Iconic TV Villains Through the Decades

If there’s anything Americans love more than a hero, it may just be a good villain.   Our pity for the Frog Prince not withstanding, something pulls us back again and again to be thrilled by their evil deeds – only to boo and hiss, of course.

From Darth Vader through Dr. Hannibal Lector, we’ve popularized and mythologized a near-army of villains on the big screen…but what about the little screen? Who are the iconic TV villains that have rattled our nerves while keeping us waiting for each new episode?

To explore iconic villains both young and new, let’s look at some of the top villains from the world of TV and film and see which ones dominated which decades.

1930’s: The Wicked Witch of the West. Named #4 movie villain all time by the American Film Institute (just a spot behind Darth Vader – not bad), it’s hard to deny the impact the Wicked Witch of the West had in the first mainstream movie to be displayed in color. Her green skin made the character come to life as much as Margaret Hamilton’s committed performance.

1940’s: Mrs. Danvers. With television not quite taking on the role it would become famous for, it’s easy to forget one of Alfred Hitchcock’s great earlier villains in the 1940 film “Rebecca.”

1950’s: Eddie Haskell. You might not put Eddie Haskell quite in Darth Vader category, but there’s no doubt that he plagued the Beaver during television’s golden years as the wise-cracking archetype of the bad-guy-next door that you love to hate.

1960’s: Colonel Klink. Even though the 1960s also saw the national introduction of Batman villains like the Joker and the Riddler, it’s hard to deny that Colonel Klink’s comedic villain (played by Werner Klemperer) was as an enjoyable a piece of 1960s television that existed thanks to “Hogan’s Heroes.”

1970s: J.R. Ewing. It’s hard to deny that the show “Dallas” ran in both the 1970s and 1980s, but the J.R. Ewing storyline – eventually providing people with the “Who Shot J.R.?” discussion – was one of the most engaging ones on television during the entire 1970s, when comedies like Laverne & Shirley and M*A*S*H* dominated the landscape.

1980s: Colonel Lynch. The second colonel on our list, Colonel Lynch haunted the A-Team throughout the first season, giving a highly episodic action-adventure show a consistent villain. Compared to other popular shows at the time – Cosby, Golden Girls, etc. – Colonel Lynch was an absolute terror.

1990s: Mr. Burns. C. Montgomery Burns, to be exact, and not only one of the most memorable villains of the 1990s but one of the most memorable villains in all of television history. The nuclear power station-owning Mr. Burns was a great foil/boss to Homer Simpson’s lackluster employee dynamic, but also provided the entire town of Springfield – and therefore us as viewers – someone to root against.

2000s: Tony Soprano. Yes, he was the protagonist, but it’s hard to find reasons why Tony Soprano should be considered a villain. As TV in the 2000s took a turn toward the grit allowed on premium channels, HBO’s “The Sopranos” took full advantage and made Tony Soprano a character that you can never forget.

What type of villainy awaits us in the decades to come? No one knows for certain, but the coming ghastly fiends will surely leave us booing for more.

About the Author
Michael “Big Mike” McCaffery stands for all the fights against evil from his chair at www.godish.com, bringing only good television programming to all.
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Image Credit(s): License: Royalty Free or iStock

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