Fueled by a sickly combination of comparison, insecurity, and hatred, in many popular television shows, movies, and books, these female villains often have their end goals reduced to being the most beautiful or beloved. By extension, their sense of power comes from their appearance, and often their sexuality. Their cravings for power orbit around their desperation to achieve attractiveness, whatever the cost.
Although these convenient and flimsy tropes continue to be the default in even our modern-day pop culture landscape, strides are being made, and creative muscles being flexed to make fantasy and supernatural horror female villains more nuanced.
To look at a small sampling of this trend, we’ve gathered ten fantasy and supernatural horror female villains to see how they hold up to the stereotypical designs. Here there be cliched cackling witches and multi-dimensional, but no less diabolical, dames.
1. Cliched: Regina Mills (Seasons 1 – 3)
When ABC’s contemporary fairytale show Once Upon A Time premiered in 2011, there was no question who called the shots. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, and seductive, Regina Mills is the definition of a femme fatale baddie.
In a show that divides itself between a timeless fairytale realm and Storybrooke, a present-day quaint New England town populated by modern takes on the most iconic storybook characters (see what they did there?), Regina is the big bad in both.
In the fantasy realm, Regina lords over her kingdom as the Evil Queen from the Snow White tale, while in Storybrooke, she rules over the town as its domineering mayor. Arrogant, ruthlessly high achieving and dead set on destroying anyone that opposes her, Regina unhesitatingly goes to disturbing lengths to secure her reign and to be the most desirable and gorgeous woman in the realm.
For instance, she engineers an “accidental” murder for her preteen step-daughter in the fairytale realm or holds the actual hearts of people who threaten her power trip captive. She even crushes them to kill those people.
In Storybrooke, she uses her magic to control the affections — and body— of the hunky town Sheriff. She essentially makes him her sex slave and is subject to having his body used and abused without his consent. Oof.
One dimensionally wicked, in the early seasons of Once Upon A Time, Regina’s motives often fell under the umbrella of ‘evil for evil’s sake.’ Beyond season 3, Regina underwent a significant amount of character growth and a thoughtfully constructed backstory. That doesn’t erase her heavily tropey early seasons, however.
2. Not Cliched: Alma Coin
Alma Coin, the type-A leader of District 13 in the final installment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, seems strict at first, but still benevolent. After all, she provides sanctuary to Katniss and her family after the bombing of District 12 and supports Katniss’s request — and subsequent rescue mission– to free her captive friends from President Snow’s clutches.
Coin’s devotion to protecting her people from President Snow hardly makes her seem like any kind of antagonist. Her dark intentions, though, are slowly revealed throughout the novel (and films) when she shares her plans to have one final Hunger Games to punish the Capitol.
Perhaps most unforgivable, though, is Coin’s deliberate choice to call a bomb strike on hundreds of innocent Capitol children. In the process, the blast of the bomb kills many of District 13’s allies, including Katniss’s beloved little sister, Prim.
Unconcerned with likability, romance, and her physical appearance, Coin’s political ambitions trump all. Ultimately, her attempts to seize control of Panem’s government end up being her downfall, leading to Katniss snuffing out her life with an arrow shot to the throat.
3. Cliched: Mother Gothel
As if her name alone didn’t scream, “STRANGER DANGER CREEP ALERT!” Mother Gothel’s heavy-lidded eyes, copiously black wardrobe, and whiplash personality changes do. In Disney’s Tangled, Mother Gothel keeps the golden-haired teen Rapunzel secluded in a tower for eighteen years so that she can use the healing power of her magical hair to keep herself youthful.
Exceedingly vain and unwilling to accept natural aging, Mother Gothel is only concerned with securing her beauty. A haggard old crone without Rapunzel’s magic, Mother Gothel goes so far as to tell Rapunzel that she’s her daughter. She convinces her that the tower is there to protect her from the dangers of the outside world.
With a preference for passive-aggressive tactics and a cruel personality, Mother Gothel undermines any attempts for Rapunzel to become independent under the guise of being a devoted mother.
4. Not Cliched: Dolores Umbridge
The Order of the Phoenix Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, with her tittering little laughs and impressive collection of frisky kitten decorative plates, is about as harmless as an angry viper. With her retina-burning pink wardrobe and her preference for torturing students by making them write lines with a quill that uses their blood, Umbridge gleefully unleashes her tyrannical rule on Hogwarts in Harry’s fifth year.
The High Inquisitor of Hogwarts doesn’t give two effs about being liked or attractive. She has no beef with any of the young women attending the school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and she’s extremely confident and assertive.
Umbridge is mostly concerned with destroying Dumbledore’s and Harry’s reputations –after all, she’s the one that unlawfully sicced dementors on Harry and his cousin Dudley in an attempt to discredit and demoralize the Boy Who Lived, as well as isolate him from his Hogwarts peers.
Her abusive, power-hungry, and PTSD-inducing nature distinctly sets her apart from some of the appearance-motivated female villains here. Unarguably, out of all the fantasy and horror female villains in this article, Umbridge is the most universally loathed and frighteningly realistic.
5. Cliched: Maleficent
In the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, the horned and green-skinned MISTRESS OF ALL EVIL Maleficent wears a swishy black cloak. She has the perfect evil laugh and is so extra that not only does she curse an entire kingdom and put an innocent teen into a coma with a tampered spinning wheel, but she also turns into a fire breathing dragon. All because she wasn’t invited to a party. FOMO to the extreme much?
Over 50 years later, in 2014, Disney released its first live-action film revolving around a villain. Simply titled Maleficent, the movie intended to bring another perspective to the curse-casting witchy woman. Starring Angelina Jolie as the titular villain, Maleficent’s backstory revealed her past as a trauma survivor.
Mutilated by a man who would go on to become king, Maleficent’s disdain and darkness were suddenly warranted. And, her act of revenge on the young Aurora suddenly made a lot more sense. Unfortunately, the upcoming sequel to the film, Maleficent Mistress of Evil, appears to shamelessly retcon all of the effort that went into painting the fallen fairy in a sympathetic and even likeable light.
Instead, it reduces her to a cardboard cut out of herself– a scorned woman who despises romance, motherhood, and female friendships. For this reason, as well as the 1959 film, Maleficent handily makes the cut for a cliched fantasy and horror female villain.
6. Not Cliched: Constance Langdon
Ryan Murphy’s bonkers anthology American Horror Story, now onto its 9th season, has featured more than a few effed up villains. Murder House’s Constance Langdon takes the cake for AHS’s first season’s black-haired and black-hearted bitch.
An abusive mother with a particularly violent take on discipline, Constance made her son’s and daughter’s childhood a living hell. But she wasn’t just a bad mama. Indulging in her violent nature, Constance slaughtered her husband, her maid, and called for the murder of her son Beau, and her ex-lover Travis, an aspiring actor who left her high and dry.
In her quest for revenge and her determination to reclaim her privileged upper-crust lifestyle, she steals, lies, and stabs her way to the top. One of AHS’s most powerful villains, Constance uses her cunning nature to avoid being held accountable for her actions and facing any consequence.
Long before she utters the line “from blood and pain come perfection,” her dark intentions are as plain as the nose on her face. Beauty, being adored, and being threatened by younger women don’t play any role in Constance’s story.
7. Cliched: The Queen of Hearts
Tim Burton’s twisted take on Lewis Carroll’s topsy-turvy children’s classic Alice in Wonderland, his 2010 film of the same name features the titular and intrepid young Alice, and the larger than life antagonist, The Queen of Hearts.
In Burton’s dark fantasy flick, the bobble-headed, short-tempered Queen of Hearts storms around ‘Underland’ intent on spreading terror all across the land. Just like in the psychedelic 1951 animated Disney film, the despotic Queen of Hearts fancies decapitating anyone who disobeys or challenges her.
Both incarnations of the Queen of Hearts are rife with cliches. The animated Queen of Hearts hits all the marks in the ‘evil for evil’s sake’ type of female villain. She has no reason to be crying out for mass beheadings.
Her live-action counterpart is even more stereotypically evil in that her fury turns out to be less from madness than it is from being overshadowed by her prettier, more popular younger sister, the White Queen. Banishing the White Queen and storming around Underland always on the edge of a temper tantrum all stem from The Queen of Hearts’ jealousy and insecurity.
8. Not Cliched: Bellatrix Lestrange
The deranged Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange is one of Voldemort’s most loyal (and most sociopathic) followers. Responsible for some of the most heartbreaking deaths in the Harry Potter series, the unstoppable performer Helena Bonham Carter brought the madness of Bellatrix to the screen in the Harry Potter films.
Bellatrix’s goals don’t revolve around her being liked or physically/romantically desired. She isn’t tangled up in jealousy or vanity, and she has zero effs to give about appearance. In fact, in this selection of female fantasy and horror villains, she’s the one least concerned about her appearance. Her browned teeth, sickly pale skin, and tattered and decaying dress say all that needs to be said about Bellatrix’s “fashion” sensibilities.
She wants to go on murder sprees, spread mayhem, and eviscerate the wizarding world from the “dirty blooded” and unworthy witches, wizards, and muggle swine, all to further the genocidal and world-dominating mission of the Dark Lord.
Bellatrix doesn’t have time for primping and preening and boohooing over her lack of a love life or line of suitors. There are Dark Marks to be conjured, Aurors to be tortured, and teen wizards to taunt. (ICYMI: she killed Sirius Black).
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9. Cliched: Queen Ravenna
In the 2012 fantasy horror-drama movie Snow White and The Huntsman, Charlize Theron’s mirror-gazing Queen Ravenna is the type of storybook villain we’ve all seen and read about before. Using dark magic and enchantments to keep herself youthful and attractive to men, her entire m.o. is being drop-dead gorgeous, with particular emphasis on the dead.
A vain, hard-hearted sorceress who used cold-blooded murder to win the throne, Ravenna is the standard evil queen archetype. Dripping with jewels, her svelte figure swathed in haute couture fashion, and a face done up in dark makeup, her character and intentions are instantly recognizable.
When she’s not draining the beauty (and um life) out of the virginal village maidens, Ravenna can be found brooding in her mirror and plotting the best way to get her step-daughter Snow White’s heart. The fugitive princess’ ticker is just what Ravenna needs to nom on to become immortal. And what does she want with that immortality? To be the fairest in all the land for eternity.
Ravenna’s character is such a by the book baddie that some could argue Snow White and The Huntsman is a tired and anemic tale that settles for thoughtless tropes and wastes Theron’s talents.
10. Not Cliched: Cersei Lannister
Game of Thrones’ Cersei is, in many ways, a direct opposition to the stereotypical female villain standard we’re exploring in this article. Her desire isn’t to be the most gorgeous woman in Westeros, eliminate the “pretty young girls” around her, or attract fabulously wealthy men. Cersei’s one real desire is political ambition.
What fuels her quest for power isn’t raging jealousy or fractured self-esteem. It’s frustration and resentment over being born a woman in a world that is set to diminish her victories, devalue her and in the short of it, not take her seriously because she was born, to be frank, without a penis.
Much of the resentment and the anger that drives Cersei forward comes from that need to prove herself not only competent but, as she believes, to assert to those loyal and in opposition to her alike, that she’s the best ruler Westeros could ever have.
Cersei’s so assured of her greatness and swagger that in George R.R. Martin’s novel A Feast For Crows, even while she’s gazing upon her father’s dead body before his funeral, her thoughts reflect her grandiose self-importance. She reflects that Tywin “Had been a great man,” but “I shall be greater,” ultimately believing that “a thousand years from now, when the maesters write about this time, [he] shall be remembered only as Queen Cersei’s sire.”
Umm RIP dad? All her sympathies, maybe?
One of the cleverest characters in pursuit of the Iron Thrones in Westeros, the arrogant and high achieving Lannister lioness deserved much much much more than her underwhelming fate in the Game of Thrones finale.
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What are your thoughts on our round-up of female fantasy and horror villains? Are there other cliched characters you’d add? Or not-so cliched ones you want to praise? Tweet us @geekforthewin, or leave us a comment below!
All photos courtesy of IMDb.
Hiya, my name is Vicky and I’m your friendly neighborhood Marvel-loving, Studio Ghibli-obsessed, Queer Potterhead.
I may be in my mid-twenties but I’ve been an enthusiastic Potterhead for over a decade. I can’t go a day without firing off at least half a dozen Harry Potter references and have a small museum of Potter and Wizarding World merch… one with FAR too many Funkos.
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