By Niall McArdle
Every hero needs a villain, or in screenplay-writing terms, every protagonist needs an antagonist to battle. Here are some memorable villains from the movies.
In his film debut Richard Widmark shocked audiences (and stole the film from hero Victor Mature) with his portrayal of a giggling, violent psychopath. Nicolas Cage stole the film from David Caruso in the remake.
Robert Mitchum always seemed to have such a good time playing villainous roles and always looked so relaxed doing it. In The Night of the Hunter (the only film Charles Laughton directed) Mitchum plays a religious fanatic (with LOVE and HATE tattoos on his hands) who terrorises some children who know where their dead father buried stolen money.
Mitchum again, breezily terrifying as an ex-con bent on revenge against his lawyer Gregory Peck. I like this version (and this performance) far better than the Scorcese/De Niro remake.
Prince John`s nasty sidekick has been played several times, perhaps most memorably by Basil Rathbone.
He is an exceptional thief!
Who else but arrogant genius Orson Welles could play the cold, charming, murderous black marketeer Harry Lime? The Third Man is justly famous for several things: the zither music, Carol Reed’s innovative direction, Graham Greene’s pessimistic story, great performances from the entire cast, and Welles’ smirk as the light catches his face. It was Welles himself who wrote the famous ferris wheel speech.
Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars
Darth Vader may have embraced the Dark Side, and while he’s terrifying, he is only Tarkin’s henchman, little more than hired muscle. It’s Tarkin (Peter Cushing) who blandly orders the destruction of Alderaan to demonstrate the power of the Death Star.
I watched several episodes of Monk before I realised that the beleagured but genial Capt. Stottlemeyer was played by the same guy who seriously creeped out audiences as Jame Gumb, AKA Buffalo Bill, the serial killer and amateur sewer in The Silence of the Lambs. Ted Levine feels he did better in the audition than he did in the actual performance, so you can imagine how scary that audition was.
General Zod In Superman and Superman II Terence Stamp played the fallen Krypton general as an elegant, crisply spoken megalomaniac. I argued here that Michael Shannon’s more robust take on the role helped redeem the otherwise awful Man of Steel
The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz
Hatchet-faced Margaret Hamilton was destined to play villains of one sort or another: prissy nurses, priggish schoolmarms, wicked witches. ‘I’ll get you, my pretty!”
No list of villains would be complete without a Cagney film. Cody Jarrett is the mother-obsessed cruel leader of a criminal gang. “Top of the world, ma!”
I can’t remember which film magazine headlined their piece on Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Burton’s Batman as “The Casting Coup of the Decade”. Twenty-five years later, his performance is still hugely enjoyable, combining the psychotic glee of Cesar Romero with the cynicism of Chinatown‘s JJ Gittes. Nicholson’s Joker is given a believable back-story (as opposed to someone who simply wants to watch the world burn in The Dark Knight) and a gangster’s moll. Ledger’s performance is equally brilliant, but it’s a much darker take on the role. “Why so serious?”
Hannibal Lecter Thomas Harris’ culinary psychopath is one of the great characters in literature of the last thirty years. On screen he has been played by four actors: Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, Gaspard Ulliel and Mads Mikkelsen. Cox’s performance in the stylish Manhunter is brisk, brittle, and very disturbing. For Silence of the Lambs the filmmakers wanted a bigger name. Hopkins won the role after Gene Hackman turned it down. It made Hopkins a star at 52 and earned him a Best Actor Oscar (even though he’s on screen for only sixteen minutes). What defines Hannibal? His bizarre mixture respect and contempt for Will Graham? His love for Clarice Starling? Or his horrific childhood in Lithuania at the end of the war?
Major Von Hapen, Where Eagles Dare
Gestapo officer Major Von Hapen is a mixture of cold cruelty and suave charm, chatting up barmaids one minute, pulling a gun the next. With his blond hair and icy blue stare, actor Derrin Nesbitt was the perfect fit.
Another Nazi. Played by Ralph Fiennes, the camp commandant incarnates evil in all its banality and cruelty. When Goeth isn’t casually taking potshots at prisoners or executing a woman over engineering specifications, he’s ordering the liquidaton of the Krakow ghetto with the words “today is history.”