Villains are one of my all-time favorite things.
I love writing them, reading them, watching them, drawing them—they’re just so rad. Disney villains in particular! With their badass songs, wardrobe, and a little magic, these antagonists are entirely capable of stealing the show from our heroes (probably literally).
While all awesome, not every villain delivers that same chills as the rest. I decided to try to put 20 of the greatest villains in order from "least scary" to “nightmare-inducing”. All contenders I chose had to be from a Disney feature-length movie, and animated (or else Loki, Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Bill Cipher would totally have been on here!)
Without further ado, let’s get started! Coming in at number 20 is…
20. Governor Ratcliffe, Pocahontas.
There’s really nothing outright scary about Governor Ratcliffe, except maybe his attitude towards indigenous people, but that leans more towards anger-inducing. He gets a catchy song about digging and has a fun pug sidekick. Bottom of the list for you, Ratcliffe!
19. Hans, Frozen
Dapper, charming, and voiced by the lovely Santino Fontana, Hans gives off next to no creepy vibes for the majority of the movie. That’s kind of the point of his character, though, so he gets a pass.
18. Yzma, The Emperor’s New Groove
Yzma is scary in appearance only, but she’s a hard one to beat in that category. Still, her attitude, wardrobe, and the fun buddy comedy she has going with Kronk makes her more “comedic relief” than “villain.”
17. Gaston, Beauty and the Beast
Gaston is sexist and possessive, but everyone kind of loves him anyway, because he’s so entertaining about it. You know, until he starts a massive witch-hunt in the dead of night, gets a nice old man sent to an asylum, and tries to murder the Beast in cold blood. We line up to take pictures with him in Disney World anyway.
16. Captain Hook, Peter Pan
Like Yzma, Hook is just too goofy to be high on this list—he’s visibly terrified of a crocodile, his arch nemesis is a child, and we’ve seen his underwear on multiple occasions. He’s a little creepy, what with the wild eyes, ticking clock and mustache-twirling hook, but still too laughable to be taken seriously.
15. Mother Gothel, Tangled
14. The Queen of Hearts, Alice in Wonderland
13. Hades, Hercules
I’m a big fan of unflappable, confident villains who know they’re awesome—that’s why Hades sticks with me as one of the coolest Disney villains. His creepiness and the intimidation factor he brings make him scary, but not that scary.
12. Dr. Facilier, The Princess and the Frog
Facilier has a cool, trippy song involving shadow people, hoodoo, blood magic, and basically ending with a deal with the devil. He’s definitely a villain who stays with you, but because the movie came out when I was about 13, I can’t tell how scary he would have been from my childhood perspective. Probably, “kind of creepy.”
11. Shere Khan, The Jungle Book
The fact that Shere Khan is an innately dangerous animal gives him a leg up on the competition. He’s even scarier in the recent live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book.
10. Ursula, The Little Mermaid
Ursula is by far one of the most beloved villains, from her epic song and memorable voice to that disturbing scene where she takes the form of a beautiful woman and laughs crazily at her true form in a mirror. I would say she’s the scariest of the not-too-scary villains.
9. Lady Tremaine, Cinderella
8. The Evil Queen, Snow White
The one who started it all—the first Disney villain to haunt the nightmares of children everywhere, back in 1937. She may not get a real name, but all it takes is seeing that hunched, old hag with bulging eyes offering up a poison apple to remind us how disturbing that was when we were six.
7. Cruella, 101 Dalmatians
Cruella is one of the only villains I recall truly fearing as a child. We can actually see all the lives she’s taken because she wears them. I mean, she hired hitmen for puppies. That’s low. She would totally be higher on this list if she wasn’t somehow fabulous at the same time. No one really understands why this is.
6. Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
The queen of all female villains! Just the fact that she can turn into a dragon and would curse a baby/entire kingdom because she wasn’t invited to party tells us a lot about her. Still, she was scarier before the beautiful life-action backstory Maleficent made us feel sympathy for her.
5. Jafar, Aladdin
I would argue that where Maleficent is the queen of villains, Jafar is the king. I think turning into giant magical animals is a big factor in this, and Jafar makes an awesome basilisk. His whole persona is disturbing on it’s own, and leaves us wishing Price Ali – Reprise was a full-length song.
4. Clayton, Tarzan
What makes Clayton scary is that he’s so real. There’s nothing cartoonishly embellished about him (like Ratcliffe’s flowy pink cape or Gaston’s ego)—he’s just a brutal animal-exploiting (and people-exploiting) hunter who doesn’t care who gets hurt. Bonus points for having the most mentally-scarring death scene of any Disney villain.
3. Shan Yu, Mulan
This one doesn’t even need an explanation—Shan Yu is terrifying. If I were a solider, I would give up and cry the second I saw him cresting the horizon.
2. Scar, The Lion King
Scar has it all. His killer song, fratricidal tendencies, and Hitler-esque ruling style all add up to make him one of the greatest Disney villains of all time. He would have ranked as number one on this list if it wasn’t for…
1. Judge Claude Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hands down, Frollo is the scariest villain in Disney history. A lot of people forget Hunchback even exists, but they are missing out. The movie opens with Frollo about to throw a deformed baby into a well—and he would have, if he wasn’t caught by the archdeacon. He has an incredibly misguided belief that the evils he performs are God’s work, he lusts disturbingly after a young woman (while simultaneously praying that she burns in Hell, all the while actually burning and murdering her people), he raised Quasi to believe he's a monster who can never be loved, and he has a crippling fear of divine retribution. He has a larger-than-life hell dream/song involving Latin chanting, hooded figures, and guilt (It’s not my fault! (Mea culpa) It’s in God’s plan! (Mea culpa)). I seriously can’t say enough how terrifying this man—monster—is. If you haven’t watched Hunchback recently, do yourself a favor and go watch it right now!
There you have it! Lesson learned: if you want to make a really scary villain, opt for a song about burning in hell over one about how digging can change your life.
What Disney villain scared you the most as a kid?