Roundup of Top 11 Vilest Western Villains in TV & Film

Claude Akins, Bruce Dern, Henry Fonda, Yul Brynner, Robert J. Wilke, Johnny Cash, Lee Marvin
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Saddle up as we present to you some of the most notable Western villains from the big and small screens. They were rough and tough! We combed through why they were so mean, their best moments, tough talk plus even some fun facts. Giddy-up! 


RETURN OF THE SEVEN, Claude Akins, 1966

Courtesy of Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As the sneering, murderous Joe Burdette in Rio Bravo and malevolent Ben Lane in Comanche Station.

Why He Rates: The husky, strapping Akins played many a vicious varmint in TV Westerns. Taunting his way through 10 episodes of Gunsmoke, he was a man you loved to hate.

Tough Talk: “You know, it’s a long way to Lordsburg. It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody didn’t try to take that woman away from you.” — Threatening Randolph Scott’s Jefferson Cody in Comanche Station.

Fun Fact: Akins said that during the filming of Rio Bravo, all the actors found themselves talking like John Wayne. Wayne was not impressed by this.



THE COWBOYS, Bruce Dern, Nicolas Beauvy, 1972

Everett Collection

At His Vilest: Playing cruel, conniving, vindictive, mad-eyed Asa “Long Hair” Watts in The Cowboys.

Why He Rates: Watts is a liar and a thief who bullies children. Then, while attempting to steal cattle from John Wayne’s rancher, he does the cinematically unthinkable: shooting Wayne in the back. Dern, a two-time Oscar nominee, plays him with perfect ugliness.

Tough Talk: “I’m gonna come to you some night when it’s real dark. I’m gonna come to you on tip toe so you ain’t ever gonna be able to hear me.” — Menacing a kid in The Cowboys.

Fun Fact: Dern said strangers angrily cursed him on the street for killing Wayne’s character.



THE LAST MOVIE, director/star Dennis Hopper, on set, 1971

Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As doomed horse thief Moon in True Grit and a great many shady, twitchy characters in and out of the genre.

Why He Rates: Hopper became known for some strongheaded roles, and he played some complicated bad guys. Moon was one of his first, a none-too-bright horse thief associated with Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall), but he played toughs on TV as well, from Cheyenne to Gunsmoke.

Tough Talk: “Quincy, he never played me false until he killed me.” — Moon, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Fun Fact: When Rooster (John Wayne) taunts Moon about being down to one leg and hoppin’ around all the time, it’s an inside joke, as Moon is played by Hopper.



ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, 1968

Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As the arrogant, egocentric Lt. Col. Owen Thursday in Fort Apache and the sadistic, remorseless Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Why He Rates: The versatile Fonda could play anything onscreen, and he excelled in Westerns, showing at times a darker side, making him the only star to earn a place on both our heroes and villains lists.

Tough Talk: “People scare better when they’re dyin’.” — Frank speaking the truth.

Fun Fact: Fonda wanted to wear brown contacts to hide his blue eyes in Once Upon a Time… but director Sergio Leone refused, wanting people to see the full Fonda.



THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, Lee Van Cleef, 1966 [US: 1967]

Everett Collection

At His Vilest: Playing ruthless, confident and sadistic mercenary Angel Eyes — aka the Bad — in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Why He Rates: Angel Eyes takes pleasure in killing as he wracks up an intimidating body count as a traitorous and cruel assassin — with a smile. Before his breakout in spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More, he was a much-killed henchman and bad guy in countless performances.

Tough Talk: “Oh, I almost forgot. He gave me a thousand. I think his idea was that I kill you.” — Angel Eyes, preparing to shoot his boss in the face through a pillow.

Fun Fact: He grave marker identifies him as the “Best of the Bad.”


Yul Brynner

WESTWORLD, Yul Brynner, 1973

Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As the freaky, murderous Gunslinger in Westworld (1973) and the outlaw Jed Catlow in Catlow (1971).

Why He Rates: Brynner gave an iconic performance as the Gunslinger, who at first is an arrogant, whiskey-drinking bully who goads guests into gunfights, and later becomes an emotionless and relentless killing machine who seems to enjoy murdering people.

Tough Talk: When guest Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) tells the Gunslinger he talks too much, Brynner’s character replies, “Why don’t you make me shut up?”

Fun Fact: The Gunslinger’s thermal vision includes the first use of computer digitized images as part of a feature film. It took eight hours to produce every 10 seconds of footage for the Gunslinger’s pixelated POV shots.



SHANE, Jack Palance, 1953.

Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As unscrupulous, skilled gunfighter Jack Wilson in Shane.

Why He Rates: It’s rare that a villainous rep gets made from one performance, but for Palance, his Oscar-nominated turn as the merciless, sadistic and deadly Wilson — wearing that one black glove — does the trick.

Tough Talk: “Prove it.” — Wilson’s smiling declaration to anyone ready to back up their insults.

Fun Fact: Palance was a theater actor, and he didn’t like, nor have experience with, horses. While filming one scene, he couldn’t remount his horse, so the director had him dismount slowly and ran the film in reverse for the remount.



FORTY GUNS, Barbara Stanwyck, 1957. TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

Everett Collection

At Her Vilest: As steely, authoritarian landowner Jessica Drummond in Forty Guns.

Why She Rates: Stanwyck, normally known for her drama and comedy mastery, is fiery and commanding as Drummond, who has a private posse of 40 gunmen doing her dirty work as she rules a wide Arizona territory without challenge.

Tough Talk: “I need a strong man to carry out my orders.” — The no-nonsense Drummond to a man whose help she wants.

Fun Fact: When her stuntwoman refused to film a scene requiring Stanwyck to be dragged by a horse during a tornado, the nearly 50-year-old actress did it herself.




Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As the violent, ruthless outlaw Liberty Valance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Why He Rates: Valance is downright despicable as he keeps a town under his iron grip of fear. Marvin crafted a villain for the ages, but he’d had some practice in other roles, including a kidnapping ex-con on The Virginian.

Tough Talk: “This time, right between the eyes.” — Valance threatens Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) one time too many.

Fun Fact: Marvin won his Oscar for playing dual roles — as dueling brothers — in the Western comedy Cat Ballou.



Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As villainous Andrew Gage on The Lone Ranger — one of 11 times he appeared on the series.

Why He Rates: You know the face! With rough looks, a deep voice, commanding presence and renowned skills with a gun, he was a perfect fit for outlaw roles.

Tough Talk: “Crooks, when they want to escape, they pay me. When the law is after them, I hide them; they pay me for that also. It’s a very profitable situation.” — As a deputy sheriff explaining to the Lone Ranger the plusses of working both sides of the law.

Fun Fact: Doucette considered John Wayne his best friend. Each time they made a movie together, Wayne gave him a specially inscribed mug.



A GUNFIGHT, Kirk Douglas, Johnny Cash, Robert J. Wilke, 1971

Everett Collection

At His Vilest: As a heavy in High Noon or one of the dozens of bad guys he played on Bat Masterson, Bonanza, The Rifleman and Cheyenne.

Why He Rates: Wilke was an intimidating presence, and after High Noon, he appeared as a baddie in many Westerns on the small and big screens. In three of his four appearances on The Gene Autry Show, his character was described as a “henchman.”

Tough Talk: “I’m gonna kill you, McCain; you leave me no choice.” — As murdering Ward Haskins on The Rifleman, not long before McCain turns the tables on him.

Fun Fact: He was rated among the best amateur golfers in Hollywood, winning several titles in the 1960s.


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Wild West- Heroes & Villains

November 2022

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