12 scariest characters from movies that aren’t horror movies


  • Some of the scariest villains in movies come from a variety of horror genres, proving that horror can be found in unexpected places.

  • Heroes don’t have to be the main villains to be terrifying; even small, bone-chilling roles can steal the scene and haunt the audience.

  • The scariest characters aren’t always the ones covered in blood; psychological thrillers and dystopian nightmares can create a deeper sense of uncanny dread.

​​​​​​Horror movies have their fair share of terrifying villains, but some of the scariest and most famous characters come from their non-horror counterparts. To make a character terrifying, they don’t have to be the main villain or antagonist. They can be, and often are, but they can also be a bone-chilling little role that ends up stealing the show. Conversely, there is more than just a horror villain who ends up being more stupid than scary.

There’s more than one way to be scary. Body horror movies and buckets of gore have the shock and awe factor, but psychological thrillers and dystopian nightmares create a deeper sense of strangeness in the viewer. Some characters believe their actions are morally justified, they rarely believe they are acting out of evil, but their effect on those around them can be even more shocking due to their warped sense of right and wrong. Some of these characters may never hurt anyone, but they leave audiences jumping at shadows for weeks to come.

Related: 15 Scary Movies That Aren’t Horror Movies

12 Kristoff (The Truman Show)

Ed Harris’ single minded portrayal of Kristoff in The Truman Show it was an unforgettable performance. The mastermind behind an entire world designed to deceive one man and put his life on display for the world’s entertainment is terrifying in itself. Add in his fixation on Truman (Jim Carrey) and the strange belief that he is both his surrogate father and his god, making Kristoff a powerful and disturbing force. With the money, power, and resources to keep Truman trapped his entire life, Kristoff almost convinces Truman to stay and be his puppet forever. However, in the beloved The Truman Show the end, Truman avoids.

11 Amy Dunn (Gone Girl)

Amy looks up at Nick in Gone Girl

“I killed for you; who else can say that?” Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) whispers to her husband Nicholas (Ben Affleck) in the psychological thriller, Gone Girl. One of the best villains in David Fincher’s films, Amy’s intelligence and willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals isn’t all that scary on paper. However, when her goal becomes full revenge on her cheating husband, things take a dark turn. A dark horse fan favorite, Amy is as obsessive as she is scary.

10 The Pale Man (Pan’s Labyrinth)

The Pale Man Looking Through His Eyes in Pan's Labyrinth.

Guillermo del Toro’s dark fairytale film, Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantasy story set against the backdrop of political unrest and fascism in Spain in the 1940s. Although Vidal (Sergi Lopez) is a sadistic villain, the creature The Pale Man (Doug Jones) is the most downright terrifying. That Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) narrowly escapes being his dinner makes the small scene that centers around the Pale Man a pulsating addition to the film.

9 Eli Sunday (There Will Be Blood)

Danny's argument in There Will Be Blood.

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a bad guy, but Eli Sunday’s (Paul Dano) manipulation of faith and people is a chilling highlight in Blood will be shed. Watching the pair struggle for power over each other and over the city, the audience questions who is right and who is wrong, if either of them is right. However, Eli’s use of religion and morality to further his own ends sets him apart as a formidable foe.

Related: There Will Be Blood: Why It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s Masterpiece

8 Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest)

Faye Dunaway screams in Mommie Dearest

Faye Dunaway’s role as Joan Crawford in Mom dearest it still holds up today and has a cult following. Despite the camp, there are parts of her performance that are truly terrifying. Based on Christina Crawford’s memoir of the same title, the film follows Joan Crawford as an abusive and terrifying mother who only cares about her career and fame. There is some debate as to whether all of Christina’s accusations are true, but it is certain that the Crawford portrayed in the film is decidedly creepy.

7 Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)

Glenn Close as Alex crying and hands up in Fatal Attraction.

The scariest part of Fatal attraction it’s not exactly Glenn Close as Alex Forrest, but how the performance was interpreted. The film was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek commentary on how people perceive single women as single-minded, bordering on obsessive in their search for a man. Instead, the audience uses this performance to confirm their biases, stereotyping women. Alex’s actions may be frightening to watch, but her legacy is so much more. Fatal attractionThe end of is the nail in the coffin for this interpretation.

6 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Child Hunter

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, is a classic example of a happy children’s film with surprisingly dark undertones. The Child Catcher (Robert Helpman) plays the minor antagonist in the story in the story that Potts tells his young children. However, it is hardly second to horrifying young children and adults who watch the film. His sincere efforts to capture the children and sinister appearance make for a character of nightmares.

Related: 10 light-hearted movies with the most terrifying villains

5 Keller Dover (Prisoners)

The Prisoners Hugh Jackman Jake Gyllenhaal

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) could be tied for both the saddest and scariest character in Prisoners. After his daughter is kidnapped, he becomes increasingly paranoid and desperate over the course of the film, and there’s nothing scarier than someone with nothing to lose. In a scene of pure brutality, Keller tortures Alex Jones (Paul Dano) because he believes Jones has his daughter. In the end, that turns out not to be the case, but it’s clear that Keller would do it again if he had to. IN Prisoners ending, Keller’s fate is unclear after his dark decisions in the film.

4 The Joker (The Dark Knight)

Heath Ledger as The Joker in

One of the most iconic characters and performances of all time in Heath Ledger’s Joker the black Knight is petrifying man, irrelevant to human life. Along the way, he kills, disfigures, and obliterates the people of Gotham and the city itself. Ledger was a huge part of this character with the legacy he does and gives a fantastically terrifying performance. Even in his final moments, the Joker laughs in Batman’s face because if there is chaos in the world, he has won.

3 Immortal Joe (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Immortal Joe looks ahead in Mad Max: Fury Road.

It’s not just the appearance of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) that gives audiences goosebumps Mad Max: Fury Road. His actions and vicious control over resources and human beings are enough to make anyone sick. As if the nightmarish reality of the world wasn’t enough, Immortal Joe becomes an exciting and terrifying antagonist for Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Max (Tom Hardy). Being chased by him through the unforgiving desert would make anyone cringe.

2 Kevin (We need to talk about Kevin)

We need to talk about Kevin

Ezra Miller’s performance as Kevin in We need to talk about Kevin makes an eerie foil to Tilda Swinton, who plays his mother, Eva. We need to talk about Kevin is horrifying as a whole, but Kevin is the central figure and reason for it. His ability to change his personality to fit those around him, showing his darkest and most unnerving side only to his mother, gives the film the feeling that he is constantly on edge. As the audience identifies with Eve and her growing fear of Kevin, his every action leaves an ominous look on the stage.

1 Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)

Hans Landa and LaPadite stare at each other at the table in Inglourious Basterds

The first scene of Inglourious Basterds is one of the most hauntingly memorable of the modern era, and it’s Christoph Waltz’s performance as Hans Landa that makes it so. Although few, if any Inglourious Basterds is true, the fear that Landa strikes in the hearts of the film’s main characters, as well as the audience, is all too real. His brutality and ability to drag out a confrontation when he knows it will work provide a palpable sense of dread that hangs over his every scene.

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