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10 best modern TV show villains, ranked

Homelander appears on stage in The Boys season 4.
Amazon Prime Video

When it comes to television, one of the biggest reasons modern audiences come back to watch certain shows is their characters. But sometimes, the villains of the series have made viewers want to tune in to the next episode more than the heroes did.

Whether they be ruthless crime lords, destructive supervillains, or just plain old jerks, television has presented audiences with some of the most despicable characters in pop culture, and these evildoers are good at their jobs.

10. Vecna from Stranger Things (2016-present)

Vecna in "Stranger Things."
Netflix / Netflix

Born Henry Creel, this gifted psychic developed a deep hatred for humanity at a young age, murdering his mother and sister when he was just a child. He then became the first of many child test subjects at Hawkins National Laboratory, where he would spend years imprisoned by Dr. Martin Brenner as “One.” He was then banished to the Upside Down by Eleven, where he took control of the Mind Flayer and became its dark ruler, Vecna.

Though he only appeared in season 4, this nihilistic and egotistical killer has been the main antagonist of the entirety of Stranger Things, having repeatedly invaded the town with his army of hive-minded monsters since the series began. Though he hasn’t wiped out humanity, he has succeeded in opening a massive Gate in Hawkins and has murdered many people in his pursuit of global annihilation. And with Stranger Things season 5 on the horizon, who knows what other horrors this monstrous tyrant will unleash?

9. Homelander from The Boys (2019-present)

Antony Starr as Homelander stands in a room, looking concerned.
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Raised without a family, Homelander was trained through horrible experiments to become the world’s greatest superhero. While he may seem like a valiant protector to many, in reality, he is the farthest thing from a hero.

Narcissistic and manipulative, Homelander holds zero respect for human life and abuses his godlike power to do whatever twisted act comes to mind. This evil Superman is an atomic bomb that could go off at any moment, and he only continues to lose control over himself as the series progresses.

8. Mr. Burns from The Simpsons (1989-present)

Mr. Burns in "The Simpsons."
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Everyone’s heard of horrible bosses, but Mr. Burns is an entirely different breed. As the wealthiest man in Springfield, he has committed many dastardly deeds over the years in pursuit of money and power — or sometimes just out of spite. This includes blocking out the sun so that Springfield would use more of his power plant’s electricity.

This deliciously evil billionaire embodies pretty much everything people hate about corporate America, but he never ceases to squeeze a laugh out of viewers. When it comes to villainy, Mr. Burns is “simply excellent” and one of The Simpsons‘ most enduring characters despite, or maybe because of, his sinful deeds.

7. Wilson Fisk from Daredevil (2015-2018)

vincent d'onofrio
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In Marvel’s first streaming series, Daredevil, Vincent D’Onofrio brought the Kingpin of Crime to live-action in a whole new way. Fisk can switch from being a well-mannered gentleman to a bloodthirsty animal on a dime.

And with his remarkable intelligence and sheer force of will, he practically ruled the streets of New York for years, and the character managed to stick with fans long after the show ended. In fact, he was so good that Marvel Studios brought D’Onofrio back to play the Kingpin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Hawkeye and Echo.

6. Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Princess Azula in "Avatar: The Last Airbender."
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Though Fire Lord Ozai is the big bad of this animated classic, his daughter, Princess Azula, stole the show as a villain akin to sci-fi villain Darth Vader. A sadistic and cold-hearted perfectionist, this firebending prodigy has used precise planning and psychological manipulation to control others and conquer entire nations.

But she’s more than just a one-dimensional villain, as the series dives deeply into her troubled psyche brought on by her lack of parental love and her feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. This all made for one of the most frightening and complex antagonists ever seen in a children’s cartoon.

5. The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files (1993-2002, 2018)

The Cigarette-Smoking Man in "The X-Files."
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The Cigarette-Smoking Man has been a source of great mystery throughout the classic sci-fi series The X-Files. Revealed to be a member of the shadowy Syndicate, this man has been at the center of numerous government conspiracies affecting real-world figures and events.

However, the Smoking Man has most notably worked to hide any evidence of alien life and their presence on Earth, making him the perfect nemesis of series protagonist Fox Mulder. Though the show was about the paranormal, it was the truth about this chain-smoking gent that audiences wanted to know the most.

4. Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring from Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in Breaking Bad.
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Many people in this acclaimed series, including Walter White, can be considered antagonists, but Giancarlo Esposito’s breakout character is the worst of the bunch. Though he may seem like a polite and charming business owner, he is really a cold and calculated drug kingpin who never loses his chilling composure. Even after a bomb blew off the right side of his face, he just straightens his tie before going out like a boss.

3. Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones (2011-2019)

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Even in the often treacherous world of Westeros, the young Joffrey Baratheon was the worst. This bratty king spent his reign torturing and murdering his subjects for his own amusement, believing it to be his right as the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. This deservedly earned him the hatred of just about everyone in Westeros.

But his most reprehensible act is probably imprisoning and executing Ned Stark under false charges, which set off the War of the Five Kings and caused the deaths of countless innocents. Joffrey was so awful that nobody, except his mother, felt any shred of pity for him when he finally croaked at the Purple Wedding.

2. Joker from The DC Animated Universe (1992-2006)

Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne seeing Joker on TV.
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Who would’ve thought that Luke Skywalker could have played such a great villain? For years, Mark Hamill was the definitive version of the Joker, as he lent his voice to portray the character in Batman: The Animated Series. But his Joker continued to wreak havoc throughout the DC Animated Universe, appearing in many other films and TV shows, including Static Shock and Justice League.

Like many versions of the character, the Clown Prince of Crime gets his jollies from causing death and destruction throughout Gotham, and he never passes up a chance to battle his archnemesis, Batman. But this Joker’s dark, but silly brand of mayhem, combined with Hamill’s hoarse vocal performance, made him one of TV’s classic villains. Hamill even went on to voice the character in the Batman: Arkham video games and the animated film Batman: The Killing Joke.

1. Hannibal Lecter from Hannibal (2013-2015)

Hannibal
NBC

Though many people imagine Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter due to the success of 1991’s  The Silence of the Lambs, Mads Mikkelsen’s version of the character has proven itself to be frightening and flavorful in its own right. Refined, but repulsively evil, this Lecter is what would happen if Lucifer himself came to Earth and worked part-time as a therapist.

Though he aids in the hunt for other serial killers, Lecter manipulates just about everyone he encounters, from the FBI to his patients, to further his cannibalistic desires or spread his evil to them. Though he might seem like a gentleman at first glance, Lecter isn’t someone one would want to have over for dinner.