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The Best Onscreen Villains Of 2022

2022 was a wild year for pop culture, especially when it came to the world of television and movies. The year saw everything from big budget Hollywood blockbusters to scrappy indie releases achieving box office success and widespread attention online. It also showed that whether it's on the big screen or the small screen, people love a good bad guy.

There's always something alluring about characters specifically built to be utterly reprehensible, especially when they're backed up by quality screenwriting. It also helps when you have a great actor or a special effects team working to bring the villain to life. From horror films to black comedy thrillers, there was no shortage of enthralling on screen villains in 2022.

With killer clowns, aliens from beyond the stars, demented chefs, and the literal personification of death itself, 2022 had a little bit of everything. So grab a cheeseburger, lock your doors, and keep watching the skies — these are the best onscreen villains of 2022.

Pearl from X & Pearl

The horror genre was alive and kicking in 2022, racking up an impressive string of quality mainstream and underground releases. Two films that helped bookend the year were "X" and its prequel "Pearl," both directed by Ti West and starring Mia Goth. It was a bizarre occurrence in which two films, in the same series and continuity, both saw release in the same calendar year.

In "X" we meet Maxine "Max" Minx, an aspiring starlet who's seemingly founds her ticket to the big time in the form of her boyfriend's adult film shoot. However, their scenic farm location soon turns deadly when the property's elderly owners, Pearl and Howard, begin to slaughter the crew one by one. One interesting aspect of the film is its casting, as Mia Goth portrays both Maxine and Pearl in an impressive dual performance.

Goth got the chance to expand on Pearl's character when she and West collaborated on an impromptu prequel film. "Pearl" shows a younger Pearl, stuck living on the farm with her controlling mother while dreaming of a dancing career. We get to see Pearl's steady psychological descent, as well as the setup for her psychotic grandma murder rampage shown in "X." With the now aptly named "X" trilogy set to conclude with "MaXXXine" in 2023, we can't wait to see West and Goth team up for round three.

The Riddler from The Batman

Matt Reeves' "The Batman" was one of 2022's most highly anticipated releases, due in no small part to the cast. Not only were audiences intrigued to see Robert Pattinson don Batman's cowl, but an actor as acclaimed for dramatic work as Paul Dano portraying The Riddler seemed like quite a twist. Bear in mind, the last time the Riddler was portrayed in live action, he was played to near-manic perfection by Jim Carrey. There was a lot of pressure on Dano to put his own unique stamp on one of the Caped Crusader's greatest foes. From his first few moments on screen, Dano quickly established that this interpretation was going to be much darker than others.

This time around, the character is very much patterned after real life serial killers, most notably the Zodiac Killer and the Unabomber. This adds a level of disturbing reality to his multilayered crimes, and has you constantly guessing his next move. One drawback is that due to the character wearing a mask for most of the film, we're deprived of Dano's impressive facial performance. Once unmasked, Dano really gets to run wild with his reactions, especially when he's interrogated by Batman later in the film. As Reeves' take on the Batman universe continues, we can only hope we'll be seeing more of him down the line.

Chef Julian Slowik from The Menu

In "The Menu," we meet Margo (Anya Taylor Joy), a last-minute addition to an exclusive dining event courtesy of her date Tyler (Nicholas Hoult). As the night progresses, it soon becomes clear that the entire event has been planned as a form of revenge, courtesy of its host, award-winning chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes).

The genius of Slowik's character is just how little is directly explained about him versus how much is implied through subtle means. All we know for certain is, he's had the love for cooking beaten out of him by the parasitic and superficial food industry. From having his own cooks shoot themselves to drowning his benefactors, there's no line he won't cross. Every time Slowik claps his hands to call his legion of subservient chefs to order, it's a sizable jolt to the system.

His moments interacting with Margo especially are indicative of the traits he finds admirable in a person. Due to her everyman status as a paid escort, he shares something resembling a kinship with her — two people who've lost the lust for their line of work. Her request for a simple and "non-avant garde" cheeseburger, being the main factor that spares her from Slowik's Machiavellian wrath. Seeing his face, content and moderately happy for the first time in the film, is quite telling in regards to how far he's fallen.

Death from Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

One of the bigger swerves of 2022 was the unexpected greatness that was "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish." The last thing anyone could've expected was this sequel to a spin-off of the "Shrek" series to be as hysterical and surprisingly emotional as it is.

The film follows the titular Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), still on his hot streak of stealing from the rich and partying the night away. However, following an incident with a sizable giant, Puss is informed that he's down to the last of his nine lives. This puts Puss in the crosshairs of a black cloak-wearing white wolf with blood red eyes and dual razor sharp sickles. This wolf soon reveals himself to be Death (Wagner Moura) and he makes it abundantly clear that he's not speaking figuratively or metaphorically. As Death explains, the idea of nine lives is insulting to him and he's sick of seeing Puss throw his own away so recklessly. So he's opted to cut out the middle-man and take Puss' final life with his own hands.

What makes Death such a great villain is the fear he evokes in Puss, even sending the hero spiraling into panic attacks throughout the film. Expertly animated and voiced, Death is a villain who deserves to be hailed alongside other animated greats.

Vecna from Stranger Things

"Stranger Things 4," the fourth season of the Duffer Brothers' popular horror-action series, definitely delivered in a big bad way. The fourth season truly returns to the show's '80s-inspired horror roots, this time taking a major cue from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series. This influence took shape in the form of the season's big bad, the dream-stalking, teen-killing Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower).

As a child, young Henry Creel killed his entire family and had his father framed for their gruesome murders, simply seeing humanity as a sickness. He'd soon find himself in the clutches of Dr. Martin Brenner, Eleven's surrogate father, eventually working as an orderly for him. By manipulating a young Eleven, Henry had his inhibitor chip removed, allowing him to slaughter everyone in the facility. This resulted in a fight with Eleven which caused Henry to be thrust screaming into the Upside Down, horrifically mutated.

Vecna is not a tremendously complicated villain. Simply put, he was evil as a child and is still thoroughly evil as an adult. He works perfectly as a dark inverse of Eleven, showing what she could've potentially become if she hadn't found Will and his friends. While Vecna is defeated in the season finale, it's clear that we'll likely be seeing more of him in "Stranger Things" Season 5.

Laurel Gates from Wednesday

Show of hands, who expected the teen drama version of Wednesday Addams made by Netflix to actually turn out quite awesome? Yes, since its debut in November of 2022, "Wednesday" has quickly become a fan favorite for many.

In the first season, we see the eldest daughter of the Addams clan shipped off to Nevermore Academy. As she acclimates to the school's supernatural students, she soon stumbles into a supernatural mystery rife with bloodshed and murder. It's revealed that students and locals are being torn apart by a sinister human-turned-creature known as a Hyde. Partway through the season, it's explained that the Hyde is working at the behest of an unknown master. This master is eventually revealed to be Marilyn Thornhill (Christina Ricci), Nevermore Academy's botany teacher and Wednesday's dorm mother. It's also revealed that Thornhill is actually Laurel Gates, a descendant of Joseph Crackstone, an 18th century Pilgrim and self-professed cleanser of the wicked. With the help of her resurrected ancestor, Laurel looks to kill Wednesday and the rest of Nevermore's supernatural students.

Ricci has a lot of fun with the role, easily able to turn on the menace in her confrontations with Wednesday in the finale. Additionally, it's a blast seeing Jenna Ortega interact with Ricci, who played Wednesday in Barry Sonnenfeld's "Addams Family" movies back in the '90s.

Lalo Salamanca from Better Call Saul

2022 saw the end of the last bastion of the "Breaking Bad" universe, the smash hit spin-off series "Better Call Saul." The story of Jimmy McGill's gradual transformation from struggling defense attorney to late night's favorite criminal lawyer made for some truly spellbinding television.

In Season 4, we were introduced to Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), a previously unknown member of the Salamanca clan. Very quickly, Lalo became a fan favorite and a major highlight of "Better Call Saul," easily able to steal the show in any given scene. Not only is Dalton slicker than an oil spill, he can turn into a threatening and cold-hearted killer on a dime. This makes scenes between him, Jimmy, Mike Ehrmantraut, and especially Gus Fring all the more intense. Whenever Lalo steps into a room, there's always the sense that he could end someone's life at any moment. Whenever his smile turns into a look of rage, it's nearly impossible to not start shaking in your boots just a little.

Case in point: The shocking conclusion of the mid-season finale, "Plan and Execution," wouldn't be as terrifying without Dalton's impeccable performance. In a show filled to the brim with award-worthy performances, it's a testament to Dalton's abilities that he stands out as a truly unique performer.

Homelander from The Boys

Ever since the debut of Amazon's "The Boys" in 2019, the name on everyone's lips has been Homelander (Antony Starr). There's something special about the way Starr has fully immersed himself in this thoroughly damaged and megalomaniacal character. He's taken the role from just being an evil version of Superman and turned him into something truly unique and terrifying.

Since Season 1, we've seen just how sadistic Homelander can truly be, killing people on a whim and even leaving an airplane filled with people to die. However, it's in Season 3 that we really get to see Starr go crazy with his performance, and in the best possible way. Throughout the season, Homelander's sanity erodes more and more until he finally snaps. This results in not just many deaths, but a full takeover of Vought, meaning Homelander is more powerful than ever.

From forcing a girl to kill herself to brutally murdering Annie's friend Super Sonic, there's no line he won't cross. All of this while flashing his pearly white teeth and his piercing blue eyes, truly the perfect blend of rampant masochism and delusional vanity. The best example of this comes from a conversation that Homelander has with himself in the mirror. This scene brilliantly illustrates just how insecure Homelander is and just how much his behavior is compensating for.

The Grabber from The Black Phone

"The Black Phone," directed by Scott Derrickson, further proved that the horror genre was on fire in 2022. In a glorious throwback to the days of 1970s stranger danger, the film focuses on a string of child abductions in a Denver suburb. These unsolved kidnappings are the work of a person referred to only as The Grabber. Early on in the film, our main character Finney is kidnapped by a strange man in a black magician's van, pulling him into a nightmare.

This man is revealed to be The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), and he now has Finney trapped in a soundproof basement. The Grabber, for reasons never explained, wears a creepy white devil mask with interchangeable mouths to showcase different emotions. Throughout the film, he's constantly toying with Finney, bating him to come upstairs so he can kill him.

What makes The Grabber so scary, like many great horror antagonists, is how little we're told about him. Aside from inferring certain details from his black van and his masks, we're never given his backstory or anything else to work with. However, this in no way makes The Grabber underwritten, as the ambiguity adds to the disturbing nature of the character. Additionally, Ethan Hawke is clearly having a blast with his performance, showcasing impressive range despite his face mostly being covered.

The Scarlet Witch from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Phase 4 was been a time of transition and, in all fairness, inconsistency for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, amidst this inconsistency was Sam Raimi's "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Raimi, in his first comic book outing since 2007's "Spider-Man 3," truly returned to the superhero subgenre in grand fashion.

The MCU's resident magical expert Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is back, and this time the threat is multiversal. Young universe hopper America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) is being targeted by various eldritch style demons, all looking to claim her for their dark master. This master is revealed to be none other than Wanda Maximoff, aka The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), fully corrupted by a magic tome known as The Darkhold. Wanda, still dealing with the grief of losing Vision and her kids, is now fully willing to do whatever it takes to restore her happily ever after. This includes slaughtering countless wizards at Kamar-Taj and the members of the Earth-838 Illuminati, even turning Mr. Fantastic (John Krasinski) into string cheese.

Raimi's horror sensibilities lend themselves well to Wanda's rampage, elevating her from just an intimidating witch to a legitimately terrifying monster, even contorting her limbs like Reagan in "The Exorcist." Olsen herself is also incredible in the role, shifting between sympathy and sadism in zero time flat. Although presumed dead at the film's conclusion, true comic book fans know it's only a matter of time before Wanda makes her return from somewhere within the Marvel Multiverse.

Art the Clown from Terrifier 2

In an already dynamite year for the horror genre, "Terrifier 2" was truly the little movie that could. The film, thanks to persistent word-of-mouth, was able to easily make back its $250,000 budget with a mind-blowing $14 million box office gross. Not only that, but the film's widespread success has helped to solidify Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) as a modern slasher icon.

The film picks up immediately where the original "Terrifier" left off, with Art inexplicably resurrecting in the Miles County Morgue. Following his resurrection, he brutally kills the coroner and leaves with a new garbage bag of potential weapons. That's when he meets a bizarre new ally in the form of a character referred to as The Little Pale Girl (Amelie McLain). With his wounds healed and a year having passed, Art returns to what he does best, brutally and sadistically killing people. Art is far from subtle, going as far as to prolong deaths for his own amusement and even playing with the remains of his victims. David Howard Thornton truly goes above and beyond with his performance, eliciting fear and laughs without ever uttering a single word of dialogue.

While a bit more is revealed regarding his origins this time around, no concrete answers are given — likely because the filmmakers are hoping for a third film. Needless to say, if Art the Clown is planning on returning to theaters for another rampage, bloodthirsty horror fans will be there to enjoy every twisted moment.

Jean Jacket from NOPE

Jordan Peele has truly become one of horror cinema's most unique voices, turning in the stellar films "Get Out" and "Us' since his 2017 directorial debut. His most recent outing, "Nope," is definitely a departure from his previous films. For starters, it's far grander in scale, especially when it comes to its villain.

In the film, we're introduced to Otis "O.J." Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) and his fast talking sister Emerald "Em" Haywood (Keke Palmer). The siblings work on their family's horse ranch, best known for training and renting out horses for various Hollywood productions. One day, their father Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) is killed by a coin when it seemingly falls from sky. Soon after, the siblings become aware of a bizarre occurrence near their ranch, specifically a sizable object moving amongst the clouds. However, what they first assume to be a UFO is soon revealed to actually be a living organism that they refer to as Jean Jacket. It's also explained that Jean Jacket can only digest organic matter, such as people, meaning everything gets puked up, resulting in the opening scene's falling objects.

The film's most horrifying scene sees Jean Jacket suck an entire rodeo audience into its digestive system, represented by a series of claustrophobic tubes. It's a truly inhuman threat, helped all the more by a unique design that's constantly shifting and changing, keeping you guessing as to exactly what it is you should be afraid of.

Namor from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is a complex film, both in terms of its plot and the circumstances surrounding its production. With Chadwick Boseman's untimely passing in 2020, many fans wondered about the future of Black Panther's presence in the MCU. It soon became clear that the MCU would continue the character's legacy while writing out Boseman's character, King T'Challa, with ample dignity.

The film starts immediately with T'Challa's death, the king of Wakanda dying offscreen from an undisclosed illness. We pick up a short while after his death, where Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett, earning Marvel's first nomination for an acting Oscar) are introduced to a new threat in the form of Namor (Tenoch Huerta). Possessing wings on his feet and the ability to breathe underwater, Namor is the ruler of an aquatic society known as Talokan. Soon enough, Talokan and Wakanda find themselves on the brink of war, with Shuri forced to take up her brother's mantle.

What makes Namor such a great villain is, much like Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) before him, his motivations are very understandable, rooted in a desire to protect and sustain his people's society. Adding to that, Huerta adds an ample amount of grit and emotional pathos to the character, making him far more identifiable. His backstory alone makes for one of the most emotionally resonant and beautifully shot sequences in the entire film. With the MCU's habit of bringing back characters, we can only hope we'll be seeing more of Namor in Phase 5 and beyond.