How many of you are already angry because your favorite villain was introduced too early in the list? How many of you are starting to feel pretty confident that your favorite villain may be excluded? Anyone frustrated that they can’t just skip to number one? Well buck up. We’re into that part of the list where the men and women prey on distraction and weakness. So, pay attention. Because once we finish this segment, we’ll be over halfway through, and that’s too far in to think about turning around.
55. Sergeant Barnes, Platoon
Aaaaand we start this segment with our second villain in possession of a horrendously scarred face. Honestly, Googling “scarred movie characters” could have proven just as beneficial to my collection as utilizing my film memory. To expound upon the point I made earlier (#73): scars carry symbolic weight, figurative defacings denoting an event that mutilated more than just the flesh. And Sgt. Barnes wears the scars of a nation, the ruin of war. Oliver Stone doesn’t like to paint in suggestive colors. Platoon offers a good influence and a bad influence that couldn’t be more obvious if they had wings and sat on Charlie Sheen’s shoulders. Willem Defoe as Sgt. Elias displays the persistence of humanity and brotherhood in man’s darkest hour and, as you can see in the picture above, Sgt. Barnes ain’t got no time for that noise. He accepts war as his identity. It scars his soul.
54. Captain Vidal, Pan’s Labyrinth
Well, he is a sadist on the wrong side of history who delights in using his authority to torment others. But even so, it takes a commitment to evil to be the most disturbing creature in the movie when you share the screen with that pale monster that holds its eyeballs in its palms. Ofelia either inhabits or imagines a world of fantasy. If the second possibility is the case, then it is Captain Vidal who lends his ugliness to her fantasy world’s most troublesome creatures. But that’s nothing compared to the influence he wields on the natural world. When Vidal bashes the face of a peasant with a bottle it is one of the most unexpected and upsetting violent scenes of 21st Century cinema and helps from the brutality of the evil that Ofelia must face in her real life.
53. Alex Forrest, Fatal Attraction
If there were a way to measure such things, I bet we would find that 1987 marks a low point for American infidelity, because Fatal Attraction isn’t even a cautionary tale, it’s a full-on scare tactic. Alex is loathable because she represents a real fear taken to its scariest conclusion. Any guy who has a few too many missed calls after a first date can attest to that tinge of panic. If the voicemail is a little too menacing, the Fatal Attraction-informed mind automatically leaps to the boiled bunny. Some might say the lesson of the story is that men should keep it in their pants. I’d like to staple on an addendum: If you can’t keep it in your pants, at least don’t park it in someone who has Glenn Close’s crazy eyes. Things you can tell just by looking at her.
52. Little Bill, Unforgiven
I’m calling a spade a spade. Little Bill has tiny dick syndrome (TDS). If he lived in today’s world, he’d drive an illogically large truck, pull backwards and crooked into every parking spot, and play his music way too loud. In a movie whose theme is boldly apparent from the title onward, everyone starts out trying to be someone they’re not, only to have nature run its course and reveal their true identity. Its easy for Little Bill to advertise toughness against the windbag English Bob, virtually innocent Ned, or even a pneumatic Will Munny. His savage violence sure does seem intimidating against unequipped targets, but Little Bill pulled his tickets when he murdered Munny’s friend while Munny recovered from his flu. And, in the end, Little Bill’s revelation of self is far from sympathetic. It’s whiny and groveling and shameless. But it does allow for my favorite line in all of film.
51. Jack Torrance, The Shining
It doesn’t start out bad. A drunk dad with a blemish on his record. Maybe an alcohol problem. But the time spent with his family in the isolated hotel should help, right? Okay, so we know from the novel that this isn’t going to be an Ang Lee contemplation piece about the quiet ties that bond a family. But Stephen King’s best writing can’t prepare audiences for Jack Nicholson’s unhinged lunacy shaped by Kubrick’s disciplined genius. We’ve seen Jack Nicholson crazy before. Plenty of times. But we’ve never wanted him to go away. To leave the screen. To die. We’ve never really opposed him like we do in The Shining. In no other movie do we want to scream through the screen “Jack! Chill the fuck out! Let’s wait ’til Scatman gets here and see what he’s been up to!” His descent into madness (or something worse) is the kind of rare terrifying moment that causes a lifetime of obsession.
50. Freddy Krueger, Nightmare on Elm Street
No. Not the guy who likes puns and putting souls in pepperoni pizza. The first Freddy, the real Freddy, the guy who I still can’t align with even though he provides the Johnny Depp his first onscreen death. Freddy, who takes my theory about scars (#55) and runs it all the way to hell and back. Believe it or not, the idea of having a killer haunt your dreams with mortal consequence was once a fresh one, and it was scary as shit. Freddy was menacing. His theme song ruined childhoods. He turned boiler rooms into nightmares. True story time: when I was seven, I went to the local fair and kicked everyone’s ass at skee ball. After a win streak, the carnie wagered any prize he had that I couldn’t win again. I won. I picked a five foot tall cardboard cut out of Freddy (to further cement my legacy as a badass). I kept the cutout in the corner of my room and for a year straight I made sure I stayed up later than everyone in my family so that no one knew that I turned him around against the wall every night.
49. Toby, Paranormal Activity
I’m anticipating the backlash. I know what the most common reaction to this is going to be: A significant percentage of you are going to read this, roll your eyes, and make the claim that you don’t enjoy the Paranormal Activity series. “Oh the found footage thing is getting old,” you’ll say, “I’ve never found those movies scary. Nothing happens for like seventy minutes.” Where were you badasses on opening night of the original movie? Because I went to two different openings of Paranormal Activity, all packed houses, and no one was calm. I’m not sure there was anyone who didn’t piss in the seat. As of the writing of this article, none of us have actually seen Toby yet. And I’m not sure I want to. When the Paranormal Activity series is at its best (the original chapter and Paranormal Activity 3) it uses our own formulized expectation of real time and movie time against us. It is the realest form of tension, and Toby turns it into terror.
48. Noah Cross, Chinatown
Noah Cross is the richest man in L.A., a land baron with more money than John Huston can hide in his jowls. His presence is his power. He makes use of his screen time to deliver enough menace that his essence stinks up every scene. He looks and even talks like an endearing grandfather but he is absolutely corrupt. He speaks evenly of his incestuous rape, dismissing it as the result of humanity’s total rottenness, taking no account for his own actions. He is driven by material value, concerned only with amassing wealth and never held accountable for his actions. Noah Cross is the worst of Bernie Madoff and Jerry Sandusky all rolled into one sick individual.
47. Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter series
Not the one you were expecting? Well, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. This doll-eyed, deadface, Burton-dressed mannequin harnessed the highest level of applause with her onscreen death at the midnight showing I attended. And it all boils back to my Gremlin theory: It’s not always what you do, but sometimes who you do it to. And also who you’re married to and make movies with (Burton and Depp together are a worse entity than anyone on this list). But let’s get back to the point. This bitch killed Dobby. And that’s when things got real at Hogwarts. I know millions of people would give up sex before admitting J.K. Rowling is imperfect, but I consider it a mistake in writing that Harry didn’t go Ultimate Warrior Wizard the instant Dobby fell to his knees. He should have Incendio’d the whole mother down. narrative tradition be damned.
46. Norman Stansfield, The Professional
Now that The Dark Knight trilogy has ended, movie fans can only hope that Gary Oldman gets back to what he does best. I don’t mean sidekicking it with another superhero. Though he does make a great moral compass, if Commisioner Gordon and Norman Stansfield crossed paths, there’d be nothing left of Batman’s buddy except some blood and a weird pile of mustache hair. This is what Gary Oldman is really, really good at it, and he never played psychotic better than he plays it here– the perfect balance of sociopathic charm and drug induced manic mood swings. Oldman illustrates exactly the kind of lunacy that might possess a man stalking a 12 year old Natalie Portman.
45. Cyrus Grissom, Con Air
Con Air is a cartoon of an action movie. An over-the-top premise, your standard gas-to-the-floor Nicolas Cage performance (with a little Southern spice thrown in for good measure), and a committee of paint-by-numbers bad guys. This movie makes Van Damme’s minor work seem like high theater. But, in the cockpit of all that, there’s this lispy mastermind who is genuinely and humanly sinister. Grissom’s dialogue is fittingly vapid for the rest of the movie, but his non-emotive delivery only adds to the organic menace. It’s almost like Simon West paid Clint Eastwood as a secret assistant to work exclusively with Malkovich behind all the other actors’ backs. Or Malkovich had to take the role because he lost a bet with his agent and carried his real anger from scene to scene. Whatever the case, Grissom’s presence becomes increasingly troublesome as we grow to begrudgingly root for Cage’s Cameron Poe.
44. The Evil Queen, Snow White
She marks the invention of the evil stepmother trope. The characterization through feature design is some of the best in the history of animated film. She possesses comparable characteristics to the great hated characters: malice, vanity, conniving and murderous intent. Reports have her appearance influenced by the facial characteristics of several actresses and art pieces. She’s the Robocop of bitchery. Her yearning for the death of the pure Snow White exhibited a wickedness that modern Disney would never expose to children. In that sense, The Evil Queen set an almost impassable standard of wickedness in cartoon villainry.
43. Shirley Jane Turner, Dear Zachary
No levity here. No celebration. I was hesitant to include Shirley Jane Turner on the list. Not because she isn’t worthy of hate. She absolutely is, probably more deserving than any entry on the list. I’m hesitant because I’ve never been certain if Dear Zachary counts as a movie. The ambition is nakedly solicitous of negative emotion. The movie is a calculating exercise presenting an infinitely more calculating, sick, and perhaps evil individual. The events of Dear Zachary are real. They are presented in the form of a narrative and epistolary documentary. If it is identifiable as a film, it is one of two films I’ve watched in my lifetime (the other being Salo, #69 on our list) that offer less than zero pleasure-in-viewing. If it is anything, it is a glimpse of the knot that ties movies and real life. It is a reminder that any evil that we can imagine on screen has and does exist in reality. But I won’t watch it again and I won’t recommend it to anyone.
42. Spike Hammersmith, Little Giants
So maybe I’m cheating here, fudging the numbers to allot a us a little levity after that last trip into total anguish. But that doesn’t mean Spike doesn’t belong on this list somewhere. He’s rude, selfish, uncooperative and exemplary of everything despicable about American sports and youth. His early robotic obsession with his sport and his apathy toward the feelings of others (namely Icebox and that kid who blows the snot bubble) is indicative of early sociopathy. Who’s to say that Spike Hammersmith, with his super-villain name, doesn’t grow up to be someone like Jigsaw or Ivan Drago? Or worse, an actual Dallas Cowboy!
41. Gaear Grimsrud, Fargo
He’s a sore fit against the rest of the movie. While the pregnant sheriff is waddling around Bumfuck Antarctica, William H. Macy is doing his best corrupt Ned Flanders impression, and Steve Buscemi just won’t shut up, we get the feeling that Gaear is playing by a different set of politics than all the other poor saps in this small North Dakota town. The cold Swedish killer barely speaks (80 words), but something in the dead emptiness of his stare readies the audience for some upsetting turn. Every second he spends on screen is one wherein we feel something coming. I mean, there’s no way to fully prepare yourself for murder by wood chipper, but we’re at least semi-prepared. Who am I kidding. No we’re not. It’s completely dumbfounding. That’s why the last scene works so well: Frances McDormand driving Gaear in her cruiser, delivering a speech that indicates she’s in just as much shock as we are.