Here we go with the countdown once again, starting with…
30) William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Gangs of New York) – Daniel Day-Lewis 2002 – Daniel Day-Lewis received a much deserved Oscar nomination for his amazing performance as “Bill the Butcher”, and Mrs. Day-Lewis should’ve received an honorary Oscar for braving through whatever antics his method-acting here might’ve led to. Day-Lewis is cutthroat and unrelentingly ruthless as the leader of the “Natives”, the local gang at the forefront of the New York Draft Riots of 1863. Although it’s clear from the moment we meet him that this is a barbaric man that thrives on chaos like a leech would with blood, it’s also clear that he’s quite an articulate and intelligent man, and that is what makes him such a worthy adversary for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Amsterdam Vallon.
29) Jane Hudson (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) – Bette Davis
1962 – In this classic psychological thriller, Bette Davis proves once again why she’s one of the greatest actresses in the history of cinema. A former vaudevillian child star turned a bitter, washed up alcoholic, Jane now takes care of her crippled sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), another former, glamorous star. When I say take care of, by the way, I mean she’s abusive, belittling, and maddening drunk. You’ll never forget the scene where she sings “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” and then sees what she’s become in the mirror, an embittered shell of her former self whose days in the limelight are now far behind her. It’s a terrifically entertaining yet still unsettlingly poignant moment that finally reveals underneath that callous and heartless demeanor of hers is a sad, insecure and empty soul.
28) Lex Luthor (Superman, Superman II) – Gene Hackman 1978, 1981 -
Batman has the Joker. Spider-Man has the Green Goblin. Superman has Lex Luthor. As the Man of Steel’s arch nemesis, Luthor is charming, intelligent and devious all rolled into one. To make a fortune in real estate, Luthor plans on buying large amounts of desert land and then divert a nuclear missile test flight to the San Andreas Fault. The missile would in turn sink California, making Lex’s land the new U.S. West Coast, thereby increasing its value. Playing it up more like a James Bond baddie, Academy Award winner Gene Hackman, strikes the right notes here, providing equal amounts of charm, camp, cockiness and terror in the iconic role.
27) Colonel Walter Kurtz (Apocalypse Now) – Marlon Brando 1979 -
Despite only appearing near the end of the film, Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz is still the mysterious centerpiece of this masterful tale set amidst the Vietnam War, and his presence looms over the entire film like a dark shadow. A former, highly decorated U.S. Special Forces Captain now gone insane, Kurtz leads a cult-like following with his own troops inside Cambodia. Whether reading T. S. Eliot to protagonist Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) or dropping a severed head on his lap, Kurtz is the ultimate personification of the horrors of Vietnam and the epitome of the “Heart of Darkness”. Of course, knowing Marlon Brando’s trademark eccentricity, one will never know for sure if this is a truly great performance or just Brando being Brando. I’m gonna go with a little bit of both.
26) Angel Eyes (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) – Lee Van Cleef 1966 -
To be fair, Blondie and Tuco aren’t exactly saints either, but you know you’re dealing with an ugly son of a bitch when he can out-dirty the both of them combined. The Western genre has given us plenty of memorable villains from Henry Fonda’s Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and Gene Hackman’s “Little” Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. At the top of the list is the sadistic Angel Eyes who, much like the previous villain, is proof that just ’cause the villain is absent for most of the film doesn’t mean his present isn’t felt throughout it all. Plus, as film critic Michael Phillips once said, “You don’t over-exploit a terrific villain.” Angel Eyes is in the film when he needs to be and the final trio gun showdown between Blondie, Tuco, and Angel Eyes is one of the greatest, heart pounding intense, cinematic moments ever. In fact, Van Cleef’s performance inspired another great director to craft the next villain on this list.
25) Colonel Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds) – Christoph Waltz 2009 -
Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz won the first of his two Oscars (both from Tarantino films) for his role as Colonel Hans Landa, the savage yet very charismatic Nazi who’s aptly nicknamed “The Jew Hunter”. It would’ve been so cliche and predictable to portray Colonel Landa as this over the top, angry buffoon like some Nazi caricature. Landa though is bright, intelligent, eloquent, multilingual, and yes, sadistic in his quest for exterminating the Jewish people. His introductory interrogation scene’s enough to merit Waltz the Oscar, but the scene that seals the deal is his dinner scene between him and Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), the girl that got away in the beginning. We all know Landa is well aware who he’s having dinner with, but it’s that quiet tension of “Is he or isn’t he gonna get her?” that gnaws at you, and his politeness as she holds in her emotions makes him all the more terrifying.
24) Dr. Christian Szell (Marathon Man) – Laurence Olivier 1976 -
Call me silly, but I’m getting the impression that these Nazis were dicks. Legendary actor Laurence Olivier is cold and frightening as Dr. Christian Szell, the Nazi dentist on a mission to retrieve an extremely valuable diamond collection he had originally taken from Jews he tortured at Auschwitz. He may not be the most powerful villain out of the 50, but that really won’t matter when he’s got you strapped into a dental chair and drilling a hole through your teeth. The final showdown between Szell and Dustin Hoffman’s “Babe” Levy is one of amusement and payback. You’ll just have to watch for yourself to find out how amusing.
23) Phyllis Dietrichson (Double Indemnity) – Barbara Stanwyck 1944 -
Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson quite possibly had husbands all over the world cancelling their life insurance policies at the snap of a finger. What starts as a simple auto insurance renewal for Phyllis’s husband through insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) eventually leads to a murder plot by the soon to be former Mrs. Dietrichson on her husband. It’s not so much her murder plot that makes her such a bad villain; it’s more how this manipulative, duplicitous bitch uses her beauty and charm to seduce a once innocent man into doing the dirty work for her while she reaps the reward. She’s rotten to the heart and she knows it.
22) Henry F. Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life) – Lionel Barrymore 1946 -
To be fair, George Bailey didn’t exactly make the smartest financial moves, but you still can’t help but root for him as stands off against Mr. Potter and his smarmy, smug attitude. Of course, stealing George’s Uncle Billy’s $8,000 deposit in order to drive the Bailey’s business into bankruptcy also helps in making him easy to hate. And just when you think you couldn’t hate him enough, it’s when he looks upon George – in his most desperate hour of need – and says “You’re worth more dead than alive.” where you wish George, Mary, Uncle Billy, Clarence, little Zuzu and her petals, hell anyone would just bitch slap that gimp out of his wheelchair. It’s a truly brilliant performance from Lionel Barrymore, and the opposing chemistry between him and Jimmy Stewart is excellent. In the end, though, George gets the laugh last. Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!
21) Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) – voiced by Eleanor Audley 1959 -
Disney legend Eleanor Audley appears on this list not once, but twice, and her final deviously-voiced appearance in this countdown is another Disney villain so terrifying, even her own name means evil. I mean, for God’s sakes, she places a death curse on a newborn child at her christening. If that’s not enough, she stretches the curse out ’til sweet Princess Aurora is sixteen, which means you know her parents are gonna be sweating bullets until that time. Even Lady Tremaine would admit that’s low. She’s wicked, diabolical and has some mad transformation skills. No doubt about it, Maleficent lives up to her title as the “Mistress of all evil”.
Well, readers, we’re almost there! We crack the top 20 next week. As always, feel free to comment on any favorites from this list, and start throwing out your predictions for #1.