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10 Best Movie Criminals of All Time

Updated May 18, 2017
7 min read

They are clever. They are cunning. They are smart. But alas, they use their minds to commit crime and evil. Yes, we are talking about criminal masterminds in movies. The biggest quality of these masterminds are that they are unforgettable — and that’s why they sometimes become bigger than even the movies they star in. Even though you might not want to confess it, but their intelligence leaves you completely charmed. In this article, we will list down such criminal masterminds who left an indelible impression on the minds of movie goers. Some of them are gangsters, whereas others are criminals in plain clothes. Are these the most likable movie criminals? We will let you decide that.

10. Catherine Tramell, ‘Basic Instinct’

Catherine Tramell is portrayed as author of best-selling crime novels. It is suggested that the modus operandi of her murders includes using her novels as alibis, as people then assumed she would never be foolish enough to execute a crime she herself wrote about. Catherine Tramell appears as a brilliant, charismatic narcissist, who masterminds everyone around her, largely for her own amusement and enjoys killing people.

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9. Dalton Russell, ‘Inside Man’

One of the most brilliantly executed heists ever in cinema is done by none other than Dalton Russell. He and his gang march into a bank and take it over and outwit police at every turn: he dresses all the hostages up like him and then places his own gang members into the hostage pool. For most of the movie, he wears a disguise of a hood, mask, and sunglasses. Clive Owen, who plays Dalton, nearly turned down the role because of the concerns over the disguise. Later, of course, he realized the brilliance of director Spike Lee and the mastermind of Dalton Russell.

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8. Danny Ocean, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’

It is true that Danny Ocean in certain sense is not a villain — since he is stealing from another bad guy. But this list is not about villains; it is about criminals. And there’s no denying that Danny is criminal and that too a very smart one. He is not evil, but he is surely a mastermind. On top of that, he is suave and sexy. How can he not be, when he is played by Geroge Clooney. ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ is a copy of 1969 film of the same name, and the only reason I didn’t put Danny Ocean from the original film is because this one is savvier.

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7. John Kramer, ‘Saw’

When death knocks at one’s door and he waits for it to embrace, probably the only thought that comes to mind that how well one has lived this life. But how many have truly understood the purpose of this life? John Kramer at his death bed thinks of this and concludes that until put into adverse situations, no one truly values this life. And to inculcate this knowledge to value one’s life, he masterminds a plan that becomes a mechanism to test one’s worth to live. While John eventually meets his death, but the legend of Jigsaw lives on.

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6. John Doe, ‘Se7en’

An unknown man, goes on a killing spree, over seven days. Each of his victims were killed in a manner, which depicted the seven deadly biblical sins. And he thought he was purging the world from the evil, by being the messiah. He truly believed that his methods shall be puzzled, studied and followed forever. Setting the example, he didn’t even flinch when he evoked the wrath of Detective Mills by informing him about his final victim, for he had become the prey of envy. And what’s the American naming convention of the mastermind of evil and unknown? It’s John Doe.

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5. Roy, ‘Primal Fear’

“I ca-can’t take it no more, Roy. You g-got to help me.” I said, “Shut your mouth you little girl! Grow up. Be a man. Take care of yourself.” A stuttering impish young alter boy, accused of killing a priest masterminds an evil plan and comes clean as the court of law finds him suffering from a split personality disorder. Boy, was it the ruse of the century? By the time, the lawyer gets to know there never was an Aaron, the game’s over. Ed Norton’s debut as Roy/Aaron fetched him a nomination for best supporting actor at the Academy Awards that year.

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4. Anton Chigurh, ‘No Country For Old Men’

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Chigurh kills without compassion or remorse, but always with deliberation. He is described as having his own set of morals, however twisted they may be. Anton Chigurh kills or tries to kill almost every person he meets. He sees himself as a hand of fate; an instrument who exacts what is supposed to happen upon those he sees accountable. He gives many of his victims he faces a chance to survive by making deals either personally, or by flipping coins in making decisions. He is possibly the most ruthless mastermind on this list.

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3. The Joker, ‘The Dark Knight’

The Joker is the archenemy of Batman and outsmarts him on several occasions. He performs a series of robberies and murders with such disarming precision that leaves you shell shocked and impressed at the same time. Heath Ledger posthumously won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Joker, including several other international accolades. Ledger also garnered widespread critical acclaim, often critics claiming his acting was more “haunting”, “terrifying” and “sinister”, than Joker was thought before.

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2. Keyser Soze, ‘The Usual Suspects’

The origin story of Keyser Soze is relatively unknown as no one knows where he came from or how he became infamous overlord of the underworld. The legends say, that when threatened upon with his family’s life, he goes on killing first his family, then the people who threatened him, their families and even people who owed them money! Almost mythically growing within the shadows, this man had the California police on their toes when they came to know about his infamy during an investigation of a mass murder on a boat. He masterminds an escape plan that not only outsmarts the police but also the audiences!

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1. Hannibal Lecter, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

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Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the primary antagonist of the ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, played by Anthony Hopkins, who would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for the film and would turn Lecter into a cultural icon. He is a forensic psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. As understood, he is a highly educated person and does not stand rudeness. He is described by Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as “small, sleek, and in his hands and arms she saw wiry strength like her own”. During the course of the film, he seems to have a keen sense of smell and a rich eidetic memory and constructs a graphical memory interface for any scene, which he remembers for very long times. Lecter makes us stare in awe when he escapes imprisonment after a blood-soaked scene proving to us that he is the ultimate mastermind; the smartest of all other masterminds on this list.

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