Thursday, 13 February 2014

List #29 | Best Movie Villains

Putting together my Favourite Movie Posters list earlier this week made me want to do another straight away. So here's my first 10 choices for the 29th list from the Film Listography book, looking at the best movie villains.


Disney is responsible for some of the most well-loved and memorable villains of film history. They have provided a wide selection of antagonists that range from the silly (Captain Hook, Prince John) to the fearsome (Shere Khan, the Evil Queen), but by far the most sinister of them all is Maleficent, the evil fairy from Sleeping Beauty. Her power is perfectly established from her very first appearance in the film; booming thunder announcing her presence as she manifests from a violent burst of green flames. Voice actress Eleanor Audley, who also lent her talents to Lady Tremaine of Cinderella, brings the villainess to life with a refined, authoritative voice that sends a chill down my spine. Her wickedness has her curse the newborn Princess Aurora and her kingdom to fall into a deep slumber on her 16th birthday and she spends the remainder of the film ensuring this fate befalls the young girl. Her appearance is so iconic; an almost entirely black silhouette with accents of purple, the high collar, the angular features and of course the twisted horns. The hypnotic music that accompanies her presence in the film also contributes greatly to her success as one of Disney's greatest foes, while there wicked cackle also helps. It is her final transformation during the films climax though, that makes her memorable for so many people. If she wasn't terrifying in her human//fairy form, Maleficent's evil becomes corporeal when she transforms into a ferocious dragon and attacks Prince Phillip. Oh, and she can conjure giant, thorny branches at will. 

Patrick Bateman

Christian Bale's breakthrough performance in American Psycho firmly remains my favourite work of his. An adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' highly controversial novel of the same name, American Psycho follows the twisted mind of Patrick Bateman, a successful Wall Street business man who enjoys brutally murdering and mutilating people on a regular basis. Bale's performance is fantastic as the cold, detached psychopath. From an early scene in which he details his meticulous health and skincare regime he is established as a seriously unhinged individual as a character that cleverly treads the border of parody. What I enjoy the most about Bateman as a character and Bale's interpretation of him is that he is clearly a loser, his bizarre passion and taste in music is hilarious and his obsession over business cards is ridiculous, he is very often portrayed as extremely goofy despite his good looks and slick styling. When he really let's go though, and is taken over by his impulsive desires, he becomes very scary. His chainsaw pursuit of prostitute Courtney is terrifying and Bale is terrific in conveying that hatred and rage. There is a lot of debate about the book and films conclusion, which only adds further to his success as a character.

Baby Jane Hudson

A great movie villain is only as good as the actor or actress tasked with bringing them to life. So when a huge talent such as Bette Davis gets to run wild in the shoes of a character like Baby Jane Hudson, great things can only come of it. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane is a harrowing psychological horror that see's Davis play a child star who never quite grew up. Now an ageing woman who still dresses and behaves like a young girl, Baby Jane is the carer for her crippled sister Blanche. Refusing to let go of her fantasy of fame, Jane torments her sister with both physical and psychological violence, lashing out as she resents the success that her sister had beyond Jane's vaudeville days. Impeccably styled as a disturbing elderly-child hybrid, Davis is incredible as a woman rapidly losing her grip on reality. That the hatred between the two characters was just as real between Davis and her co-star Joan Crawford makes the film all the more enjoyable to watch. Jane is a fantastic movie villain because she manages to be horrifying, entertaining and tragic all at once, at that is primarily down to Davis' undoubtable talent. This film was my introduction to Bette Davis and I've loved her ever since.

Andrew Detmer

Who doesn't love a villain that has a rich backstory, a tragic history that has pushed them so far that they cracked? Chronicle managed to slip under my radar when it was first released, but I bought it following reviews that promised it would deliver a fun and more realistic approach to the superhero genre. It was certainly a lot more than just a fun hero film, it turned out to be one of my favourite films of 2012, and introduced me to the incredible talent and perfect face of Dane DeHaan. I'll admit that watching Chronicle for the first time I developed a huge crush on DeHaan//Andrew, and so was possibly more sympathetic to his story than others may be, but that does not impact on the fact that he is a really well developed character whose descent into villainy was emotional and tense to witness. Receiving super-powers from an unexplained crystal-like formation underground, Andrew and his friends enjoy great success in developing the ability to control anything with their mind. Their teenage tomfoolery is enjoyable to follow and relate to, but as his powers get stronger Andrew's years of being tormented and abused by both his peers and his father distort his views of what is right and wrong. His story is as well written as many long-standing comic super-villains and the combination of the writing and DeHaan's performance make him an instant favourite.

Phyllis Dietrichson

Double Indemnity is one of my all-time favourite films, and is one of the few films that I can confidently say I consider to be flawless. You would think that as I find the film so perfect it would be hard to pick out a singular aspect that stands out as the most successful, but not so. Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson is the epitome of the Femme Fatale and my favourite noir villainess. Phyllis seduces insurance salesman Walter Neff and manipulates him into devising a fool-proof plot to have her husband killed in such a way that she will reap the benefits of an insurance claim, getting twice as much if it comes under the double indemnity clause of the contract. Their plan plays out perfectly, but Walter becomes concerned that his boss may suspect foul-play and as tensions rise Phyllis' true nature is revealed, culminating in a stand-off between the pair. Phyllis is a cold, cold bitch and even acknowledges how rotten she is herself. Stanwyck inhabits the character wholly, giving a performance that charms, shocks and disturbs the audience. The film is incredibly clever and well-written, but Phyllis is the crowning achievement and one of my favourite movie characters of all time.

The Joker

Batman's arch-nemesis, The Joker, is one of the best loved and most notorious villains of comic history and so when Heath Ledger was revealed to be portraying the eccentric bad-guy in Christopher Nolan's second Batman film there were more than a few skeptics. Not only was he one of the most successfully written villains, but he had been brought to life to great praise by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film and Mark Hamill in the animated series, making Ledger's task even greater. Needless to say, Ledger not only pulled a fantastic performance out of the bag, he redefined the character for an entire generation and gave new life to a villain that nobody had considered in need of revitalisation. Without getting into the politics of how much impact Ledger's death had on the success of the film and his performance, he truly seems transformed into the dark clown and owns the film with his portrayal. Being Batman's most popular villain, the hype surrounding the Joker's appearance in the film was great and Ledger exceeded my every expectation that had been built up throughout the marketing of the film. The confrontation between Bats and the Joker in the interrogation room is one of my all-time favourite scenes from any film and it is largely due to how completely Ledger manages to become the chaotic criminal.

Eve Harrington

Up there on the list of cinema's most notorious manipulative bitches sits Eve Harrington, the self-serving 'antagonist' of All About Eve. Posing as a huge fan of Bette Davis' theatre actress Margo Channing, Eve tells Margo and her friends of her impoverished past and how she is recently widowed. The group adopt her into their 'family' with Eve working as an assistant to her idol. In truth Eve is a shamed woman who has been banished from her hometown, she plots to build herself up to the level of success that Margo enjoys and will backstab and blackmail anyone to achieve her goal. She sabotages Margo's career in order to get herself recognition and even stoops to home-wrecking lows in order to secure a husband who can forward her career. Anne Baxter plays Eve perfectly, transforming from earnest to detestable with great skill. I mentioned in my Life, Love and the Movies Blogathon post that I had the pleasure of watching this film for the first time in Bryant Park in New York, and the heckling that Eve got during that screening was hilarious, showing perfectly how awful her character truly is and how well Baxter portrays her.

Captain Vidal

Pan's Labyrinth is a stunning fantasy film from Guillermo Del Toro that features some of the most visually exciting and frightening characters of the genre. It is a tribute to how well written the film is then, that the most horrible villain of the narrative is a human. Captain Vidal is a truly horrendous creation, a vile individual who makes the life of young Ofelia an unbearable nightmare. Despite initial indications that he may possibly care for the young protagonist, it becomes apparent that Vidal has probably married Ofelia's mother and adopted the girl just to get himself a son, rather than out of any true affection for them. He is shown as a malicious torturer and ruthless killer in his fascist, Post-War efforts to rid Spain of anti-Franco rebels and even beats a man to death with the base of a glass bottle. To top off all of this his final actions during the films climax expose him as not only a repulsive man, but a cowardly one.

The Wicked Witch of the West

Is there a single person who when asked to describe a stereotypical witch doesn't conjure up a description along the lines of, pointy black hat, sharp features and green skin, a broom and hideous cackle of a laugh? These attributes may not be unique to The Wicked Witch of the West, but Margaret Hamilton's performance is the one that people think of in relation to them. Her wickedness mainly consists of terrorising a frightened Dorothy Gale as the young girl struggles to find her way back home, and all for a pair of shoes. Hamilton as the Wicked Witch is probably the most iconic portrayals of a witch in cinema history, and she fully deserves that status as her shrill, green baddie is among the best movie villains of all time. The character has since been given a touching back-story thanks to Gregory Maguire's novel, Wicked, and it's subsequent musical adaptation, but taking the original film's version of the character alone she is just as impressive of a character. As a child I found her legion of flying monkeys terrifying, and still do, but Hamilton is every bit as effective as the witch and it is an amazing testament to the film that a villain from the 30's is just as successful today.

Jack Torrance
Though a few of the characters on this list are from film's that have horror elements to their narrative, none of them are as intrinsically linked with the genre as Jack Torrance. Torrance is one of the most horrifying characters to grace the screen and his descent into madness is of an iconic status. Taking a job as the caretaker of a secluded hotel in the mountains, Jack and his family fall victim to the sinister history of the hotel and it's supernatural effects. While Jack's wife and son are simply subjected to encountering strange apparitions, Jack completely loses his mind; engaging in prolonged conversations and encounters with the hotel's spirits. Jack Nicholson is superb in the role, bringing his craziest A-game, and his final rampage through the hotel in an attempt to murder his family is horrifying. Nicholson's performance is eccentric and humourous but consistently frightening, which is what makes Torrance such a strong character. The Shining features countless effective scenes that make it so scary, but Torrance is in another league. He is one of the best villains to grace the big screen.

So those of some of my favourite film villains. Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Be sure to let me know some of your favourites too!

You can find my list of Favourite Animated Films here, my Guilty Pleasures list here, and my Best Movie Posters list here.

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