Whom do you consider the most evil woman character in movies? If you immediately said Cruella DeVil, then you are in agreement with 90% of the people I asked that question.
She is followed only by the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of OZ, whose evilness may have dissipated some since the Broadway production of Wicked has made her a more sympathetic character.
Whomever you see as the most wicked villainess in a film, it is certain that this character type is an integral part of our culture and arts.
The idea of the evil female may be as old as humanity itself. The mother figure has two sides, one loving and rewarding, the other punishing and destructive. This can be seen in popular literature as far back as the Old English poem of Beowulf. In this story there is a horrific villainess who wreaks havoc after the death of her son.
It is no surprise to modern readers that Grendel (the actual monster) has a mother who is equally if not more formidable an adversary for Beowulf to vanquish. Beowulf is on mama’s bad side for killing Grendel even though mama is the one who sent her child out to slaughter and feast on the Anglo-Saxon population.
Mama is mad at herself and at her child for getting himself killed, and someone has to pay. She will use everything in her power to see that Beowulf is destroyed. Since that first telling, the wicked woman has become a stock character in all our artistic representations.
Let us take a look at some of these cruel, conniving, and often wickedly clever villainess who appear in our favorite films. Beginning with Cruella DeVil in both the Disney animated 101 Dalmations and in the later live action versions with actress Glenn Close playing the role, here is a woman you love to hate.
She is ready to cash in her friendship for what? A puppy fur coat! It is horrific and despicable and the only stupid thing in her nefarious plan is to hire bumbling minions to carry out the dirty work. She may be oh so clever in fooling her friend Anita, but she is no match for Roger and Pongo and the Twilight Bark.
For decades, The Wicked Witch / Miss Gulch character terrified countless children with her venomous hatred of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. We HATED her flying monkeys and always cried when she mocked Dorothy crying for her Auntie Em.
It was pure genius to have her vanquished by something as commonly available as water, and children everywhere could breathe a sigh of relief. Who doesn’t keep a glass of water by their bed at night resting in the knowledge that not only will it quench your thirst, it will also destroy evil.
Another top contender for most evil woman in films was Professor Umbridge in the fifth Harry Potter film. Brilliantly played by Imelda Staunton she is the type of evil that is most insidious.
Appearing sweet and almost motherly in a fluffy pink cardigan with a smile for everyone, she sets about to discourage inquiry, encourage hopelessness, and carries out acts of unbelievable cruelty against the children in her charge.
It is hard to fight against authority, and conditions make it appear that Professor Umbridge is signaling the way of life that will permeate Hogwarts.
Old movies are full of evil women, in Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers played by Dame Judith Anderson is enough to chill the blood of everyone in the audience. Her devotion to her dead mistress Rebecca makes life almost intolerable for the poor new bride at Manderly.
The ultimate evil woman in films is actually a child, Patty McCormack’s performance as Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed is still one of the most frightening stories to watch. In our days of relying on special effects to help create mood, Miss McCormack’s ability to embody evil with just a look and her actions is nothing short of incredible.
The Disney Company has a great number of villainesses that made our list. These women are wonderfully evil characters from old myths or fairy tales, given new life and awfulness by the creative genius of the Disney artists and writers. There are those that hated the wicked queen in Snow White because she had power over the innocent and powerless.
Then there was Ursula in The Little Mermaid who promised Ariel her heart’s desire for the small price of her voice. Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty always was terrifying, because she could wield so much power simply because of jealousy.
The evil stepmother in Cinderella is on par with Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter, as she should be the loving mother-type but is so cruel. She belittles Cinderella and tries to keep her from achieving maturity and freedom.
Most recently Henry Selick’s film Coraline (based on the book by Neil Gaiman) has used this evil mother as the villainess. The Other Mother as she is called is the reverse side to the coin of the loving, caring mother who wants to protect her child.
It is a frightening concept, as she looks like the loving mother, but is so very different. She wants to gain Corline’s love and trust but only to use her for gain. In this movie as in all the others, the audience applauds the innocents as they are able to overcome the cleverness and wicked designs of the women who are determined to exploit or destroy them.
Here is a Top 10 list of evil women from my research questions. Do you agree with these choices? Whom else would you add to our gallery of baddies?
Cruella DeVil – Disney 101 Dalmations
Wicked Witch – The Wizard of OZ
Professor Delores Umbridge – Harry Potter The Order of the Phoenix
Mrs. Danvers – Rebecca
Rhoda Penmark – The Bad Seed
Evil Queen – Snow White
Ursula – The Little Mermaid
Maleficent – Sleeping Beauty
Evil Stepmother – Cinderella
The Other Mother – Coraline