Every story requires a good villain. Well, OK, not every story. But lots of stories require good villains. This, of course, includes movies-and few things on this planet are as exciting as a good movie villain. Here are six of the worst, the most villainous, the most dastardly, the most disgusting. In other words, they're bad. But they're also the best at what they do.


Phillip Vandamm, "North by Northwest"

Some movie villains prefer blunt force to reach their goals-James Mason's suave spy master in "North by Northwest" is not one of these movie villains. He's more of a schemer than a killer, and prefers to dispatch those in his way through his henchman lead by a murderous Martin Landau. But he will get his hands dirty if he has to-and he's also one of the greatest movie villains ever.


Max Cady, "Cape Fear"

The character of the murderous, vengeful, and sexually violent Max Cady has been played by two different actors with two very different approaches to the material. The originator of the character, Robert Mitchum, plays him calmly, with a quiet and seductive sense of menace, like a snake sunning himself on a rock before striking. In Martin Scorsese's remake, he's played by Robert De Niro as a completely over-the-top movie monster, who has more in common with a cackling rapist Terminator than a real criminal.


T-1000, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"

Speaking of the Terminator, here's the Terminator the machines sent to stop another Terminator, so you know he's a pretty tough customer. The cyborg played by Robert Patrick is slimy and sneaky where Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 is more like a tank. He's made out of an ever-morphing liquid metal, so he can imitate anyone he can touch. And not many people he touches live to tell about it.


The Joker, "The Dark Knight"

Think of Heath Ledger's Joker as every great movie villain rolled into one psychotic package. He takes a familiar comic book icon and turns him into the stuff of punk rock nightmare-an R-rated performance in a PG-13 movie. In so doing, he created one of the best-or perhaps we should say worst-movie villains ever.


The Alien, "Alien"

Not all great movie villains are humanoid-some of them are so cloaked in shadow and other more tangible substances that it's hard to tell WHAT they are. That's definitely the case with the titular monster in Ridley Scott's "Alien," which has spawned three sequels, and at least three spin-offs and counting. None of them have managed to capture the menace and horror of the original movie, in which the alien (or "xenomorph" if you want to get technical about it) picks off the crew of the Nostromo one by one-violently.


The Zodiac, "Zodiac"

Most movie villains are cemented in the audience's mind by a great actor's portrayal and other methods of fleshing out an onscreen character. Not so with the real-life serial killer who drives the plot of David Fincher's "Zodiac"-as in real life, we never find out for sure who is behind the brutal killings. But his on-and-offscreen actions create an indelible impression nonetheless, and the result is one of the great "invisible villains" of film history.