Thursday, October 08, 2009

Worst Villains Ever--Or Is It Best Villains Ever?

Nazis in Raiders of the Lost ArkYou may have noticed that I tend to do lists on Thursdays. It's an old habit from long ago and it just won't die. But this month, in honor of our Halloween holiday I'm going to stick to Halloween-ish themed lists, starting with this one. Spooky, no?

I figure, why not? What else have you got to read on a chilly Thursday morning?

1. Best Historical Villain: Nazis
If you want to find someone who will be universally vilified and hated, Nazis are your man (is your man?) You cannot get nastier or more evil than the Third Reich--we tried to use Communists here and there to take their place as Baddest Group Villain for a while during the Cold War (remember Rocky IV? Red Dawn? The Manchurian Candidate?) but it just didn't work as well, it felt too much like propaganda but Nazis? They're ALWAYS in season.

Eye of Sauron2. Scariest Unseen Villain: Sauron
Maybe that's the secret to his success as a villain--no one really knows what he looks like or what would happen if they came face-to-face with him. Even Gandalf is a little vague on that point. But regardless, you're pretty sure when you're reading the books (and I should point out here that I'm going with Sauron in the books rather than Sauron in the movies who actually is slightly less villainous than his literary counterpart) that if you ever should happen to sit down to tea with him you'd be in big trouble. Big trouble.

And by the way, I think it's just genius that he's depicted as a big ol' eye of fire. I've mastered the art of glaring like that at my children and it keeps them right in line.

Anyone who eats orcs for breakfast isn't exactly fuzzy and warm now are they?

Voldemort3. Best Supernatural Villain: Voldemort
Voldemort's success just proves that if you really want to freak people out get rid of your nose. His appearance is part of it, trying to kill a baby gives him some weight but what really gets him props is a) he carries around his very own evil animal sidekick and b) he's got his own merciless henchmen Death Eater group. If you want to set up in business as a Class A Bad Guy, just get yourself an animal and a group of well-organized lackies and you're on your way. Though I'd probably suggest not going with a kitten or a bunny.

Malificent4. Best Female Villain: Malificent
I'm including her on the list because she gave me nightmares when I was a kid. Serious nightmares. It was the horns I think, or maybe that whole thing about being able to change into a dragon? Nope, it was the horns, definitely the horns.

You'll notice that this list is surprisingly bereft of female representation and that's because it's really hard to find a woman who can play bad without resorting to physical attraction--which, while it garners respect in certain Bad Guy circles, really is a secondary thing and unrelated to one's ability to be downright evil. To prove my point all you'd have to do is ask 100 men on the street if they're more attracted to or scared of Sharon Stone. I think that settles it.

In fact I think it's kind of detracted from the whole Females-As-Ultimate-Bad-Guys Movement. Think about women in history and how many were really bad? Most weren't known for being particularly bad as much as being able to hook the man who was even worse. Think Hitler and Eva Braun. You know we'll never be taken seriously as Bad Guys until we can be bad completely on our own without a man's help and Malificent does it best.

Darth Vader5. Best Space Villain: Darth Vader (with a nod to HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey)
I had a hard time passing up the aliens in Alien--they were pretty bad--but then how responsible are they for their own actions? Or are they just a species struggling for survival, not unlike the spotted owl or the giant panda? If so then there's an element of sympathy there for a group of creatures so misunderstood as they have been.

Hollywood has not been kind to those who happen to lay their eggs in human hosts and I don't care to further the alien-as-demon stereotype here. And if there's sympathy for the villain they don't make my list.

So . . . Darth. Able to crush his enemies with the Force . . . capable of killing his own offspring . . . able to speak with the voice of James Earl Jones? Very impressive. And the whole breathing-through-the-mask thing gives him big points in the Spooky Category. Lucas tried to make him all cute and fuzzy in The Phantom Menace which nearly toppled him from the list but then he was so darn irritating and whiny in Attack of the Clones and followed up with that evil yellow-eyes scene in Revenge of the Sith that I think I'm safe including him.

And as a footnote I'd mention that Lucas also gets a mention for creating the Most Disappointing Villain Ever: Darth Maul. Never has a villain had so much promise and so much potential evil-ness yet so little screen time and so few lines. Why did they waste the double light saber on that guy?

Borg6. Best Group Villain: The Borg
That whole collective-conscious thing terrifies us modern enlightened liberal democrats (with a small "d") like nothing else doesn't it? I think that if I were a Russian serf in the 19th century I'd feel like I was pretty much part of the Borg as it was but nowadays anything that tries to destroy free will and independent thinking is about as scary as it can get.

And then of course there's that whole drilling-into-your-face-with-technology angle that tops it off.

Hey! I just got a thought. Maybe Google IS the Borg . . . resistance is futile. You will be catalogued and crawled. I mean assimilated.

Professor Moriarty7. Smartest Villain: Professor Moriarty
You have to give a hand to the guy who wins in the end. Most villains ultimately end up as toast but Professor Moriarty is one of the few super villains smart enough to actually outlast the hero. Impressive, very impressive.

While he doesn't have the terrifying mannerisms of some of the other guys on the list and doesn't come from an alien galaxy this is the villain who's too smart to be caught monologuing at the end. He just kills off the hero, just like that. End of story.

Bond Villains8. Most Creative Villain: All Bond Villains
Shark tanks? Lasers? Steel-rimmed bowler hats? Iron teeth? You have to give a nod to the creativity of the Bond villains as a whole. They aren't the smartest, they aren't the most evil or the deadliest (sometimes you almost wish they'd get Bond just like you want Wile E. Coyote to finally catch that stupid Roadrunner) but anyone who can come up with asphyxiation by gold paint has to get some kind of an award.

Clubber Lang9. Best Average-Joe/Redneck Villain: Clubber Lang (nod to the hillbillies in Deliverance)
I almost wrote "Mr. T." on this one because honestly now, do you really think of him as Clubber Lang or as Mr. T.?

The way he pummeled Rocky and taunted him made me want to taken him down for a whole hour and 47 minutes solid. No pity, no sympathy whatsoever though I hear Lawrence whats-his-name is a very nice guy in real life.

Commodus10. Most Disturbingly Attractive Villain: Commodus
I did not like Gladiator. It was just too darn disturbing and full of suffering for my taste and it was all thanks to this man: Commodus, who takes crazy-powerful-greedy-creepy to a new level.

It was my first introduction to Joaquin Phoenix and after that it took me a few movies to get past that whole thing-with-his-sister and killing-off-the-family thing. But all in all--he is a Bad Guy who's easy on the eyes. When he's not putting people's eyes out or something.

Though I secretly admit, my grandfather used to call the toilet the commode so every time I hear this guy's name I giggle. I wonder if that takes some of his mystique away--being named after an outhouse and all that.

Hannibal Lecter11. Best Villain in Captivity: Hannibal Lecter
Again, I think this is the whole key to the success of Lecter--he's captured during the whole movie but there's that fear that he's somehow, someway going to break free and do something Truly Horrible. I mean, he's not really any of a worse character than the Bad Guy they're chasing through the movie, right? But because Lecter is in prison, face-to-face with us then he's much scarier. The threat of him breaking free is always there and it's so horrible I can't watch the movie. I only got about half-way through before I had to give it up.

And on another note I find it interesting that some actors can consistently play believable Bad Guys (take Jack Nicholson for example) and it just doesn't appear to be much of a stretch for them. But Hopkins? He's the cinematic equivalent of a Care Bear and the fact that he can go from Lecter to Remains of the Day to whatever is impressive.

Norman Bates12. Best Insane Villain: Norman Bates
Nobody does insane better than Norman. In fact, I attribute my distrust of Mr. Rogers directly to this man and his wardrobe. One look at Mr. Rogers' zip up sweater and conservative haircut and I wouldn't get in the shower for a month.

I thought Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Mission Impossible III did a fine job at scary-crazy but if I can't remember the name of his character he really shouldn't win a spot on the list, now should he?

The Joker13. All-Around Scariest Villain: The Joker
Of course I'm talking here about Heath Ledger's version, not the cartoon Joker, not Jack Nicholson's interpretation nor Caesar Romero's. In fact the other guys kind of make you wonder why Bruce Wayne had such a hard time taking the guy out because really, while clowns are scary (I'll give you that) they shouldn't be much of a hassle for the Dark Knight.

But this latest Joker is particularly scary just because of his lack of motive. As the great Alfred says, "Some people just want to watch the world burn." And that is what freaks you out about this guy the most.

Well, that and the fact that he's wearing purple and green together.


Have you thought about entering the Write-Away Contest? It's up and running again, the topic is "Fear" and the prize is from jaC Jewelry!

It still hasn't snowed . . . just in case you were wondering, so the snow contest marches on without a winner yet.

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cndymkr / jean said...

No snow! Sorry, about that. You write a great post and all I see is the last part about the snow.

Chris said...

Best. Post. Ever.

I'm with you on Malificent. She really should mentor other women on being evil. It's funny, when my girl was 3 or 4, she watched Sleeping Beauty for the first time. She didn't have much use for Aurora but she went around for days pretending to be Malificent. It was a little scary.

Oh and Norman Bates. I watched it recently and thought he was rather attractive...before that whole Mother stuffing thing.

Jeana said...

How do you keep doing it? This is great. And "Nazis? They're ALWAYS in season." is a great quote. I'm going to have to frame that somewhere. Although taking it out of context like that may cause problems for me.

Joanna said...

I can agree on Dr Moriarty, for sure! We're big Next Generation fans here, too.

Jenna Consolo said...

What a clever topic to blog about! You have a great mind. Whenever people ask me questions like this, I can never organize or sort out my memories, but then I'll read someone else's answers and agree heartily, wondering why I couldn't pull that one out. Great list.

(Though I LOVE Gladiator. Love it.)

Janelle said...

What a great list! I'd like to see some of these villains take each other on. I think Voldemort could take out the Nazis, for example, but Malificent and Sauron might actually give him a run for his money. Another "good" (bad) unattractive femal villain would be Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Definitely no attractiveness there. Or how about Kathy Bates in Misery? My dad can't watch that movie. On the Bond villains, I think they also win the "Most Maniacal and Single-Minded" award. As for most attractive, I guess I can't argue, but only because I can't think of anything I've seen that involves Hugh Jackman as a villain, and though Rufus Sewell plays the bad guy in A Knight's Tale, he's not really very villainous.

M said...

Great list! And, I too, am still suffering from my childhood encounters with Maleficent. I would only watch the first half of Sleeping Beauty for quite a few years.

Heart2Heart said...


I would have to agree with you, these are some great villians! I don't think I would add to your list or change anything! You did a great job! Just where do you come up with the stuff to write about.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Lara said...

Of all of those, I think Maleficent is the scariest.

I was her for Halloween once. It was so much fun! :)

Anonymous said...

It is not the 14th yet. Just wait!

Suzie B. said...

When I hear the word "villain," Snidely Whiplash tying the girl to the railroad tracks comes to mind. Dudley Do-Right cartoons? He wasn't Nazi nasty though. And you don't know who I'm talking about, do you?

InkMom said...

And how about animated villains? I know, Maleficent counts. But I love Scar from The Lion King -- Jeremy Irons is sardonic and diabolical all at the same time. I could also argue a spot for Gaston from Beauty and the Beast as Most Egotistical Villain. In fact, the only reason he's a villain is because he's so full of himself he can't believe Belle would choose someone else. Hurt pride and all that.

I could also argue to have Dr. Octavius from SpiderMan II added to some category.

But I'm not here to argue. This was a great post!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Very clever post and I like your rankings. The Nazis belong at the top of any villian list and Hitler at the very top of that.

Julie Wright said...

Awesome list! A person in my writers group was just asking for a list of villians and most of your list made the list I gave her. I wish I would have seen this first so I could've added a few more.

Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia, Moriarty doesn't outlast Sherlock Holmes. Doyle created him to kill off Sherlock, but at the (ambiguous) end of the single story Moriarty was in, it appears they both fell off a cliff while locked in mortal combat.

(Years later, when people were still upset, Doyle resurrected Sherlock, saying it just LOOKED like he fell, and Moriarty did fall. And later, Doyle wrote one more story with Moriarty set before his death.)

CountessLaurie said...

Darth Vader scared the crap out of me as a child!!

Great list.

Crysm said...

Michelle, ILOVE it! You hit the mark on these. And it was such a fun post to read. I just love your blog.

Although, I might add the evil queen from Snow White. When she turned into the evil old woman with the apple... THAT scared me as a child.

Steph said...

Oh heck... that picture of Norman Bates really freaked me out. Seriously... no shower for me today.

Derek, Rachel and Cadence said...

Fun post! Villains are are so much fun to love to hate!

Serena said...

Er, I'm wearing purple and green together right now...

Awesome list! My husband dressed as the (good) joker last Halloween and I could barely look at him. He did a reallllly good job on his costume and looked verrrrrry scary.

Amber M. said...

I always love tour Thursday lists and this one has topped them all!!

"Nazis...I hate these guys..."

Carina said...

Almost every 'worst' villain that popped into my mind when I saw the title of your post was included, which I call pretty quality blogging.

I would have to add, though, Murdoch from the MacGyver TV series. He was one creepy, recurring bad guy that always seemed to best MacGyver in the end.

I agree with all of them. Seriously. I am officially creeped out. (Oh, except I always thought the Emperor was slightly more creepy than Darth.)

Nancy said...

I love these lists. Seriously. You have the best book, movie, etc recommendations and lists like today get my brain moving about subjects.

Lori said...

The problem with women as evil figures is that they're always the temptresses. They're always the ones who make men behave badly and the reason is she was just too attractive. It's that Eve/original sin thing, I suppose, or rather the excuse that men have.

Otherwise they're jealous. Like Maleficent, of not being invited to a party, of their step-daughter's beauty, or whatever other Disney bad lady there is.

Professor Moriarty is a good one! No pun intended.

Heath Ledger's Joker was scary! I felt awful for the four and six year old sitting behind us in the movie theater with their parents who thought they could take it. They were terrified!

Jane Hamilton said...

Hannibal Lecter is by far the creepiest, goose-bumps-creating, spine-chilling, blood curdling villain I have ever seen. I could practically hear my heart pound when I watched the movies. And this, inspite of the fact that Lecter NEVER raises his voice...!!!!?? How does he do that?!?

Oh, but of course, when it comes to 'motiveless malignancy' the Nazis are up there...

Bobbie in AK said...

A little late in posting... great list. Heath Ledger was fantastic as the joker, there can be no other in my opinion.
As for Silence of the Lambs if you think the movie was too scary don't read the book. It remains the only book I've ever read that has given me nightmares.

jubilee said...

I couldn't even sit through The Dark Knight because of the Joker. Ick.

And you are right it's Malificent's horns. Slap a pair of horns on anyone, and I mean, anyone, and there's a whole new level of evil goin' on.

May I add my two cents worth of female villian? How about the creepy female evil thing that dogged Christ's steps in The Passion of the Christ? *shiver*

The Texas Bakers said...

I have to disagree with PP on the queen from Snow White. She is not nearly as villainous as Maleficent, especially based on the standards you stated. I mean, she was all about vanity and who was the more beautiful, etc. If you had a category for worst space villains, I would nominate Zorg from The Fifth Element. Thanks for the laughs.

Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

Just wanted to let you know, here is Sioux Falls, it's snowing. :O

Rani said...

Guess what? It snowed tonight in South Dakota... I thought of you.

Shannon said...

Love your lists. Loved the post. What I've watched of what you mentioned I have to agree. Some friends in high school rented Silence... and I called my mom to come get me, after about 2 min. into the movie. I felt too creepy and wrong, and I am so glad I did! They told me it was really scary, I don't do scary-even as an adult! I was just thinking yesterday how interesting it is that Disney has moved from the good vs. evil, scary villain kind of movies to more light, funny pixar films. Any ideas why?

Sonja said...

Holy bad guys, Batman! Loved the list, very entertaining. I haven't seen all the villains you mentioned, but I agree with you on the ones I have!

I had bad dreams for weeks after watching Gladiator.

MommyK said...

I just rewatched the first Harry Potter movie, and it dawned on me that Alan Rickman plays a great villain. Not that Snape is a villain in the end, but the way he talks, glares at Harry, etc, is really pretty good. And he was great as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood movie.

Commodus said...

I actually think that Commodus is the best movie villain ever, there is something very complex about that character. I really enjoy seeing him on screen, great character.