Since the birth of stories, there have been Heroes and there have been Villains. Film has given us iconic villains such as Darth Vader, Keyser Soze, Freddy/Jason/Leatherface and more recently Heath Ledger's Joker.
But sometimes the best villains are not the obvious picks. We all know how cool The Dark Lord Of The Sith or Jaws in the Bond franchise was, but there are some very underrated movie villains out there and this article is gonna give them their due. As ever it's subjective...you may love or hate the movies they are part of, but these are guys and gals who are memorable for being evil, crazy or just bad in a fun way, and make the movies they are in better as a whole as a result. This article contains spoilers... Fair warning.
10: Bennett - Commando
One of the most iconic movie villains of the 80's was Wez in Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior, the Mohawked villain with a fetish for chains and crossbows is truly chilling and played to perfection by Australian actor Vernon Wells who became an 80's go to guy for strong, silent, psycho types, even going so far as to ape it in Wierd Science.. But...
Arguably his best villain is in the Arnie vehicle Commando. Here he plays Bennett, a former comrade of Arnie who the Austrian Oak booted out of his unit for being a little too kill happy. Seemingly killed at the start we quickly find Bennett is the military mastermind behind a plot to reinstate a dictator and the polar opposite of the villains he has played in almost any other film. He's soft spoken, clearly very intelligent and very funny at times. Once he and Arnie face off, as the veneer of sanity slips, we see Wells go back to a bit more familiar territory but what makes him so good? He always seems a good match for the heroes he faces, but in this film, particularly the climax fight he is the only guy other than the Predator to REALLY look like he could not only win the fight, but could easily slit little Jenny's throat as her dad dies.
There's one line that could come across as cliche where he mocks his boss AND his soldiers while admitting he's SCARED of Arnie... cos he's smart... Not many actors or villains could pull that off... sure it's a predictable outcome...with the obligatory Arnie wisecrack, but it's easily Arnie's best human movie foe...
9: Janus - GoldenEye
Last chance to leave if you ain't seen the film...
Janus is introduced as a shadowy character, much like Blofeld in the earlier movies, this is the first Bond movie that really delivers on a twist however... we've already met Janus and so has 007...
The masterstroke is the casting of Sean Bean, who for all his heroic deaths is actually a great villainous actor. When Janus is revealed as 006, Bond's close friend who he thought he'd gotten killed we see pain on his face, we find an elaborate but very believable historical motive for his betrayal and for the first time since Red Grant or Francisco Scaramanga, a true equal to Bond... indeed, in many ways Alec Trevelyan is BETTER than Bond... he faked his death, used all his skills to build his empire and stay anonymous while still being part of MI6 and not being suspected. At the end it is only arrogance and overconfidence that gets him killed rather than anything else.
One of the biggest mistakes the Bond franchise EVER made was killing this guy off so soon. In him, they had their Blofeld for the 90's, a recurring thorn in Bond's side that he couldn't escape. Instead they gave this role to Robbie Coltrane's Zukhovsky, a foe turned ally of Bond.
8: Grocer - Grosse Point Blank
One of the more underrated movies of the 1990's is this tale of Martin Blank (John Cusack) a hitman with a mid-life crisis who deserted his family and girlfriend on prom night to join the Army "cos he wanted to kill someone". Ten years later he returns for his high school reunion and a job he is being forced to do. On his heels are an assassin, two NSA agents and Dan Ackroyd as Grocer.
Grocer is Blank's former comrade and now competitor who is trying to put together an "Assassins Guild" and is insistent Martin joins.
There is comedy in this role but in the main it's up there with Ackroyd in The Twilight Zone Movie, there is something VERY unsettling about that guy when he wants there to be and here he totally does. From random catchphrases "Popcorn" to his hair trigger temper this is not a guy you want to mess with and you can imagine a lot of people underestimating him to their fatal peril.
7: Frank Nitti - The Untouchables
There is a tale that while making The Untouchables, there were issues with two local gangs who insisted on causing trouble between themselves disrupting filming. The Police apparently asked Billy Drago, the unique looking actor who played Nitti to go down there in full outfit with a fake Tommy Gun... and the gangs were so freaked out they went home. However true it is, Nitti is one of the better "henchmen" in Hollywood history. He's fiercely loyal to his boss Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) and thinks nothing of viciously murdering two of Eliott Ness' team, including Sean Connery in THAT scene. Not only that but he taunts Ness each time, writing "Touchable" in his friend's blood on the elevator wall and hanging him like a dead pig, and mocking Jimmy Malone's death when Ness finds the evidence. He is arrogant, utterly convinced that not only Capone but he will "beat the rap", of course he is not expecting how far Ness is prepared to finally go to avenge his friends and his death is one of the more shocking. It's rare a hero performs a cold blooded violent murder, but it happens here...and you don't blame him in the slightest.
6: Hob - Robocop 2
The movie itself is not great, let's get that out there. But there is one performance that stands out and is chilling and that is Hob. There is nothing more terrifying than a child villain, look at Joffery in Game of Thrones or the Omen and here you have a kid who while it's never actually revealed appears to be the son of Kane (Tom Noonan) he's barely 12 or 13 and suddenly not only the boss of the Nuke syndicate but seemingly inheriting ALL his dad's perks. You can just imagine what he has planned or has forced his dad's "moll" to do off camera. But the most terrifying part is how he convinces the Mayor in seconds to do what his predecessor couldn't. Of course seconds later, he is dead...at the hands of his "father's" new robotic persona and it's here the acting of a child we never saw again comes in... he's a little turd, but when he's dying there you feel for him. You weren't doing anything but cheering with Joffery.
5: Bellaq - Raiders Of The Lost Ark
One of the better "dark mirror" villains out there and very understated performance by Paul Freeman. We see a man who was once like Indy, who realized the world is not all museums and university campuses and took steps Indy wasn't willing to take, yet that means he normally gets the best of "Dr. Jones". Arguably though his arc changes throughout the movie, he realizes he has made a devils bargain and even tries to bargain/save Marian Ravenwood, albeit cos he's taken a shine to her but he still draws the line at killing a woman needlessly. Once they have the Ark of course his arrogance proves his undoing, feeling he could not only open it but recite the ancient biblical texts required to do so is clearly asking for the messy ending he gets but he's a villain you definitely enjoy watching and you can tell in a way Indy enjoys facing.
4: Ross "The Boss" Rhea - Goon
Goon is one of those movies people don't find unless someone has told them about it and even then they'll probably say "Stifler? No thanks" but it genuinely is one of the best comedies of the last 5 years and while it's probably a career peak for Sean William Scott, it's the villain played by Liev Schrieber that is the heart of the movie. Why? Cos he's NOT a traditional sports movie villain, he's not White Goodman or Ivan Drago he's a guy at the bitter end of a career who has a major anger/lack of knowledge of when to stop. As a result instead of a last hurrah in the NHL he is back at his minor league alma mater and suffering the indignity of having a rookie compared to him. There's a scene long before they face off where it's the two in a coffee shop, Scott is somewhat in awe and Schrieber respectful but with a chilling phrase tells you anything you need to know... "You got my respect kid, but if we meet on the ice, I'm gonna knock you the f*** out".. it's a great performance, not a psycho or scenery chewing, just an aging guy saying "try to take my mantle and I will f- you up". it's like the Dick Jones/Bob Morton scene in Robocop without the homoerotic overtones.
3: William Strannix - Under Siege
This is the performance that put Tommy Lee Jones back onto the Hollywood radar, a year later he was picking up the Oscar for the Fugitive but here he is the leader of the crew of villains who take over Steven Segals ship. His classic moment is a simple "Who's the captain?, part the waves there" and boom, a bullet in the mans head... you then know he's not an addled singer but a badass and we later find out former Black Ops agent. For that hour and a half, not only is he one of the most fun villains of the 90's but he's also a good match for Segal. There's a reason Under Siege was big at the time, and it's Tommy Lee Jones... everyone woke up when they saw that role and now he's an elder statesman of the Hollywood scene.
2: Peter Krieg/Simon - Die Hard With a Vengence
The concept of a hero having to run around town completing tasks was nothing new, but this guy brought it to the mainstream by taking on our favorite white vested New York Cop in a deadly game of "Simon Says". It starts with the one sandwich board no one would want to wear and goes through twists and turns before the ultimate reveal that there's more to this than a game...and then an even bigger twist.
Why is Jeremy Irons so good in this? He takes what made Alan Rickman work in the first movie and takes it to another level. He's got wit, charm and is able to switch accents far better than his predecessor can. He fools a lot of people and kills even more. Perhaps the most chilling moment is when he tells Sam Jackson's Zeus "I was going to send you home with a chiding..." so he has no problem messing up civilians lives for his little game. In the course of this movie he screws over so many people it's hard to keep count but you still like him, even when he's cracking jokes as McClane is about to die.
1: Toecutter - Mad Max
What is it about this guy that is so creepy? Is it the weird hair?, the soft spoken voice? or that his gang will live, die, rape, pillage and everything in between at his command. There is a forthcoming article I'm working on about his successor, Lord Humungous, but Toecutter holds TOTAL control over his people and a wicked sense of humor. Arguably the scariest thing is that he himself only ever commits violence against those who actually attack him first. The couple who nearly run him over trying to escape, Max's wife who knees him in the balls... While he's being a creep and the threat of violence is there, until that point it isn't... you could imagine them letting Jesse and the baby go until she does that... they might follow they might not, but once she attacks thats it... and he commits one of the most brutal murders of all time, running mother and baby down with his bike. He dies horribly but relatively quickly, he knows whats coming the moment he sees the photos and puts two and two together... of all the women who had to attack him, it was the cop who had been causing them such troubles wife and any guy who can make the line "This is Candellini...Candellini wants his hand back" work deserves a lot of credit.
So much is on Hugh Keays-Byrne's performance there I was genuinely stunned and thrilled to bits he's back for Fury Road. Mel and Miller got all the plaudits but he was an equal part of that triangle to make the first movie and the mythos work.
So those are my ten, you might have others. Feel free to add them below or send your feedback.