Face-Off: Darth Vader vs. Lord Voldemort

Nice to see you again, fans of the cinema! This is the Face-Off, where two movies enter and both movies leave, but one leaves in a slightly better light. Yes, here we take two competitors and compare their key elements and see who comes out the champion. It's a fierce competition that results in blood, tears, and online arguments, but the more brutal the battle, the sweeter the victory.

Now, the week of FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD is finally here, and naturally, that means we should cover something Potter-related, but what would we do, compare two of the movies? We already have something like that cooking up for you all later this week, so instead, we're going down a different route. With the title of the new FANTASTIC BEASTS movie focusing on the big, bad Grindelwald, we thought it would be fun to take the ultimate Potter villain, Lord Voldemort, and pit him against the worthiest of foes - the one and only Darth Vader.

Both evil doers have become two of the most iconic movie adversaries of all time across two of the biggest movie franchises there is. One is a master of the dark side, a Sith Lord who wields a mighty red lightsaber on one hand while choking out poor Rebels with the other. In the other corner in the black cloak and with no nose is the supreme master of the dark arts, as bad a wizard as they come who has no qualms with throwing out the killing curse as if it was candy on Halloween (no doubt his favorite holiday).

For the record, we will not be getting deep into the additional material involving the characters, and that includes books, comics, TV series, etc. This is based entirely off the characters' cinematic outings, and in the case of Vader, his place in the original trilogy of films (though his origin story in the prequels and his overall number of appearances is taken into account). On that note, which of these dastardly, dangerous foes has what it takes to be the ultimate franchise baddie? Get your wand, lightsaber or any weapon of choice and scroll on down to find out!


The level of distain out there for the prequels is akin to the hatred everyone felt for that one kid in high school who actually *loved* reading "The Scarlet Letter", but there’s no denying the impact the movies had on the villainous Darth Vader (previous name Anakin Skywalker) in the original trilogy. Between the six movies we get the full portrait of a villain – from his humble beginnings as a bowl-cut wearing sand kid to his manipulation as a Jedi by a sinister mentor, all the way to his redemption at the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI. There’s nothing wrong at all with the Vader we get in the original trilogy on his own – and the case can even be made the exploration of his past was nothing short of pointless. All we needed was the helmet, the saber and those deep, asthmatic breaths. But we have his backstory, and it adds a bit of scope to the character which, at the very least, gives his arc some weight.

Whenever I picture a young Voldemort (previous name Tom Marvolo Riddle) I always picture him as that kid who used to throw rocks at bird and play with the carcasses of dead squirrels. We don’t have the wide picture of his origin that we do Vader, but watching what flashbacks there are of him in the movies (both done best in HALF-BLOOD PRINCE), we can gather he was always a dark kid from a dark family and he was destined to be a monster. Into adulthood, and into the prime evil as we know him, he was a dark wizard who, like a cult leader, was able to lure people to his side with charisma and prophesizing. He has an unnerving origin that leads into his purely evil character arc as an adult – and what we have for his story is very, very accessible to all age groups. Nothing wrong with that at all, but in the realm of this competition, I get a full picture of where Vader came from, while I always want to more about Voldemort. Maybe we can get a dark, f**ked up prequel series on Netflix that explores his decent into evil. Wouldn’t that be sort of amazing?

Cinematic Appearances
  • STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (1977)
  • STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH (cameo, 2005)
  • ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (the movie's best part, 2016)
The Look

When you first think about Darth Vader, what’s the first thing you admire? Is it the hollow breathing? The red saber? The choking? James Earl Jones’ deep, imposing voice? Whatever your answer is it’s wrong, because the real answer is the whole damn, black and badass package all that stuff comes wrapped in. The helmet, the cape, the light display on his chest, the boots, gloves – all of it! Vader is more machine than man, but he’s still a man, and the artistic team behind the creation of the armor (taking inspiration from Samurais and Japanese cinema) did a legendary job creating the character so that his non-emotive exterior would still reflect the personality of the crippled man underneath. What other way to describe Vader’s look is there other than iconic? Unlike with the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, or even the competition next door you don’t need a gifted actor to take the look to the next level (even though Vader does have one of those giving him life). All you need is the armor itself, and it’s enough to generate fear across the galaxy.

There’s a lot about Voldemort’s look that is a bit off-putting – in a good way, of course. There’re the sharp teeth, the forked tongue, and the intense, dark, soulless eyes. All these elements are used to unsettling effect when Ralph Fiennes is really letting loose and feeling that evil mojo. When he’s being rather casual, though (as far as “casual” goes for a master of the dark arts), it’s easy to see why his look has become an overall snicker-stock ever since he showed his face in GOBLET OF FIRE. Between the nostril slits, bald head and greasy, snake-like skin he looks a bit like an Orc that escaped from Mordor, improved his posture and learned how to style himself. The goal was to make him look like a man-snake (snake-man?), and someone who has become increasingly less human as he delved deeper into his evil ways. That is totally understandable and I 100% get it, but this is what you get when you mesh a guy with a reptilian look, and for every time it’s totally unnerving (more props to Fiennes), it’s still just a tad bit silly. Just a tad, but still.

Weapon of Choice/Powers

Ah, the red lightsaber. The dark side doesn’t go around messing with all these other foolish colors like blue, green and *snickers* purple. No, the red lightsaber is the symbol of evil in the realm of Star Wars, and we can thank Vader for making it such an imposing, iconic piece of weaponry. We see a lightsaber before his in the first Star Wars – the blue one Obi-Wan shows Luke – and it’s the same in design to the red saber. But once Vader shows his off, that deep red igniting, even Obi is noticeably taken aback. As we would come to see in both trilogies the dark side has a few other perks as well, like some sick lighting blasts and super-choking powers. Vader only demonstrates the latter, but he does it better than any Sith before him. But, for real, who needs lighting bolts when you can rock a saber like Vader does?

Like every wizard in the magical world, Voldemort has a wand. Per the Pottermore site, his is thirteen and a half inches, yew, phoenix feather and even shares its core with Harry Potter's wand, which is something that comes in to play in the final book and last two movies. It’s got a cool, white finish and gnarly design, but there’s no presence to it, especially compared to Vader’s weapon. We all see the green blasts that emit from it, but all wands become a bit of a blur when the fighting gets going. Where Voldemort makes up for it is his supreme skills in the dark arts, using his wand as a mere conduit for his immense, world-ending abilities. This is best demonstrated in the battle between him and Dumbledore in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, as he conjures fiery snakes and sends shards of glass hurling at his enemies. The movies did an excellent job showcasing his powers, illustrating why he’s baddest wizard of them all.


As badass and iconic as the look of Vader is, there isn’t much room for the actor inside the suit (David Prowse) to showcase his acting range. Everything is hidden behind the helmet and armor, having to turn to look at people like Batman did pre-DARK KNIGHT. Thank god for the vocal magic of Jones, with his deep baritone giving Vader all the weight he needed to come off as the most terrifying person in the galaxy. And he’s not just intimidating, but he also brings a sense of theatricality to the role that makes lines like “No, I am your father!” so powerful and others like “Be careful not to choke on your convictions,” so tongue-in-cheek. It’s certainly some of the best voiceover work in movie history – so eat it, cast of every Pixar movie!

Oh, Ralph Fiennes, what a genius you are. Like Heath Ledger as Joker, Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal, Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched and so many other famous movie villains, the key to Voldemort’s long-lasting standing as one of the greatest ever lies solely in Fiennes masterful work as the baddie. He steps into the menacing, unforgiving nature of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with an ethereal, serpent-like physicality and chews every piece of dialogue with rage and theatricality. There is no else around who could do the part with equal parts intensity and sheer rewatchability as Fiennes, and I pity the poor soul who has to tackle the character should they ever do a prequel/spinoff/reboot down the line.

Best Moments & Lines


  • “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” – A NEW HOPE
  • “I sense something…a presence I have not felt since…” – A NEW HOPE
  • “You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.” – A NEW HOPE
  • “The Force is strong with this one.” – A NEW HOPE
  • “You’re a part of the rebel alliance and a traitor. Take her away!” – A NEW HOPE
  • “When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” – A NEW HOPE
  • “Join me and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.” – EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
  • “No, I am your father!” – EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
  • “Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-Wan has taught you well. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.” – EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
  • “I hope so for your sake, Commander. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.” – RETURN OF THE JEDI
  • “The emperor will show you the true nature of the force.” – RETURN OF THE JEDI
  • “Be careful not to choke on your convictions” – ROGUE ONE
  • **For Funsies** “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” – REVENGE OF THE SITH


  • Boarding the Rebel Ship – NH
  • Vader and Leia - NH
  • His First Force Choke - NH
  • Vader v. Obi Wan – NH
  • Shooting Down Ships – NH
  • A Man Beneath the Mask – ESB
  • Council with the Emperor – ESB
  • Meeting in Cloud City – ESB
  • Battle With Luke – ESB
  • Family Matters – ESB
  • Father and Son on Endor – ROTJ
  • The Final Fight – ROTJ
  • Birth of Vader - ROTS
  • Dealing with Krennic – RO
  • Vader Unleashed - RO


  • “I'm going to kill you, Harry Potter. I'm going to destroy you. After tonight, no one will ever again question my power. After tonight if they speak of you, they'll only speak of how you begged for death. And how I being a merciful Lord... obliged.” – GOBLET OF FIRE   
  • “Don’t you turn your back on me, Harry Potter! I want you to look at me when I kill you! I want to see the light leave your eyes!” – GOBLET OF FIRE
  • “You have to mean it, Harry. You know the spell. She killed him. She deserves it.” – ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
  • Dumbledore: "It was foolish for you to come here tonight, Tom. The Aurors are on their way."
    Voldemort: "By which time I will be gone and you shall be dead."
  • "You're a fool, Harry Potter, and you will lose everything." 
  • “Spoken like a true politician. You will, I think, prove most useful, Pius.” – DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1
  • “Avada Kedavra!” – DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1
  • “Nagini... dinner.” – DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1
  • Snape: “You have performed extraordinary magic with this wand, my Lord, in the last hours alone."
    Lord Voldemort: “No, I am extraordinary, but the wand... it resists me.”
  • “Harry Potter, the boy who lived... come to die.” – DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2         
  • “Harry Potter is dead!” – DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2
  • “Now is the time to declare yourself. Come forward and join us... or die.” – DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2


  • Rebirth – GOF
  • Taunting Harry – GOF
  • Battling Harry – GOF
  • Torturing Sirius – OOTP
  • Voldemort v. Dumbledore – OOTP
  • Council of Death Eaters – DH P1
  • Midair Fight with Harry – DH P1
  • Claiming the Wand – DH P1
  • Slaughtering Folks – DH P2
  • Raining Down Destruction – DH P2
  • Killing Snape – DH P2
  • Killing Harry – DH P2
  • Fighting Across the Castle – DH P2
  • One Final Duel – DH P2

Between his look, lines, appearance, voice, and his place in the biggest movie franchise of all time, Darth Vader’s legacy has carried on across generations for over 40 years. There are few people on this planet who don’t know him, what he’s all about, and maybe even a few of his most iconic quotes – and those same people may have never even seen a single Star Wars movie. He is as iconic as villains come, and he’s been brought back again and again in the form of comic books, novels, video games, with his likeness plastered on bed sheets, posters, coffee mugs, waffle irons, and all manner of home décor. Back in 2003 the American Film Institute ranked him number three on their all-time best villains list, coming behind Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in PSYCHO and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I mean, do I really have to keep throwing out examples? He’s Darth f**king Vader.

He-Must-Not-Be-Named is the ultimate name in evil for an entire generation of young viewers, all of whom terrified by his appearance while watching him on the big screen. Mix that in with Fiennes’ timeless work and you have a villain that has a strong footing in the zeitgeist, and one that will endure for a long time yet. Like Vader, the name Voldemort immediately calls to mind one of the baddest villains ever to hit the screen, even for people who haven’t watched all the movies. But does his legacy have the same weight to it as Vader’s? Is he some fans’ favorite character, even though he should be rooted against at all times? To that, the answer is no. A legendary villain? No doubt. He’s certainly tortured enough wizards and caused a few nightmares to earn that distinction. But he’s just not at Vader’s level, no matter how many wizards he’s killed. But let’s give it another few decades and return to this topic then.

Conflict With the Hero

Every villain needs their do-gooding hero to take down a peg, and in the movies, it was all about his son, Luke Skywalker. The doe-eyed, blonder-haired boy from a farm on Tatooine caused a lot of problems for Vader, what with blowing up the Death Star and refusing to come join him on the dark side, despite the fact they’re family. For most of the original trilogy his battle with Luke was pretty one-dimensional, with Luke believing (via Obi-Wan) that Vader killed his father – thus more reason to want him dead – and Vader wanting him to join the dark side. I have always loved the way Vader tries to a manipulate Luke’s anger, which is given more depth in RETURN OF THE JEDI after we learned Vader was – get this – his father. The first movie doesn’t really dive into this, but it picks up steam in EMPIRE and JEDI. He is a worthy, tragic adversary for Luke, a conflict that finds Vader using his final moments to redeem himself.

From the earliest moments we spend with Harry the picture is painted of Voldemort as his one, true nemesis. Harry is known as the Boy Who Lived, the power of his mother’s love causing Voldemort to perish when he tried to kill the baby boy. Once that angle is put down the stage is set for their final battle that comes to a head in an epic finale to make all finales. Along the way Voldemort, like Vader, attempts to bring Harry over to the darkness – or just flat out kill him – as he invades his mind and lies in wait for a moment to strike. We don’t really see this dynamic come to fruition until GOBLET OF FIRE, which from that point on finds Harry on the back foot as he tries to shake the Dark Lord. Harry faces a lot of threats throughout his adventures, but Voldemort will always have a special place in his mind, and one that may never go away completely. That’s some long-term villainy for you.

Darth Vader

For some of you, this was a no-brainer. What could a man flourishing a small stick around have on the mightest of Siths, Darth Vader? One terrorized the galaxy, while the other terrorized wizard children. But do not let this victory diminish the greatest of Voldemort as one of the best cinema villains ever. In fact, thanks to the masterful Fiennes, I actually have more fun watching Voldemort in action than I do Vader. But, when it comes down to everything that makes a movie villain so iconic, Vader has a lot more going for him. He's got a badass look, a solid origin story and arc, some of the most memorable movie sequences under his belt and a legacy you can't shake a wand at. He's Darth Vader, and his reign needs no more validation. 



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