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My Top Movie Villains

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The AFI villains list was better than their heroes, but not the most interesting list. Hannibal Lecter makes a somewhat predictable and obvious choice, but undeniable.

Their one main really dumb choice for villain is “Man” from Bambi. Goddam, but I hate that stupid movie.

“Villains” sometimes seem more ambiguous as to that status than do heroes to theirs. In theory, Michael Corleone must rank as a monster- yet I have trouble really thinking of him as a villain.

Here are my picks for most striking movie villains of all time:

Jack Ripper (Dr Strangelove)
You can’t get much more villainous than blowing up the world. Narcissism seems to be a defining common trait looking over the villain list. General Ripper thought that the world revolved around his powerful military penis. When he couldn’t get it up anymore, the only reasonable explanation must be a commie plot. You can’t get much more narcissistic than that.

Eleanor Iselin (The Manchurian Candidate)
I’ll call Mrs. Iselin and Jack Ripper co-villains of all time. Years of watching Ms. Lansbury in the nicey-nice Murder She Wrote would be just the thing to prepare you for a good shock. Allowing her own son to be brainwashed as an unwilling assassin to help in a communist plot to take over the US government. Oh, and don’t forget the incest. Her last big scene with Raymond was just to DIE for. “One last step. And then, when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.”

Judge Doom (Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
“NO, NOT THE DIP!!!” Only a ‘Toon could be that crazy.

Marcellus Wallace (Pulp Fiction)
This character embodied a reptilian cold bloodedness most beautifully.

Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Hands down the best Disney villain ever, and the best villain song. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” has more wicked personality and dark humor than any other musical presentation by any evil character, live or animated.

Elija Price (Unbreakable)
This guy wrecked a train, killing hundreds of people for the sole purpose of casting himself as a comic book super villain. Talk about narcissistic, boy howdy!

Rufus T Firefly (Duck Soup)
What, Groucho Marx a villain? Look at what the character actually did. In his inaugural address, he sang “If you think this country’s bad off now, just wait till I get through with it.” Then he proceeded to directly and purposely run the country into a war for absolutely no other reason than personal interest, ie preventing the other country’s ambassador from moving in on Mrs. Teasdale – the source of his power.

Mickey and Mallory Knox (Natural Born Killers)
For starters, that picture of Mickey on the DVD box alone should make your blood run cold. Killing a bunch of people just to get famous ranks as about the most directly evil line you could take. Seeming so cool just compounds their evil.

Bob Roberts (Bob Roberts)
Whoa boy, his lust for power entailed such direct wickedness as faking an assassination attempt, and then murdering a reporter who was on to his long history of drug running and ripping off S&Ls. Plus, he’s a Republican. What more need be said?

Dr Yen Lo (The Manchurian Candidate)
Evil often has a charming face. That seductive quality contributes greatly to making it really nasty. Good humor invites you to join in the evil. “I’ve allowed my people to have a little fun in the selection of bizarre tobacco substitutes… Yak dung! …Oh, tastes good — like a cigarette should!”

Mr. Scratch (The Devil and Daniel Webster)
How much more evil can you get than the frickin’ devil himself- and a far more subtle and nuanced Prince of Darkness than, for example, Al Pacino.

Rev. Harry Powell (Night of the Hunter)
This guy is the boogeyman of my nightmares, not some horribly contrived Freddy Kreuger.

Lady Mary Van Tassel (Sleepy Hollow)
Sold her soul to the devil for revenge. She had different brilliantly evil ways to compromise every person around.

Matthew Harrison Brady (Inherit the Wind)
This doppleganger for William Jennings Bryan may not have been a murderer, but it’s only by accident of place and time, for he represents the face of pure demagoguery. He says stupid crap that he knows better than to bump the boobs into line, with no regard for truth or consequences. Like a good demagogue, you can see him talking himself into half-believing his own crap.

Baby Jane Hudson (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?)
Killing her sister’s pet bird, then putting it on plate to serve for lunch – wow!

Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard)
Her real crime was not so much against the murdered screenwriter as against the butler/ex-husband whom she has heedlessly kept around in such wicked torment for so many years.

Franz Becker (M)
Oh, he can’t help it. He’s got a compulsion that MAKES him a monster, something inside that he can’t control. Shut up.

Doyle Hargraves (Sling Blade)
Mundane everyday evil incarnate, Doyle couldn’t really help it. See, he had a bad childhood, or something. Therefore, he couldn’t really help smacking the woman and child around a little, and being abusive to anyone stupid enough to associate with him. This is just the kind of pussy-man behavior that makes me nuts. Boo hoo ya frigging baby.

Judd Frye (Oklahoma!)
Steiger’s performance in the smokehouse during “Poor Judd Is Dead” must rate as one of the top displays of self-pity ever. Pure class resentment permeated every fiber of his being, and motivated every hateful display- which is to say almost his every action or word in the entire movie.

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  • And let me add Jack Palance, who played the all-black clad baddie, Jack Wilson in Shane.

  • I’ll add “Mister” from The Color Purple and “Wild Bill” from The Green Mile.

  • Hybrid

    Rufus T. Firefly a villan? Where’s Johnny Udo when you need him.

  • Shaine

    What about Annie Wilkes from Misery? She deserves a rank for the sledgehammer-foot thing!

  • You put in Baby Jane Hudson and Norma Desmond but leave out the worst of the film noir bad girls, Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity? C’m on, Barger, just because you wrote this five years ago is no reason to let you off the hook…

  • Dreadful- You may have me there. I’ve only watched Double Indemnity in chunks. I think I’ve seen the whole thing in pieces, but never properly watched and considered it. I need to.

    Looking back to Cleo’s note from 03, if I were going to add a villain from The Green Mile, it might be Percy over Wild Bill.

    Then there’s the villain Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth and Imaginationland. Less seemingly evil on the face than Marcellus Wallace, say, but in fact far more ultimately destructive.