The Smartest Villains In Action Movie History

Over 1.0K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Smartest Villains In Action Movie History
Voting Rules
Vote up the action movie villains that outsmart everybody.

The smartest action movie villains rival the intelligence of ne'er-do-wells across all other genres. Villains in action movies are always up to something big, meaning it takes a lot of intelligence and planning to be a criminal on their level. These people aren't just mugging pedestrians - they're causing international incidents. 

Whether they're masterminding a hostage situation in Nakatomi Plaza or going head to head with Sherlock Holmes, the average rom-com villain or sci-fi antagonist has nothing on them. Honestly, it's harder to be a really good villain than it is to be a hero, and these villains show their brains through each and every one of their highly planned extra-legal activities. Vote up the smartest baddies in the bunch.

Photo: Inglourious Basterds / The Weinstein Company

  • 1
    760 VOTES
    Hans Gruber
    Photo: Die Hard / 20th Century Fox

    Who Is He?: A former German terrorist now hellbent on acquiring wealth for himself by any means necessary. 

    Genius Bonafides: Gruber is a classically educated man who trained under the Volksfrei. He often made references that would require a vast knowledge base. He liked to flex his intelligence, and he was capable of naming where a man got his suit with a single glance. 

    His Most Genius Moment: Gruber concocted a master scheme that made it look like he was a terrorist in a political act, while really he and his men were attempting to swipe hundreds of millions of dollars in bearer bonds. It was much more thought-out than the average scheme, and it would have worked, too, if not for that meddling Bruce Willis.

    760 votes
  • 2
    604 VOTES
    Photo: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Who Is He? To the world, Moriarty is a genius math professor at Cambridge. In private, he's a criminal mastermind. 

    Genius Bonafides: Moriarty has a PhD from Cambridge and teaches math at the university. He's also an accomplished author. Sherlock Holmes himself admits Moriarty is his intellectual equal. 

    His Most Genius Moment: Moriarty proved his intelligence by capturing Sherlock Holmes and keeping the detective on his feet throughout the entirety of the movie. Also, he quietly bought shares in all the major war industrial companies and almost started WWIII just so he could make a lot of cash.

    604 votes
  • 3
    504 VOTES
    Hans Landa
    Photo: Inglourious Basterds / The Weinstein Company

    Who Is He?: Hans Landa is a horrific villain. As a member of the Nazi party, he became famous for his tracking abilities. He achieved the rank of colonel. 

    Genius Bonafides: Landa is fluent in at least four languages. He was recruited to be an SS officer due to his intelligence. He was the recipient of the Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross in Gold (without swords), which was a medal given to honor members of the party for significant, non-combat contributions to the regime. 

    His Most Genius Moment: Hans Landa proved his genius when he switched sides at the last minute, pulling aside Aldo and Utivich and using them to make a deal with the American government. In the world of this movie, it's his actions that allow WWII to finally end, hoping that by doing so, he will be treated well in America after the conflict. Obviously, as fans of the film know, Aldo did the right thing and made sure everyone would know Landa was a Nazi for the rest of his life. But, still, it was a smart move to jump ship.

    504 votes
  • Cyrus 'The Virus' Grissom
    Photo: Con Air / Buena Vista Pictures

    Who Is He? Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom is a 39-year-old man who has spent 25 years of his life locked up. 

    Genius Bonafides: Although Grissom has spent most of his life in prison, he has managed to earn two degrees while behind bars. One of his degrees is a Juris Doctorate, which is the highest law degree someone can hold in the United States. 

    His Most Genius Moment: Grissom is a mastermind who has spent his time in jail calculating a brilliant escape plan, in between committing gruesome murders. Grissom conspired with other inmates and a South American underworld boss to stage an elaborate breakout while on board the prison plane Jailbird.

    459 votes
  • Simon Peter-Gruber
    Photo: Die Hard with a Vengeance / 20th Century Fox

    Who Is He?: Simon Peter-Gruber was a colonel in the National People's Army before becoming a terrorist. 

    Genius Bonafides: Before coming into the life of John McClane, Simon Peter-Gruber spent time in East Germany training an infiltration unit on how to speak English with an American accent. Obviously, that's not as easy to quantify as saying he got a PhD, but it is pretty cool.

    His Most Genius Moment: Simon concocted a plan few people could have dreamed up. He thought of a series of elaborate games and riddles to keep John McClane and the police force busy, while his main focus was actually pulling off a heist.

    401 votes
  • 6
    345 VOTES

    Raoul Silva

    Raoul Silva
    Photo: Skyfall / Sony Pictures Releasing

    Who Is He?: Raoul Silva used to work for MI6 before ultimately leaving the organization and becoming a cyber-terrorist with ties to SPECTRE. 

    Genius Bonafides: Silva was an operative of MI6. He worked with M until he hacked into Chinese technology, and she turned him over to the Chinese in order to achieve a smooth transition of power and the return of six other prisoners. 

    His Most Genius Moment: Silva is one of the best hackers in the world. He used his abilities to gain virtually unlimited money and power, faked a gas leak that allowed him to take over an island as his base of operations, meddled with Ugandan elections, and messed with stock markets to cripple various countries' economies as he saw fit.

    345 votes