17 August 2019
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
I think it's interesting how often actors say, in interviews, that they love playing villains--and that the more evil the role, the more fun they have. Also interesting is that there are a handful of actors who have never, in their film careers, played true villains--Tom Selleck, James Garner, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Paul Newman, Mel Gibson, Jackie Chan, Charlton Heston, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, Cary Grant--and there are others, like Gregory Peck, Andy Griffith, Kevin Costner, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, James Stewart, etc., who did play villains and just weren't very convincing. Part of that, I guess, is the image we viewers already have of those actors as "good guys."
First, the disclaimers:
Not included are SF/fantasy villains, horrror villains, superheroes villains, or cartoon villains: Lord Voldermort, Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, The Terminator, Freddie Kreuger, Kylo Ren, Jack Torrance, Catwoman, HAL 9000, The Joker, Scar, Biff Tannen, Cruella de Vil, Pennywise the Clown, Michael Myers, Regan McNeil (while possessed), Bellatrix Lastrange, Wile E. Coyote, Agent Smith, The Wicked Witch of the West, etc.
I also didn't include Michael ad Vito Corleone, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch and Sundance, Keyser Soze, and others who might be villainous but we still wind up rooting for. In the following list, we're talking about truly bad people.
Not that it matters, but I've ranked them from least scary/least evil (50) to scariest/most evil (1). In my opinion only.
So here's my list.
50. Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) -- Mutiny on the Bounty
49. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) -- Goldfinger
48. Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) -- Unforgiven
47. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) -- On Her Majesty;s Secret Service
46. Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) -- Tombstone
45. Calvera (Eli Wallach) -- The Magnificent Seven
44. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) -- Pulp Fiction
43. Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) -- The Devil Wears Prada
42. Bill Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones) -- Under Siege
41. Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury) -- The Manchurian Candidate
40. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) -- It's a Wonderful Life
39. Nitti (Billy Drago) -- The Untouchables
38. Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) -- Rebecca
37. Private Detective Loren Visser (M. Emmett Walsh) -- Blood Simple
36. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) -- All About Eve
35. Bill "Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis) -- Gangs of New York
34. Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman) -- Quigley Down Under
33. Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) -- Kill Bill
32. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) -- Fight Club
31. Noah Cross (John Huston) -- Chinatown
30. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) -- Double Indemnity
29. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) -- Blue Velvet
28. Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) -- Platoon
27. Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) -- Night of the Hunter
26. Dr. Szell (Laurence Olivier) -- Marathon Man
25. Roat (Alan Arkin) -- Wait Until Dark
24, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) -- Scarface
23. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) -- Wall Street
22. Liberty Vallance (Lee Marvin) -- The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance
21. Frank (Henry Fonda) -- Once Upton a Time in the West
20. Tommy Devito (Joe Pesci) -- Goodfellas
19. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) -- Taxi Driver
18. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) -- Die Hard
17. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) -- Training Day
16. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) -- Psycho
15. Colonel Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz) -- Inglorious Basterds
14. Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb (Ted Levine) -- The Silence of the Lambs
13. Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) -- Cape Fear (remake)
12. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) -- Misery
11. Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) -- Gladiator
10. Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) -- Fatal Attraction
9. John Doe (Kevn Spacey) -- Seven
8. Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) -- Shane
7. Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) -- True Romance
6. Serial Killer (Andy Robinson) -- Dirty Harry
5. Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) -- The Green Mile
4. Amos Goethe (Ralph Fiennes) -- Schindler's List
3. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
2. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) -- The Silence of the Lambs
1. Anton Chighur (Javier Bardem) -- No Country for Old Men
Runners-up? There are a bunch. Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in From Russia With Love, Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) in Mommie Dearest, Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) in Split and Glass, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in Gone Girl, Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) in The Shawshank Redemption, Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) in White Heat, Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? -- and so on and so on.
It surprised me, as I searched back through movies I'd watched, how many times certain actors' names showed up as villains. And they weren't the ones I would've expected, like Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, Tim Roth, Jack Palance, John Malkovich, Christopher Lee, Billy Drago, Ian McShane, etc.--guys who look like villains. Instead, they were names like Kevin Spacey, Glenn Close, Alan Rickman, Powers Boothe, Robert DeNiro, Gary Oldman, and Christopher Walken. (Okay, I take that back: Christopher Walken does look villainous.)
The really surprising thing I found was that a few actors who almost always played "good guys" were extremely convincing as bad guys as well: Denzel in Training Day, Angela Lansbury in Manchurian Candidate, Meryl in Devil Wears Prada, Michael Douglas in Wall Street, Olivier in Marathon Man, Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. Doesn't seem to happen often.
Now . . . Who'd I leave out? Who'd I miss the mark on? Who are some of your picks?
Next time I'll try to get back to writing about writing.
See you then.