Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on The WB network as a mid-season replacement back in 1997 and quickly became one of the most iconic genre shows in television history. The series focused on Buffy Summers, one in a long line of vampire slayers. Only this time, this slayer came with friends who helped her along the way including her Watcher, Rupert Giles, computer whiz-turned-witch Willow Rosenberg and loyal average joe Xander Harris. The show ran for seven seasons, launching the careers of stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz and Alyson Hannigan into the mainstream. The show eventually gained a spin-off sister show, Angel, and continued in comic book form to this day.
There were a lot of themes covered throughout the show that mainly revolved around growing up like finding your own identity, overcoming addiction and surviving the loss of a loved one. The series also used its platform to speak out on issues of domestic violence, the importance of inclusivity, and the complications that come with love. However, one of the best parts of the show were the villains, which included vampires, demons, witches, werewolves, demented cyborgs and even ordinary humans. Buffy featured some fantastically unforgettable bad guys, so CBR decided to rank every major villain, from least to most powerful.
Season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the most polarizing of the entire series, people either loved it or hated it. Having just brought Buffy back from the dead, Willow struggles with her drug-like addiction to magic, Xander and Anya suffer anxieties about their pending nuptials and a despondent Buffy begins a toxic relationship with Spike.
The one bright spot in season six showcased the series’ first musical episode,”Once More With Feeling.” It introduced a demon named Sweet who is a one-off villain with the power to put everyone under a musical spell, where they are forced to sing about the truths in their life. In the climax of the episode, Sweet finally persuades Buffy to out the secret she’d been hiding from her friends since her resurrection; that she was in Heaven, not Hell.
19. AMY MADISON
Witches have a varied history when it comes to Buffy, occasionally they’re good but more often than not, they turn out to be evil. When Willow begins experimenting with magic following the death of techno-pagan Jenny Calendar in season two, and we see her become friends with fellow classmate and witch Amy Madison. During one episode of season three, Amy transforms herself into a rat to escape a witch-burning mob and is stuck in that form until Willow becomes strong enough to reverse the spell in season six.
Living as a rat for so long may have caused Amy to go off the deep end a little bit.
Becoming jealous of Willow’s natural abilities, Amy made Willow fall off the magic wagon and even put a hex on her in season seven, turning Willow into the physical embodiment of the man who killed her girlfriend, Tara, the season before.
Demons come with a degree of evil classification on Buffy; some are just different and want to live a normal life and some plot to destroy the world on a regular basis. The vengeance demon Anyanka appears in season three, granting a heartbroken Cordelia the wish of Buffy Summers never coming to Sunnydale. Thanks to Anyanka, we got to witness a harsh reality where Buffy and pretty much every other character is either a vampire or killed.
After having her powers stripped later in season three, Anyanka, now going by Anya, becomes a reluctant member of the Scooby Gang and develops a romantic relationship with Xander. Following him leaving her at the altar, Anya temporarily returns to being a vengeance demon, inadvertently causing the deaths of an entire frat house. She eventually redeems herself but is killed defending Andrew in the battle against The First in the series finale.
17. ETHAN RAYNE
One of the only warlocks to appear on the show, Ethan Rayne appears in season two as an old classmate of Giles’. We find out that they were both members of a group who practiced the dark arts in their youth, accidentally letting a body-hopping demon loose and killing one of their members in the process. As devious as he is charming, Ethan was behind some of the most enjoyable catastrophic events to ever hit Sunnydale.
He would return later in season two to wreak havoc on Halloween by having people assume the actual identities of the costumes they wore.
He reappeared again in season three, casting a spell on the chocolate bars the high school band was selling to raise money to revert adults back to their teenage mental state. His presence always made for the fun-loving, one off episodes that boosted the mood during yet another apocalypse.
16. MR. TRICK
Few henchmen in the world of Buffy tend to stick around past one episode, but there are a few exceptions. Season three’s Mr. Trick is one of them, who originally starts off as ancient vampire Kakistos’s right hand man and then turns around and does the same for Mayor Wilkins following Kakistos’s demise. And we all know that Faith ended up dusting Mr. Trick so she could basically assume his position alongside the Mayor, thus beginning her downward spiral into darkness.
We have a few great episodes thanks to Mr. Trick’s performance, particularly “Homecoming”, in which we see a group of villains hunt down Buffy and a mistaken-for-Faith Cordelia during “SlayerFest ’98.” Trick also orchestrated the return of Ethan Rayne, so he could distract the town with his cursed band candy while the Mayor performs a ritual to begin his ascension.
Season four was an experimental time for the series as the main characters transitioned from teenage high-schoolers to young adults. This season found Willow, Buffy and Oz all going to Sunnydale University, while Xander worked multiple odd jobs and began a serious relationship with Anya. Buffy starts a relationship with Riley, a secret government operative for an underground group of demon hunters called The Initiative (because nothing is ever what it seems on Buffy).
Adam was the cannibalized pet monster of The Initiative’s leader, Dr. Maggie Walsh, and was comprised of various demon body parts as well as cybernetic enhancements.
14. VAMPIRE WILLOW
Part of being a hit fantasy show is exploring the alternate realities of the characters. Buffy played with this idea in a variety of ways, one of the standout examples is season three’s episode “The Wish,” in which the demon Anyanka grants Cordelia’s wish that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale (and therefore, had not killed the Master at the end of season one).
In this alternate reality, the Master takes over the town, turning Xander and Willow into his vampire minions and forcing the human denizens to cower in fear. We see a glimpse of the type of villain Willow could be on full display, dominatrix-style, with the two Willows eventually coming face to face later in the episode. This includes the classic observation our Willow makes that her vampire self “might be kinda gay.” She might be kinda right.
The most famous vampire in pop culture history, the Prince of Darkness, took five seasons to make an appearance on the most famous vampire show in pop culture history. Played with finesse by German actor Rudolf Martin, who had previously worked with Sarah Michelle Gellar during her stint on the daytime soap All My Children, Dracula only stuck around for one episode.
The season premiere featuring Dracula brought to light the growing rift between Buffy and Riley, a romance that self-destructed later that same season.
He goes on to impress the gang with his classic powers of hypnotism, turning into a bat and creating fog. Dracula is also the second vampire Buffy has allowed to feed off her willingly (along with Angel), reminding us all how susceptible she is to the dark side of her powers.
Following the dark and depressing era of season six, the seventh and final season of Buffy saw a slight return to greatness with a back to basics approach. Facing the return of a previous big bad in the form of The First, the Scooby Gang is also charged with protecting a group of teenage girls who come from the potential slayer line. We see Buffy and the gang train the new Potentials for the final battle against The First, but they also face new threats, like the Turok-Han.
Otherwise known as an uber-vamp, the Turok-Han are basically the vampire version of the Mayor’s undiluted demonic form. Stronger than the average slayer, Buffy gets beaten down in her first fight with one of these creatures, but she bounces back in time to behead him in a thunderdome-style face-off. Of course, there thousands more waiting below the Hellmouth for round two…
Villains usually don’t appear as a couple on Buffy, but season two’s Spike and Drusilla were the exception. When they first came to Sunnydale, Spike was looking to take over the vampire underground while nursing a weakened Drusilla back to health. A former nun who was driven crazy by Angelus before turning her into a vampire, Drusilla has always been a little…off.
The roles would later reverse, as Spike would get injured during the ceremony to restore Drusilla to full strength with it being a success.
Drusilla used her visions to help Spike and Angelus fight against Buffy, at one point tipping them off that Jenny Calendar was planning on returning Angel’s soul (and we all know how that turned out). In the finale battle of season two, she would kill Kendra the other vampire slayer and would go on to make appearances in the spin-off, Angel.
10. THE FIRST
By the time season seven rolled around, the exhaustion the cast felt due to the ongoing continuation of the series was blatantly apparent. The entity that predates evil itself is apropos for the last hurrah that would tie up more loose ends than Buffy’s (second) death at the end of season five. The First had previously appeared in season three, as a demonic force preying on Angel’s guilt and trying to get him to kill himself.
While The First mainly worked behind the scenes, being a master manipulator in the game of chess that was the final showdown between good and evil. As an entity with no corporeal form, Buffy and the Scooby Gang weren’t able to physically fight it, but took out all of its minions and, therefore, its power. At least we got to see some of our favorite faces from past seasons thanks to The First.
9. THE MASTER
You never forget your first, this is especially true when it comes to vampire warlords who drown you. The Master was the first Big Bad of the show and set the tone for villains to come. Former Angelus concubine Darla and Luke were his minions, one lasting a bit longer than the other.
Originally he was trapped under Sunnydale, until he gained enough strength to go above ground.
In the season one finale, we see the prophecy of The Master killing Buffy come to pass, but she’s also brought back to life by Xander. After a brief rooftop scuffle, Buffy flips The Master over herself, sending him crashing through the skylight and right onto a jagged piece of broken table. She might be dead, but she’s still pretty.
8. THE GENTLEMEN
“Hush,” the season four episode that earned Buffy the Vampire Slayer its first and only Emmy nomination for Best Writing in a Drama Series, features only 17 minutes of actual dialogue due to the arrival of The Gentlemen. The creepy group of monsters trap the voices of a town so the people can’t scream when they come to cut their hearts out. The episode was written by Joss Whedon in response to critical commentary that the dialogue was the most exceptional part of the series.
Probably the scariest demons we’ve ever seen the Scooby Gang face, The Gentlemen were terrifyingly polite and ruthless as they traveled in a pack with their tiny box ready for the next human heart. There was also that little jingle that goes along with their appearance, similar to what was used in The Nightmare On Elm Street movies when Freddy Krueger was about to appear.
Nathan Fillion seems to pop up in a lot of Joss Whedon‘s projects, however, his brief run as the Bible thumping, fire and brimstone preacher Caleb is nothing short of superb. Caleb is serving The First as his lord and savior, gleefully serving up what he thinks is righteous deliverance (in his own twisted, misogynistic way) to Buffy, the rest of the Scoobies, and the Potentials.
One of the deadliest fighters the Scooby Gang has ever faced, Caleb nearly beats Buffy in battle.
He also is responsible for taking out one of Xander’s eyes, after making a comment on his ability to see things, which is a pretty insightful assessment of Xander’s intuitive presence. Caleb may have only terrorized Sunnydale for a couple of episodes, but he left more of a permanent mark than nearly every other villain over the course of the series.
6. MAYOR RICHARD WILKINS
Mayor Wilkins if probably the most destructive, yet also quite possibly the most likable, villain of the series. Along with his germaphobia and bad dad jokes, he makes an endearing Big Bad to say the least. The juxtaposition of him being an evil entity and his paternal love for rogue slayer Faith is a fascinating character study in the complex existence of both empathy and lack of compassion for everybody else.
Mayor Wilkins also turned out to be the biggest Big Bad, being the only time we ever see a demon in its true, undiluted form. The Mayor was pretty much invulnerable up until he transformed into his demonic self on Graduation Day, where Buffy and her friends could take him out. By blowing up the school with him in it.
No matter how you may feel about Spike, he is without a doubt the most layered, lasting villain the Whedonverse has ever created. Spike doesn’t have a distinct moral compass, in fact, he sees no separation between good and evil.
Named after his use of railroad spikes to kill his victims, his character is composed of every quality that makes him sexy, sinister, sweet, and terrifying.
Spike would at times help the Scooby Gang, first motivated by trying to get on Buffy’s good side then gradually doing it because he wanted to be a better person. The killer of two former slayers went through multiple trials to get his soul restored at the end of season six. He would also make the ultimate sacrifice in the battle against The First and his army in the series finale, only to reappear a few months later on Angel.
In many ways, love can be just as destructive as death, and that is never more apparent than during the heart-wrenching season two of Buffy. Following the loss of her virginity to Angel, his soul is taken from him as part of the gypsy curse. The madness starts with a soulless Angelus tell Buffy he “had fun” and would “call her later,” as if he was just using her for bad sex.
Angelus then begins taking joy in stalking and playing sick games with Buffy and her friends, leading to the murder of Jenny Calendar after he finds out she found the spell to restore his soul. We would have to wait a few more episodes for the real Angel to come back, only to have Buffy put a sword through his chest in order to save the world. Ain’t love grand?
Faith comes to town after being called as a slayer following the death of Kendra and starts off trying to be part of the Scooby Gang. She tries to follow Buffy’s rules, but Faith embodies reckless abandon and sex appeal, helping people for the high and the pleasure of the kill rather than just the goodness of her heart.
She would accidentally kill a human civilian during patrol one night, sending her on a downward spiral into darkness.
Despite attempts by Buffy and Angel to help her, Faith embraced the evil side of her and became Mayor Wilkin’s hit woman. After Buffy puts her in a coma, Faith would reappear periodically, most notably in seasons four and seven. In the final season, we see a reformed Faith rejoin the side of good in the final battle with The First, being one of the handful of survivors at the end.
2. DARK WILLOW
Members of the Scooby Gang have come and gone, whether it be to die, turn evil, or simply relocate to LA and into a new time slot. However, the core group of Buffy, Willow, and Xander always remained. Willow succumbing to the addiction of magic coupled with the tragedy of the loss of her lover, Tara, managed to create a crack in that foundation that we had never witnessed before or since (thankfully).
The character development of Willow from a shy nerd to cruel, spell-casting murderess is the most drastic, yet believable, heartbreaking one of the series. Following the tragic death of Tara, Willow dives into black magic to kill the man responsible going through Buffy in the process. The intimacy of Willow’s role as the Big Bad creates a conflict of emotions for both viewers and the Scooby Gang, challenging them to explore the greyer areas of morality.
The dichotomy of Glory and Ben and the concept that the good side cannot survive without the evil one, and vice versa, is one that deepens and complicate a villain who otherwise would be ordinarily evil. Glory is a god, an unbeatable force, and whereas countless villains across all forms of media play with the idea of appealing to a monster’s “humanity” as its weakness, Glory’s humanity is literally her kryptonite.
In her effort to find the Key (aka Dawn) the only way to return to her universe, Glory leaves carnage in her wake throughout the season.
Crippling Tara’s mind, almost killing a vengeful Willow, beating Spike to a pulp and snatching Dawn up to kill her are just a few atrocities she committed. Truthfully, Buffy never truly beats her, as killing Ben is the only way Glory can truly be defeated (which happens, courtesy of Giles).
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