We all loved a good cartoon growing up, and we all had our favourite heroes like He-Man, Lion-O and Optimus Prime. But what did they all have in common? That’s right, they had arch enemies who were, in their own way, every bit as loveable – if only because we loved to hate them!
Here’s our pick of the top 20 baddies from 80s cartoons, who we never got tired of booing every episode.
20. Skeletor (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)
Could we really have started anywhere else? If we’re talking 80s cartoon bad guys, surely none are so iconic as the arch-nemesis of the mighty He-Man. The skull-faced lord of Snake Mountain never relented in his eternal battle to gain control of the far-off planet Eternia’s centre of power, the mysterious Castle Grayskull.
Toymaker Mattel’s design for Skeletor was extremely creepy, and his name just radiates pure villainy. However, revisiting the original cartoon now it’s easy to see how they kept him fairly tame to make sure he didn’t frighten young kids too much. And oh, how we giggled (and still do!) every time he sneered “whaaat?” or “you boob!”
19. Cyril Sneer (The Raccoons)
Although younger viewers didn’t necessarily pick up on it at the time, The Raccoons was one of the first kids’ shows to really push an environmentalist message. While the friendly black-and-white critters of the title lived happily at balance with nature, this was threatened by the power-hungry Cyril Sneer.
A greedy industrialist who thought nothing of tearing down the forest to make money, Sneer turned a whole generation of viewers against aardvarks (although his good-natured son Cedric Sneer and girlfriend Sophia went some way to redress the balance there). Also, in a move that would never fly in a kids’ show today, Cyril Sneer always had a cigar in the corner of his mouth.
18. Gargamel (The Smurfs)
Who couldn’t love those cute little blue guys the Smurfs? Gargamel, that’s who! The evil wizard was the arch-enemy of all of Smurfdom, whose life ambition was to get his hands on the Smurfs and turn them into gold. Only a full-blown baddie could have such despicable intentions for such adorable creatures.
As if this wasn’t reason enough for us to hate Gargramel, he was also always cruel to his pet cat Azrael. Because of this, the mangy feline usually took as much pleasure as the audience did in seeing his master fail. Anyone who’s mean to both animals and cute little blue people in white hats can only be evil.
17. Hordak (She-Ra: Princess of Power)
When He-Man’s twin sister She-Ra was introduced by toymakers Mattel and animation studio Filmation, she naturally needed her very own Skeletor. This she received in the form of Hordak, the similarly bone-faced leader of the brutal Horde, cruel oppressors of Eternia’s twin planet Etheria.
She-Ra and Hordak’s relationship had an interesting twist, as the Princess of Power’s alter ego Adora was abducted by Hordak as a baby and raised as part of the Horde, who made her believe that they were benevolent. It’s only after she finds her power sword and learns her heritage that Adora realises she’s been indoctrinated. Surprisingly political stuff for a pre-teen cartoon designed to sell toys!
16. Cardinal Richelieu (Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds)
Based on the real-life historical figure and immortalised by legendary author Alexandre Dumas, Cardinal Richelieu is one of the most hissable villains of all time. Plenty of great actors have played the role over the years, including Charlton Heston, Tim Curry and Christoph Waltz – yet none chilled us quite so much as when he was a cartoon dog!
We didn’t know it at the time, but the Spanish and Japanese co-production Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds was a surprisingly faithful retelling of Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers, with our canine heroes constantly working to foil the plans of the devious Richelieu. (Still, with only 26 episodes made, the show was a bit shorter than Dumas’ 784 page tome.)
15. Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
The heavily armoured leader of the evil Foot Clan, ninja master Shredder was the arch nemesis of our beloved Turtles – but the heroes in a half shell always gave as good as they got from the old chrome-dome! He may not have been as colourful a villain as his beastly henchmen Rocksteady and Bebop or his alien ally Krang, but it was always clear that Shredder was the main threat for the Turtles.
However, in later years we could never think of Shredder in quite the same way once we learned his voice was provided by the sadly missed James Avery, who would later play Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It’s difficult to equate one of the most hissable bad guys of 80s cartoons with one of the most loveable father figures of 90s live-action sitcoms!
14. Baron Greenback (Danger Mouse)
Danger Mouse is a firm contender for the best-loved cartoon series to be produced in Great Britain in the 80s. The title character and his trusty sidekick Penfold have a lot to do with the show’s enduring popularity, but so too does its villain. A far cry from the beloved Mr. Toad of The Wind in the Willows, Baron Greenback was the most antagonistic of amphibians.
A play on classic James Bond villain Blofeld, Greenback was a criminal mastermind toad who sat in a swivelling chair petting a white caterpillar rather than the more traditional cat. As is so often the case for big bad guys, he would frequently appear on a screen, gruffly croaking orders at his crow henchman Stiletto. How many of us got sore throats attempting to imitate his distinctive croaky voice?
13. Venger (Dungeons & Dragons)
It may have been inspired by the enduringly popular role playing game, but for many of us back in the 80s the words ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ were first and foremost synonymous with the cartoon series. The premise was thrilling, yet pretty scary when you really thought about it: a bunch of teens are mysteriously teleported to a world of swords and sorcery, where every day is a battle to survive.
There was one key figure that our young heroes did battle with most often: Venger, the horn-headed sorcerer whose vengeful nature is readily apparent from his name alone. Eager to rule the realm and defeat the teens’ kindly ally The Dungeon Master, Venger wasn’t just scary to look at – he was also pretty diabolical by nature.
12. Dr Claw (Inspector Gadget)
Baron Greenback from Danger Mouse wasn’t the only cartoon bad guy who we all got sore throats trying to impersonate. No character in 80s animation – indeed, perhaps not in 80s TV overall – was so legendary for their gravelly tones as Dr Claw, evil leader of MAD and arch nemesis of the unwitting hero Inspector Gadget.
Of course, it wasn’t just his charming vocals that made Dr Claw so sinister. In the original (and, of course, best) Inspector Gadget cartoons, all we ever saw of Claw was his perpetually gloved hand, frequently bashing his desk and scaring mangy old Mad Cat. In the live action movies and more recent CG-animated series Claw’s face was shown, which robbed the villain of his mystique.
11. Miles Mayhem (M.A.S.K.)
One thing that we can scarcely fail to note about M.A.S.K. was the show’s obsession with acronyms. While our heroes were the ‘masked crusaders’ of Mobile Armoured Strike Kommand (don’t even get us started on that spelling), their chief adversaries were the Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem – or V.E.N.O.M. for short.
However, ‘Mayhem’ didn’t just refer to the general state of chaos and turmoil: it was also the actual name of V.E.N.O.M’s leader, Miles Mayhem. His battle with M.A.S.K. had a personal edge, as Miles Mayhem had previously been a colleague of M.A.S.K. founder Matt Trakker, but then Mayhem stole Trakker’s tech for criminal purposes and – gasp! – he also murdered Trakker’s brother.
10. Tex Hex (Bravestarr)
Mattel and Filmation’s sci-fi western Bravestarr might not have proved as popular or long-lasting as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but it was still well-loved by many younger viewers back in the 80s. The series had a strange aura all of its own, thanks to its unique blend of cowboy motifs with space age fantasy.
While technology was a big part of the Bravestarr universe, there was a lot of magic in there too, and its chief villain Tex Hex was every inch the evil sorcerer, even if he looked more like someone who’d get in a gunfight with Clint Eastwood. Fun fact: Tex Hex was originally conceived as a one-off bad guy for The Real Ghostbusters, but instead they built the whole Bravestarr franchise around him.
9. Mumm-Ra (ThunderCats)
You have to feel bad for the ThunderCats. Almost as soon as they had escaped their dying planet Thundera, leaving behind everything they ever knew to find a new home on the distant Third Earth, they found themselves at loggerheads with an all-new enemy: undead sorcerer Mumm-Ra, The Ever-Living.
We feel confident in declaring Mumm-Ra the single scariest bad guy in 80s American cartoons. After all, unlike a lot of his peers in animated villainy, Mumm-Ra had the rare advantage of being super creepy in two distinct forms: first as a decrepit old mummy, and then as the hulking, snake-headed beast he turned himself into when it was time to fight.
8. Megatron (The Transformers)
The polar opposite of heroic Autobot leader Optimus Prime, Megatron was the leader of the evil Decepticons, which pretty much made him the most fearsome pile of metal in the galaxy. Megatron’s reason for being was simple: he intended to decimate his Autobot adversaries, and rule the cosmos with a quite literal iron fist.
Still, as intimidating as Megatron may have been at first, it didn’t take too long for many viewers to realise that he was actually pretty weak as Transformers go. While most of his peers turned into self-functioning vehicles, Megatron became a gun which then had to be picked up and fired by someone else! And why did he shrink when almost none of the other Transformers did?
7. Cobra Commander (GI Joe)
GI Joe were, as the memorable slogan tells us, real American heroes – but they wouldn’t have had much to do without their arch enemies Cobra giving them trouble. Cobra had no shortage of memorable baddies such as Destro, The Baroness and Storm Shadow, but the hardest villain of the lot was of course the big boss himself, Cobra Commander.
His distinctive uniform, red cape and sceptre made him stand apart from the rest of the crowd (not that Cobra, or the Joes for that matter, appeared to have anything resembling a standard dress code). However, the real novelty was that Cobra Commander’s face always remained hidden, which left our young imaginations working overtime as to what he might look like behind the sheet of metal.
6. Doc Terror (The Centurions)
Yet another of those 80s high-tech action adventure cartoons with a tie-in toy line, The Centurions centred on a team of bold soldiers in super-powered mech suits. They fought to protect the Earth from an army of cyborgs, themselves commanded by a super-cyborg whose name leaves little question as to his character: Doc Terror.
Fearsome in appearance with a perpetually scowling face partially encased in the same red metal that covers the bulk of his body, Doc Terror was a mad scientist with a suitably audacious goal: to take over the entire world and turn its population into his own personal robot slaves. Hardly surprising we’d root for the Centurions to defeat him, is it?
5. Zoltar (Battle of the Planets)
Long before most westerners were familiar with the term ‘anime,’ one of the first Japanese cartoons to really win over English-speaking audiences was Battle of the Planets. The show was a re-edited, more child-friendly take on a series originally entitled Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which follows the young soldiers of G-Force charged with defending planet Earth.
Every band of defenders needs a threat to defend against, and in Battle of the Planets it was Zoltar; no, not the wish-granting machine from Big, but the commander of an alien armada from planet Spectra, hellbent on taking out G-Force and conquering Earth. Of course, our young heroes in their eye-catching bird-like costumes were always ready to save the day.
4. The Misfits (Jem)
We’re breaking our own rules ever so slightly now by including a villainous collective as opposed to one individual villain – but how could we not mention The Misfits, arch-rivals of Jem and the Holograms? Right from their lines in the opening song – “We’re the Misfits, our songs are better, we’re the Misfits and we’re gonna get her” – you knew these girls were bad news.
Jealous of the success enjoyed by Jem and the Holograms, The Misfits – Pizzazz, Roxy and Stormer, later joined by Jetta – are constantly trying to find ways to sabotage their rivals, and profit from their failures. Of course, Jem (secretly record company owner Jerrica) and her friends are always a step ahead.
3. Texas Pete (SuperTed)
This is another of our few entries of UK origin, although the character himself is of course all-American, with his name giving very clear hints of his origins. Mean-spirited cowboy Texas Pete is the boss of the effete Skeleton and the blundering Bulk, whom he bosses around in the name of the classic villainous goals of wealth and power.
Happily, Texas Pete and his henchmen are frequently thwarted in their dastardly efforts by the heroic SuperTed and his alien friend Spotty, who always manage to stop the baddies in time. Originally produced in Wales, the success of SuperTed was such that it became the first British cartoon to get a sequel series produced in the US, in the form of Hanna-Barbera’s The Further Adventures of SuperTed.
2. Samhain (The Real Ghostbusters)
The animated offshoot of the beloved Ghostbusters movies, The Real Ghostbusters saw our parapsychologist heroes do battle with plenty of nefarious ghouls and goblins. However, if there was one supernatural adversary that really stood out as the most formidable of the whole series, it had to be Samhain, the spirit of Halloween.
Samhain was introduced in When Halloween Was Forever, and the episode’s title gives a pretty clear indication of his goal. With his pumpkin head, clawed fingers and proclivity for portentous monologuing, Samhain proved such a great villain that the Ghostbusters wound up facing off against him more than once.
1. Saw Boss (Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors)
Canadian sci-fi action cartoon Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors follows the adventures of Jayce, a brave teenager who commands a team called the Lightning League. In their hi-tech vehicles, these Wheeled Warriors face off against the Monster Minds, a synthetic race of sentient plant people who are out to destroy the humans who created them.
Saw Boss, as the name might suggest, was the big boss of the Monster Minds, and the original living plant from which the race sprang. There was something uniquely creepy about a force of villains who were essentially vegetables: Saw Boss himself even looked quite a lot like broccoli. Really, could anything be more terrifying to a pre-teen?