become synonymous with space villainy. They’re an iconic part of British culture, even for those people who never watch Doctor Who. Their massive and instant success was a surprise to the BBC. The space dustbin was designed by Raymond Cusick (because Ridley Scott was unavailable that day – no, really) at the BBC and, up until 2005, had a profound problem with fights of stairs. They have scared several generations of television viewers. Nation based them on the Nazis, which is as good an inspiration as one can ask for when creating villains. He wanted to come up with an alien race that was something different to the usual ‘man in a suit’. He was also inspired by a trip to the ballet, seeing ballerinas in long dresses glide across the stage. In many episodes, the Daleks were actually operated by retired ballet dancers. The familiar voice with its selection of catchphrases (which have also entered the cultural lexicon of Great Britain) was developed by Peter Hawkins and David Graham but a number of voice actors have done the job down the years. Interestingly, the BBC were so short of prop versions at times that when stories called for lots of Daleks to be in a scene, they would sometimes use wooden cut-out versions that didn’t move, photographs, or even resort to buying toy versions to use.
4 – Carter Burke – Aliens
Quite simply, one of the most vile creatures ever dreamed up. In a film full of some of the scariest things ever, his attitude and actions make him more of an antagonist sometimes than all the chestbursters and xenomorphs trying to break down the doors. Paul Reiser excels at showing fake sincerity and concern in a man who will allow a little girl to be impregnated by a monster while she sleeps in order to make himself a ‘potential’ bit of money. His backstabbing knows no bounds and he continues trying to screw people over until his last breath. He’s an incredible villain who really stands out, even in a film brimming with nasties. Paul Reiser deserves a lot of credit for his performance. It was a completely different kind of film to the ones he was used to making and his lightness of touch made him even more believable as a villain. He seems almost completely convinced that what he is doing is all fine.
3 – Martians – Various sources
The great granddaddy of all space villains. They’ve been represented in so many works of fiction down through the years that they’ve wormed their way into almost being a collective term for any alien species. ‘Little green men from Mars’ has become a go-to expression. From HG Wells’ tripod riders who terrorised Victorian Britain to the three-legged bugs buried under London in Quatermass and the Pit, on to the mind control masters of Invaders from Mars, Doctor Who’s Ice Warriors and, most recently, the nasty microscopic thing that dispatched Ryan Reynolds and the rest of his crew in such short order in last year’s Life. Mars is our closest neighbour and we have long harboured dreams of finding life there. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds – the first alien invasion story – was a reaction to fears of the invasion of Britain by some foreign power. It was part of a fad of ‘Invasion Literature’ at the time. Wells just looked a little further afield than his contemporaries. Whenever Martians appear to us in print, on screen or in games, the odds are even that they will be malevolent, evil beings.
2 – Xenomorph – Alien
These were a little further down the list originally, then I remembered my experience playing Alien: Isolation on the Xbox last year. Since I had literally spent a few hours hiding under desks and tables trying to avoid being seen and eviscerated by a pixelated version, I moved them up. In the original film, the symbolism behind how they work was designed specifically to make male viewers uncomfortable and their gender was deliberately left vague to create more uncertainty. The idea came from Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett who came up with the script (originally called Space Beast) but was then realised by HR Giger, based on some of his artwork. Special effects designer Carlo Rambaldi was brought on board to construct the creature from his designs. It was made into a suit and then rake-thin, 6’10” actor Bolaji Badejo was squeezed into it. I remember my brother showing the film to me when I was in my early teens, and then picking a well-timed moment to jump-scare me. The design was developed through sequels and crossovers and has been copied extensively, not just in the realms of sci-fi horror (Toy Story, anyone) since then and has become an iconic monster. There is so much about the design that is unsettling and horrific in a number of ways.
1 – Darth Vader – Star Wars
So, my number 1. The character of Darth Vader that we see in the final version of Star Wars is fairly close to the description in the first draft. That character has gone on to enter popular culture as one of the most iconic villains ever created, whether in space or elsewhere. The name and ideals of the character are invoked in almost every realm of discourse, from politics to sports. There are statues of him, beetles named after him and psychiatrists use his character as a way of explaining personality disorders to medical students. The design by Ralph McQuarrie started with George Lucas’ idea of a malevolent figure in a cape with samurai armour. The original idea was that his breathing apparatus would allow him to travel between spaceships. The designs were then sculpted by prop master Brian Muir (who also worked on Alien co-creating the famous ‘space jockey’). The trademark breathing sound was created by Ben Burtt, who also made the lightsaber hum, blaster sound and the voice of R2-D2. He achieved this sound (which is trademarked) by recording himself breathing into a scuba-diving mask. Burtt is a master of sound design having worked not only on the Star Wars saga but also the Indiana Jones movies, ET, Star Trek (2009), Munich , WALL-E and Lincoln. David Prowse is the most well-known person to wear the armour on screen, but he didn’t do the voice because of his broad West Country accent, which you can see YouTube videos of somewhere. George Lucas originally wanted Orson Welles to provide the voice of Vader but went for James Earl Jones instead – a choice that turned out to be one of the best ever. I chose this character at number 1 for a number of reasons. Firstly, because of the massive cultural impact and the way it transcends genre. Secondly, because his character is an evil, child-murdering, despot who chokes people to death on a whim then jokes about it. He is happy to engage in torture (even unknowingly on his own daughter) and, although he gains some redemption in the end, is still responsible for helping the Galactic Empire to be established leading to the suffering of billions. Lastly, because of THAT scene in Rogue One. I thought we’d seen the last of the character after a brief, quite unfulfilling cameo in the middle. We were approaching the end of the film and I suddenly realised that this was a Star Wars film and we hadn’t seen a lightsaber in it. Well, suffice to say, that was put right in the final few minutes of the film. Seeing the red blade extend and hearing the music kick in was a genuinely breath-taking moment and it brought back to me just how menacing the character is.
So, those are my Top 50 Space Villains. As I said, these are just my opinions so feel free to disagree in the comments or wherever you see this. I’ve really enjoyed researching it and writing it (it’s taken me ages with one thing or another going on) and I should give credit to Wikipedia and various fan sites that I have used to mine useful tidbits of information about some of the characters. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I hope you found out something you didn’t know from reading this. If you enjoyed it, please check out some of my other lists and articles below. You can find out more about me and my own writing project here. In the meantime, thanks so much for reading this.
All the best,
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9 thoughts on “The Top 50 Greatest Villains in Space!”
A great list and so many to choose from but no General Zod!
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Oh that’s a great shout! I completely blanked on that – and I thought it was off that I didn’t have any DC characters. Thanks.
where is Scorpius [farscape] (deserves top 10) ?
and also scarans and others farscape vilains
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Sorry, not seen it. Lots of people are saying that, though.
Wow Silverman. I haven’t heard that name in years but you’re right, I read Spider-man and Zoids religiously and he creaped me out – good call!
Starscream, deserves a place on this list too. Megatron may have been the main villain for the Deceptions, but Starscream was equally brutal, power hungry and his plans were a lot more on the nose than Megatrons. But best of all Starscream was always there waiting to stab Megatron in the back at the slightest sign of weakness. Top that with extra large helpings of cowardice arrogance and self pity, and you have a truly despicable (and pathetic) villian.
Darth Maul was the best thing about the Phantom Menace. Sadly he wasn’t menacing at all, I don’t think he should be in the Top ten.
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Thanks so much for reading.