The most hated women in film: A top eight list

I recently wrote a ‘five overrated movies’ post that garnered a fair amount of attention. I prefaced the piece by stating that film is largely a matter of personal preference and I was just sharing my opinion. I received so much response, both positive and negative, that many suggested a follow-up article. So, at the risk of offending even more readers, here goes….

I love women. And I love film. But far too often in movies, the role of the villain is written specifically for the male. When given the opportunity, however, some women have embraced the villainous role and ran with it, giving us chilling performances that have often defined their careers.

After watching Saturday Night Fever the other night, I was reminded how much I couldn’t stand Stephanie Modano, brilliantly portrayed by one-hit wonder Karen Lynn Gorney. Throughout the movie, Modano belittled John Travolta, transmitting the abuse she received from others all day directly onto him. I squirmed every time she was on screen. Travolta was no saint, but he certainly didn’t deserve her hatefulness.

That got me thinking about the most detested female characters in film, because for me, she definitely ranks. Accordingly, here’s a list of eight women who instilled us with everlasting images that left us with a sheer hatred, if not fear, for their characters. Where do they rank on your list?

demi-moore-indecent-proposal28) Demi Moore – Indecent Proposal (1993)

Character: Diana Murphy

Famous Quote: “The dress is for sale. I’m not.”

I know what you’re going to say. This one’s on Woody Harrelson. He’s the one who ultimately allowed, if not encouraged, his wife to sleep with Robert Redford. He could have nixed that offer in a heartbeat or simply knocked Redford’s block off as soon as it was suggested. But he didn’t and he ultimately paid the price. The movie asked whether a couple’s self-respect and marital vows could be bought. The scene in which Harrelson shouted from the rooftop, begging his wife to return as Moore and Redford flew off in his helicopter, made even the least jealous man cringe. Despite trying to put the events of that evening behind them, in the end Moore lost respect for Harrelson and ended up with Redford. While Moore may not have been entirely in the wrong in this film, she was still contemptible, torn between two lovers and ultimately ending up with neither.

americanbeauty-annette-benning7) Annette Benning – American Beauty (1999)

Character: Carolyn Burnham

Famous Quote: “In order to be successful, one must portray an image of success at all times.”

Her pruning shears matched her gardening clogs. She was caught in an unloving, unfeeling marriage, much of which she created. Her primary concerns were her image and her career, showing no affection for either her daughter or her husband. When Kevin Spacey tried to rediscover the passion in their marriage, she was more concerned with his spilling beer on the sofa. Benning’s performance in this Sam Mendes drama typified the superficialities of a suburban housewife whose personal interests superseded those of her family. Benning ended up having an affair with the local real estate mogul and got caught red-handed by her husband at a fast food drive-thru. At the end of the movie, when her husband was killed, we’re actually led to believe that she could have been a suspect. In 2000, Benning was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance but lost out to Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry.

saturday-night-fever-stephanie6) Karen Lynn Gorney – Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Character: Stephanie Modano

Famous Quote: “You’re a cliché. You’re nowhere on your way to no place.”

In this 1970s classic, Gorney played an older woman who John Travolta fell in love with for her looks and moves on the dance floor. To Tony Manero, she represented a step up, a woman different from the riffraff he was used to seeing. Travolta, the king of the local disco pursued Modano and they ultimately became dance partners but nothing more. Throughout the film, Modano reminded him of his pecking order in society which in actuality was no better than her own.

ordinary_people-mary-tyler-moore-timothy-hutton5) Mary Tyler Moore – Ordinary People (1980)

Character: Beth Jarrett

Famous Quote: “Hate him? How could I hate him? Mothers don’t hate their sons.”

Let me preface this by saying I was raised on Mary Tyler Moore. In the 1970s, her sitcom was a mainstay in our household. Yet after watching Ordinary People, I never looked at her the same way again. In this film, Moore played a distressed mother who could never get over the death of her oldest son, who drowned in a boating accident. Her younger son, played by Timothy Hutton, survived the accident and she resented him for it. Hutton underwent therapy and repeatedly struggled for a love and forgiveness that his mother was unwilling to give. In the end, Moore proved unable to deal with the passing of her eldest son, refusing to embrace Hutton for fear of loving another family member she might lose. Ordinary People won four Academy Awards in 1981 including Best Director (Robert Redford) and Best Picture. Hutton also won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the conflicted son. Moore was nominated but lost to Sissy Spacek who won for Coal Miner’s Daughter.

wicked-witch-of-the-west-24) Margaret Hamilton – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Character: Wicked Witch of the West

Famous Quote: “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.”

Hamilton may have set the standard by which all evil women in film are judged, very possibly portraying the most hated and frightening woman of all-time. To this day, people who grew up with this classic still have nightmares from her performance. The Wizard of Oz has become a family holiday classic and probably would have won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1940 had it not been for Gone with the Wind which was released the same year. Seventy years later, Hamilton’s makeup, cackle and overall performance is unforgettable, playing the witch by which all other witches in film and costumes are still measured.

mommiedearest-faye-dunaway3) Faye Dunaway – Mommie Dearest (1981)

Character: Joan Crawford

Famous Quote: “No wire hangers, ever!”

In this controversial film inspired by the memoirs of Crawford’s adopted daughter, Dunaway portrayed an abusive mother and alcoholic actress in frightening fashion. Mommie Dearest was one of the first, Hollywood tell-all books to shed light into the personal life of an unstable and troubled woman. Regardless of how much of the film was actually true, Dunaway’s performance was as eerie as any female in cinema. Obsessed with cleanliness and appearance, Dunaway abused her daughter both physically and psychologically. Her demeanor and fixation facial moisturizer were enough to make any child feel grateful they weren’t raised in that household.

nurse-ratched-louise-fletcher2) Louise Fletcher – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Character: Nurse Ratched

Famous Quote: “If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don’t think that he would like it.”

Cuckoo’s Nest won five academy awards in 1976 including Best Picture, Best Actor and of course, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Louise Fletcher. Her hair neatly pulled back under her nurse’s cap, her face and demeanor inspired hatred and resentment. When Jack Nicholson first entered the asylum, she was quick to combat his efforts to challenge her reign. These two developed an on-screen tension that stands up to this day. Fletcher’s character was meant to signify the apathy and corruption of authority in Ken Kesey’s novel and she nailed it to a tee. Louise Fletcher has been in countless other films but it was her performance as the stoic, controlling Nurse Ratched in Cuckoo’s Nest for which she will always be remembered.

fatal-attraction-bunny-glenn-close1) Glenn Close – Fatal Attraction (1987)

Character: Alex Forrest

Famous Quote: “I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan.”

Who hasn’t seen this movie? Close’s performance is so frightening, men wince at the mere sight of a promo. In Fatal Attraction, Michael Douglas played a husband who is happily married to Anne Archer. Yet Douglas found a quality in Close that he could not find in his wife and ended up breaking his wedding vows. He routinely had sex with Close in her loft apartment up until the moment he started having second thoughts. He tried to end things with Close who insisted on more. The unstable, insatiable Close kidnapped Douglas’ daughter, pretending to be his wife for a day. She even boiled the family bunny. Close finally ended up getting shot by Archer, but not before she gave everyone in the film, and the audience, quite a scare. Close’s performance was so jarring, that even after twenty years, it’s hard to picture her as anything other than the psychotic Alex Forrest. She was nominated for best actress in 1988 but lost to Cher in Moonstruck. Close may have saved countless marriages over the years as thousands of men have probably thought twice about being unfaithful after seeing this film. Fellas, if you’ve ever thought about cheating on your wife or partner, plug Fatal Attraction into the DVD. She’ll make you think twice.

Honorable mention: Kathy Bates – Misery; Glenn Close – 101 Dalmatians; Rebecca De Mornay – The Hand that Rocks the Cradle; Meryl Streep – The Devil Wears Prada

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30 Replies to “The most hated women in film: A top eight list”

  1. Margaret Hamilton once said on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that she regretted playing the role of the witch in Wizard of Oz because of being told by so many adults saying she terrified them when they were children.

    Fatal Attraction was nothing compared to a love triangle revolving around Steve, Alice, and Rachel on Another World in the 70s, Rachel being the other woman. Things happening like Alice falling off a ladder and miscarrying, common everyday stuff in Bay City!lol Our mother should have fired our babysitter!

  2. Ath… that’s funny about Hamilton. I think I had heard that before.

    I’m not hip to Another World but based on what you said, I don’t think I’ll be watching it any time soon.

  3. What about all the animated meanies? I don’t think anyone could be scarier than Malificent. I agree with most of your choices although I didn’t see all the movies. Yep, Mary Tyler Moore was never the same after “Ordinary People.” And thank you Glenn Close for keeping our husbands faithful!!!

  4. Chris

    I’m a big fan of Glenn Close . And you’re spot on with the choice of her in Fatal Attraction. But I’d also like to add the following female also. Lisa Blount who played Lynette Pomoroy in ‘An Officer And Gentleman’. I was on leave at the time from the military and I took my girlfriend at the time to see it.
    She was the bi_ch who ended up lying about the fact she was pregnant that in the end forced Gere’s best friend to commit suicide .

    I could name quite a few other but time is off the essence.

    But here’s a couple you could add to your list.

    Sharon Stone’s character of ‘Catherine Trammell’ in ‘Basic Instinct’. After that infamous scene every guy wanted some ‘trim’. Myself included . LOL,LOL,LOL !!!!

    You can click on this link to review that scene. Be kind and rewind……….

    The sequel however, really stunk up the joint !

    Alan Parkins

  5. Al…. I have to hand it to you.

    You nailed it on the HEAD!

    I knew there was a totally despicable character that I forgot and she was definitely one of ’em. She became pregnant (allegedly) and got her man to quit the military and propose. When he found out she had faked it and he had given up everything, he hung himself in the shower.

    Even Debra Winger told her off. They needed to lift her up where she belonged, that’s for sure.

    Great call, man.

  6. Hey Rev,
    I like this concept.
    You are on the money with Glenn Close, no one has done it better. Flashes of Alex came to me a couple of times back in the eighties that may have saved my marriage, not to mention the kids pet rabbits.

    Take care brother.

  7. OMG!!!…how could you leave off Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons and only give Cathy Bates an honorable mention for Misery?? Sorry, but I think this is a pretty lame list IMHO. If these women make you hate them or scare you, some of my girlfriends would make you pee your pants!!…LOL

  8. Thanks for swinging by, Vick.

    I do think that Close was more frightening in Attraction than she was in Liaisons. She was more conniving in Liaisons while she was downright freakish in Attraction.

    Someone else also mentioned Kathy Bates, thinking she should ranked higher. She was undoubtedly osychotic in Misery but she wasn’t entirely hateable.

    We almost felt sorry for her. It was a great performance, but in a weird way, we almost ended up liking her… as long as she wasn’t our caregiver.


  9. Only had time in Vegas to buy one parlay. Did a 10 teamer and they all came back…. except for:

    OHIO STATE!!! $10 would’ve come back $7000. It’s the Groucutt curse.

    Love that place. Got to go back before Thanksgiving.

    Dude, I would have put Annie in the top 5. I didn’t feel sorry for that heifer..

  10. Chris

    She was a bit_h and a half to say the least ! I see there may well be a storm brewing up ahead ? NFL UK Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood has made the statement that he can envisage seeing an NFL franchise in London within the next 5 or 6 years. I wonder what Goodell has to say about that ?

    You could also add another Glenn Close character as well. Her role of Maquise Isabelle de Merteuil from the movie Dangerous Liaison (1988) alongside John Malkovich, Uma Thurman , Keannu Reeves and Michelle Pfeiffer. Can Close play these roles down pat or what ? She’s probably cut from the same cloth as Joanne Crawford and Betty Davis .

    What I’m Now Reading And I Like To Read In The World Of Blogging Essentially Sports-wise …………

    I’ve given you a shout-out here , good buddy ! As I appreciate the stuff you’re churning out. It’s top notch !

    Alan Parkins

  11. Chris

    Thanks for the props man as it’s greatly appreciated ! By the way thanks for the response to the piece on the upcoming game in London and the NFL UK. I’ll show you my response to your comment. Let me know what you think as I believe that the BBC are now going overtime to hype up the game. In large part it’s merely a novelty for the majority of those who’ll be in attendance.

    Chris Humpherys

    Shelton is a fool ! If he can’t understand the fact the NFL had no way of knowing that the Bucs would be this bad . Then what are they suppose to do ? After the upheaval that took place within the organization what the hell did he believe was inclined to happen ?

    I’v no problem with the game other than the fact that the perceived interest won’t be there. Like I said when soccer is the dominant sport and the vast majority of fans have no idea as to who many of the players are . Then there’s got to be something said as to why there are still some struggles with regard to the game resonating with fans in the UK.

    Granted there are fans of the game across Europe but it’ll take a consolidated effort to have a franchise in London. Much less anywhere on the continent of Europe. And that’s despite whatever Alistair Kirkwood’s wishes are.

    The interest is there but not as much as they perceive it to be.

    click here to read the remainder of my response ………………

    Alan Parkins

  12. Chris

    How the hell did the Tar Heels allow the Seminoles back into last night’s game ?

    Coming back to win 30-27 and when they had the game within their own fate ? That must’ve been a real letdown for Butch Davis’ crew and players.

    Now Bowden is saying he wants to coach for at least another two or three more years. I don’t think that’ll sit well with Jimbo Fisher at all !

    Alan Parkins

  13. The ‘Heels really aren’t that good and the ‘Noles have underachieved this season.

    The real ‘Nole team might just be the one that traveled to Provo and spanked BYU and the one we saw in the second half last night.

    Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. My boy and I had a Seminoles-Lightning two-teamer last night that paid 4:1.

  14. Chris

    I guess all the hype over the Heels’ defense wasn’t justified then ?

    Let Shelton poke all the fun he wants ’cause it’ll be more of the same over the ensuing years that’s for sure. I listened Beckles and Ron Diaz exchanging barbs with their listeners as to the fate of Josh Johnson and Josh Freeman for the remainder of the season. Man there are some really upset Bucs’ fans out there at present .

    I’d dare say that some of them are questioning not only Morris’ and Dominik’s birthright . But also Jon Gruden’s as well . LOL,LOL ,LOL !!!

    And boy oh boy are Clayton and Bryant in the doghouse or what ? They’ve got to be the worse receiving tandem in all of the NFL ! How could it have got so bad , so fast ? Didn’t Morris envisage any of this whatsoever in the preseason? Surely there must’ve been some indication there as two overwhelmingly underperformed. They’re locked into them with those ridiculous contract extensions that they signed them to. Where’s the rhyme and reasoning behind the thinking within this organization ? Or isn’t there any whatsoever ?

    Dropped this on the ALCS game between the Angels and Yankees.

    An Empire State of Mind In New York ….

    The vultures are out if Girardi screws this up against the Angels.

    See link and text provided below from the NY Daily News

    Manager Joe Girardi should be fired if the New York Yankees lose to Los Angeles Angels in ALCS

    By Jessie Spector , NY Daily News Sports Writer

    The Yankees will come home Saturday still leading the ALCS, 3-2, still one win away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 2003, still with Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia lined up to pitch them there.

    But let’s get this out of the way now, so it’s not a reactionary thing if the Yankees lose their sixth and seventh consecutive games with the American League pennant within their grasp: So this is not to say that the Yankees will lose this ALCS, but if they do, Joe Girardi should be fired.

    Click the headlined link to read the text in its entirety. It makes for some solid reading.

    Sports’ fans and sports’ print media in NY are really fickle, as are sports’ fans the sports’ print media the whole world over.

    Alan Parkins

  15. Al… you and I discussed this over the summer. Unfortunately the rest of the Buc nation wasn’t listening.

    Maybe it was that they bought the bills of goods Bucs brass was selling about this not being a rebuilding year. What Rah should have said instead of “We plan to win this season” is “We plan to win this season if we can”… which they obviously can’t.

    Speaking of underachieving, how long has Butch Davis been at UNC now? Has he hit a wall?

  16. Chris,

    Thank you very much for stopping by my blog. I completely agree with you about MTM in Ordinary People. I watch that movie over and over just for her performance. I read you post on the 8 Most Hated Women, good stuff. I will be checking your blog out more often. I really enjoy reading well-thoughout opinions on films.

    I find it interesting but my most popular post, so far, is the one I wrote about the 3 Inspirational Female Roles. I will be writing similar posts in the future. Might as well give the people what they want. Awesome to connect with you on here. Keep up the good work!

  17. Adam… thanks for responding.

    Although this is primarily a sports-related website, I also like to touch upon my other loves which include music, film and all the other things in life that take our mind off the daily grind.

    I liked what I saw from your site and would love to exchange blogrolls if you’re so inclined.

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