02nd Dec2013

Ten Best: Female Film Villains

by Kat Wheat

Female villains in the movies can usually be placed into two categories; the mentally deranged psychopath and the provocative seductress. This isn’t always the case of course, but it’s a fairly accurate basis to draw on. In honour of the nasty and glamorous sorceress Mizuki in 47 Ronin – the samurai epic out this December starring Keanu Reeves – we’ve reminisced on our favourite on-screen feminine scoundrels in cinema history. Mizuki has a tendency to turn into a dragon and go on rants about corpses and rivers of blood. In this list she joins the conniving, the insane, the alluring and the devilishly sexy. They’re all here, and we just love to hate them.


Mizuki – 47 Ronin (2013 Dir. Carl Rinsch)
Best Line: “Mountains of corpses will not stand in our way”

Morally dubious on the largest possible scale, this shape-shifting witch in upcoming action-fantasy epic 47 Ronin has the ability to transform herself into a dragon and conjure a deadly spider from the soul blood of a man. Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi) is Kai’s – (Keanu Reeves) a half Japanese, half British outcast chosen by the samurai to help avenge for the death of their master – most dreaded nemesis and one of the many obstacles that he must fight. A classic female villain clad in vivid green with a taste for death and a lust for power.

Regina George – Mean Girls (2004 Dir. Mark Waters)
Best Line: “I like *invented* her, you know what I mean?”

‘She’s fabulous, but she’s evil’; her classmate Damien’s summary pretty much hits the nail on the head. Regina George (Rachel McAdams) is the self-obsessed, shallow and backstabbing queen bee of the plastics. She encompasses everything horrendous about the high school experience. Rich, spoilt, popular and incredibly manipulative, she gets whatever she wants and trods on everyone in the process. Regina George made Mean Girls the teen movie of a generation; she’s so unbelievably awful that the urban dictionary has coined a definition in her honour.

Nurse Ratched – One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975. Dir. Mike Forman)    
Best Line: “The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.”

The antagonist of this classic film and Ken Kesey’s source novel is a timeless portrayal of power abusing weakness. Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched is an ex-army nurse working in a mental institution. Emotionally hardened, she buries any semblance of humanity she may have behind a prim, cool exterior. What is so impressive about Fletcher’s performance is that you can just never quite figure her out. What is she thinking underneath that indefinable expression? Is she genuinely sadistic, or are her methods simply misunderstood? We are likely to believe the former, but her cruelty exists quietly, manifesting itself in the way she emasculates her patients during patronizing therapy sessions and subtly tortures Randal McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) by denying him the World Series.

Catherine Tramell – Basic Instinct (1992 Dir. Paul Verhoeven)
Best Line: “You know I don’t like to wear any underwear, don’t you, Nick?”

Sharon Stone plays a highly sexualised sociopath in this erotic crime thriller that – although left critics skeptical – ultimately became one of the great money-making classics of the ‘90s. Catherine Tramell is a blonde, sophisticated ice-maiden and wonderfully deceitful mystery novel writer who becomes a murder suspect when a man is killed in the way her book describes; mid sex, with an ice pick. Her cunning weapon is to distract and entice the easily swayed policemen who interview her; we all know the part where, during an interrogation, she seductively smokes a cigarette and crosses her legs to reveal the lack of underwear underneath. Then all fell victim to 2006’s Basic Instinct 2, sadly.

Miranda Priestly –The Devil Wears Prada (2006 Dir. David Frankel)
Best Line: “Please bore someone else with your questions”

Fierce. Snow Queen. Dragon Lady. All suitable adjectives to describe Miranda Priestly, editor of high-end New York fashion magazine Runway. Inspired by real-life Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Miranda is utterly ruthless and feared by her employees, but oozes admirable sophistication and poise. She’s the sort of boss who can shove her coat in your face, bark a vague demand and shout for her Starbucks whilst retaining your ultimate respect and desperate desire to please her. Equally of course – she’s played by Meryl Streep – which means she’s basically fabulous.

Ravenna – Snow White and The Huntsman (2012 Dir. Rupert Sanders)
Best Line: “Lips red as blood, hair black as night, bring me your heart, my dear, dear Snow White”

Based on the famous fairy tale Snow White, Ravenna the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron) is the villain of this tale, however this version is a lot tougher and less child-friendly than most fantasies. Ravenna is obsessed with power, preserving her looks and being the best and she will do almost anything to get what she wants. Egotistical and ruthless, she goes about her business by stealing youth and beauty from her subjects by sucking the life out of them, until she comes across the pretty and innocent Snow White….and gets her comeuppance once and for all…

Annie Wilkes – Misery (1990 Dir. Rob Reiner)  
Best Line: “Now the time has come. I put two bullets in my gun. One for me, and one for you. Oh darling, it will be so beautiful.”

Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) is nothing but completely terrifying. A deranged ex-nurse with a relentless need to bring her favourite literary romance heroine back from the dead, she holds her favourite author captive (James Caan) and forces him to reconsider his choice to kill off his character Misery Chastain. She also holds a passion for the ancient art of ‘hobbling’. The most memorable part involves his ankles, a wooden plank and a hammer. Arguably not quite as bad as in the Stephen King source novel though, when she slices off his feet and burns the stubs with a torch.

Esther – Orphan (2009 Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)
Best Line: “I like it when it’s just the two of us. You don’t know how long I’ve waited for a daddy just like you.”

The fitting tagline in this ridiculous horror reads ‘there’s something wrong with Esther’. Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a nine year old Russian orphan adopted by golden couple Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard), who are mourning the loss of their stillborn child. Possessing ringlets, a sweet voice and an interest in the piano, she seems to be the perfect solution to their pain, but surely it isn’t quite normal for a small child to know all about sex and then attempt to seduce their adopted father. Esther is an eerily good actress, hiding a secret so out there it’s one of the standout revelations of its genre, and ludicrous fun to watch unfold.

Catwoman Batman Returns (1992 Dir. Tim Burton)
Best Line: “I am Catwoman, hear me roar”

Michelle Pfeiffer’s memorable performance as the ferocious Jekyll and Hyde vixen, viciously sexy and clad in a home-sewn suit of black dominatrix vinyl was reprised by both Halle Berry in the critically slain Catwoman (2004) and Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Tinkering somewhere between villain and anti-hero, Catwoman is timid-secretary Selina Kyle by day but by night, she’s a slick cat-burglar with a whip. Rebellious and uninhibited, she is the enduring love interest of Batman. She’s not evil as such, but she’s a serious challenge.

Alex Forrest – Fatal Attraction  (1987 Dir. Adrian Lyne)
Best Line: “Bring the dog, I love animals. I’m a great cook.”

The moment when the poor bunny gets boiled has been parodied in many a TV show, and the term ‘bunny boiler’ has taken on a meaning of its own, now referring to an obsessive estranged lover. Alex Forrest (Glen Close) is the infamous extra-marital mistress. Initially, she hides her delicate mental state expertly well. When she begins flirting with married Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) she’s a confident, self-assured publishing editor, but an elevator and kitchen-sink encounter later she’s gushing about their undying love and their bogus future child. Perhaps she symbolizes the perils of a wandering moral integrity, or most likely she’s simply the antagonist of a good old erotic slasher movie.


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