While I refused to judge these villains by their status as cultural icons alone—frankly, there just isn’t a lot of household name value on this list—recognizability admittedly propelled a few characters one or two spots forward.
Mainly, I’m looking for effectiveness—not just how scary the antagonists are, but also how well they work with the plot. Their general construction as characters. Their design, their development. Perhaps even well-written dialogue could play a part. Mainly, though, I’m seeking longevity. More than two decades have passed since this iconic decade, and while the 90s weren’t exactly known for their stellar horror movies, I think these foes will live on for quite some time.
10. Graboids – Tremors
In one of the more underrated monster movies out there, Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star as two handymen who quit their jobs and leave town to escape the monotony of everyday life.Along the way, however, things take a turn for the worms. I mean, worst.
With tentacled tongues that resemble snakes and the ability to stalk their prey by detecting seismic vibrations, Graboids (giant worms, essentially) are formidable foes, and they’re not picky eaters, either. Horses, sheep, human beings—as long as you’re alive and moving, it doesn’t matter what you are. These creatures want you for their dinner, and unless your name is Kevin Bacon, they’ll likely get their wish.
9. The Vampires/Culebras – From Dusk Till Dawn
The scene in which most every character on screen turns into a semi-reptilian blood-sucking humanoid is legendary for numerous reasons, like the fact that a lot of the evildoers were portrayed by well-known names. Some of the actors that played characters-turned-vampire include Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, and even Tarantino.
But speaking of Tarantino—of course, he wrote the script, and therein he implemented a popular screenwriting tactic: the midpoint twist. This is typically when someone or something arrives halfway through the movie, shifting the plot on its head. In this case, the vampires are the twist, and the result is action-packed brilliance.
8. The Judas Breed – Mimic
A hybrid between a mantis and a termite, the “Judas Breed” was created by the fictional Dr. Susan Tyler, an entomologist from Guillermo Del Toro’s 1997 sci-fi-horror hybrid, Mimic. They’re human-sized, cockroach-like creatures that can blend in with humans thanks to giant insectoid wings that cover their body to resemble clothes.
They hide in the shadows, walking on four legs while using two other limbs as weapons. It creates a terrifying dynamic that will make you question Dr. Tyler and all of her horrible decisions.
7. Count Dracula – Bram Stoker’s Dracula
If this list were ranked by iconic merits, Gary Oldman’s interpretation of the famous Count Dracula would undoubtedly come out on top. The character would have made the list almost through sheer name power alone—throw in the fact that he was portrayed by one of England’s most prestigious thespians, and we have a movie villain truly worth writing about.
That’s not to say that prior iterations of the vampire weren’t as iconic. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee’s portrayals of Dracula will go down in history as some of the all-time horror greats, and I like to think Oldman’s will, too.
6. The Blair Witch – The Blair Witch Project
In 1999, the found-footage film was popularized in America by way of The Blair Witch Project. Set in 1994, it follows three filmmaking students who hike into the Black Hills outside of Burkittsville, Maryland attempting to document the legend of the Blair Witch. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez utilized various tactics to market the film—such as creating a “Missing” poster for the three protagonists to convey a sense of reality, as if they were truly deceased.
Perhaps the most intriguing strategy, however, came with the inception of a website that details the titular witch’s legend. Killings and disappearances materialized in the fictional Blair, Maryland between the 18th and 20th centuries—the locals blamed the ghost of a former local (who was rumored to practice witchcraft) named Elly Kedward.
The website is now defunct, but archived versions of the movie’s mythology are still easily accessible. If you’re looking for more info on the Blair Witch before your next rewatch: do a quick Google search, grab some reading glasses, and maybe turn a light on. Things are bound to get creepy.
5. Candyman – Candyman (1992)
Derived from an urban legend known as “The Hook,” this antagonist features just that: a hook for a hand. But unlike, say, the antagonist of I Know What You Did Last Summer—who also wielded the aforementioned trademark weapon—the titular Candyman explores a depth rarely seen with horror villains of any nature, let alone one of such little renown.
At least, the character was slipping into relative obscurity before Nia DaCosta (co-writer, director) and Jordan Peele (co-writer) helmed a sequel in August of 2021. Back in the 90s, it was forbidden to utter his name five times in front of mirror. That’s how he was summoned in the movies, and to all of us, it became a sort of sleepover activity that scared our pants off every time. We have the original to thank for it.
4. Sadako Yamamura – Ringu
Based on the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki, this supernatural flick introduced Japanese horror to Western audiences. It even spawned an American remake in 2002: The Ring by Gore Verbinski.
And all of that is due in large part to the film’s primary antagonist: Sadako Yamamura. Cursing her victims through a video tape, Yamamura acts as an urban legend in the film that appears seven days after they watch the tape and, well, kills them. And if that premise isn’t creepy enough, her ghostly appearance will make you want to sell your television and rid yourself of all memories thereof.
3. Annie Wilkes – Misery
After releasing in 1990, Rob Reiner’s horror stint Misery became the first Stephen King Adaptation to ever receive an Oscar. Kathy Bates walked away from the 63rd Academy Awards as the recipient for Best Actress, and frankly, reverence for her portrayal somehow seems to have increased since.
On any given day and depending who you ask, Annie could crack the top two of this list, or perhaps come out on top. She conveys a sense of danger around every corner of her creepy, fan-obsessed home as she holds captive the writer for whom she holds the utmost infatuation. And the character’s longevity has the performance of Kathy Bates to thank for it.
2. Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs
Perhaps a controversial pick—not having this acclaimed character in the number one spot—but considering his screen time in The Silence of the Lambs (1992), I’d say Hannibal put up a tremendous fight for this list nonetheless. Plus, I’d argue there’s no wrong choice with any of these top three slots.
The crazed Dr. Lecter was of course played by acclaimed British actor Anthony Hopkins, who walked away with the Academy Award for Best Actor. This accomplishment helped Silence of the Lambs become one of only three films in Oscar history to win the “Big Five” awards at their respective ceremonies: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. I think we can all agree, though, that Hopkins’ efforts most adequately stand the test of time.
1. The Ghostface Killers – Scream (franchise)
“Please don’t kill me, Mr. Ghostface. I wanna be in the sequel!”
With arguably the two best entries in this acclaimed meta-horror franchise releasing in the latter half of the 90s, the Ghostface killers screamed their way to the number one spot. Based off “The Scream,” a painting by Edvard Munch, the Ghostface mask and accompanying cloak have been a mainstay of trick-or-treating wardrobes since the costume’s 1996 inception.
Multiple characters don the costume and its accompanying moniker throughout the franchise, but the most iconic come from the original: Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. The twist their characters brought to the Woodsboro High classrooms worked better than anyone would’ve ever thought. And with five disparate iterations of the killer up to this point, there’s no denying Ghostface’s longevity as an icon of the genre.
Agree With the List?
Let us know your favorite horror movie villain from the 90s in the comments. Thanks for reading, and as always: Happy Halloween!