Ever since the first femmes fatales of film noir, female movie villains have been brimming with sex appeal and sadistic tendencies in equal measure, from Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon to Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct. Though they may be bad, these 20 movie sirens are infinitely watchable and prove that vice is so much better – or at least more fun to watch on screen – than virtue.
20. Talia al Ghul – The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Talia al Ghul fooled the citizens of Gotham – including the love-struck Bruce Wayne – as the elegant businesswoman Miranda Tate. In reality, Marion Cotillard’s Dark Knight Rises character sought to destroy the city, and her shocking transformation made for one of the 2012 film’s best moments.
19. Xenia Onatopp – GoldenEye (1995)
While many Bond girls get stuck with ridiculous names, Xenia Onatopp’s moniker is actually quite fitting. The fighter pilot turned assassin – played to perfection by Dutch beauty Famke Janssen in 1995’s GoldenEye – kills her male victims by suffocating them to death with her thighs during sex.
18. Lily – Black Swan (2010)
Sometimes a villain only needs to pose a threat to a film’s main character to be branded evil, and Black Swan’s Lily is just such a rival from hell. Mila Kunis’ bold ballerina bests Natalie Portman’s delicate, fragile lead in talent, passion and – above all – raw sexuality in the 2010 thriller.
17. Kathryn Merteuil – Cruel Intentions (1999)
She may be best known as the plucky heroine in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Sarah Michelle Gellar showed that she was just as comfortable playing the villain in 1999’s Cruel Intentions. As high school temptress Kathryn Merteuil, Gellar takes utter joy at seducing and destroying impressionable men with a wanton wickedness that is definitely alluring.
16. Mystique – X-Men (2000)
Jennifer Lawrence may play a more accessible version of Mystique in later X-Men films, but for many it’s Rebecca Romijn’s dastardly portrayal of the character in the original trilogy from 2000 to 2006 that is perhaps best remembered. Romijn is alluring and ass-kicking in equal measure as the shape-shifting mutant.
15. Faora Hu-Ul – Man of Steel (2013)
It takes power to pose a legitimate problem for Superman, and Man of Steel’s Faora Hu-Ul is every bit his equal. The beautiful fellow Kryptonian – played by Antje Traue in the 2013 film – harbors a hatred for humanity and seeks to destroy all human life. Not only that, but she has the superpowers with which to carry out her malevolent schemes, too.
14. Queen Ravenna – Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
A bad girl truly obsessed with beauty, Queen Ravenna will stop at nothing to maintain her youthful looks – even if it means ending her step-daughter Snow White’s life. Charlize Theron’s take on the fairytale villain in 2012’s Snow White and the Hunstman is bewitching and captures her icy nature with aplomb.
13. Lori Quaid – Total Recall (2012)
Lori Quaid may play the hapless housewife, but she’s actually a government spy working against her husband and Total Recall’s hero Douglas. Kate Beckinsale took on the villainess role played by Sharon Stone in the original 1990 film so had some big boots to fill – but she offers a truly unhinged yet mesmerizing performance in the 2012 reboot.
12. Maleficent – Maleficent (2014)
With a name like Maleficent, Disney’s stony Sleeping Beauty-cursing sorceress couldn’t be anything but a wicked badass. However, Angelina Jolie managed to bring out the human side of this maligned antagonist – as well as her devilish sexiness – in the 2014 film of the same name.
11. Alex Forrest – Fatal Attraction (1987)
Alex Forrest of 1987’s Fatal Attraction taught married men a valuable lesson: never cheat on your wives. Ranked the seventh greatest film villain of all time by the American Film Institute, Glenn Close’s obsessive temptress inspired the phrase “bunny boiler” – due to the havoc she wreaks on a one-night stand’s family and beloved pet.
10. T-X – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
As much as we love Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, we have to admit that he wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing choice for the role. New York model Kristanna Loken, however, definitely brought both runway looks and sexiness to the franchise when she starred as the killer cyborg T-X in the 2003 sequel Rise of the Machines.
9. Serleena – Men in Black II (2002)
She may look gorgeous, but Men in Black II’s seductive baddie Serleena’s beauty is only skin deep. Appearing at first as a lingerie model, Lara Flynn Boyle’s character is in fact a grotesque alien queen whose thirst for power makes for a terrifying antagonist in the 2002 film.
8. Bridget Gregory – The Last Seduction (1994)
Killer looks may be a common trait shared by many of the lady villains on this list, but Bridget Gregory’s smoking sex appeal is her weapon of choice. Played by Linda Fiorentino, the antagonist lead in 1994’s The Last Seduction manipulates men unlucky enough to fall for her charms – including one poor guy she even frames for murder.
7. Ava Lord – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
A villain modeled after the classic femmes fatales of film noir, Ava Lord employs sex as a way to get what she wants. Eva Green’s character’s manipulative ways even have men committing murder on her behalf; Lord smolders so incredibly on screen, though, that it’s totally understandable why Christopher Meloni’s Mort considers her indeed a dame to kill for.
6. O-Ren Ishii – Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
As one of the assassins responsible for the near-death of protagonist The Bride in Kill Bill: Volume 1, O-Ren Ishii has definitely demonstrated her diabolical side. Lucy Liu’s merciless mob boss from Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 flick also packs a surprising amount of grace and beauty – even when she’s decapitating someone with her katana.
5. The Devil – Bedazzled (2000)
There have been many on-screen incarnations of the Devil, but none have been as sinfully sexy as Elizabeth Hurley’s take on Beelzebub in 2000’s Bedazzled. Hurley’s Satan is more mischievous than wicked and takes great pleasure in making Faustian pacts with unwitting men – only to provide them with slightly off-kilter answers to their wishes.
4. Jennifer Check – Jennifer’s Body (2009)
High school can be hell for many young people, and 2009’s pitch-black horror/comedy Jennifer’s Body takes that fact to its extreme. Titular anti-heroine Jennifer Check – played by Megan Fox – is a popular girl possessed by a demon that turns her into a literal man-eater when her thirst for human flesh becomes too much. Before her secret’s out, though, she’s not short of male attention – and it’s not hard to see why.
3. Catwoman – Batman Returns (1992)
Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway may have put in sumptuous turns as iconic DC supervillain Catwoman, but Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as the feline felon in 1992’s Batman Returns is hard to beat. While wrapped in a scintillating PVC catsuit, Pfeiffer makes being bad look oh so good.
2. Santanico Pandemonium – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Though she appears on screen for only the briefest of moments, Salma Hayek’s Santanico Pandemonium is easily the most memorable character in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn. And although she may be a vampire queen, Pandemonium’s sizzling, snake-clad show at a strip club is mesmerizing enough to distract most anyone from her ferocious bite.
1. Catherine Tramell – Basic Instinct (1992)
Sharon Stone found silver-screen infamy thanks to her character Catherine Tramell’s raunchy leg-crossing scene in 1992’s Basic Instinct. But Stone’s villainess has more to her than this legendary cinematic moment. For one, Tramell lures men into sex before dispassionately killing them afterwards; she’s a black widow in human form who has no trouble trapping her unwitting victims in her web. Or, indeed, many a viewer.