Top Film Baddies
It’s only July, but 2008 already seems destined to go down as a great year for bad guys. Javier Bardem won an Oscar for the coin-flipping angel of death Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. So did Daniel Day-Lewis, the ultimate anti-hero – a cold-blooded oilman in PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Ralph Fiennes – Lord Vordemort himself – moved several rungs down the social ladder as a bracingly foul-mouthed gangster in In Bruges. Even Genghis Khan has had his own, surprisingly sympathetic biopic (Mongol). And now we have Heath Ledger’s stunning turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight, an arch villain if ever there was one. (Don’t bet against Ledger winning a posthumous Oscar for it in 2009.)
Actors love being bad – the villains always get the best lines, they say, but it’s more than that. It’s a license to cut loose, to be larger than life and rewrite the rules – just ask Alan Rickman. Audiences feel the same way. We thrill to both the actor’s bravura and the character’s freedom. One of the reasons we watch movies is to get a taste of experiences we may never sample in real life. It’s a safe way to lie, cheat and steal.
Reviewing The Dark Knight, Rolling Stone magazine raved that Gary Oldman “is so skilled he makes virtue look exciting”. “That’s the best review I ever had… I’ll put it on my tombstone,” Oldman responded. He’s more often feted for going to the other extreme in films like Leon, Dracula and Murder in the First. There’s a reason, after all, that movies usually leave it to the last reel to dispense with the bad guy and remind us why that it’s better to stick to the straight and narrow.
So who are the greatest villains in movie history? The worst of the worst? We’re not going to include actual historical figures here, Hitler, Stalin, Al Capone et al only muddy the waters. Let’s insist that our bad guys are creatures of someone’s imagination because that’s where they really wreak their havoc anyway.
Top 15 Villains
Darth VaderDavid Prowse (voiced by James Earl Jones) in Star Wars
The most infamous baddie of them all (Vice President Dick Cheney referred to himself as “the Darth Vader of the administration” – and, it’s now clear, the central character of George Lucas’s six film Star Wars cycle.
Dark Lord of the Sith
Norman BatesAnthony Perkins, Psycho
The granddaddy of the modern movie psychopath, and the most disturbing character in any Hitchcock movie.
Job description: Motel manager/Mother's boy
Hannibal LecterAnthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
Norman Bates' most erudite successor, Dr Lecter has been played by Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins and Gaspard Ulliel, but it's Hopkins everyone remembers, even though he had just ten minutes' screen time in The Silence of the Lambs.
Job description: Psychiatrist
The Wicked Witch of the WestMargaret Hamilton, The Wizard of Oz
In an earlier life, the green-faced witch – or at least Margaret Hamilon, who played her – was a kindergarten teacher
Job Description: Witch
Frank BoothDennis Hopper, Blue Velvet
Auditioning for the role of the drug crazed, depraved, and deeply disturbed killer Frank Booth, Dennis Hopper famously told director David Lynch "I am Frank Booth".
Job description: Drug kingpin
GollumAndy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings
Not the mightiest, but certainly the most plaintive of the villains assembled in LOTR, this scuttling CGI creature was a triumph for actor/alter ego Andy Serkis.
Job description: Ring bearer
The JokerHeath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Ledger’s deadly Joker makes Jack Nicholson’s earlier incarnation look like a clown.
Job description: Court jester to Gotham City
Jack TorranceJack Nicholson in The Shining
Caretaker at the empty Overlook Hotel through the winter, Jack Torrance starts mixing with the wrong crowd… spirits of the dead.
Job description: Caretaker, aspiring writer
Freddy KruegerRobert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street
With his striped wool jersey, his hat, and his finger blades, Freddy (aka Pizzaface) would stand out in any line-up.
Job description: Caretaker
Don LoganBen Kingsley, Sexy Beast
Sir Ben Kingsley laid the memory of Gandhi to rest with this vile East End heavy – a role he said he modeled on his grandmother.
Job description: Thug
Harry LimeOrson Welles, The Third Man
Welles' 10-minute role as the racketeer Harry Lime had such an impact he went on to play the character in a spin off radio series – with Harry as the hero.
Job description: Racketeer (deceased)
Nurse Mildred RatchetLouise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
She drugs people, electrocutes them, and derives satisfaction from her power.
Job Description: Nurse
Hans GruberAlan Rickman, Die Hard
A posh Brit playing a ruthless German. Never misses.
Job Description: Exceptional thief
Jadis, The White WitchTilda Swinton in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Stone cold sorceress who sleighs subversive types and banishes Christmas.
Job description: Evil queen