Everyone loves a good villain. Television producers are especially adept at creating the sort of rich, charming personalities that, with their power and disregard for the rules, make the perfect bad guys. These guys don’t just have one high-end shell-cordovan wallet: They’re swimming in so much cash, they have one for every outfit, and they’re happy enough to pull their cash out and make it rain just for fun. Watching billionaire bad-guys in action, we feel equal parts admiration and revulsion at their antics. Either way, they keep us at the edge of our seats. We’ve ranked some of the cruelest, creepiest billionaire villains on television and have come up with a list of TV’s Top 10 Billionaire Bad-Guys.
10.) Jonah – Runaways
Whoever came up with the premise of Marvel’s Runaways knew how to create the perfect 21st-century bad guy. Drawing on millennials’ current distrust of organized religion, they placed Jonah at the head of a church—a creepy church that preys on teenagers and uses their life-force to keep Jonah young and healthy. Jonah has so much money and power that the other billionaires in the Pride group he founded are terrified of opposing him, leaving him in a position to be everything that we love to hate.
9.) Culverton Smith – Sherlock
Some of the best bad-guys on television have great reasons for doing what they do, including compelling backstories and moral codes that, while evil, are at least comprehensible. Other times, you get bad-guys like Culverton Smith, who murder people just because it’s fun while simultaneously hiding behind the charming façade of philanthropy. This kind of bad-guy is made extra creepy by the knowledge that there’s no reasoning with this kind of evil.
8.) Vlad Masters – Danny Phantom
There’s a popular misconception that animated TV shows that can be watched by children can only be enjoyed by children. Some animated children’s shows are surprisingly smart and poignant, however. Danny Phantom was one such show, with compelling, 3-dimensional characters you could really love—or, in the case of Vlad Masters, really hate. In a Gatsby-esque plotline, Masters spent 20 years amassing his vast fortune, mostly through illegal and underhanded means, all with the goal of winning his college love back. That love, Maddie, just so happened to be Danny Phantom’s mother, leading to natural, interesting antagonism between the two characters.
7.) Carter Pewterschmidt – Family Guy
A common trope in television is that of the over-bearing mother-in-law. Less common, but equally compelling, is the over-bearing father-in-law, a role Carter Pewterschmidt takes to ridiculous levels in Family Guy. Pewterschmidt encompasses every possible negative stereotype about the rich, and though it’s played to comedic effect in Family Guy, at times it’s also tempting to reach through the screen and smack him.
6.) Iknik Varrick – Avatar: Legend of Korra
The quintessential spoiled rich boy, Varrick’s charm as a bad-guy comes from the fact that he doesn’t seem to realize quite how horrible he is. He takes obvious advantage of his personal assistant and steals from his friends, and with his eye-to-the-future personality, he believes anything that’s in the past should be forgiven and forgotten—even if it only occurred a few minutes prior. Walking the border between obnoxious and hilarious, Varrick is the sort of character without whom Legend of Korra would not be the same.
5.) Madalena – Galavant
Not all bad guys are, well, guys. Madalena’s personality was obvious from the show’s very first moments when she chose to keep the power and money of her kingdom over being rescued by her one true love. She only becomes more wicked from there, spurning every attempt her husband makes to get to know her and instead growing increasingly obsessed with conquering kingdoms and amassing wealth.
4.) Adelai Niska – Firefly
The commerce system in the TV show Firefly is never made completely explicit, so it might be a stretch to call Niska a billionaire. On the other hand, he leads a criminal syndicate that spans multiple planets and has a souvenir on his desk from Earth-that-Was that is apparently worth a small fortune, so we feel pretty confident that if you were to measure his wealth by today’s standards he’d be a billionaire at least. One of the most memorable villains from one of the most memorable shows of all time, Niska tortures anyone who fails him without batting an eye, making him the sort of criminal to send actual chills down your spine when you think of him.
3.) Tywin Lannister – the Game of Thrones
Though almost any of the Lannisters could be considered billionaire bad-guys, it’s patriarch Tywin who actually makes the cut in our list. More terrifying than his money and power is the calculating way he sees the world around him—Tywin, who was perhaps the master of the Game of Thrones, carefully manipulating his children and grandchildren likes pieces in a game of chess. The opposite of Culverton Smith, Lannister’s attraction as a bad guy is in the fact that we, as an audience, can see the logic in every move he makes, even as his actions make our blood boil.
2.) Lex Luthor – Smallville
Focused on Superman’s earliest years, Smallville gave us a Lex Luthor who was significantly more rounded out than his comic book counterpart. Smallville’s Luthor started off as a good guy—as Clark Kent’s best friend, in fact—which made watching his slow descent into evil physically painful to watch. It took the course of several seasons for Luthor to become the evil supervillain we’d all known to expect from the beginning, and every episode along the way we held our breath, hoping against reason for his salvation. When it didn’t come, it made his version of evil all the more gruesome to behold.
1.) David Xanatos – Gargoyles
At the top of our list is the master chess player himself—the man for whom the Xanatos Gambit was named. David Xanatos was possibly the best thing to come out of Disney in the 90s—and considering how much came out of Disney in the 90s, that’s saying something. The main antagonist in a show that had a short run and a super-dedicated cult following, Xanatos was a master of the calm, collected version of evil. Far from being angry when his plans went awry, he would instead act impressed with his opponent. He was a man who was not only good at evil, but who enjoyed the challenge of it. Meanwhile, he had enough money to purchase a castle, dismantle it, and reconstruct it on top of a skyscraper, making him quite possibly the richest man on our list.
To paraphrase the teacher in Frindle, every good story needs a good antagonist. TV watchers know this phenomenon. Though we’d never befriend them in real life, on TV, bad-guys are some of our favorite characters. Add enough money and power to the equation to make it hard to peg their deeds on them—and to ensure they can stick around as characters—and we chomp at the bit to watch more of them. Luckily, TV writers and producers seem happy to oblige.