Witches are probably the most beloved supernatural creature alongside Vampires. Much like Vampires, they have been portrayed as everything, from a teenage fantasy, to misunderstood anti heroes, to campy comic book villains, to the stuff of nightmares!
In this article I am going to run down my own personal favourite Witches. Much like with Vampires, I do tend to prefer my Witches to be terrifying creatures of evil.
When they are villainous, Witches are actually by far and away the most frightening supernatural creature. Vampires are still my favourites as they are by far the most interesting and fun. However ultimately all a Vampire or a Zombie or a Werewolf for that matter can do is kill you, or make you one of their own.
Witches however through their magic can inflict all kinds of horrific fates worse than death on you.They can curse your soul forever, turn you into rats, or trap you in paintings!
Still whilst they are undeniably the most frightening, there have been a wide range of Witch characters across many different mediums and in this article I am going to run down my own personal top 10. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
10/ Jadis, The White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia)
Not her most serious portrayal in The Young Ones but I still enjoyed it.
One of the most iconic evil Witches in all of fiction. Jadis appears as the main antagonist in both The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and its prequel novel, The Magicians Nephew.
Though she is by far and away more famous for her role in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I actually thought she was more effective in The Magicians Nephew. In this story we find out more about her origin, as well as the horrors she inflicted on her own world too, which actually surpassed her later reign of terror in Narnia.
Jadis originally began as an inhabitant of the world Charn, but she destroyed all of its people using a powerful spell when her attempt to seize the throne from her sister failed. She then put herself into a kind of suspended animation. Hoping someone with magic might visit her one day and she could escape her now dead world.
She would be re-awoken hundreds of years later, when two children. Digory and Polly accidentally travelled to Charn using magical rings bestowed to them by Digory’s Uncle Andrew. I was always somewhat scared of this part of the novel as a child. The idea that the Witch would be willing to destroy her own world, rather than lose to her sister really made her into an even more vicious monster. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, she was merely a would be conqueror of Narnia, but here she is a full blown omnicidal maniac! Normally in prequels we see a more innocent side to the villain such as in Smallville where we see Lex Luthor go from a decent guy to Superman’s archenemy.
In Jadis’s case however her past was even more horrifying! The White Witch uses Digory and Polly to teleport herself first to earth, before being whisked away by Digory and Polly to another alternate world. Narnia.
Though the ending of The Magician’s Nephew hints that she has been driven away, by the time of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe she has managed to take control of Narnia with an army of monsters. She is later finally slain by the Lion, Aslan in a battle.
The White Witch in many ways was meant to represent Satan in the world of Narnia. At one point in The Magicians Nephew she even tempts Digory with an apple like a serpent in the Garden.
The Witch was unquestionably the best of the villains in any of the Narnia books. She was absolute evil, yet utterly captivating too with all the men of the series falling in love with her they second they set sights on her. Again the fact that she was always described as being so strikingly beautiful is a play on the idea of the Devil being more alluring seemingly than the forces of good.
On screen Jadis was played by Tilda Swindon in the Narnia films, but she has been brought to life on both stage and television many times. Overall not my all time favourite Witch, but still a great villain nonetheless.
9/ Morgana (Merlin)
There have been many different versions of Morgan Le Fey, King Arthur’s evil half sister from Arthurian Legends over the years. Even within the myths themselves her role has varied considerably.
Sometimes she is an outright villain such as the version played by Helen Mirren in Exaclibur, whilst in others such as Helena Bonham Carter’s in the tv miniseries Merlin she is depicted as a more tragic character.
My favourite version however would have to be Katie McGrath’s from the BBC television series Merlin. I liked this interpretation the best because I think they were able to include elements from various different portrayals by having her start off as a heroic character who is driven down a path of villainy. I also feel they made her into a more well rounded character too, as we saw how all of her loyalty and innocence was slowly crushed by her friends and family’s treatment of her.
In this version of the famous story Uther Pendragon has outlawed magic, with anyone who practices it being sentenced to death. Morgana who is his ward regularly fights with him over his treatment of magic users. It is later revealed that this is because she is in fact secretly a Witch herself. In Merlin being a Witch or a Sorcerer is not something you choose. You are born with magic.
At the same time Merlin one of her best friends ends up turning against her, when The Great Dragon tells him of how Morgana is destined to bring about the end of Camelot.
Sadly it ends up being a case of a self fulfilling prophecy as its only because of the Dragons prophecy that Merlin begins to distrust Morgana and push her away. Merlin ends up poisoning her after he suspects she is behind a plot to kill Arthur. Though the Witch Morgause did make her the centre of a spell to help destroy Camelot (which could only be broken if she died) She had no idea that she had been made the centre of the spell and thus was is innocent.
Following this Morgana makes a turn to the dark side and plots to kill Uther, Merlin and later Arthur in order to free her people.
Morgana is essentially a female, magical version of Magneto from the X-Men . She’s part of a group of people who can’t help the way they were born, but because of their power everyone else despises them and tries to either control them or in some cases wipe them out. Morgana and Magneto are among the only two who finally decide that they have had enough and fight back against their oppressors. However in a magnificent irony they both end up going to far and become no different to the people persecuting them.
The only problems with Morgana’s character were primarily that she suffered from overuse in the later years. Being the only villain in the show, she was featured in almost every episode of the 4th and 5th series with a new plot to kill Arthur every week. This had a rather unfortunate side effect of making her seem more like a live action Wile Coyote than anything else. Also I felt that her version of Professor X, Merlin was too weak.
Merlin started out as an interesting character, but at the end of the show because Arthur never brought magic back (which he was prophesied to.) Then Merlin ended up looking like a traitor who supported two regimes that persecuted his kind!
The whole point of a Magneto, Morgana character is that the Professor X character serves as the peaceful alternative who breaks the cycle of hate and finds a way for everyone to live together. Here sadly as Merlin never did that, Morgana actually ends up looking like the hero who tried to save her kind.
Still overall Morgana was an interesting and menacing villain, and Katie McGrath who played her was truly excellent in the role. The popularity of her performance in this series would lead to a highly successful career for McGrath in genre films and television series such as Dracula, Slasher, Jurassic World and Supergirl. She will also be appearing in another adaptation of Arthurian legends in 2017, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur Legend of the Sword. She’s really a genre queen now thanks to Morgana.
8/ Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
The main antagonist from the 1959 Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty. She is based on the un named evil fairy Godmother from the original story of the same name by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault.
Unlike most other evil Witches, such as the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz or the child eating Witch from Hansel and Gretel. Malificent was not depicted as being a repulsive old hag, but she still had a somewhat unsettling aspect to her appearance. Her bright green skin and her massive horns gave her a somewhat reptilian look which was a nice foreshadowing of the climax of the movie when she changes into a gigantic fire breathing Dragon!
Though not entirely original to the source material, Malificent has gone on to appear in numerous other works over the years including video games and television series such as Once Upon A Time. A 2014 remake simply called Malificent attempted to flesh her character out and present her as more of an anti hero. Malificent in this movie was played by Angelina Jolie who won great praise for her performance. However personally the definitive portrayal for me will always be the original, Eleanor Audley.
Whilst Malificent may not be the most frightening Witch her unique look and commanding presence make her one of Cinema’s most memorable Witches and villains in general.
7/ Regina, The Evil Queen (Once Upon A Time)
One of the main antagonists/protagonists from Once Upon A Time. Regina is based on the Evil Queen from the Snow White fairy tale. Her origins are naturally somewhat expanded on to make her more sympathetic.
In the original fairy tale the Evil Queen grows jealous that Snow White is prettier than her, whilst in this version a young Snow White inadvertently causes the death of Regina’s one true love, which along with her cruel mother Cora’s influence turns her into a monster.
Regina starts out as the series main villain, but even from the start we see there as a softer side to her as above else she does still genuinely love her adopted son Henry.
Gradually over the course of the series we see Regina overcome her dark side and eventually become a heroic character, though she still has the odd relapse now and again. Its true that Regina has been somewhat over used over the course of the series. She is a big favourite of the writers who at one point were quoted as saying that whenever they think up a new story. The first thing they think of is “how can we get Regina involved in this?”
Still despite this, the characters interesting history, poisonous relationship with her mother, complex rivalry with Snow and above all else, Lana Parilla’s brilliant performance have all helped Regina to stand out as something special.
6/ Queen Bavmorda (Willow)
The main antagonist from the 1988 George Lucas film Willow. She was played by Jean Marsh, who also played the head stealing Witch from Return to Oz and would later go on to play the evil Morgana in the Doctor Who story Battlefield. She had a real knack for playing evil Witches!
There’s not much to Bavmorda’s character. Just another evil monarch who plans to kill the child prophecized to overthrow her.
However Jean Marsh’s performance really elevates her to being an all time classic fantasy villain. She really gives the character a lot of presence and menace. I’d say she steals the film as much as Tim Curry’s portrayal of Darkness does in Legend. Whenever you think of both movies its their performances that first spring to mind.
5/ Muriel, (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters)
The main villain and evil queen of the Witches from Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Muriel is played by Famke Janssen who much like Jean Marsh is a natural at playing all powerful villains. Shes blown Patrick Stewart to pieces, and tortured Owen Wilson almost to death. If anyone knew how to bring the most evil and destructive Witch to life then it was her.
Muriel is a much more brutal Witch than many other famous on screen Wicca’s. She pulls her victims to bits with branches, and force feeds them maggots which make them explode.
Her death is also fittingly more brutal too. She is stabbed, beaten to within an inch of her life, hung from the ceiling, and decapitated with a shovel!
Whilst mainstream critics may have savaged the film, I personally loved Hansel and Gretel:Witch Hunters. I think it was nice to see a return to more evil, brutal witches and Janssen’s Grand High Witch was the perfect antagonist for the re-imagined duo.
4/ The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)
THE iconic, green skinned, big nosed, ugly Witch from popular culture. The Wicked Witch ironically was more of a minor antagonist in the original Oz book series by L Frank Baum. The main villain was always the Nome King (who did finally appear on screen in the movie Return to Oz).
Still thanks to the classic 1939 MGM adaptation where the Witch was played by Margaret Hamilton, the Witch has become the most famous villain from the series.
She has gone on to appear in multiple adaptation of the Oz books over the years. Much like with Malificent some portrayals have even attempted to make her more sympathetic such as the novel Wicked and the recent film Oz The Great and Powerful where the Witch was played by Mila Kunis.
Still once again the classic Witch will always be Margaret Hamilton’s, sneering at a young Judy Garland “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too”.
She’s not the most formidable Witch granted. She can be killed by a bucket of water! Still her devilishly wicked sense of humour and her over the top appearance really do make her the ideal villain for the imaginative and surreal world of Oz.
3/ Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel)
A character that embodies the best qualities of the good and portrayals of Witches. Willow was also easily the best developed character across the entirety of Buffy along with Spike.
We see her go from a young, bullied, shy damsel in distress, to a strong, capable, intelligent woman, to a fearsome Witch, to a magic addict, to the most dangerous enemy Buffy has ever faced, to hero who changes the world for good.
When you look at the Willow in the first episode cowering at the sight of a punk ass Vampire. It doesn’t even seem like the same character as the all powerful Wicca ripping the skin off of Warren Mears in season 6, but when you watch the show all the way through you can see how they develop Willow to that moment perfectly.
By far and away Willow’s greatest two Witchy moments are when she takes on Glory a hell goddess and when she avenges her lover Tara Maclay, by literally flaying Warren alive. Its pretty cool to take on a goddess, even for a Witch and even Muriel never went as far as to flay someone alive. Not that Warren didn’t have it coming.
2/ The Halliwell Sisters (Charmed)
By far the greatest heroic Witches. The Halliwell sisters were the main protagonists in Charmed. They consisted of Prue, Piper, Phoebe and later Paige.
In some respects the Charmed ones were a similar concept to the Slayers from Buffy. The chosen female heroes whose role was to fight Demons, and who were guided by a rigid organisation (Whitelighters, Watchers).
Still the Charmed ones carved out their own identity quickly. All 4 actresses were excellent, but what really made the show was their strong chemistry with one another (even with the alleged behind the scenes feuding).
If I had to pick a favourite then it would be Prue. I always liked Prue’s deadpan, dry sense of humour and her no nonsense attitude to slaying Demons when compared with her more vulnerable sisters.
Still whilst Prue was my favourite, the show did manage to go on without her for another 5 years, as the dynamic of the three Witches fighting evil was very strong regardless. On the one hand it was a classic supernatural story, but on the other it was also a very human story of three sisters sticking by each other through the worst circumstances.
1/ The Grand High Witch (The Witches)
The Grand High Witch is to Witches what the Reapers are to Vampires. It is the darkest, most hideous interpretation imaginable.
Vampires and Witches can be alluring, or repulsive. On the one hand there is something attractive about the idea of being a Vampire or a Witch. An immortal, sexy, super powered badass, or someone with brilliant, magical powers. Thus not surprisingly many writers have capitalised on that and turned them into teenage fantasies, like Twilight or Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
However at the same time they are also legitimately horrifying ideas too. Something that is dead returning to feast on the blood of innocent people, or a person with the power to twist the natural world to its will.
Thus some writers have obviously capitalised on this and used the idea of Witches and Vampires to create the most frightening monsters. Again personally I prefer the latter interpretation.
I think its safe to say Sabrina portrayed Witches in a more glamorous way.
The Witches in both Roald Dahl’s novel, simply called The Witches and the 1990 film adaptation are hideous Demons who torture and murder children using their magic.
I am not going to lie this scene absolutely terrified me. Poor Erica, being trapped in a painting of one tiny little farm house for the rest of her life. She got it even worse than Georgie in IT.
The Grand High Witch, their leader is the most evil and fearsome of all the Witches. It must take a lot to be the most disgusting creature in a room full of evil child killing Demons!
In the novel she is actually described as being very short and having hideous rotting skin and long dark hair. This was changed in the film when Anjelica Houston was cast and the Witch was made into a physically imposing, more Demonic looking beast.
Personally I think that this change was for the better. I remember the first time I saw the Witches when Anjelica Huston first appeared on screen, I thought she was absolutely gorgeous, and then this happened.
It was proper nightmare fuel! I think this was more effective than to simply try and make the Witch always look alluring or always hideous. Here the movie created a real sense of paranoia. Literally anyone could be the Witch. Even the most glamorous looking person could tear their face off and transform into the most nightmarish monster.
Anjelica Huston was absolutely sensational in the role too. I’d rank her performance as the Witch alongside that of any of the great horror actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing’s greatest performances as characters like Dracula and Victor Frankenstein.
She holds nothing back in playing an utterly vile and loathsome character. There has never been a more evil woman on screen than Anjelica Huston as the Witch and that’s why I’d rank her as my favourite Witch.
Thanks for reading.