HomeEntertainment News10 Modern Sci-Fi Villains Destined to Become Icons

10 Modern Sci-Fi Villains Destined to Become Icons

Science fiction is one of cinema’s most popular and enduring genres. The 2010s were especially fruitful for sci-fi, with instant classics like Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival, Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin, and Alex Garland‘s Ex Machina taking the genre to new heights.

Among the many reasons for these projects’ success, it’s their incredible villains. A great movie is nothing without a good villain, and these sci-fi masterpieces had some of the most memorable and acclaimed in the past decade. From twisted robots to deranged scientists and even a classic femme fatale, these villains are well on their way to becoming sci-fi icons.



10 Ava – ‘Ex Machina’ (2014)

Ava discovers her older models after her escape in Ex-Machina.

Alex Garland’s Ex Machina stars Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander in her breakout role. The plot centers on a programmer who travels to a millionaire’s secluded island to administer the Turing test to Ava, an advanced, humanoid android.

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It would be unfair to call Vikander’s Ava a villain; she isn’t even the film’s antagonist per se. However, Ava is a complex and deceiving character who manipulates everyone around her, ultimately coming out on top. Resourceful and clever, Ava is a modern sci-fi icon, arguably the best robot in modern cinema, and a masterful creation from Garland and Vikander.

9 Mallorie Cobb – ‘Inception’ (2010)

Marion Cotillard as Mallorie Cobb holding out a gun in Inception.
Image via Warner Bros

Christopher Nolan‘s movies don’t always have the best female representation; in fact, a common complaint of his efforts is the over-abundance of male characters compared to the paltry presence of females. Inception is a classic example of this, but the film compensates by having an incredible antagonist in Oscar winner Marion Cotillard‘s Mallorie Cobb.

Mal is Cobb’s dead wife, who manifests as a shadow sabotaging Cobb’s efforts in the world of dreams. Cotillard does wonders with what could be a thinly-written role, elevating Mal past the classic femme fatale trope and into the tragic heroine territory. Cotillard’s Mal is dangerous, sleek, and unforgettable, becoming one of Inception‘s best aspects.

8 Minister Mason – ‘Snowpiercer’ (2013)

Minister Mason speaking in Snowpiercer

Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton plays the main villain in Bong Joon-ho‘s 2013 dystopian sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer. The plot centers on a globe-trotting train carrying the last remnants of humanity, where the lower-class passengers revolt against the ruling elite. Swinton plays Minister Mason, the train’s de-facto commander.

Drawing inspiration from real-life political figures, Swinton creates a grotesque and fearsome politician who embodies everything wrong with humanity. Absurd without ever becoming buffoonish and curious without dropping the menace, Swinton’s Minister Mason is a fascinating villain worthy of standing next to the most iconic sci-fi nightmares.

7 Koba – ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (2014)

An angry Koba looking intently in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Image via 20th Century Studios

The Planet of the Apes trilogy was a milestone in sci-fi storytelling. Andy Serkis stars as Caesar, an evolved chimpanzee who becomes the leader of the ape revolution following a virus epidemic that wipes out humanity. The second film in the trilogy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, introduces Koba, a jealous and grateful bonobo who resents Ceasar.

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Played by Toby Kebbell, Koba is a treacherous and vengeful but complicated figure who audiences can sympathize with. The film offers no easy answers or redemptions for Koba, allowing him to be a villain without depriving him of the layered characterization that makes him such a tragic figure. Kebbell delivers an Oscar-worthy motion capture performance capable of standing next to Serkis’ masterful portrayal.

6 M3GAN – ‘M3GAN’ (2023)

Image via Blumhouse

Horror is more popular than ever, thanks to daring films like M3GAN. The plot centers around a roboticist who creates an artificial intelligence doll to help her grieving niece overcome her parents’ deaths. However, the doll, M3GAN, gains sentience and becomes murderous against those she perceives as a threat to her bond with the girl.

M3GAN is a campy delight that still delivers plenty of thrills and screams. Powered by its titular character’s wow factor, the film succeeds as a horror comedy while offering some clever and thought-provoking insights into the dangers of unchecked technology. M3GAN is an incredible character, a horror icon in the making and a brilliant addition to cinema’s collection of rogue AIs.

5 Kylo Ren – ‘Star Wars’ (2015 – 2019)

adam driver as kylo ren pointing his lightsaber at someone off-camera in star wars

The Star Wars sequels earned a mixed reception from audiences, but the new characters it introduced were generally well-received. Adam Driver‘s villainous Kylo Ren was among the trilogy’s best additions, a worthy enemy to the heroes and a complex character for the franchise.

Kylo Ren is not on par with Darth Vader and probably never will be; then again, few cinematic characters are. However, he is possibly the most interesting character in the sequel trilogy, a broken young man representing the Jedi Order’s failed promises. Thanks to Driver’s intense performance, Kylo Ren is a striking character and an effective villain who successfully emerged from the divisive trilogy mostly unscathed.

4 Ma-Ma – ‘Dredd’ (2012)

Ma-ma staring blankly in 'Dredd'

Lena Headey might be most famous for playing the ruthless and short-sighted Cersei Lannister, but she has also portrayed another memorable villain: Ma-Ma in the 2012 adaptation of the Judge Dredd comic. Dredd follows the titular judge’s attempts to bring order to a 200-story building controlled by Headey’s Ma-Ma, a dangerous drug lord.

Dredd is a gritty and faithful adaptation of the comic book strip, with Headey disappearing in the role and delivering a chilling performance as the heartless Ma-Ma. The actor portrays Ma-Ma as a true savage, a lawless and violent criminal who is as brutal as the world she inhabits. Ma-Ma is already an icon of the action genre, but Dredd‘s legacy will also turn her into a sci-fi legend.

3 Luv – ‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017)

Sylvia Hoeks as Luv staring blankly in Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, stars Ryan Gosling as K, a replicant blade runner who uncovers a dangerous and potentially devastating secret. Thrown into the middle of a conspiracy, K must go on a dangerous quest to locate the legendary Rick Deckard.

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Antagonizing K is the murderous replicant Luv, played with chilly precision by Sylvia Hoeks. Relentless and nearly unstoppable, Luv is a woman on a mission, removing every obstacle in her path with terrifying accuracy. Stoic yet instantly striking, Luv is the perfect villain for a neo-noir sci-fi like Blade Runner 2049, with Hoeks crafting a cool but menacing character worthy of standing next to the late Rutger Hauer‘s iconic Roy Batty.

2 Immortan Joe – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)

Immortan Joe racing in his car in Mad Max: Fury Road.

It’s not an overstatement to call Mad Max: Fury Road the best action sci-fi of the 2010s. George Miller‘s apocalyptic picture stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and follows Max Rockatansky as he joins forces with the mighty Imperator Furiosa to challenge the despotic Immortan Joe.

Australian actor Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, earning an immediate place among science fiction’s all-time great villains. Looking like a cross between a post-apocalyptic nightmare and a member of Kiss, Immortan Joe is the ultimate visual representation of Fury Road‘s wasteland: moribund but terrifying, holding on to power while having nothing to show for it.

1 High Evolutionary – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ (2023)

Chukwudi Iwuji as the High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Image via Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 sees the titular team going on one last adventure. The plot centers on the Guardians racing to save Rocket’s life and coming face to face with the High Evolutionary, a deranged scientist obsessed with creating the perfect life form.

Portrayed by Chukwudi Iwuji, the High Evolutionary is the most detestable Marvel villain ever. Iwuji squeezes every drop of cruelty from the character’s pathos, creating a horrifying and loathsome portrayal of blind ambition as chilling as it’s enraging. The High Evolutionary is a classic case of man-playing-god, quickly becoming the MCU’s most memorable and hatable villain.

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