Top 10 Scariest Villains In Films For Children

Prepare yourself for ten of the most terrifying villains to squirm their way into kids’ films. Young or old, these scary guys still send shivers down the spine.

I set out to make a list of the most memorably frightening characters from children’s and family films and found that almost everyone came from the decade when I was a child myself. I guess that is unsurprising. But I do wonder whether villains today really are as visually and emotionally terrifying as they were during my formative years in the eighties. The films on this list all appeared on television for the first time, and then were consequently repeated in the following years, during the late 1980s and early 1990s. All of which I would have seen before my tenth birthday.

One of the great things about being a child is having that imagination which, depending on who you are, diminishes greatly as you grow up and see the world for what it really is. So it is easier for writers of books, comics, games and films, to use that inherent and innocent imagination, where everything is still possible, to the greater good of their fictional story.

The following ten characters come from some great and some not-so great films made specifically for young or family-orientated audiences. Each terrified me in their own unique way, and they appear here because they are still, after all these years, genuinely frightening creations.

What are your favourite children’s film villains and what characters from your childhood do you remember the most?

10. Talking Hands (Labyrinth – 1986)

labyrinth, david bowie, musical horror fantasy, children family,
Jim Henson’s puppet creations spanned several films. His singular imagination was behind such iconic characters as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Big Bird. Uniquely, he could target both a young audience and a more adult audience, mixing shades of light and dark within his characters. This led to some colourful yet macabre characters in films such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Although Labyrinth, starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, has an assortment of wonderful puppet creations, the relatively simply conceived Talking Hands have stood out as the most creepily memorable.

9. Karg (Masters of the Universe – 1987)

masters of the universe, karg,
Starring a pre-Friends Courteney Cox and a post-Rocky IV, super-buffed Dolph Lundgren in the role of hero He-Man, Masters of the Universe was a box office flop. It also didn’t sit well with critics either. But the film did boast an array of interesting, darkly conceived characters, some of which were far too frightening for me as a child. The worst of all has to be Karg – the iconic Skeletor’s chief field commander. His ugly mug is fitting for his vicious pursuit of He-Man across space and time.

8. Dogs (Ghostbusters – 1984)

ghostbusters, film, horror comedy children family,
Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis get possessed by the demon dogs in Ghostbusters. These terrifying creations form several very dark and horrific moments in Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ brilliant supernatural-comedy.

7. Eva Ernst aka The Witch (The Witches – 1990)

the witches, roald dahl,
Trust Roald Dahl to concoct a great children’s fantasy story villain. In fact, you could look at his entire body of work and pick out some fantastically dark creations that play on that childhood imagination he could tap into so well. Sometimes his stories haven’t worked well on-screen but The Witches is one of the exceptions thanks to director Nicolas Roeg and actress Anjelica Huston.

6. Gmork (The NeverEnding Story – 1984)

gmork, neverending story, kids horror,
The talking wolf from The NeverEnding Story is terrifying enough for adults let alone children. Could The NeverEnding Story be the scariest film ever made for children?

5. Medusa (Clash of the Titans – 1981)

medusa, greek, clash of the titans, snakes, hair,
This freakishly looking creature is based on Greek mythology’s Medusa. She has snakes for hair and turns anyone who looks directly at her to stone.

4. Skeksis (The Dark Crystal – 1982)

skeksis, dark crystal, scary for kids,
Another brilliantly dark creation from Jim Henson, the Skeksis are a species of evil rulers on the world known as Thra. A little, unassuming elf-like creature named Jen, sets out to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal to restore balance in the universe.

3. Vera’s robot transformation (Superman 3 – 1983)

vera, scary for kids, superman 3,
Vera is one of evil Ross Webster’s henchwomen. Together they conspire to take over the world through financial domination. But they don’t calculate the effect Superman might have on their plans. Equally, Superman doesn’t expect to be faced by a very powerful Vera-shaped cyborg when Webster’s super computer becomes self-aware and begins defending itself.

2. Mombi/Head Nurse (Return to Oz – 1985)

mombi, head nurse, return to oz, horror for children,
Everything about Return to Oz is frightening from the lunatic asylum-like hospital Dorothy is taken to for shock therapy to each of the characters – both good and bad. The scariest of them all has to be the dual role of Jean Marsh who plays the terrifying Head Nurse who wants to submit Dorothy to electroshock treatment and her personification in the world of Oz, Mombi, a witch with several interchangeable heads which she keeps in trophy-like cabinets.

1. The Child Catcher (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – 1968)

When parents tell their children not to accept sweets from strangers they have a very good reason. Thanks to watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when they were kids they know that the promise of lollipops and ice cream can only lead to doom. The crazed Child Catcher in the film, as served by the brilliant mind of Roald Dahl who wrote the screenplay, is the epitome of scary characters for children chiefly due to his appetite for young prey.

Your turn – what are your favourite villains from children’s films? What scary characters do you remember from childhood?

Written and compiled by Dan Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    amy Reply

    Wahhhh, these are all good ones. I specially think Witches should be higher up hahaha the witch transformation ranks up as one of the scariest things I saw as a kid xD

    And… I know this is animation, but I always though The Nightmare King in Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland was pretty scary (even when I re-watched it not long ago).

    Also, The Duke in Rock-a-Doodle. xD

    But yeah… puppets are way scary than animation.

  2. Avatar
    Candice Frederick Reply

    where’s the wicked witch of the west and cruella de vil?

  3. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    You got it right first time, Dan. Everything is frightening about Return To OZ. Period.

  4. Avatar
    Louise Reply

    Great list. Of course a baddie created by Ian Fleming and fleshed out by Roald Dahl is terrifying.

    I would add some of the Disney witches to this list, particularly Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Stealing someone’s voice is a creepy thing to do.

  5. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Having had time to digest this list now, I have to agree with the inclusion of Gmork from The Neverending Story. That absolutely scared the **** out of me when I was a kid.

    Mind you, so did the giant turtle from the same film, so I think some underlying trauma with Michael Ende’s story comes into it…..

  6. Avatar
    markwall84 Reply

    Great list 🙂
    I personally would have gone for the Wheelers from Return to Oz…yikes those guys freak me out with their long arms!

  7. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Amy: There are some good cartoon villains that are really creepy. Those Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp scared me as a kid. I think Disney’s wicked witches and evil queens would rank highly too.

    @Candice: The Wicked Witch of the West is a very good one actually. She terrified me as a kid. Cruella de Vil has always been more of a pantomime villain in my eyes – not really scary, just mean.

    @Louise: I agree about Disney’s witches and their evil queens. Spine-tingling.

    @Rodney: …so the idea that The NeverEnding Story is the scariest children’s film ever made definitely holds water.

  8. Avatar
    Mette Reply

    Haha, I’ve only seen one of these – The Never Ending story. But yeah, I had nightmares about that wolf! I do think this film is the scariest children’s film I’ve seen – but also one of the best.
    I found Voldemort to be quite scary when I watched the first HP film, but I was only 8 or something back then.

  9. Avatar
    ruth Reply

    I haven’t seen a bunch of these films but yeah, Vera’s robot was terrifying indeed! Superman 3 is sooo bad, though I did enjoy the Supes vs. Clark battle & Chris Reeve sporting some sexy stubbles, ahah.

  10. Avatar
    Sir Phobos Reply

    @ruth I, too, like the junkyard fight in Superman III.

    Gmork is one of the scariest from my childhood. In fact, there are a lot of things in that movie that scared that crap out of me. When Atreyu had to walk through the sphynx lazer-eyed things or whatever…Morla…when Atreyu was in the snow and sees Bastian for the first time…the swamp of sadness…I could go on. But one of the scariest is when you see Gmork’s eyes in the darkness before he pounces on Atreyu.

    I also love Return to Oz, but I didn’t see it until I was a few years older. It creeped me out then, and it creeps me out now.

    I’m going to have to go watch that cyborg superman fight again. I totally forgot about that bit of awesomeness.

  11. Avatar
    Scott Reply

    Great List Dan.

    But as you know I probably would have The Grand High Witch at NUMBER ONE

    Maybe it is because she is much more scary in the book!!

    Great job my friend

  12. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Mette: While doing this list I realised they really have made some horrifying films for kids. It is little wonder I had so many sleepless, light-constantly-on nights when I was a child.

    @Ruth: Although Superman III has a bad reputation I still love it. I’d take it over most superhero films made today.

    @SirPhobos: The Junkyard scene is one of the best from the entire Christopher Reeve Superman franchise! 🙂

    @Scott: Thanks.

  13. Avatar
    Claire Reply

    Good list, Dan! I don’t like the talking hands either but that’s because I don’t like the thought of all the hands touching me!

    I think I’ve seen the 1981 Clash of the Titans – he uses his shield to see where Medusa is? She is very scary!

    When I was younger the witch in Prince of Thieves, Mortianna, really freaked me out. I’d hide every time she was on the screen!

  14. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Claire: Of course, the witch from Prince of Thieves. She freaks me out too – that voodoo concoction she makes for the Sheriff when she’s trying to predict the future and she breaks open the egg which starts to bleed and spits into the tray…ew! She does remind me of Karg from Masters of the Universe (pictured above!).

  15. Avatar
    DEZMOND Reply

    yeehaa, Danzel, you’ve put my Anjelica Huston in the list, thanks for that one :)) I loved that movie as a kid, there’s a whole story about it, which I told recently to Scott, but it’s too touching to be retold 🙂

  16. Avatar
    Max Reply

    I have to say you missed a big one with ‘The Blue Meanies’ from ‘Yellow Submarine’ those guys were terrible. That is also one of scariest children’s movies ever made. I guess it could be argued about being a children’s movie, but it was rated ‘G’.

  17. Avatar
    Andrew Reply

    In recent memory, the Other Mother from Coraline is just a nightmare factory. “Mother” is the person you turn to when the world is too frightening to bear and you need comfort; take that figure and imbue her with duplicitous menace and you leave a child completely without any source of spiritual nourishment in dark times. The Other Mother represents the ultimate perversion of that protective and nurturing figure, and easily marks the most terrifying villain from any children’s film in the last decade or so.

    Great picks all around. I’ll confess that the hands and Gmork hit me the hardest as a kid, particularly the latter, whose eyes I saw staring at me from around every dark corner and in every dimly lit closet for as long as I can remember!

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