There's nothing better than a good villain. A good hero is a good hero, but they are nothing without a great villain. Even better than a good villain, though, is a good villain song. These musical numbers encapsulate what is so much fun of watching a villain just enjoying being a villain. Whether they're relishing in their success and/or evilness, laying out their master plan, or showing some momentarily vulnerability, a villain song can often be the most memorable track in any musical.
What follows are the 10 best villain songs from any media. They're graded on both the song quality and how the song enhances and/or develops the villain. There are some ground rules, of course. The song must be sung by the villain in question. So no "One Winged Angel" or "Who is the Boss," even though both are about their respective evil-doers. The song must also be an original track, written for that particular piece of media. This means that "Painkiller" in Brutal Legend and "Devil Went Down to Georgia" in Guitar Hero 3 are disqualified.
#10: "Herod's Song (Try It and See)" – Jesus Christ Superstar
"Prove to me you're not fool / Walk across my swimming pool!"
In the musical about the life and death of Jesus Christ, King Herod only shows up once. However, his one appearance is so memorable that one can't help but wish he had more to do. Jesus is brought before King Herod, and all the decadent ruler wants to see is proof of Jesus's divinity. Simple miracles like changing water into wine is all Jesus needs to do to go free. However, the titular character stays silent, refusing to use his gifts as parlor tricks.
#9: "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" – Little Shop of Horrors
"You can keep the Thing / You can keep the It / You can keep the Creature / They don't mean shit!"
Finally clued into just what kind of horror his little shop has been growing, Seymour sets out to confront Audrey II, the giant man-eating plant. Though bold in his attempt, it doesn't take Audrey II long to put him in his place, pushing him back with vines and breaking free of his pot. A chorus of tiny mouths joins in on the fun, mocking Seymour and setting the record straight before Audrey II goes in for the kill.
#8: "What You Feel" – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
"Somethin's cookin, I'm at the griddle / I bought the Devil his very first fiddle!"
Dawn awakes in the clutches of by far the most charismatic villain in the Buffyverse: Sweet. A tap-dancing, jazz-singing, demon that's all too happy to lay out his plan, so long as he gets to sing it. As harmless as mass singing and dancing sounds, Sweet spells out that people can't help but broadcast their inner feelings and secrets (plus some people just burst into flames if they dance too hard). Add a plan to marry the 15 year old, and Sweet is an all around nasty customer.
Sweet's power leaks from the screen to reality with a number that is catchy and toe-tapping, bringing many viewers to dance and sing along. His ambitions aren't lofty, his only real goal being to cause chaos, and maybe take a bride with him when he goes. Arguably, he's one of, if not the only, villains in the show to do his damage and leave, unharmed. The smooth song speaks to his confidence with his success and power, sounding more like a celebration song than one that lays out his plan. Buffy has had some memorable villains, but Sweet stands up there second only to the Gentlemen.
#7: "Candy Store" – Heathers: the Musical
"If you lack the balls, you can go play dolls / Let your mommy fix you a snack"
The leader of a trio of Heathers makes an offer our protagonist would be foolish to ignore. She promises her a world of popularity, where everything and everyone would be at her beck and call. Already the offer has been rebuffed once, and Heather refuses to be turned down a second time. The promise of turning one's life into a "candy store" is tempting, but nothing is free, and the cost of humiliating and abandoning her best friend is too much for our hero to accept.
Not only does Heather try to tempt Veronica into her world, but also ridicules her if she decides not to accept. Comparing her life to that of a child, Heather makes it sound like this step up is a step into adulthood; casting off her old life and friends and realizing the world could be hers for the taking. The song is upbeat and catchy, but the performance manages to slip in a perfect amount of malice and evil with every syllable.
#6: "Within You" – The Labyrinth
"Live without your sunlight / Love without your heartbeat / I can't live within you"
In a room at conflict with itself, stairs leading to places they shouldn't be able to, and gravity playing fast and loose, the Goblin King struggles with his own desires and realities. All Sarah wants is her brother Toby back, and all Jareth wants is for her to want him. He marches around, though Sarah almost completely ignores him as she searches for her brother.
Spoiled for choice of great songs sung by Bowie in Labyrinth, it's "Within You" that I felt was his most villainous song. Not because it's filled with evil dealings and dark plans, but instead because it looks into his motivations, and brings forth his vulnerabilities. It's haunting and touching, in a way, as Jareth realizes all his plans haven't worked, and his game is seen as nothing but wicked, instead of charming, by Sarah. While "Magic Dance" is more memorable, it really didn't do justice to Jareth's character the way this song does.
#5: "Toxic Love" – Ferngully
"Cause greedy human beings will always lend a hand / With the destruction of this worthless jungle land"
Pollution has never been so sexy. Hexxus slithers and slides throughout a giant deforestation machine, borderline making love to the gears and pistons. His movements are as smooth as his voice, and nearly as sinister. The avatar of pollution empowers, and is empowered by, the mass-tree-killing vehicle, relishing in the progress humans have made toward destroying the planet in his absence.
Before the song starts, all we see of Hexxus is his gnarled tree prison and then a dripping slip of sludge. With the first notes, Hexxus pulls in some of that sweet smog and smoke and forms a skeleton, shocking audiences before putting on something a little more comfortable. Hexxus is easily one of the most memorable parts of the movie, and his song is by far the best. His smooth, charismatic, welcoming shape betrays the horrifying final form he'll take near the film's conclusion.
#4: "Be Prepared" – The Lion King
"Be king undisputed, respected, saluted, and seen for the wonder I am!"
A haunting green glow in a dark cavern sets the stage for one of the most classic plans of villainy: regicide. Surrounded by scavengers, eager to do anything for just one extra scrap, Scar promises them rich bounties and a life in the sun: all they have to do is help him kill his brother and nephew. All too easily they agree as Scar stands up on a rock like a podium, looking out over goose-stepping hyenas in a rather clear metaphor for Nazi Germany.
When asked what the best villain song is, most people will mention "Be Prepared," if not some other Disney villain tune. It's easy to see why, as Scar's song is both exciting and haunting. Though he's promising to take the scavengers out of the darkness and into a world with food they don't have to fight over, the repercussions will be dire as the circle of life falls out of balance. Like a cult leader Scar convinces them that he knows what's best, but slips in his real motivation toward the end of the number, stating that he'll finally be respected and be given his just due. It's not about making a better world for the scavengers, but instead it's about stroking his ego.
#3: "Biggering" – The Lorax
"The more you try to find it, the more it likes to hide / Now listen, that is a nasty little worm / I like to call it 'Pride'"
In a lavish, towering, office building, surrounded by smog in place of the trees that have been felled for progress, a once simple man comes to a realization that he always wanted to be more than simple. The simple life no longer appeals to him now that he's had a taste of the big life. The voice of reason, the Lorax, tries to make him realize that he's become consumed by greed and worse yet: pride. But how can 'biggering' be bad when so many people are paying him to do it?
Now maybe it's cheating including a song that was cut from the final product (and replaced with an inarguably worse alternative), but the original villain song for The Lorax is so good that I had to include it. It's a song about our protagonist becoming the antagonist and not even realizing he's doing it. Sure the Lorax tells him the truth of things, but the Onceler simply sees his success as survival of the fittest, and his company will be the apex predator. It's a dark turn of events in a movie that was mostly forgettable. As it goes on, the track becomes more powerful and intense, "biggering" in tone, if you will. It's only too late that he realizes the true cost of his success, and that all wells eventually run dry.
#2: "Sweet Transvestite" – Rocky Horror Picture Show
"I see you shiver, with antici…"
Lowering down in a service elevator, dressed in a long dark cloak, the mysterious master of the house sends shivers down Brad and Janet's spine, but they have no idea what they're in for, and then the cloak comes off. The good Dr. Frank-N-Furter struts around his banquet hall, shaking hands and trying to deal with the banality of Brad and Janet. He promises help (albeit Satanic help), and even offers to let them stay the night. It's a shocking but true introduction to Brad and Janet's mysterious host.
Quite possibly one of the best introductions to a villain, the big reveal of Dr. Frank-N-Furter's fashion sense takes an already chilling night into stranger territories. Brad and Janet are as white bread as they come, so they are not prepared for anything that's out of the ordinary. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is loaded with memorable songs, with "Sweet Transvestite" second only to "Time Warp." Though he doesn't spell out any evil plans or ill intent, his honeyed words and charming voice can't mask the sinful machinations he'll use to obtain absolute pleasure.
#1: "Hellfire" – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
"Like fire! Hellfire! This fire in my skin. / This burning desire is turning me to sin!"
A man of faith, virtue, and truth walks the lonely, dark, echoing halls of his private sanctuary, where he can confess his struggles to the Virgin Mary. He calls out her name, begging for mercy on the devil's grasp around his soul, and pleading for answers to a plight he thought himself better than. Rows upon rows of red-robed judges surround him, dwarfing Count Frollo as he casts the blame on anyone but himself. He reaches his breaking point, demanding that the gypsy beauty Esmeralda give herself to him, or he will burn her alive.
In the 90s, there were two voices nearly every villain had: Tim Curry, who we've seen twice now in this list, and Tony Jay, who voices the likes of Count Frollo and Megabyte from ReBoot. In my mind there is no contest that this is the greatest villain song ever recorded. It's touchingly human and dark. Frollo is politically powerful, but he's still just a human, and like any man he is vulnerable to sin, though he carries himself as if that's not true. He sees himself as a victim, unfairly tormented by temptations meant for lesser men than he. He pleads and begs for an answer, for salvation from his desires, but when none come, his darkness truly takes hold. If he cannot overcome his temptation, he will demand it succumb to him, or he will see the source of his desire set aflame. Though he wasn't a hero before this moment, he wasn't exactly the villain either. In one song we see a man transform into an antagonist, getting a rare glimpse into the vulnerabilities so many villains have but refuse to show.
Villains have always been my favorite characters in any work of fiction. A hero's motivation is almost always the same, and always understandable. A villain can be truly something special, however. They can come from anywhere and anyone, through years of torment or just one bad day. Whatever the case, they are almost always extremely enjoyable and infectious, as any good villain should if we are expected to believe they would be charismatic enough to recruit an army for their nefarious goals.
So what did you think of the list? Was there a song you felt should have been included, or was there one you felt was better deserving of the #1 position. Agree or disagree, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!
The views expressed in this article are that of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the rest of the Keen Gamer staff.