Villains. We love to hate them for threatening our heroes and putting the world/galaxy/universe in mortal peril time and time again.
While bad guys are fun to watch on screen, when it comes to dramatic storytelling, the hero has to overcome obstacles in order to grow, change and, ultimately, save the day. Stories about heroes facing their inner demons are legion, but it’s just not the same as when he or she is facing off against a truly vile, evil malefactor.
Carrying on from our previous article, here are more of the greatest movie antagonists of all time.
Played by: Jack Nicholson
Movie: The Shining (1980)
Jack Torrance doesn’t start out as the villain. Initially, he’s an ordinary dad who takes his wife, Wendy, and his psychic son, Danny, to a secluded hotel in the snowy woods where he has taken a job as the hotel’s off-season caretaker.
There’s something ominous about the hotel, however, and Jack gradually begins losing his mind. His delusions progress until his family is no longer scared of the hotel itself, but of him instead. Who knows what the voices in his head are capable of?
Played by: Ralph Fiennes
Movie: Schindler’s List (1993)
Oskar Schindler begins as a greedy German businessman, but when he realizes the true horrors of the Nazi regime, he transforms his factory into a hiding spot for Jews. Amon Goeth, the Commander of the SS, is his greatest opponent, responsible for the death of thousands of Jews in the Krakow ghetto. It’s only fitting that he was portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, who also played Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. The most terrifying part is that Amon Goeth was very much a real person.
Played by: Glenn Close
Movie: Fatal Attraction (1987)
When New York lawyer Dan Gallagher has a fling with one of his coworkers, Alex, he assumes it was a one-time thing and tries to resume a normal life with his wife and child. But Alex has other ideas. She becomes obsessed with him and will stop at nothing to have him for her own, going as far as giving us the iconic ‘bunny boiling’ scene.
Fun fact: Glenn Close was allowed to keep the knife her character used in the movie, and has it hanging up as a work of art in her kitchen.
Played by: Douglas Rain (voice)
Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
It’s been said that the supercomputer HAL from “2001” was, ironically, the most “human” character in that lengthy trip through outer space courtesy of the genius of Stanley Kubrick.
While that might be an exaggeration, HAL was actually a case study in cognitive dissonance long before that term had entered cultural parlance. Programmed by his makers back on Earth not to lie, HAL malfunctioned thanks to also being instructed to conceal the true nature of the Discovery mission from the human astronauts — with deadly results. Actor Douglas Rain gave HAL a cold but unforgettable personality thanks to his vocal talents.
Played by: Denzel Washington
Movie: Training Day (2001)
What if the inmates were running the asylum? Or, worse, what if the cops were worse than the criminals they were supposed to be policing? That’s the moral puzzle at the center of “Training Day,” in which rookie narc Jake Hoyle (Ethan Hawke) is shown the ropes of L.A.’s underground by the seasoned officer Alonzo Harris (Washington, who added yet another Oscar to his mantle for the role). The crooked Harris not only robs drug dealers and fleeces his cop buddies as part of Jake’s education, but he also tricks Jake into smoking PCP so that if he rats on Alonzo, he’ll be in hot water himself.
Washington is magnificent, and despite the film coming out in the wake of 9/11, when police were viewed as heroes, “Training Day” found its audience, and Washington took home his second little golden man.
Played by: Tom Berenger
Movie: Platoon (1986)
Writer/director Oliver Stone had been searching for a way to make sense of his time serving in Vietnam, and thus he created a fictional counterpart named Chris Taylor (Sheen), a greenhorn whose unit is commanded by the psychopathic Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger).
Barnes, his face battle-scarred and his voice gravelly, is bereft of any remorse or sympathy, and at one point, he even guns down a fellow American, Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe).
Many works of art over the centuries have posited that war gives certain men “permission” to act without check or restraint, and Stone presents Barnes as the ultimate warrior unleashed in a conflict where, it often seemed, there were no good guys.
Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting
Played by: Daniel Day-Lewis
Movie: Gangs of New York (2002)
Daniel Day-Lewis famously went years in between film projects before he (supposedly) retired in 2017 after being one of a select few actors to win three Oscars. While he didn’t win one for Martin Scorsese’s historical epic “Gangs of New York,” Day-Lewis made his first film following a five-year hiatus suitably memorable.
As Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, Day-Lewis sneers his way through a delicious performance as a 19th-century nativist gangster with a particular dislike for Irish immigrants, including our hero Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio). Because Marty was at the helm, bloodletting is plentiful in this three-hour yarn, much of which is unleashed by Bill the Butcher himself.
Played by: Robert Englund
Movies: “The Nightmare on Elm Street” movies (1984-2003)
Filmmaker Wes Craven couldn’t get the idea of an unsettling homeless man in a red-and-green sweater out of his mind. And when the horror maestro read a Los Angeles Times article about children who mysteriously died screaming in their sleep, the idea for Freddy Krueger was born.
Krueger was a notorious child murderer who was burned to death by a lynch mob of vengeful parents. But through the forces of evil, he was thereafter able to haunt the dreams of Elm Street’s teens, murdering them grotesquely amid their beauty rest.
As the series went on, Robert Englund gradually gave Krueger a cheeky persona as the demon himself became the star of the show. Ergo, we’ve chosen him over his killer contemporaries Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, who were silent stalkers. Craven passed away in 2015, hopefully not at the sharp fingers of his own creation.
Played by: Alan Rickman
Movie: Die Hard (1988)
Part of what makes certain bad guys so compelling is their sense of humour. The ubermensch of sadistic humour was personified by the late Alan Rickman in German terrorist Hans Gruber, who held a Los Angeles high rise hostage on Christmas Eve as cover to steal millions of dollars in negotiable bearer bonds from its vault. Too bad unlucky John McClane (Bruce Willis), an off-duty New York cop, got in his way.
“Die Hard” is as great now as it was in the late ’80s and in no small debt to Rickman’s delightfully devious Gruber.
This is by no means the last of iconic baddies that we will cover. Check back for part 3 soon.