Whenever people discuss the greatest bad guys of all time, they usually go by evil deeds, or powers, or how many spikes are on their outfits. But what about their voices? Would anyone be scared of Voldemort if he sounded like Gilbert Gottfried? Of course not! So let's celebrate the people who make bad sound so good.
1) Mark Hamill as The Joker, Batman: The Animated Series
Back in 1992, who would have thought Luke Skywalker possessed the greatest villain voice of all time? Mark Hamill's Joker managed to be insane, funny, and terrifying at all once — able to shift from bad jokes to murderous rage in a heartbeat, and back again. The Joker's laugh was evil, but still genuine, and it's no wonder Hamill was asked to do the role for more than two full decades. Simply put, this is the Joker's voice — and everyone else hired to perform the role will be compared to Hamill forever.
2) Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor, Superman: The Animated Series
Clancy Brown may not have owned Superman's archenemy quite as much as Hamill mastered the Joker, but that doesn't make Brown's low growl any less perfect for the part. Brown helped turn Lex Luthor from the sillier version of the movies into the supervillain we know today — brilliant, cold, and calculating, but prone to fits of rage, especially when Superman is concerned. No bad jokes, no goofing around — but was always a force to be reckoned with, and never trusted. Let's put it this way; only a few villains had the gravitas to believably get other supervillains to work together and take orders, and Brown's Luthor was always in charge.
3) Jeremy Irons as Scar, The Lion King
It's almost a shame that Disney didn't manage to use Jeremy Irons before or even after the Lion King; they used the greatest villain voice they've ever found on a lion. (Can you imagine if he'd been able to voice a more considerable Disney bad guy, like Jafar or Hades? Man.) Yet Irons' sinister tones, practically dripping with evil, almost singlehandedly gives The Lion King its emotional heft because you want Simba to defeat him so damn bad. There's a reason Scar is considered Disney's most evil villain, and it's entirely because of Irons' voice. Even Cruella de Vil doesn't come close, and her entire goal was to kill and skin puppies.
4) Douglas Rain as Hal 9000, 2001
Whereas most of the actors on this list tried to sound evil, as the artificial intelligence in Stanley Kubrick's scifi masterpiece, Rain instead removed all emotion from his voice. His HAL was perfectly calm, even as he was trying to murder his spacecraft's human occupants, and the result was chilling. In fact, just by keeping his voice soft and even, Rain was able to exude such menace as HAL that he was terrifying even when he wasn't talking, as per the lip-reading scene. No small feat!
5) Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix LeStrange, Harry Potter
You don't have to be voicing an animated character to have a fantastic voice. Nor do you have to be a guy. Case in point: Helena Bonham Carter, perfectly cast as the dangerous lunatic Bellatrix in the Harry Potter series. Of course, HBC is able to perform the character with more than just her voice, but that doesn't mean her voice is any less fantastic — a mix of sadism, insanity, childish meanspiritedness and a motherly affection somehow devoid of any true warmth whatsoever.
6) Chris Latta as Cobra Commander, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
Chris Latta was one of the most prolific voice actors in animation, and yet for an entire generation of kids raised on '80s cartoons, he is the voice of evil. His high-pitched, screaming rasp was the voice of not only G.I. Joe's eternal foe, but Megatron's devious, scheming second-in-command Starscream on Transformers. There was nothing natural about the voice Latta adopted for the roles, and if he had suddenly started doing it nowadays, it might have sounded ridiculous. But somehow it was the right voice at the right time, making Latta one of the most iconic voice actors of all time.
7) James Earl Jones as Darth Vader, Star Wars
What is there to say? James Earl Jones' deep bass makes Darth Vader as much as his helmet does, but while his helmet represents the Dark Lord of the Sith's inhumanity, Jones manages to let the tortured soul of Anakin Skywalker eke out just enough emotion in his voice to remind Luke — and the audience — that the person in Vader was human once. And yet, Vader was even more terrifying when he was calmly using the Force to choke an Imperial officer he didn't like than when he was angrily barking orders.
8) Ron Perlman as Deathstroke, Teen Titans
Perlman has played many heroes and villains over his lengthy career, but if one voice performance stands above the rest, it has to be as the Teen Titans' long-time foe Slade Wilson, the character better known in the comics as Deathstroke. His monotone baritone seems as emotionless as HAL 9000, but without any pretense of warmth. His coldness makes him the perfect antithesis to the Titans, especially Robin — he's practically like Batman's dark doppleganger, one who treats Robin as a sort of son, even if he sometimes tries to kill him. His voice may be even, but the hate hidden inside it in anything but.
9) John Hurt as The Horned King, The Black Cauldron
Among today's pop culture fans, Hurt might be best known as Doctor Who's "War doctor," be he's won acclaim in countless roles for everything from The Elephant Man to Alien to The Naked Civil Servant. He's a phenomenal actor, that goes without saying. And as the incredibly spooky villain of The Black Cauldron, sounds like the voice of an undead lich from a deep, disturbed crypt. He doesn't even sound human any more — just an ancient being of pure evil. Even 30 years later, he makes all the bad guys' voices of the Lord of the Rings movies sound as intimidating as girl scouts in comparison.
10) Powers Boothe as Gorilla Grodd, Justice League
It's extremely likely that venerable character actor Powers Boothe is a really, really nice guy. I've certainly never heard anything bad said about him. But his voice sounds like the voice of a self-absorbed jerk — albeit one with the confidence and power to back it up It's served well in many roles, such as Deadwood, 24 and more, but never was it better utilized than as the hyperintelligent ape Gorilla Grodd. What should have been a character too ridiculous for modern audiences, Powers turned into a formidable foe, projecting just the right amount of power, superiority and conceitedness to make an evil, giant ape seem like a credible threat to the entire Justice League.
11) Eleanor Audley as Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
Perfect. In a word, perfect. That's about the only way to describe Eleanor Audley as Maleficent. Her performance was almost jaw-dropping in its subtlety, but I cant imagine the talent needed to make the evil witch sound both human and mythic, whether she's sweetly offering a baby princess a gift or screaming with pure hate as she transforms into a terrifying dragon — she's the Platonic Ideal of villainess. Look, Sleeping Beauty is not one of Disney's greatest movies, and certainly not its most memorable, and yet Maleficent has somehow become the greatest Disney villain of all time. And we have Eleanor Audley to thank for that.
12) Frank Welker as Dr. Claw, Inspector Gadget
Along with Chris Latta, Frank Welker was one of the '80s great voice actors — if you needed a villain, they were your guys. Welker voiced Megatron in the Transformers cartoon among countless others, but the evil leader of the Decepticons doesn't hold a candle to the archenemy of bumbling detective Inspector Gadget. In a show that was designed to be goofy and completely lighthearted, Welker's Dr. Claw sounded like he'd crawled out of hell that morning and was ready to start burning people alive. His voice is insane. If Gadget wasn't totally silly in all other respects, this voice might still be giving us nightmares.