10 most iconic video game villains of all time, ranked

I’m bad, and that’s good

Heroes get a lot of love. The main character of a game is, by their very nature, the star of the show. But a great villain is often even more compelling than a great hero – everyone wants to save the world, but it takes a special soul to want to destroy it.

It’s almost impossible to whittle a list of iconic video game villains down to just ten. It would be easy to simply point to the villains from games that sold really well, but that’s not really what it means to be iconic. So I tried my hardest to compile a list of ten video game villains who are real icons; the ones who stand tall in the world of gaming, whose silhouettes are enough to send shivers down your spine.

Image via Nintendo

10. Ridley – Metroid

The Metroid games have all sorts of great villains, but if you want to talk about iconography, Ridley’s your guy. This nasty space dragon has done battle with Samus Aran on nearly every single one of her many adventures. To be fair, Samus has a pretty good reason to want Ridley dead: he killed her parents way back when.

Secretly, though, I think Samus got over that a while ago. She just wants to flex about beating the same alien pterodactyl like a dozen times.

Sephiroth
Screenshot via Nintendo

9. Sephiroth – Final Fantasy VII

If you asked ten people who played Final Fantasy VII what Sephiroth’s motive was, you’d probably only get three answers, and you’d be pretty lucky if one of them was correct. Honestly, it’s hard to remember much about Sephiroth himself. He wears that really cool coat, he’s got a huge sword, and he’s a weirdly chill co-worker in Crisis Core, but that’s about it. He’s not even really the main villain of Final Fantasy VII Remake. So how does a character like that wind up on a “most iconic” list? Why does Sephiroth keep cropping up in Final Fantasy VII spinoffs and crossover events?

To answer that question, I’d like to give you a few instructions. First, I want you to open up a new tab on your computer. Now head on over to YouTube, and type in “One-Winged Angel Distant Worlds.” Go ahead and click on any of the first three results. See? Iconic.

8. Albert Wesker – Resident Evil

Looking at Albert Wesker now, it’s kind of hard to believe that Resident Evil briefly tried to trick us into thinking he was a nice guy. See those sunglasses? Those are very evil sunglasses.

Wesker is such a classic villain. He meddles in things beyond his understanding, he gets arrogant about playing God, he throws his buddies under the bus. Even his death is incredible – how many guys can make it through multiple self-engineered zombie apocalypses just to get launched into a volcano by a missile explosion? Just one. And his name is Albert Wesker.

Image via Capcom

7. Dr. Wily – Mega Man

Speaking of guys who love to play God, who could forget Dr. Wily? This old weirdo has one of my favorite backstories in all of video games. He had a friend in college, his friend was smarter than him, so he got mad and moved to the ocean to build world-dominating robots. Who wouldn’t?

Mega Man games are great on their own, but they’re even better for their wrinkly antagonist and his stupid petty robo-army. Now, only one question remains: where is Dr. Wily?

6. Dracula – Castlevania

Maybe it’s cheating to include Dracula on this list. I mean, he’s Dracula. Of course he’s iconic. But Castlevania‘s version of Dracula is a very specific take on the character, and one who’s surely earned his place in the rankings. He’s a frightening and sinister foe, and as if his long-standing anti-Belmont policy wasn’t bad enough, he’s also an awful father.

But, I mean, you’ve gotta give him credit for that dope line about miserable little piles of secrets. What a cool guy.

Image via Valve

5. GLaDOS – Portal

I have a feeling that anyone who’s ever heard a single line from GLaDOS would include her on this list. You don’t need to have finished Portal, or even played very much of it, to appreciate GLaDOS.

Ellen McLain’s performance as GLaDOS in the original Portal is one of the best pieces of video game voice-acting ever, and she delivers similarly impressive results in every other Portal project and crossover. She’s so deliciously cruel to Chell, both as a demanding taskmaster and as a very rude friend, and the amazingly resentful songs that play over the credits of both Portal games only serve to cement her as one of gaming’s greatest bad guys.

Screenshot via Konami YouTube

4. Pyramid Head – Silent Hill

..Sorry, Masahiro Ito.

Screenshot via The Pokémon Company YouTube

3. Team Rocket – Pokémon

Team Rocket rules. Why does this organization of super-criminals have such a bone to pick with one random kid? Why is their plan for world domination centered entirely around children’s sporting events? What, exactly, are they planning on doing once they’ve stolen all the most expensive pets in the world? How will that materially help them?

I don’t know. But I’m glad they’re out there trying, because I think they’re very funny. They’re also undeniably iconic. While they’re only the main villains in two generations, they’ve been cropping up in remakes for years, and they even made a full reappearance as a secondary villain team in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.

Image via SEGA

2. Dr. Eggman – Sonic the Hedgehog

You can call this guy “Dr. Robotnik” if you want, but he’ll always be Dr. Eggman to me. He’s a man who kinda looks like an egg. It just makes sense.

Ever since Dr. Eggman first started putting animals inside of robot suits, he’s been one of the most ridiculous villains in the medium. That’s fitting, given that his nemesis is a hedgehog who can move really quickly. There have been other Sonic villains, but I’d bet good money that you can’t name three of them. Dr. Eggman, on the other hand, is a true icon. He’s been given deeper characterization since his first appearance, but players have been enamored by this rotund rabbit trapper from minute one.

1. Bowser – Super Mario Bros.

Was this spot ever going to belong to anyone else? Bowser, the big lizard who hates plumbers, is one of the greatest villains ever. He’s also probably the only character on this list my grandpa would recognize, which is a huge argument in favor of his iconography.

Sure, Bowser has oscillated back and forth between “kidnapper” and “reluctant buddy,” but at the end of the day, this guy can only be called a villain, and a very good one at that. Any dinosaur who can be a doting dad, a piece of paper, a tyrant king, a go-karting superstar, and Dennis Hopper is okay in my book.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung
Sorrel Kerr-Jung has been playing video games for as long as she's been capable of pressing buttons. Her hobbies include insisting that she'll replace her GBA's screen soon. Find her on Twitter: @sorrelkj.