The importance of a central antagonist is often overlooked in film and television. Generic molds are formed of what a villain should be often creating a character the audience never thinks twice about once the viewing has passed. A proper villain can grab a hold of the viewer with an iron fist invoking a mixed bag of emotions…emotions often of a loathing with the inability to take your eyes off of them awaiting their every scene.
So let's raise our glasses high in the air, slam back the contents, then beat someone over the head with the empty glass in honor of what I feel are some of the most iconic villains of our time.
Darth Vader - When we are first introduced to Darth Vader he quickly burnt the impression of a ruthless, no-nonsense space brute, instantly commanding respect into our minds. His physical appearance was awe-inspiring and invoked great wonder among the viewer questioning “why the suit”? Little tidbits were dropped throughout the film about his back story only furthering the twisted evil that is Darth Vader. As the series progressed we slowly learned how he came to be the menacing man-machine and the mental gears began to shift toward a deeper sense of intrigue. He was evil, he was vicious and willing to do all his master desired, but with the proper build up we couldn’t help but begin to sympathize with the character. By the end of the film we were able to witness his redemption first hand, but never truly forgetting the base of his character. This was a shining, defining example of how to build a proper villain that would forever leave a lasting impression on the viewers long after seeing the movie.
Joffrey Baratheon - Game of Thrones is a show flooded with villainy that is almost impossible to narrow down which is the perfect monster brought forth to twist our inner-being. Never in the history of television of film have I seen such hatred expressed for one character as it has for Joffrey Baratheon. This kid was so perfectly evil that people couldn’t separate his TV character from real life often flooding him with hate mail and death threats. That is some serious acting chops to be able to pull that off. Darth Vader was evil for a reason, Joffrey is evil just because. And we aren’t talking about trying to turn your son to the dark side evil, but a burn your favorite kitten then make you eat him kind of evil. Every single scene he was involved in caused such rage, such a passionate hate you often found yourself praying to the forgotten God’s to deliver us his death as soon as possible. But like all great villains he created a character we couldn’t take our eyes off of. Whether we were awestruck at how evil this little prick could be or watching awaiting the moment he’d finally get what he deserved, we were hooked. The high level of emotion he instilled in the viewer might just make him the greatest villain of all time. Darth Vader may be the most iconic, but Joffrey Baratheon is the supreme ruler of slapping our psyche so hard with a mallet we have all contemplated drop-kicking the TV any time his smug little face appeared.
Walter White - During Breaking Bad’s run it presented us with a handful of bad guys that could easily make a top 10 list, but at it’s core, despite finding him someone in which we could easily relate to and our love for him, the central villain was in fact Walter White himself. He duped us, he conned us from the beginning into believing his criminal efforts and actions were done with pure intentions forcing us to easily forgive him. As the series progressed it didn’t take long to realize we were dealing with a twisted form of evil spawned from selfishness. He was willing to harm children, murder, lie, and mentally degrade friends and family all for self-centered reasons that would only benefit him in the end despite his pleas of doing it “For his family.” But we still liked him, we still cheered him on and hoped he would make it out in the end. That right there, is the making of a legendary villain. A man so skilled in deception he was able to make most toss aside moral values and root for a lying, murdering drug dealer. Kudos Bryan Cranston and the creators of Breaking Bad for the amazing, unforgettable work.
Bill the Butcher - Daniel Day-Lewis is a God among actors. His uncanny ability to transform himself into the character he is playing is otherworldly. His transformation into Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York was no exception. Bill was a man on a mission willing to butcher anyone that dared cross paths with his ideology. His presence was commanding in every sense of the word. He was brutal and followed it up with actions that were cringe worthy, but honest. His honesty placed meaning beside his unspeakable acts. This honesty brutal honesty sucked in the viewer making it impossible to not want to see his next move even if you were still secretly anticipating the moment he would be killed for his actions.
Hannibal Lecter - A cannibalistic serial killer with an IQ that would rival Einstein’s is another example of a great villain with the ability to draw all attention from the viewer, calling us to watch his every move with a fan-like admiration. He was a sick individual, but so suave, so cool it was almost impossible to not like him despite his affinity to chew on human flesh like beef jerky. It didn’t hurt to have the masterful acting of Anthony Hopkins elevate this onscreen portrayal of Dr. Lecter. He was so damn good that any time he wasn’t on screen it was almost forgettable, which it shouldn’t be because it was an excellent film.
Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin - This may get overlooked by the masses only because it was part of a super hero television show, but that doesn’t mean it was any less spectacular. Vincent D’onofio’s performance as the hulking, Wilson Fisk was so perfectly done with an interesting twist on the comic character, it was almost impossible to not love what in reality was the quintessential villain. The soft spoke, extremely shy persona of this character instantly forced you to question how could this possibly be the big bad of the show. It wasn’t until he shed that shy facade revealing a terrifying force of nature, that once unleashed was able to slam a car door on a man’s skull so many times there was practically nothing left. We now understood who the Kingpin was. He may have been naturally shy but you now knew that if you crossed him, the likelihood of survival was pretty damn slim. Once again, the central villain stole the show, making the viewer anticipate his every on screen moment, awaiting whatever act of violence his was ready to dish out, even to our hero Daredevil.
There are many more greats and plenty on the way. With the arrival of Negan on The Walking Dead I may have to revisit this list once again after we get to witness his character in full force during an entire season. I’m familiar with the character in the comics, but I have to see it on screen to see how well it is depicted for us. And from what I have seen so far from Jeffrey Dean Morgan…I can’t wait.