Eric started us off last week with his list of the Top 10 Villains You Love to Hate, and now it’s my turn. Be sure to check back every Tuesday for a new Top 10 list from your pals at Scene-Stealers!
1. Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988), Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman has given us a few of the more dastardly villains of the previous two decades. Opposite Bruce Willis’ John McClane, Rickman’s Hans Gruber is one clever bastard. Who can forget the scene where Hans and McClane meet upstairs, Gruber impersonates a guest from the party and steals the show from headliner Willis. Aside from his unforgettable turn as Gruber, Rickman’s recurring role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films is up there with the best in recent villains. Ah… and then there’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Bad Accents” with Hollywood’s foremost linguistic expert Kevin Costner. This list has its fair share of brilliant bad guys, who unfortunately emanate from highly suspect films, but this one takes the cake. Rickman’s cruel and unusual Sheriff of Nottingham may not have been enough to save the film, but his performance has tempted me, on more than one occasion, to go there – despite the warning in my heart.
Hans Gruber: “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” The benefits of a classical education.
2. Prince Humperdinck and the Six-Fingered Man: Count Tyrone Rugen (1987), Christopher Sarandon and Christopher Guest
There has never been a finer duo of villains in the history of cinema. “The Princess Bride” is a juggernaut of comedy genius, so rare that it is one of only two comedies to consistently land in my list of the top films of all time. Take a wild guess at what other film (also featuring the talents of Mr. Guest this time in spandex) makes an appearance. Sarandon and Guest are unstoppable together. It is impossible to imagine “The Princess Bride” without the scenes in the Pit of Despair or Sarandon’s suspicious surrender at the hands of “mostly dead all day” Westley at the films climax. They are the perfect bastards for a very nearly perfect film.
Count Rugen: [calmly] As you know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old. Really that’s all this is except that instead of sucking water, I’m sucking life. I’ve just sucked one year of your life away. I might one day go as high as five, but I really don’t know what that would do to you. So, let’s just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?
Count Rugen: Ah. Are you coming down into the pit? Wesley’s got his strength back. I’m starting him on the machine tonight.
Prince Humperdinck: [sincerely] Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.
2½. Warden Norton, Shawshank Redemption (1994), Bob Gunton
So, I was finishing this top ten. I was looking for a sure fire way to secure reader recognition of my number ten villain “The Kurgan,” played by Clancy Brown, when suddenly I remembered one nefarious mongrel that simply had to go on my already finished list. I couldn’t eject any of my other picks, so I’m pulling a move and dropping in an extra bad guy. Character actor Bob Gunton has got to get looks at the coffee shop for this one. I can only imagine the frequency with which passersby regularly succumb to the knee jerk reaction in coming face-to-face with the stone-cold betrayer who murdered the one and only man who could substantiate Andy Dufresne’s (Tim Robbins) innocence in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Talk about a professional hazard, Gunton was so convincing, so fantastic at his job, that even now as I acknowledge this bizarre blurring of the lines between movies and reality, I fear should we meet in a well lit park one day that my first reaction would be to be filled with contempt. Then of course, I would stop and say hello, compliment him on his amazing work and then apologize for confusing the man and the monster.
Warden Samuel Norton: I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.
3. Stansfield, Léon: The Professional (1994), Gary Oldman
This is a incredible film, one that a staggering number of people in my circle of friends have not seen. Gary Oldman is absolutely out of his frickin’ mind as corrupt cop Norman Stansfield. Stansfield murders 12-year old Mathilda’s (Natalie Portman) parents, making her an orphan and sending her running into the arms of the reclusive professional hitman living down the hall. The hitman, Léon, played brilliantly by Jean Reno (“Ronin”) takes in the girl and eventually dispenses with Stansfield, but not before Oldman gets to spackle the screen with Stansfield’s unbuttoned, drug-fueled and particularly spectacular brand of crazy.
Mathilda: You killed my brother.
Stansfield: I’m sorry. And you want to join him?
Stansfield: It’s always the same thing. It’s when you start to become really afraid of death that you learn to appreciate life. Do you like life, sweetheart?
Stansfield: That’s good, because I take no pleasure in taking life if it’s from a person who doesn’t care about it.
4. Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven (1992), and Captain Frank Ramsey, Crimson Tide (1995), Gene Hackman
I’m not one to defend Clint Eastwood movies. In my experience Eastwood films are like Radiohead records, overappreciated in their time. However, “Unforgiven” is a doozey of a film and in it, the endlessly talented Gene Hackman embodies the unimaginable wretch “Little Bill.” I am tempted to include yet another of Hackman’s villains on this list, so I’ve decided to make it a double. Hackman’s portrayal of hardened submarine skipper Capt. Frank Ramsey in “Crimson Tide” is a dark, complex role that never ceases to frighten me. While Ramsey may not be a typical villain, he is every bit as dangerous and at least as scary as any of the other typhoons of trouble on this list.
Capt. Ramsey: Yeah, horses’re fascinating animals. Dumb as fenceposts but very intuitive. In that way they’re not too different from high school girls: they may not have a brain in their head but they do know all the boys want to fuck ‘em.
5. Magneto, X2: X-Men United (2003), Ian McKellen
I was a comic book freak as a kid. I remember clearly that around the time Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” came out in ’91, I spent an inordinate amount of time scribbling down and revising my choices for the ultimate cast of a then unrealistic live-action X-Men movie. Bob De Niro, fresh from his role as Max Cady was a lock for Wolverine, and after that my casting plans get fuzzy. No matter what I dreamt back then, I couldn’t have done any better than Ian McKellen as Magneto. McKellen created a version of Magneto that was both ferocious and fragile, cruel and charming. Through McKellen, the screen version of Magneto became an eerie metaphor for power and corruption, a one-man war between his expansive intellect and desire to rule. McKellen’s acting chops were on constant display through the early 00′s as he bounced back and forth between his work as the megalomaniacal Magneto and his duties in Middle-Earth as the noble wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Magneto: What’s your name?
Pyro: [staring at his lighter in Magneto's hands] John.
Magneto: What’s your real name, John?
Pyro: [flame appears in Pyro's hands] Pyro.
Magneto: Quite a talent you have there, Pyro.
Pyro: I can only manipulate the fire [flame disappears into Pyro's hand]
Pyro: I can’t create it.
Magneto: You are a god among insects. Never let anyone tell you different.
6. Count Dracula, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Gary Oldman
Like Alan Rickman’s role in “Robin Hood,” Gary Oldman’s tour de force performance as the bloodthirsty king of the nighttime world is often overlooked. There is an astounding contrast between Oldman’s sinister masterwork and the high school acting troupe comprised of co-stars Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder and Cary Elwes. Even Sir Anthony Hopkins joined in on the pedestrian squad for this one, jesting his way through the film as Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Oddly enough, the only support player on Oldman’s team was the gravel-throated Tom Waits as R.M. Renfield – go figure. Say what you will about the rest of Francis Ford Coppola’s misadventure in Translyvania, but Oldman’s Dracula was magnificent.
Dracula: [about the wolves that are howling] Listen to them: the children of the night. What sweet music they make.
7. Mrs. John Iselin, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Angela Lansbury
Before you “Murder She Wrote” fans choke on your geriatric crime caper, you really should know that a young Ms. Lansbury was nominated for her role as one of celluloid’s most memorable villains. As the unscrupulous Mrs. Iselin, Lansbury portrays maybe the most indefensible mother in film history. With a glassy, flat affect and inhuman ease, she gifts her son Raymond to be brainwashed and made to become an unwitting lethal weapon.
Mrs. Iselin: But now we have come almost to the end. One last step. And then when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.
8. El Guapo, ¡Three Amigos! (1986), Alfonso Arau
“In a way, each of us has an El Guapo to face. For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us.” – Lucky Day (Martin Short).
Many people don’t know that the man who brought to life the villainous El Guapo, Alfonso Arau, also directed “A Walk in the Clouds” and “Like Water for Chocolate.” Arau’s hysterical tyrant El Guapo alongside “plethora” counting henchman Jefe, played by character actor Tony Plana (“Ugly Betty”), are more than enough villain for the Three Amigos in this John Landis-directed hit.
El Guapo: Jefe, you do not understand women. You cannot force open the petals of a flower. When the flower is ready, it opens itself up to you.
Jefe: So when do you think Carmen will open up her flower to you?
El Guapo: Tonight, or I will kill her!
9. Cardinal Richelieu, The Three Musketeers (1993), Tim Curry
Ok, sports fans start your engines. Did J.D. just throw down a Disney movie in his top ten villains list? Yes, yes I did. Like Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman before him, Tim Curry – “Dr. Frank-N-Furter” himself – has given us a heaping barrel full of quality rapscallions over the years. Admittedly, many of his menacing miscreants come in less than Oscar-worthy packages. Stephen Herek (“Rockstar”) directed this questionable romp through a well-tread literary classic. This guilty pleasure of pseudo-family entertainment is buttressed only by “the funny” of co-stars Oliver Platt and Charlie Sheen and Curry’s oh so nasty, double-dealing, super-sanctified scoundrel, Cardinal Richelieu. Curry has also thrown down, uber-baddie style, as Pennywise the Clown in “Stephen King’s It” and the the Lord of Darkness in the often forgotten Ridley Scott fantasy “Legend.” Tim Curry one, naysayers zero – deal with it.
Cardinal Richelieu: I trust, Captain Rochefort, that you are doing everything in your power to rid us of these rebels. Don’t let having only one eye impair your vision. The loss of the other could be most… inconvenient.
10. The Kurgan / Victor Kruger, Highlander (1986), Clancy Brown
Like a child loves his mommy, like peanut butter loves chocolate, I love “Highlander.” Queen did the soundtrack for crying out loud, what else do you want? It sports a truly original story and characters, plus more than a few bold, memorable transition shots from music video director Russell Mulcahy. “Highlander” was “The Matrix” of its time, obviously not for technical or cinematic advancement, but for science-fiction inspiration and originality. At this point, Clancy Brown is probably most well known for his role as the club wielding Captain Hadley in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Who knows if anyone would give a hoot about Brown’s role as the sword-toting immortal The Kurgan at a Blockbuster on Friday night, but I’m sure his iconic headhunter still gets him accosted at the Sci-Fi convention. Killer movie, killer soundtrack, and a killer villain to round out the countdown.
Priest: This is a house of God. People are trying to pray. You’re disturbing them.
Kurgan: He cares about these helpless mortals?
Priest: Of course He cares. He died for our sins.
Kurgan: That shall be His undoing.
Kurgan: Father! Forgive me , I am a worm…
Kurgan: I have something to say! It’s better burn out, than to fade away!