It’s always been a somewhat widely-hed belief that the villains are the best part of many Disney movies, from the delightfully diabolical Scar in The Lion King to the hilarious duo of Kronk and Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove. The films obviously want the audience to identify with the heroes of their stories, but they just can’t seem to help making the villains utterly compelling and sometimes even kind of right. It’s also worth noting that this extends to the ways in which so many of these villains meet their ends.
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Even though Disney films are obviously meant for children, some of the ways that the villains end up dying are, it has to be said, more than a little frightening and often far more violent than fans might initially expect.
Updated on October 14th, 2021 by Mark Birrell: Disney villains often get grand entrances, like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, but a special few get exits that are perhaps even more memorable. The best Disney villain deaths are never so scary that they impact the universal quality that all animated Disney movies share, even in the darkest of examples. However, they can leave a lasting impact on viewers thanks to subtle choices in the color palette and the location or cutting away at the right moment. Each of them deserves to be credited for their ingenuity even if they become even scarier the more they’re thought about.
Jafar (The Return of Jafar)
Though the evil sorcerer Jafar doesn’t die in the original Aladdin movie, instead being imprisoned within a lamp and pinged by Genie often into the desert, he did eventually meet his much-deserved fate in the series’ first sequel, The Return of Jafar.
Jafar was just as much of an unrepentant villain in the sequel as he was in the first movie, even framing Aladdin for murder and almost having him executed, and he meets a surprisingly scary end when he opens up the ground around the palace into a pit of lava that his lamp is finally kicked into and destroyed, taking him with it. Jafar screams out in fear and presumably agony as his giant genie form swirls like a vortex and his body begins to flash like he’s being zapped by electricity, his skeleton showing each time it happens before exploding in a firework-like extravaganza, à la Star Wars.
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
In The Great Mouse Detective’s anthropomorphic animal world that mirrors the famous Sherlock Holmes stories, Ratigan is the devious Professor Moriarty working against the heroic Basil of Baker Street.
After a fairly scary and relatively violent fight with Basil inside the clock of Big Ben in London, where Ratigan loses his calm composure and unleashes his viciously animalistic side, the two end up precariously perched on the hands of the clockface during a torrential rainstorm. When it appears that Ratigan has won, the clock strikes, and the huge vibrations send Ratigan hurtling over the edge, pulling Basil down with him into the mist. Thankfully, Basil is able to grab a piece of Ratigan’s crashed airship on the way down and saves himself, Ratigan isn’t so lucky though.
Scroop (Treasure Planet)
Though Treasure Planet puts a nice spin on the classic father/son dynamic between Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver, resulting in a heartfelt goodbye to what is effectively the film’s primary antagonist, the secondary villain, Scroop, isn’t so fortunate.
With his large insect-like body, Scroop is a fairly terrifying presence even when he’s masquerading as a rule-abiding member of the crew and not the murderous pirate that he is, but his end is particularly frightening. His death mirrors the one he gives to Mr. Arrow when he cuts his lifeline. Scroop leaps at Jim, missing and being sent hurtling into space himself, screaming as he hurtles into what’s in effect a bottomless pit.
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the original Disney villain and she’s debatably never been topped into terms of sheer scariness, especially when in her old woman form.
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Her death is equally frightening, as she’s chased in a heavy rainstorm to the edge of a cliff by the dwarfs where she tries to roll a giant boulder down on top of them. However, a lightning bolt strikes by her feet, breaking the rocky outcrop beneath her and sending her plummeting down with the boulder following right behind her. The leer of the onlooking vultures says it all.
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
Rourke is one of the suaver Disney heels, appearing to be an archetypal hero for most of the movie before revealing himself to be an unscrupulous mercenary in the third act. He has an unusually scary and graphic death for a Disney villain which, while technically bloodless, is shown fully on-screen.
He’s scratched by a shard of the Atlantean material that’s he’s been sent to retrieve and its reaction spreads across his whole body, turning him into a frightening crystalline monster that’s eventually shattered by the propellers of his escape craft.
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
In some ways, Maleficent is the best villain that Disney has ever made. With her cruel patrician looks and her haughty demeanor, she owns the screen every time that she appears. That being the case, it’s not really surprising that she would also have one of the most frightening deaths in the history of Disney animation.
In this case, the villain goes down flaming in the form of a dragon, after Philip manages to thrust the Sword of Truth deep into her chest, sending her plunging over a cliff to her doom.
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Voiced by the inimitable Pat Caroll, Ursula really marked a new stage in Disney villainy. With her trademark quips and her cunning, she’s one of the most interesting characters in the entire canon. She also has a truly terrifying death, particularly since, by that point in the film, she’s becoming a titanic figure intent on bringing all of the oceans under her domination.
When Eric rams her with a ship, it’s a stark reminder that even the lightest and brightest of Disney’s colorful animated movies can have its violent moments too.
Scar (The Lion King)
Like so many other villains, it’s Scar’s voice actor that really makes him stand out as a villain. Jeremy Irons just has a certain quality in his voice that few other people can match. Scar is also a particularly ruthless villain since he does send his own brother tumbling to his death in the wildebeest stampede.
His death is also more than a little horrifying since he ends up being devoured by the very hyenas that he has so relentlessly exploited in his pursuit of the crown, the red of the surrounding fire and the terrified look on Scar’s face make it feel like a graphic death even if it isn’t actually shown.
Doctor Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
There is a lot to love about The Princess and the Frog, one of the few traditionally animated Disney films of recent years, and that includes its villain. A formidable magician, Doctor Facilier is as bad as they come.
It’s only fitting, then, that he should suffer a particularly gruesome fate. In this case, being dragged into the spirit world by the spirits that he has manipulated and used to his own advantage. As with so many other villains on this list, his death is more than a little scary even for adults.
Though he doesn’t have the cunning intelligence of some of his fellow Disney villains, Clayton is still a formidable presence, and he gives some of the other antagonists a run for their money. His death also happens to be one of the scariest of all of the films that were released during the Disney Renaissance.
Even though it happens off-screen, it’s made abundantly clear that he manages to hang himself on some vines through the use of shadow, which is still pretty frightening for the children (and some of the adults in the audience too).
Sykes (Oliver & Company)
The 1980s were rather difficult for the Disney brand, but there were some pretty good films released in that period, and one of them is Oliver & Company.
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Its main villain, Sykes, is a crime lord who is determined to get his money back from the bumbling thief Fagan. His death is also a pretty frightening one since he manages to get run over by a New York City subway. It’s quite a gruesome way to go, even for a man as transparently evil and cruel as he is.
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Gaston of Beauty and the Beast is probably the most vainglorious and pompous of all of the Disney villains. After all, he has an entire song where he basically sings about how great he is.
Unfortunately for him, it’s precisely his arrogance that manages to get him in trouble and ultimately leads to his death when he falls from the parapet of the Beast’s castle. It’s a frightening scene as Gaston so clearly seems to be doing his least favorite pastime while falling – thinking. His horrified expression showing that he knows what’s happening and can do nothing to stop it.
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
The Black Cauldron is something of an outcast in the Disney canon, in part because it’s such a dark film (and it was even darker in the original draft) and also because the storytelling is a bit haphazard and uneven. There’s no doubt, though, that the Horned King is a great villain. There’s very little that’s recognizably human about him, and this puts him one of those villains who sends chills down the spines of viewers.
His death is also particularly frightening, as he is sucked into the very Black Cauldron that he spent so much of the film trying to obtain, being reduced to a skeleton before disappearing.
McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
The Rescuers Down Under is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s technically part of the Disney Renaissance, but it rarely gets the love of so many of its fellows. That’s a shame because it has a pretty great villain in the person of McLeach, a man who takes a lot of pleasure in being a dastardly poacher.
Fortunately, he really does get what’s coming to him, first by being nearly eaten by crocodiles and then by plunging to his death over a waterfall. Though he falls into the mist at the end, the camera follows his whole descent down the long drop. McLeach’s frantic and futile paddling, as he realizes what’s about to happen, cements this as one of the scariest Disney villain deaths.
Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Every so often, a Disney film comes along that really does seem to rewrite the rules of animation, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one such film. It truly is one of the most artistically and thematically mature Disney films ever, and that also applies to the death scene of the film’s central villain, Judge Claude Frollo.
Fans will remember that he plunged to his death in a river of molten metal, while the water spout he had been standing on seems to come to life and prepares to devour him. It’s a truly frightening moment and easily one of the best Disney villain deaths.
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About The Author
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Thomas J. West III earned a PhD in film and screen studies from Syracuse University in 2018. His writing on film, TV, and popular culture has appeared in Screenology, FanFare, Primetimer, Cinemania, and in a number of scholarly journals and edited collections. He co-hosts the Queens of the B’s podcast with Mark Muster and writes a regular newsletter, Omnivorous, on Substack.
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