I’ve been perusing several ‘Greatest Movie Villains’ lists over the past week after watching Heath Ledger’s sensational portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” for about the 17th time. It made me curious to see where Ledger’s Joker ranks among the other movie villains (he’s usually in the top 10 on most lists). Every list produced the usual suspects (no pun intended) when it came to movie villains: Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, Kevin Spacey’s John Doe from “Seven”, Terence Stamp’s brilliant General Zod from “Superman II”, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Keyser Söze, Freddy Kreuger, Jason, etc, etc.
What I found odd was the glaring omission of several great movie villains (even on the Top 100 lists!) that rank right up there with the crème de la crème of diabolical film characters. So, without further ado, I present you with my own list of 20 Great Movie Villains (ranked in order of sinisterness) for your displeasure. I didn’t want anyone just scrolling down to see who I chose as the #1 villain so I broke up the post into two pages. Here are villains 20-10:
20. SCREWFACE “MARKED FOR DEATH” (1990)
To say that a Steve Seagal film sucks is to confuse a Steven Seagal film with anything other than a vehicle for Seagal to beat and/or shoot the shit out of any bad guys who come up against him (with the aforementioned bad guys rarely ever landing a punch and/or eschewing the use of their guns in order to engage in hand-to-hand combat). That’s the case in “Marked for Death”, Seagal’s third film. The film does feature a standout performance by NYU grad Basil Wallace who plays Jamaican drug kingpin Screwface with sinister intensity. When Seagal kicks the shit out of one of Screwface’s men then threatens more ass kicking if he doesn’t tell him where Screwface is, the man replies, “Screwface kill me a thousand deaths worse than you. Go find him your *bleeping* self!” then proceeds to jump out of a window of a very tall building. That.
19. EDDIE DANE “MILLER’S CROSSING” (1990)
With all due respect to Jon Polito’s portrayal of mob boss Johnny Caspar, it’s J.E. Freeman’s Eddie Dane who’s the real badass in this great Coen Brothers gangster film. When he asks a wounded hitman (courtesy of Dane) where a rival mob boss is hiding out, the hitman asks him, “If I tell you, how do I know you won’t kill me?” to which Dane responds, “Because if you told me and I killed you and you were lying I wouldn’t get to kill you *then*.” That’s a badass dude.
18. EL INDIO “FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE” (1965)
Great actors make great villains and Gian Maria Volonté, one of Italy’s most celebrated actors, does not disappoint in Sergio Leone’s “For A Few Dollars More”. Volonté’s portrayal of the brutal desperado El Indio was preceded by playing a similar villain, Ramón Rojo, in Leone’s previous “Spaghetti Western” “A Fistful of Dollars” in 1964. One of the qualities of a great villain is that they’re often troubled souls who can actually be likable at times – that Volonté, with a steely gaze that rivaled his co-star Clint Eastwood, pulls this off despite being dubbed in English showed he was not just a badass villain but a badass actor.
17. THE MAN WITH THE PLAN “THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD” (1995)
You think you’ve seen Christopher Walken at his creepiest? True Romance, King of New York, The Prophecy, The Addiction? Forget it. Pete Travers of Rolling Stone calls Walken’s portrayal of The Man with the Plan, the self-loathing quadriplegic who runs Denver’s crime scene, “Christopher Walken at his spookiest, which is saying something.” Indeed it is. With lines like, “One day you’re saving the rainforest, the next you’re chugging cock” and “I’m a criminal; my word don’t mean dick!”, Walken makes a tepid crime drama featuring a smooth performance by Andy Garcia and a killer performance by Treat Williams (maybe his best?) a little hotter.
16. HADES “HERCULES” (1997)
Gotta have at least one cartoon villain on my list, right? That would be Hades from Disney’s “Hercules”. James Woods easily steals the film in what Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called “an inspired piece of deadpan vaudeville”. Playing Hades with “diabolical glee” (Roger Ebert), Woods creates “the most vibrant Disney creation since Robin Williams’ Genie” wrote film critic James Berardinelli. The film, which features one of the weaker Disney heroes in the tepid Hercules (voiced by Tate Donovan), is worth watching on Woods’ sinister performance alone.
15. MORTWELL “MONA LISA” (1986)
With over a hundred films to his credit, two Academy Awards and six nominations, few actors are better than Michael Caine; and few possess more range. In Neil Jordan’s romantic thriller “Mona Lisa”, Caine plays Mortwell, a sinister and dangerous vice king of the London underground. It’s to Caine’s credit that Mortwell projects menace with chilling subtlety; as Roger Ebert put it, “he plays the character without apology and without exaggeration, as a businessman. That’s why Mortwell is so creepy.” Oh, and the film, which also stars a terrific Bob Hoskins and a stunning Cathy Tyson is excellent.
14. CASTOR TROY “FACE/OFF” (1997)
In a role actually shared by Nicolas Cage and (mostly) John Travolta, Castor Troy is a loose-cannon killer (Cage) who switches places (faces) with an FBI agent (Travolta) in John Woo’s wildly entertaining summer blockbuster “Face/Off”. “Mr. Travolta is shockingly good, summoning a slinky, mockingly vicious personality that could be his evil twin” wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. Travolta “twinkles with evil” (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post) as Castor, taking devilish glee in his new role as FBI agent, even slipping into bed with the agent’s unsuspecting wife(!) while flirting with his daughter(!). It’s Travolta at his most badass.
13. DENNIS PECK “INTERNAL AFFAIRS” (1990)
Richard Gere as a murderous sociopathic police officer? Uh, yeah. And not only is our beloved “Pretty Woman” star a rotten cop but “one of the rottenest movie cops in memory” said Janet Maslin, film critic for the New York Times. Gere is totally believable as sergeant Dennis Peck, who comes under investigation by Internal Affairs officer Raymond Avilla (played by Andy Garcia) in Mike Figgis’ excellent crime thriller. Need more evidence? Film critic James Berardinelli said of Gere’s performance: “he outacts co-star Andy Garcia so forcefully that the latter is often unable to hold his own”(!). If you haven’t seen it, see it.
12. O-DOG “MENACE II SOCIETY” (1993)
When you can gun down a Korean grocery store owner and his wife, snatch the surveillance camera tape of the crime and then proudly watch it with your homeboys over and over – you’re a bad dude. That’s the case with O-Dog, played with terrifying realism by Larenz Tate, in The Hughes Brothers’ breakthrough inner-city Los Angeles drama “Menace II Society”. O-Dog’s homeboy Caine, played by Tyrin Turner, descibes him best, “Now O-Dog was the craziest nigga alive. America’s nightmare. Young, black, and didn’t give a (well, you know the rest, yes?)”.
11. VINCENT “COLLATERAL” (2004)
My admiration for Tom Cruise is no secret and it’s mainly because of the many risks he takes as an actor. Allow me to introduce as evidence Cruise’s portrayal of the chilling hitman Vincent in Michael Mann’s gritty crime drama “Collateral”. Playing a bad guy for the very first time “Cruise takes his game to a whole new level” says Pete Travers of Rolling Stone. Cruise plays a hitman who makes cab driver Max (played by Jamie Foxx) his unwilling driver as he makes his rounds from hit to hit over the course of one night in Los Angeles. In his comparison of Cruise to two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer put it best: “Mr. Hanks has been overrated as a supposedly subtle character actor just as much as Mr. Cruise has been underrated. For another, Mr. Hanks has never played a role as unabashedly monstrous and menacing as Mr. Cruise’s Vincent.” Nuff said?