For every great hero, there must be a great villain – or at least there should be. A good villain could save your movie from mediocrity, or elevate it to something truly remarkable. What sort of antagonist can challenge a hero to answer the call to greatness? Here are 7 of the best villains who did just that: (SPOILERS FOR GONE GIRL, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER)
7. Kim Jong Un – THE INTERVIEW
I thought about not putting this character on the list for several reasons: 1) At the time of my writing this list, no one had seen the fucking movie 2) Less in line with other villains this year because this is a guy that actually exists outside of the context of the movie. I’m just going to talk about the movie version. Kim Jon Un is portrayed as a master manipulator to the character of James Franco. I say only James Franco because he’s the only character in the film dumb enough to fall for his ruse. The Interview actually manages to paint Un in an understandable light. He’s a monster, but he loves to party.
6. President Snow – MOCKINGJAY PART 1
Some people don’t like the Hunger Games because of Young Adult tropes and some weird inclination to label everything in a genre as similar. These people are wrong. The series has issues in the narrative and pacing departments, but it accomplishes one important aspect worth admiring: it makes an evil empire worth hating again. President Snow is untouchable, and he knows it. He counteracts every move Katniss and the rebels of District 13 make as soon as they prepare for an offensive attack. Snow is a representation of everything we despise in an evil empire. Constantly taunting Katniss with a sea of white roses, you’ll hope for the day Katniss goes total Jack Bauer on him.
5. Wilford – SNOWPIERCER
[image redacted to preserve cameo surprise]
Snowpiercer is fucking fantastic. You’ve probably heard that a few times, but I just want to say it again. It’s reminiscent of the political themes present in the BioShock video game series (societal structures controlling masses through pleasures AND oppression because men in power deem it a necessity). In place of setting the dystopia underwater or above the clouds, Snowpiercer has the entire movie take place within the confines of a giant train. Although Steve Rogers doesn’t come face to face with Wilford until the end of the movie, it’s the simple exchange between the two men that solidifies Wilford as a true menace (beyond what we already knew at that point). *It also solidifies it as the best BioShock adaptation we’ll ever get. Take that as you will.
4. The Winter Soldier – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
The Winter Solder/Bucky Barnes gets a heroic moment at the end of the film. His purpose in the other previous 2 hours delegate him to being the antithesis of what Captain America represents. Captain Steve Rogers willingly becomes an icon of everything American can and should be; endorsing freedom in an age where everyone is vying for control. Hydra brainwashes Bucky Barnes to carry out assassinations to rewrite history how they wish for it to be presented. He’s also a relentless killing machine with more in common with a Terminator than a human being. The fight between him and Captain America on the streets of DC remains one of the better action set pieces of 2014.
3. “Amazing” Amy Elliot Dunne – GONE GIRL
I love Amy Elliot Dunne. I love Rosamund Pike’s complete commitment to the role of Amy. Does Amy go a bit overboard in her extended revenge on her cheating douche of a husband? Absolutely. But the elements that make Amy a fascinating character come down to how much of her determination to just get shit done. Amazing Amy doesn’t suffer fools. If she wasn’t a murderous-manipulative-psychopath, she’d be a great role model. I honestly believe Amazing Amy could make Kim Jong Un decide to release The Interview and have him think it was his idea.
2. Lou Bloom – NIGHTCRAWLER
We are Lou Bloom. He’s a manifestation of our most cold desires to succeed. He’s a self-made man, driven to work with cold calculated precision. From the opening of the film, we know something isn’t quite right with Lou, and before you can say “actually, it’s about ethics…” Nightcrawler pulls back its curtain to reveal an unsettling truth. Lou Bloom is a sociopath, thus feeling no remorse for his manufacturing of “true stories” he sells to the news outlets. Lou scavenges the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles with full intent on inspiring others to follow in his footsteps. Don’t worry, he’ll never ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. Jake Gyllenhaal, an actor who consistently evolves his craft, easily gives the best performance of his career, and possibly the year.
1. Koba – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes succeeds on many levels, but the primary success is all attributed to the Apes themselves. Caesar is basically Monkey Moses. That leaves Monkey Ramses to the shoulders of Koba, a relatively minor presence in Rise, the scarred ape gets some lines truly iconic lines (I quote “human work” on a daily basis). The relationship between Koba and Caesar is fine until humans pop into the picture. Given their differing experience with humans, it’s understandable why Caesar would defend them and why Koba wants to see them all destroyed. That’s the best kind of villain, when you can understand with their plight. You don’t have to support what Koba did, but there’s no denying the staying power of a character like this one. Tony Kebbell’s performance in the film warrants just as much discussion as Serkis’ fantastic portrayal of the simian leader. There was no better villain in all of 2014.