It Takes a Villain

We’re mid-awards season, as low key as it is this year, and the talk has turned to villains. Maybe because it’s an election year, maybe because the weather is gloomy or maybe because it’s a leap year, it could be just me, but I find the movies depressing, but for some reason the Academy is extremely interested in films and performances that explore the dark underbelly. Now I’m not complaining; give me the wicked queen over the damsel in distress any day. I like a disturbed complexity. That is not to say I won’t cheer for Atticus Finch every time, but there is something compelling about a good villain, and thus I have compiled a list.

For the purposes of this column I have separated them into men and women, not because men have the advantage, in many ways women do, I separated them so I could include more actors. You may notice that Javier Bardem’s Oscar-nominated performance in No Country for Old Men is listed under Honorable Mention, the reason being I thought his villain lacked charisma. I enjoy a villain with a little panache, a lovable villain, if you will, ideally a guy you know is going to kill you but at least you can enjoy hanging out with first.

Also, all my favorite movie villains are fairly recent, and I’m sorry, but anyone who saw Psycho for the first time after 1982 knows Norman Bates has been outdone. So without further ado, here is my list of favorite movie villains.


Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) Silence of the Lambs

Tell me you’ve never made that weird, lip-smacking sound after saying, I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. Hands down, the greatest movie villain of all time.

Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) In the Line of Fire

He calmly kills the duck hunters with his homemade gun, then calls Clint Eastwood for a little one-on-one. Plus, I love a master of disguise.

John Doe (Kevin Spacey) Se7en

Anger, Envy, Greed, Pride, Sloth, Lust, Gluttony. If you ever had trouble remembering the seven deadly sins, rent this thriller. You’ll never forget them. Incidentally, Spacey is the only actor who made the list twice.

Dr. Christian Szell (Lawrence Olivier) Marathon Man

No movie before or since has so beautifully abused our fear of the dentist. Is it safe?

The Joker (Jack Nicholson) Batman

Like I said: a guy you know is going to kill you, but at least you can enjoy hanging out with him first.

Col. Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) Schindler’s List

Brilliant performance by Fiennes capturing a truly small man unworthy of his power.

Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) The Usual Suspects

Who is Keyser Söze?

Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) Star Wars

I have a friend who named his son Luke just so he could say the line: Luke, I am your father (breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out).

Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) Pulp Fiction

Before this film, I thought ‘getting medieval’ meant dressing up and going to a Renaissance fair.

The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) The Terminator

You know you have an icon when the film is named after the villain.

Honorable Mention:

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), No Country for Old Men; Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), Platoon; Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), It’s a Wonderful Life; Omega House (Mark Metcalf, James Daughton, Kevin Bacon), Animal House; Dick Jones (Ronnie Cox), Robocop; Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), The Sting; Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), Gladiator; and Max Cady (Robert Mitchum/De Niro), Cape Fear.

Next week: It Takes a Villain Part Two: The She-Devils.

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