There’s no denying that Lord Voldemort is a pretty bad dude. Sure, he’s as powerful as noseless evil wizards come, but apart from his initial aura of mystery Voldemort isn’t all that interesting. At least not compared to the motley crew of baddies who do his bidding.
Just in time for an eighth Harry Potter book — er, Harry Potter play — we thought we’d highlight the best of the worst villains who have at one time or another plagued the wizarding world and remind you why you should hate them. Some are obvious, some more obscure, but all of these Harry Potter villains are criminally underappreciated compared to The Artist Formerly Known as Tom Riddle. And yes — these ones can be named.
As an added bonus, we’ll also be pointing out what makes them so much better than the series’ Big Bad and why they’re worth another look. For literary posterity, and all.
For the sake of comprehension, we’re looking at the films rather than the books. Sorry if this annoys any of you pure-blooded Potter fans.
Oh, and obligatory SPOILER warning for those of you who have somehow avoided Potter-mania from being directly downloaded into your brains. You’ve been warned.
Looks can be deceiving. On the other hand, it’s only the innocuous color pink that’s deceiving here, because one look at Dolores Umbridge and you’ll want to knock that smug smile right off her prim and proper face. In the turmoil surrounding the Dark Lord’s return, Umbridge weaseled her way into becoming Headmistress of Hogwarts, turning the place into less a hormonal magic high school and more a paranoid police state. A relentless supporter of practical education, she wasn’t above subjecting students to torture, public humiliation, and, yes, detention to prepare them for the boring bureaucratic futures ahead of them. Umbridge’s reign ended when a secret army of sexually charged teenagers decided to knock her down a peg.
She’s better than Voldemort because: Umbridge didn’t have to lay a finger on anyone. Oh, she did, certainly, as the backs of many students’ hands can attest. But her power laid in the political rather than brute force. For the fifth movie where the battle against evil was starting to ramp up, a character like Umbridge who could shut that down using the pen, not the wand, halting the resistance before it could even begin — that’s a terrifying power all its own.
No list would be complete without Hogwarts’ resident school bully. As a kid, this loathsome shit heel mucked up one adventure after another with his insatiable habit of petty tattletaling. Once puberty hit, Draco began stirring up real trouble for Potter and Co. — the worst being (supposedly) killing Dumbledore, and the least being spitting out offensive slurs. By the end of the series, Draco’s actions are pretty much forgiven on account of his youth and impressionability, but that doesn’t forgive him from being an enormous douche. An audience never forgets.
He’s better than Voldemort because: We see Draco’s character, and his dilemma, grow with each film. True, most of his screen time is him just being a little dipshit, but in the last three movies we learn his actions really are a little misguided. In Half-Blood Prince, when he is confronted with actually making good on his nasty habits, he fails. That’s a great thing for bad guys to do because it shows they, like the ideal kinds of heroes, are just as flawed as the rest. And unlike Voldemort who is just plain bad (emphasis on plain), that’s a villain we feel compelled to root for.
Like father, like son. If that’s the case, ‘ol Grandpa Malfoy must have been a real hardass to produce such an anal-retentive offspring as Lucius Malfoy. This uptight acolyte of Lord Voldemort could always be seen with his trademark walking stick (not counting the one up his ass). Kicking around helpless house elves and throwing around plot-important textbooks were his main contributions to bringing about Voldemort’s return, earning him the unofficial title of the Worst Death Eater Ever. When the Dark Lord was first defeated, Lucius chose to save his own skin, claiming he was “under a spell” or whatever rather than stick up for his boss. Talk about Nose before No-Nose.
He’s better than Voldemort because: There’s more to him than we knew at first. Voldemort is bad because, well, he’s always been bad. Lucius is a racist, a speciesist, and just generally an awful human being, but like his son there’s a side of him that we can sympathize with. He did choose to defect from the dark side when it came to saving his son, showing that what Lucius lacked in stones he more than made up for in familial bonds. Which is more than our next entry can say…
The Dursleys are to family what Olive Garden is to Italian food — a cheap, embarrassing substitute for the real thing that, despite having all the proper ingredients, is oblivious to its own tragic inferiority. As Harry’s foster family, Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and the wretched Dudley show a complete lack of human decency, save for the grace they lavish only upon themselves. They made Harry’s life a living hell for ten years, which made Hogwarts — a place where ghosts, giant spiders, basilisks, and oh yeah, dark wizards want to kill you — seem like a great place to be. And unlike Olive Garden, Harry didn’t have a choice but to keep going back against his will for more breadsticks. By his sixth year, Harry finally got to pass them like kidney stones, getting them out of his life — and ours — for good.
They’re better than Voldemort because: Their intense dislike of Harry really was pretty justified. At least, Petunia’s was. Here’s a kid who gets dumped on you, representing everything you hated about the person who pretty much tore apart your tight-knit family. And now you’re told you’re kind of the only one who can really protect him — gee, what a deal! We can’t blame the Dursleys for wanting to preserve their immediate family unit, even if it meant being complete holes to a poor kid. These strong feelings of commitment, love, and family is something Voldemort really couldn’t know.
We like to think Harry Potter helped make the word “witch” a bit friendlier for everyone. But then we remember Bellatrix Lestrange exists. Bellatrix Lestrange is bad. Like “sorceress Joan Jett luring kids into her candy cane meth lab” bad. It didn’t matter if you were pure-blood, mudblood, or even related to her — she wouldn’t have a problem just straight-up killing you. (But she’d probably torture you first.) Her own cousin, Sirius Black, and Dobby the free house elf were just two of the noteworthies she offed in Voldemort’s name. Her devotion to the Dark Lord can’t be understated, but somehow we get the feeling You Know Who doesn’t feel the same way. In fact, we can’t think of a single reason why he would want her around, even as a potential fuck puppet. Even Voldemort must know not to stick his wand in crazy.
She’s better than Voldemort because: She’s a character foil to an even worse villain. The devoted zealot is a useful character archetype for big, bad villains like Voldie to take advantage of, but Bellatrix steps it up by being devoted and in love with her lord. They’re both really nasty people, capable of terrible things, but only she is capable of something good. Even if that something is loving a pale, vampiric freak. This isn’t really something the films give much credence to, but we think Bellatrix deserves a bit of credit for it.
This guy is the definition of “rat bastard.” By some act of fortune he got to roll with some of the greats back in the day, even obtaining the sole knowledge of James and Lily Potter’s location when they were hiding from Voldemort. But Pettigrew sold out his best friends, then spent the next decade or so in guilt-ridden, self-appointed exile as the Weasleys’ pet rat. He later joined up with the Dark Lord, but when an opportunity came to kill Harry, Pettigrew hesitated, and Voldemort squashed him like the vermin he was.
He’s better than Voldemort because: He is conflicted every step of the way. Pettigrew was so afraid for his own scabbed skin that he betrayed pretty much everyone who gave him a chance. And he continued being a scared-shitless disciple once Voldemort returned. Pettigrew had it coming, but ultimately we have to sympathize with him. After all, you do not want to think about how many Weasleys he had seen go through puberty.
You know the saying “sometimes doing nothing is worse than doing nothing at all?” No? If not, Cornelius Fudge should get credit for it. As the Minister of Magic for the first five films, he refused to consider the possibility that Voldemort could return. What resulted was a series of political blunderings that in any third-world country would be cause for revolution. He had Hagrid tossed into Azkaban for no reason, and refused to look into Harry’s claims about Voldemort after the death of Cedric Diggory and the travesty that was the Tri-Wizard Tournament. His solution to safeguard the impressionable young wizards of tomorrow was to police Hogwarts with a bunch of soul-sucking Dementors. Fudge’s term of ineptitude came to a close when he, again, buckled under the demands of the public. Viva la revolucion.
He’s better than Voldemort because: He was just a guy doing his job. And he was willing to let a few people die in order to do it — you know, for the greater good. Fudge wasn’t really all that good at his job, mind you, but at least he diligently stayed at his post. We may not be able to forgive those who died under his cowardice, but we can cut him a little slack.
There’s nothing harder to stomach than seeing a celebrity who can’t get enough himself. Gilderoy Lockhart, insufferable blowhard-turned-Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, was essentially the wizard equivalent of Kanye West. At first he was only an annoyance to Potter and Co., but once Lockhart let slip he was taking credit for other wizards’ achievements and wiping their memories, everyone was given the all-clear to hate his ass. In a moment of sweet karma, Lockhart’s own memory was wiped after his spell backfired, sparing everyone from having to pay any more attention to this wizarding waste of space.
He’s better than Voldemort because: He’s using the fame he gets from his exploits way more sneakily. Tom Riddle leaves bodies in his wake, while Gilderoy Lockhart only leaves slight confusion. Everyone’s so focused in his shining, golden ego, and those are the kinds of deeds that really let a snake like Lockhart slip under the wizarding radar.
Vincent Crabbe is the brawn to Draco Malfoy’s brains, which isn’t saying much considering Draco’s constant state of buffoonery. But that’s okay — Crabbe isn’t the sharpest wand in the shed; he wouldn’t know an intelligent companion from a defunct broomstick. He’s got it where it counts though, as can attest any Quidditch players who had gotten on the wrong side of his Bludger’s club. Still, we’ve got to give Crabbe credit where it’s due, as he was one of only a handful of non-Death Eater characters in Harry Potter who actually managed to kill anyone. Even if that person was himself.
He’s better than Voldemort because: We actually get to see his cruelty build up over time. His buddy Draco usually got the spotlight, but with each film we saw Crabbe turning more and more capable — and more cruel too. He readily went all-in on evil where his blond-haired compadre merely shuffled his feet. Seeing a kid turn into an apple that rotten — that’s the kind of villain you never hope to know.
“Greatest wizard of all time,” huh? Okay, Dumbledore was a pretty good guy with good intentions. But the truth is he made more scumbag decisions than anyone in the Potterverse, and rarely did they turn out well for those involved. Leaving Harry with the Dursleys? A dumpster filled with rotting meat would have been a more loving family unit. Conveniently disappearing whenever he’s needed? Lily and James Potter’s ghosts were more reliable. Distancing himself from the Boy Who Lived, the one person who had even a remote chance of stopping the Dark Lord, just to realize it wasn’t such a great idea in the first place? Capital plan, old man. Sure, Dumbledore had to make some pretty tough decisions. And everything turned out all right in the end. But Dumbledore deserved a mountain of earwax-flavored jellybeans. We’re just lucky Snape got to him first.
He’s better than Voldemort because: He’s completely evil without actually being bad. Dumbledore is the kind of guy who has the whole world’s best interests in mind, but isn’t above using others to make it a better place, whereas Voldemort would strictly use others to make it a worse place. As such, Dumbledore attains an incredible sense of well-roundedness for a character because we are constantly asking ourselves what side he’s on. And that, is a thing of beauty.
Did we miss your favorite, obscure Harry Potter villain? The one who only appears on page 263 of the fourth book, whose sole act is a sidelong glare filled with diabolical hidden meaning? We want to hear all about them! Leave us a comment on who we missed, and we’ll be sure to give them their proper due.