It may not be as fresh or inventive as bae, stan, canceled, deadass, fam and fuckboy, but the word “creep” took on whole new layers in the 2010s, right when we most needed it. Describing not just the unctuous and swinish in our daily lives, creep also came to describe a vast spectrum of online pervs, predators, trolls, weasels and lowlifes. In 2020, creep is more versatile than ever.
In a cinematic universe full of creeps, we’ve narrowed it down to ten, in part by leaving out fictionalized versions of real people, like Jesse Eisenberg’s less creepy take on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, or Holocaust revisionist David Irving (Timothy Spall) in 2016’s Denial. Nor are we looking to the decade’s bountiful documentary candidates, from Michael Jackson in Leaving Neverland to Dinesh D’Souza as himself in 2016: Obama’s America. There’s plenty of fake creeps without them. But let’s leave the real-life creeps behind and survey the decade’s creepiest creeps to appear on the big screen.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (2014)
Even if he wasn’t a voyeur of human suffering, Lou’s pop-eyed, nocturnal stare would be enough to earn him a spot on the list. His sexual power politics, wielded against the news director Nina (Rene Russo) confirms what one look at him makes obvious: Lou is pure creep.
Marty Jackitansky and Scott
Joshua Burge in Buzzard (2014) and Sam Eidson in Zero Charisma (2013)
The toxic white male—and its ultimate manifestation: the incel—became one of the defining archetypes of the decade. Buzzard and Zero Charisma were early explorations of the modern embodiment, evoking equal parts pity and cringe.
"a quarantined subreddit come to life"
Hugh Keays-Byrne in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Immortan Joe Imprisons women, hoards water and covers his decaying vanity in a fake plastic six-pack. He’s so creepy, he inspired an entire cult of creeps.
John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
He may be right about the apocalypse raging outside, but there’s nothing creepier than a survivalist gun nut with a possessive streak. A dictator in his little fiefdom, Stambler could just as easily be portrayed as a hero in a retrograde novel—the Robert Heinlein who wrote Farnham’s Freehold would love this guy!
Michael St. Michaels in The Greasy Strangler (2016)
With his penis-exposing disco wear and hunger for oozing grease, Big Ronnie is already a world-class creep, even before he takes on his serial killer alter ego and becomes the Greasy Strangler. Plus, he’s so mean to his sweet-hearted son, Big Brayden (Sky Elobar)! The father-son duo’s disco walking tour is best avoided entirely.
Mark Proksch in Another Evil (2016)
The real problem in Another Evil isn’t the haunted house, but getting the ghost hunter to leave. Os packs an array of traps, including one cursed by a Catholic priest, but he’s just as likely to spend the night bending your ear with tall tales about selling his soul to the devil. He’s even worse when he drinks.
Caleb Landry Jones in Get Out (2017)
With a brain-invading mother (Catherine Keener) and an Obama-obsessive dad (Bradley Whitford), it’s impossible to name a single creepiest member of the Armitage family. But with his propensity for race science and horseplay, we’re giving the edge to Jeremy. He’s like a quarantined subreddit come to life.
Supreme Leader Snoke
Andy Serkis in The Last Jedi (2017)
What kind of Dark Side mastermind spends all his time orchestrating Force-powered meet-cutes between Kylo Ren and Rey? Let’s forget for a second that Snoke is just some sort of meat puppet for Palpatine… what’s with that gold robe? We don’t ever learn much about Supreme Leader Snoke, but everything we do learn screams creep.
"covers his decaying vanity in a fake plastic six-pack"
Linus Roach in Mandy (2018)
Not only is Jeremiah Sand a cult leader and a kidnapper, he’s also a failed musician, who only ever talks about how the record companies screwed him. Even if his psychedelic folk is actually kind of rad, there’s no doubt that Sand is a narcissist and a creep, even before he opens up his Snoke robe and exposes himself to Mandy (Andrea Riseborough).
Sue Ann “Ma” Ellington
Octavia Spencer in Ma (2019)
Does Ma just have a bad case of high school fomo, or is something even worse motivating her raucous basement parties for local teens? Whether she’s hitting on a high school boy, or working a more sinister angle, Ma knows exactly how to apply peer pressure to get what she wants.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin (Ezra Miller) in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) in Jupiter Ascending, King Louie (Christopher Walken) in The Jungle Book, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) in Sorry to Bother You, Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Django Unchained, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) in The Skin I Live In, Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) in Krisha, Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) in The Invitation, Ben (Steven Yeun) in Burning, Don Burnside (Dylan McDermott) in The Clovehitch Killer, Tina (Alice Lowe) in Sightseers, Philip Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) in Listen Up Philip, Donald (Kris Avedisian) in Donald Cried, Isaac (Brett Gelman) in Lemon, Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata) in Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo, Swanson (Tim Heidecker) in The Comedy, Regan (Kirsten Dunst) in Bachelorette, Josef (Mark Duplass) in Creep.
This essay is part of the Inverse Singularity Awards, a critics' poll and essay collection about the best genre movies of the 2010s.