There are plenty of great crime shows and procedurals out there, but there’s just something about the way that “Criminal Minds” manages to be just absurd and self-aware enough that makes it one of the most enjoyable shows in the genre. Punctuated by the gratuitous use of the word “unsub,” the show manages to offset the darkness and depravity of its grim subject matter with likable, full-drawn characters and unrealistic spy-fi elements. These include, of course, Garcia’s omniscient computer database and the team’s always-ready private jet — not to mention the unlikely ratio of super-intelligent hackers among the serial killer population.
During its 15 season long run, the show featured loads of recognizable guest stars, some who would go on to become famous and others who were already household names. From rage-driven revenge killers and serial arsonists to charming BAU profilers and snarky local cops, let’s dive into the top 15 guest stars to appear on “Criminal Minds.”
Famous for his role as Dawson Leery on the teen drama “Dawson’s Creek,” James Van Der Beek has continued to work steadily in television through the years, appearing in the main cast of “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23,” “CSI: Cyber,” and “Pose.” He has also appeared as a guest star on a number of TV shows like “Ugly Betty,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Medium,” and “Modern Family,” just to name a few. But Van Der Beek’s two-episode appearance as Tobias Hankel in “Criminal Minds” Season 2 would prove one of the creepiest performances of his career, as well as one of the more memorable unsubs to cross paths with the BAU.
After suffering from severe religious abuse as a child that left him branded with a hot poker and nearly drowned by his father, Hankel becomes hooked on a pretty intense homemade drug cocktail. The trauma and drug use cause his personality to split into three, one of whom considers himself the vengeful angel Raphael. Hankel’s dueling personalities, theological knowledge, and hacking skills converge dangerously. While Reid eventually takes him down, it’s only after Hankel kidnaps him, tortures him, and gets him strung out on Dilaudid, leaving the brainy profiler with lasting trauma that would haunt him throughout his BAU career.
Elle Fanning has been acting since she was a young child — just like her big sister Dakota Fanning. After appearing as the younger version of her big sis in “I Am Sam” and the sci-fi mini-series “Taken,” Fanning has worked extensively in both television and film, appearing in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Super 8,” and “Maleficent,” among others. She also showed up as a child actor on episodes of “House,” “Judging Amy,” as well as both “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: NY.” Now all grown up, Fanning is spectacular as the eponymous queen Catherine in the Hulu series “The Great.”
However, long before she tangled with the intellectually inferior monarch Peter, a much younger Fanning appeared on “Criminal Minds” in two episodes as little Tracy Belle of Texas. The first episode, Season 2’s “The Boogeyman,” finds her narrowly escaping child killer Jeffrey Charles, played by Cameron Monaghan. In a later episode, “No Way Out, Part II: The Evilution of Frank,” the child is pursued by serial killer Frank Breitkopf (Keith Carradine). Seeing the young actor in one of her earlier performances helps make this one of the better guest appearances in the series.
Jason Alexander is most recognizable for the role of George Constanza on “Seinfeld.” As Jerry Seinfeld’s good friend from childhood, the balding Costanza is one of television’s more neurotic and surprisingly relatable characters, despite his tendency to fly off the handle. Alexander’s over-the-top performance style was perfect for his portrayal of the frustrating George.
The same hammy approach to acting made for a pretty weird villain when the actor guest starred on “Criminal Minds” in the Season 4 episode “Masterpiece.” Sporting a silky sterling mane straight out of a L’Oréal ad, Alexander’s Fibonacci-obsessed serial killer Henry Grace presents Reid and Rossi with the ultimate scavenger hunt while dropping pretentious lines about existentialism and light bulbs. One of the great things about “Criminal Minds” is that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is exactly what makes Alexander’s ridiculous performance bad in all the right ways.
Mark Pellegrino is a familiar face to many sci-fi and fantasy show fans, having appeared as the enigmatic pseudo-deity Jacob on “Lost” and the Winchester-menacing fallen angel Lucifer on “Supernatural.” However, the actor has also appeared in dozens of TV shows, from roles on “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “L.A. Law” in the 1980s to appearances on “The X-Files,” “CSI: Miami,” “Dexter,” and “Chuck.”
Pellegrino appears in the Season 4 “Criminal Minds” episode “Brothers in Arms,” which finds the BAU investigating a serial killer who targets cops. Pellegrino plays Lieutenant Evans of the Phoenix PD. Like just about every character Pellegrino plays, Evans has a cocky swagger with a hidden softer side that makes him magnetically watchable in every scene he’s in. Between hassling the BAU team and taunting Playboy (Guillermo Díaz) in the interrogation room, Pellegrino portrays a case study in classic police tunnel vision with nuance and humanity that’s rare for the genre.
The stunning Tricia Helfer is best known for her portrayal of the various Cylon Model Six copies on “Battlestar Galactica.” Dubbed “The Woman as Machine” in Ronald D. Moore’s series bible, the challenging role found Helfer portraying at least seven distinct versions of the model as they struggled to overcome their programming and find their humanity –- or at least the closest facsimile thereof. Since helping the Twelve Colonies find their way to ancient Earth, Helfer has continued to guest star in primetime dramas, appearing on “Burn Notice,” “The Librarians,” “Supernatural,” and “Falling Skies,” among other great shows.
In 2012, she appeared in the recurring role of serial bomber Izzy Rogers on “Criminal Minds.” After years of working as an assassin, Rogers and her anarchist lover decided to become terrorists, although she was only ever in it for the thrill of watching others suffer. With her black wig and femme fatale energy, Helfer’s character arc would have made John Cavil proud.
Gina Torres is one of those iconic, legendary actors that fans of cult TV shows recognize instantly and can’t get enough of. Over the years, some of her extensive TV credits have included appearances on classics such as “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” as well as” “Firefly” and “Serenity.” She has also appeared on “Cleopatra 2525,” “La Femme Nikita,” “24,” “Bones,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Westworld,” “Hannibal,” “Suits,” and “9-1-1: Lone Star,” among many others.
She also appeared on the Season 4 “Criminal Minds” episode “Normal” as Orange County detective Thea Salinas, who worked with the BAU to track down family annihilator and serial killer Norman Hill (Mitch Pileggi), aka the Road Warrior. The episode found a delusional Hill targeting women on a highway after killing his own family while wracked by grief over the death of a child. Although Torres doesn’t get nearly enough air time, it’s fun to see two legends like Pileggi and Torres in the same episode together.
Mark Hamill has acted in plenty of roles over the years, but he’s most famous for his legendary role as Luke Skywalker in the original “Star Wars” series. Throughout his prolific career, the actor has appeared on stage, in films, and on television as well as racking up a long list of credits as a voice actor and audiobook narrator. Although he played the ultimate good guy in the “Star Wars” saga, Hamill has proven himself more than comfortable slipping into a villain suit over the years whether he’s playing the Joker in a “Batman: The Animated Series” or Chucky in the 2019 “Child’s Play” remake.
Hamill appeared as FBI special agent John Curtis on Season 8 of “Criminal Minds.” After a series of professional setbacks, Curtis became a “wound collector,” blaming others he perceived as wronging him and taking on the persona of the Replicator, a serial killer who mimicked the style of previous BAU cases. Although fans hated the end of the story in the Season 8 episode “The Replicator,” they praised Hamill’s performance. As Redditor u/Insipidwoodchipper put it, “Mark Hamill is great, and they gave him nothing to work with.”
Best known for his work on “American Horror Story,” Evan Peters has spent plenty of time getting familiar with the darker side of human nature. In the Murphyverse anthology, Peters has played several dark and depraved characters including the troubled Tate Langdon, the wicked magnate James Patrick March, the obsessive Edward Philippe Mott, and famed cult leaders Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson.
In his Season 5 role as Charlie Hillridge on “Criminal Minds,” the actor plays a young man who had been pulled into a dark world against his will. Kidnapped by the Roycewoods at the age of eight, the teenage Charlie is forced by his abductors to help abduct other children in the episode “Mosley Lane.” Fans on Reddit praised the episode as one of the more emotional in the series, and Peters’ soulful performance is a big part of what makes the episode worth watching.
Although most folks recognize Aaron Paul as the scrubby meth cook Jesse Pinkman on the award-winning AMC series “Breaking Bad,” he has worked on loads of other dramatic series including “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “The X-Files,” “NYPD Blue,” “Veronica Mars,” and “Bones,” just to name a few. Two of his more notable roles find the actor in a world where religion is at odds with the world around it, with “Big Love” exploring the world of Mormon and fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints and “The Path” delving into the fictional cult of Meyerism.
In Paul’s earlier performance on “Criminal Minds,” the actor played small town pseudo-cult leader Mike Zizzo. Armed with a serious smoky eye look and a facial hair situation straight out of Hot Topic, Zizzo led a band of misunderstood misfits called the Lords of Destruction. Despite being framed by a real killer and having a vague interest in the occult, though, the Lords of Destruction are mostly into jamming out to metal and dissing mainstream religion than any kind of actual cult activity.
The irreplaceable Tim Curry has played too many iconic roles to count throughout his career, from his extensive work in the theater to his memorable performances as Dr. Frank N. Furter in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” With Curry’s incredibly recognizable voice, the gifted actor has also lent his vocal talents to dozens of animated films as well as a handful of video games, a few audiobooks, and two radio shows. Curry’s TV credits include appearances on “Roseanne,” “Tales from the Crypt,” “Lexx,” “Monk,” and “Psych,” just to name a few.
In Curry’s Season 5 and 6 appearances on “Criminal Minds,” the actor played serial rapist and spree killer Billy Flynn, aka the Prince of Darkness. Fans of the show went wild over his unsettling performance, with one IMDb user calling it “so believable that it turns my stomach everytime I see the episodes that he stars in” and another praising the “very solid performance by Curry which will make your skin crawl.”
As a child actor in the 1980s, Wil Wheaton was best known for his role as Gordie Lachance in “Stand By Me” and Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” While Wheaton still acts in his adult years, he has also developed a reputation as a professional geek culture enthusiast, hosting his web series “TableTop” and writing extensively about pop culture and the gaming community. He also has an extensive list of audiobook narrations.
As “Criminal Minds” Season 4 unsub Floyd Hansen, he played a Nevada hotel operator with a dark side. A malignant misogynist and sexual sadist, Hansen holds couples captive and tortures his female victims. Many fans found the episode, which also guest stars Robyn Lively, to be highly underappreciated, with one Reddit user even calling it “the most underrated episode” of the series. It’s definitely worth the watch to see such a notoriously nice actor portray a twisted unsub so convincingly.
As a kid, C. Thomas Howell got his start acting in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and played Ponyboy Curtis in “The Outsiders,” and he’s been acting steadily ever since. Howell’s film credits include “The Amazing Spider-Man” as well as “LBJ,” and the actor has worked extensively in television over the years, appearing in “Moonlighting,” “ER,” “24,” “Psych,” “Blue Bloods,” and many more primetime dramas.
He appeared on Season 4 of “Criminal Minds” as Hotchner’s sometime nemesis George Foyet, whose kill count ranks well into the upper thirties. Known as the Reaper, Foyet leaves the Boston community quaking in fear and eventually abducts Hotchner, tortures him, and then kills his ex-wife, Haley, by posing as a U.S. marshal to get to her. Fans of the show raved over Howell’s performance. Redditor u/Supakmeraklija praised the Reaper as “Undeniably one of the best unsubs,” and u/Jjamesmil24 commented, “Can we talk about how he made us absolutely despise Foyet, which also means he did an amazing job portraying him?” Stay gold, Ponyboy.
After getting her start as a child actor on Disney’s “Kids Incorporated” and the peak ’90s YA drama series “Party of Five,” Jennifer Love Hewitt has continued to add notable film and television credits to her resume over the years. In 1998, Hewitt starred as Julie in “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and she played Liz in the “Garfield” live-action films. From 2005 through 2010, Hewitt played the small-town medium Melinda in “Ghost Whisperer,” and she joined the cast of “9-1-1” as Buck’s sister Maddie, who would eventually start a family with Buck’s good friend and coworker Chimney.
Before joining the cast of “9-1-1,” Hewitt spent a season working on “Criminal Minds” as profiler and former undercover agent Kate Callahan, who eventually leaves the BAU to spend more time with her family. Over the years, the BAU saw a few profilers cycle in and out of the team, and Callahan was one of the more memorable among them thanks to the charm, warmth, and humanity that Hewitt brings to every character she plays.
Aisha Tyler got her start in comedy, and fans of the show “Talk Soup” may remember her as the final host of the series, which ended its run in 2002. Tyler began working regularly in television around that time, taking a regular role as Dr. Charlie Wheeler on “Friends” and appearing on “Nip/Tuck” and “CSI: Miami.” Tyler has also had recurring roles on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “24,” and “Fear the Walking Dead.” She also voiced Lana Kane for the 11-season run of “Archer.”
In 2015, the actor joined the cast of “Criminal Minds” as forensic psychologist Dr. Tara Lewis, staying on for a total of five seasons. Tyler was initially brought in temporarily while A.J. Cook, who plays J.J., was out on maternity leave, but, as showrunner Erica Messer told Cinema Blend, “We love her so much that we’re hoping to extend her stay with us.” The bid worked, and Tyler stuck around long enough to become one of the more memorable profilers to spend time working in the BAU.
Before getting her career as a notoriously deadpan improv and sketch comedian off the ground, Aubrey Plaza once worked as an NBC page, telling Elle, “I wasn’t outright fired, but it was suggested that I leave” after an off-color joke and a clash with corporate culture. In 2006, she revisited that job on “30 Rock.” Plaza went on to play the iconic role of apathetic intern April Ludgate on “Parks and Recreation” and has also appeared on episodes of “Portlandia,” “Drunk History,” and “NTSF:SD:SUV::” over the years.
However, Plaza is more than capable as a dramatic actor, something she had a chance to demonstrate in her four-episode appearance on “Criminal Minds” as hitwoman and serial killer Cat Adams, who turns the tables on Reid after the BAU seemingly lures her into an undercover operation. Fans of Plaza and the show went wild over her performance, with many asserting that she is one of the best unsubs in the series and praising the chemistry between Cat and Reid. As Redditor u/mccabebabe put it, “I find myself wishing they’d had some way to redeem her character so they could capitalise on the obvious attraction between the two.”