We try to take a scientific approach to determining which cartoon baddy was most dastardly.
Everyone has their favorite Disney villain. It’s no wonder; Disney often awards their antagonists the lion share of great scenes and dialogue. I sometimes have a hard time remembering which milquetoast was the hero of the film, but I never forget who the baddy was. It seems actors feel the same way, with big names like Glenn Close and Angelina Jolie chomping at the bit to play iconic Disney villains.
Since picking a favorite is largely subjective, I though we’d try to science up the process. We’re going to take a look at the classic elements that make a movie villain effective: their mental and physical prowess, the deviousness of their plan, the scope of their ambition, and how capable their minions are. Since it’s Disney, we’ll also include a wild card category based on Disney’s penchant for offing bad guys – how glorious was their cinematic demise. Even if your plan was mediocre, your henchmen were nincompoops, and your grand ambition was myopic, if you went out in a blaze of glory you could still rank pretty high on our list.
10. Cruela de Vil (Score: 13)
Prowess: Normal Human. Cruela is tough enough to skin a puppy. Now that’s not physically demanding, but it sure calls for some mental toughness. 3/10.
Planning: Game of Checkers. She tries to buy the pups outright, and then dognaps them. How in the hell did Scotland Yard not put two and two together and promptly arrest her? 2/10.
Minions: Competent. Horace and Jasper do kidnap all the puppies, and throw the coppers off their trail. They get taken down by dogs…adult dogs trying to protect their young. I wouldn’t like my chances there either. 5/10.
Ambition: Animal Cruelty. A puppy fur coat? Is that even desirable? 2/10.
Demise: Still Kicking. Really, Disney, you couldn’t find it in your heart to off a puppy murderer? Even after crashing her off a ravine? Lame. 1/10.
9. Gaston (Score: 18)
Prowess: Peak Human. Gaston is a powerhouse physically, able to trade blows with the hulking beast. He’s a mental midget, but has raw cunning and animal magnetism to get him through things he can’t just brute force. 5/10.
Planning: Game of Checkers. Gaston’s lack of wits mean his plan is to just jump in fists first, leading to a predictable end. 2/10.
Minions: Comic Relief. Sorry, LeFou, singing Gaston’s praise is not exactly great henching. 1/10.
Ambition: Homicide, Misogyny. Gaston needs to check his privilege, expecting Belle’s affection for murdering the strangely well-dressed monster she’s shacked up with. 5/10.
Demise: Fell Down, Went Boom. Ah, a Disney classic. The House of Mouse just loves to toss baddies off cliffs or ledges so high we never see them hit bottom. 5/10.
8. Captain Hook (Score: 19)
Prowess: Adept Human. Hook has the raw materials to works with: fully staffed pirate ship, cannons, experience with dueling, and a friggin’ hook for a hand. Too bad he regularly fails to intimidate children, and gets punked by a pre-teen with a tiny knife. 4/10.
Planning: Game of Chess. While the plans our Captain comes up with are fairly generic, he does pull them off well. He kidnaps Tiger Lily, and when that fails he kidnaps Wendy and the Lost Boys, leaving Pan a bomb in their stead. Dude likes kidnap. 4/10.
Minions: Proficient. While Peter regularly runs circles around these grown men, they do pretty much have the run of Never Land otherwise. 5/10.
Ambition: Homicide. Hook doesn’t want much out of villainy – just one dead Peter Pan. Simple tastes. 4/10.
Demise: Cause of Death Unknown. While the excellent live-action Hook makes it explicit that James winds up gator food, the cartoon paddles around the pond, never showing Hook get chomped. 2/10.
7. Bishop Frollo (Score: 22)
Prowess: Normal Human. The antithesis of Gaston, Frollo relies on his cunning and position of authority to take on more physically powerful foes. Which given his old man bod, is pretty much everyone. 2/10.
Planning: Game of Chess. Frollo prefers to incite others to act in his stead. The one time he takes matters into his own hands doesn’t go so well for him… 4/10.
Minions: Competent. Pretty much the whole town gets manipulated into becoming Frollo’s minions, though they shamefully refuse to wear the uniforms he designed for them. 4/10.
Ambition: The Inquisition. On one level, Frollo is just trying to kill one woman and her hunchback friend. One another level, Frollo wants to control the souls of everyone around him, potentially making himself the most powerful man in the land. 6/10.
Demise: Fell Down, Down, Down Burning Ring of Fire. A variation on the oldie but goodie, Frollo swan dives from the top of the church into a boiling lake of molten lead. Good practice for the afterlife, one assumes. 6/10.
6. Maleficent (Score: 24)
Prowess: Godlike. Maleficent’s magic makes her one tough customer. She can appear in a poof of green flame, change into a fearsome dragon, and basically compel a person to a cruel fate with her curses. In a list with actual gods, she holds her own. 8/10.
Planning: Game of Mad Libs. All that power must make Maleficent bored, because she concocts one doozy of a capricious plot. Just to kill one girl. Because she wasn’t invited to a party. That’s Mean Girls levels of pettiness. 3/10.
Minions: None. Maybe head on over to rent-a-goon? No minions is really hurting your score here. 0/10.
Ambition: Regicide, Peevishness. Technically she’s killing the heir to the throne. A throne she has no interest in. She’s just a catty bitch. 5/10.
Demise: Shining Blade of Virtue. Mal goes out with one of Disney’s best on-screen deaths. Her dragon form has Prince Phillip on the ropes, until the good fairies give him a major sword upgrade…that he then throws straight into her heart. Ouch. 8/10.
5. Jafar (Score: 25)
Prowess: Godlike. Before he gets stuck in the lamp (more on that later) Jafar possesses potent magic and shape-shifting abilities. After his ill-advised wish, he’s all powerful and immortal. Winds up being more of a side-grade though. 8/10.
Planning: Game of Checkers. Jafar invites his own destruction with a lazy plan that just assumes nobody would dare cross him. It’s doubly baffling as he already has all of the real power as Vizier. Basically his vanity drives him to commit unforced errors constantly. 2/10.
Minions: Comic Relief. While sustained exposure to Gilbert Godfried’s voice could technically kill you, Iago is just there for sarcasm. Heck, he even goes over to the good side in the sequels. 1/10.
Ambition: Regime Change. Jafar doesn’t want to kill the Sultan. Just humiliate him while Jafar rules the kingdom and forces Jasmine to marry him. Since the opening song hints that the kingdom is kinda a shitty place already, maybe Sultan Jafar would be good for business. 5/10.
Demise: Enslaved…Exploded…Dragged to Hell. Over the course of three films, Disney seems to take delight in disposing of Jafar in new and awful ways. He’s originally condemned to serve eternally in the lamp. Then he breaks free but is killed in an explosion that destroys the lamp. Finally, he teams up with Hades, only to wind up dragged into the River Styx, where he dies a final time. 9/10.
4. Professor Ratigan (Score: 27)
Human Rat. Ratigan is the Moriarty to Basil’s Sherlock, so possesses a cunning and merciless tactical mind. He’s also capable of completely hulking out when called a rat, making him a physical threat as well. 6/10.
Planning: Game of Thrones. Ratigan constructs a Swiss watch of a plan, literally having a wind-up Queen created to replace the real rodent monarch, after which he will name himself regent. The plan is embroidered with elaborate details in order to frustrate and humiliate his rival, the great mouse detective Basil. 6/10.
Minions: Competent. Fidget may seem like comic relief, but the twitchy bat henchmen dutifully accomplishes every nefarious task set before him. 5/10.
Ambition: Regicide. Professor Ratigan dreams big, hoping to take over the British throne, and therefore the whole of her majesty’s empire. Since it’s the mouse version of the UK, I’m sure he’ll have an answer for mouse Brexit… 6/10.
Demise: Fell Down, Went Boom. Ratigan gets the default setting on the Disney death-o-matic, but it feels more satisfying as we’ve just watched him almost brutalize our hero to death. 5/10.
3. Scar (Score: 30)
Human Lion. Mustafa is the Lion King of the Pride Lands for a reason: he’s bigger and stronger than his brother Scar. Scar tries to make up for his stature with his cronies and plots, but doesn’t really stand out on his own merits. 4/10.
Planning: Game of Thrones. In a plan so classic Shakespeare wrote it down, Scar engineers the death of his kingly rival and the occupation of his kingdom. It’s not the most original of plans, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 6/10.
Minions: Ruthlessly Efficient. Scar unfortunately possesses minions who are TOO effective. Their natural rapaciousness ruins the Pride Lands and inflames rebellion against Scar. They also are not above their own monarch murdering when he falls from power. 8/10.
Ambition: Regicide. Pretty textbook example here. I almost ding him a point for having absolutely no interest in ruling once he gets the top spot. 6/10.
Demise: Fell Down, Got Ate. Luckily, Scar survives the long trip off a ledge that Simba sends him on. Unluckily, he winds up crippled, at the mercy of his hungry underlings who just overheard him try to throw them under the bus. 6/10.
2. Ursula (Score: 38)
Prowess: Godlike. Ursula may not be an enthroned deity herself, but she picks a fight with one and wins it. You can’t argue those bona fides. 8/10.
Planning: Game of Gods. Our enterprising sea witch engineers a Faustian bargain with our love-struck mermaid that is all upside for her…cause she’s willing to cheat and manipulate the deal at every step of the process. The only flaw in her plan is underestimating how sturdy humans build their boats. 9/10.
Minions: Comic Relief. The pinnacle of Flotsam and Jetsam’s contribution to Ursula’s plan is to menace a teenage girl and her flounder. Not exactly impressive feats of super villainy. 1/10.
Ambition: Minor Deicide. Ursula aims for no less than the throne of Triton, the god of the seas. Seeing as that covers 71% of all planet Earth, you can see that she’s set her sights high. 9/10.
Demise: Would Make the Valkyries Sing. The most epic ending for a Disney villain ever sees a gigantic, victorious Ursula reveling in her new power…just before Prince Eric rams his ship into her stomach like a Viking on a one-way trip to Valhalla. Glorious. 10/10.
1. Hades (Score: 40)
Prowess: God Tier. Um…he’s a god. Shouldn’t need to unpack this one. Only thing keeping him from full marks is that he’s not the top god in his pantheon. 9/10.
Planning: Game of Gods. Hades engineers a layered plan that seems to cover every angle with prescient ease. The only thing that trips him up is when his double agent, Meg, sacrifices herself and goes triple agent, giving Herc his powers back. 10/10.
Minions: Ruthlessly Efficient. Pain and Panic go above and beyond for underlings, always keeping Hades one step ahead of Hercules. 8/10.
Ambition: Deicide. This villain is happy to use the power of the Titans, beings so powerful that it took all the Olympian gods to imprison them, for his own ends. He’s willing to rule in Hell before serving in Heaven, pretty literally. 10/10.
Demise: Dragged to Hell. Any other villain gets gruesomely torn from the mortal plane by demons to spend eternity in hell, it would earn top marks. For Hades it’s called Tuesday. How is sending him home to his own kingdom a fitting punishment? 3/10.