Love a good villain in a movie? Me too. Who doesn’t. Villains make you view movies through your fingers, or mutter to yourself “No way, he won’t go this far”, or curl into your chair, cringing at the next impending act of evilness. Damn, they’re fun! So I cackled an evil cackle when I saw SFGate’.com’s Mickk LaSalle’s list of The Greatest Movie Villains.
I’m a sucker for these kinds of lists and I went through all of them (85 as of this writing). But LaSalle’s list was too long and, at times, didn’t discern between a villain and an antihero. Plus, the list gets silly. A velociraptor from Jurassic Park? Hyper-intelligent, pack-hunting dinosaurs are always villains, plus they’re entirely different category of villain. And hey, if one of those makes the list, then so should the most badass movie creature of all time—the creature from Alien. See what I mean? We need criteria and parameters here, people.
So I made my villain criteria pretty simple—be instantly memorable (eccentric, obscure villains from eccentric, obscure films need not apply) and be a human (apologies to velociraptors, Terminators (especially the T-1000), science fiction creatures, witches, monsters, etc.) Oh, and no antiheroes—like, say, Travis Bickle. And because I’m a writer and love a well-written, well-delivered line, I included my favorite lines, though they’re not always the most memorable ones.
10. Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones), Star Wars. Lest we forget that DV was human underneath it all. Well, sorta. Most humans generally don’t use The Force to strangle an officer who’s just failed to kill Luke Skywalker, but here we are. Talk about a rough peer review. Yikes. And that’s just our intro to Lord Vader. Best line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
9. Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), Goodfellas. Comical, and dangerous. The kind of fella that, even if you thought you were his friend, you weren’t. That’s a scary combo. Just ask Spider who he shot in the foot for giggles. Oh wait, never mind, Spider’s dead because Spider couldn’t deliver his drink fast enough. I understand that. Bad service drives me nuts too. Best line: “I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?”
8. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), Misery. Best. Female. Evil. Ever. And when people like to run away, she deploys a 2×4 between their ankles and….Well, at least she had pain meds on hand. Best line: “I have this gun. Sometimes I think about using it. (long pause) I’d better go now. I might put bullets in it.”
7. Amon Goeth (Ralph Finnes), Schindler’s List. Not the top Nazi on this list, surprisingly. But Goeth’s “pardon” of Helen, the housekeeper with whom he falls “in love”, is nauseatingly creepy. Teaches you that hating Nazis and other fascist douchebags is really still okay. Best line: “This is very cruel, Oskar. You’re giving them hope. You shouldn’t do that. That is cruel!”
6. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), Psycho. A twtichy, cross-dressing, multiple personality serial killer? What’s not to love? Thanks, Albert, for giving us the quintessential celluloid freakazoid. Best line: ‘You have the guts, boy?”
5. Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), Silence of the Lambs. To this day, I can’t eat fava beans. Can you? Who could eat them anyway. But now? Forget it. Best line: “Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case, though. About yourself. Quid pro quo. Yes or no?” (Very Suessianm which makes it even creepier.)
4. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), The Shining. I read this book when I was about 10. I went to see the movie at a special screening in San Francisco when I was 14. I thought I was prepared and that nothing could scare me. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Best line: “I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.”
3. The Joker (Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight. The tongue snaking and licking the lips. Crazy eyes darting under the algae-colored hair. The wacky paint job and a man who has a simple taste for “dynamite, gunpowder and….gasoline.” Who’s not for introducing a little chaos? Best line: “And I thought my jokes were bad.”
2. Anton Chiguth (Javier Bardeem), No Country for Old Men. Weapon of choice? An air compressor used to kill cattle. Real villains don’t chase the protagonist down, they make sure the wife on-the-run dies, too. Or at least we think she dies. Does she? Dunno. But Anton’s track record does not bode well for Mrs. Moss. Best line: “What’s the most you’ve ever lost in a coin toss?” (Not that much, obviously.)
1. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), Inglorious Basterds. Go ahead, try and find a more complete, intelligent, cunning, charming, disarming, relentless and ruthless villain from the movies in the last 25 years. Nah, make that 35. Waltz’s performance is positively brilliant. Best line: “Finding people is my specialty so naturally I work for the Nazis finding people, and yes some of them were Jews. But “Jew Hunter”? it’s just a name that stuck.” (Hm, can’t imagine why.)