This is a list that critics more esteemed than I have worked on. The American Film Institute’s list of 50 Greatest Villains is HERE, along with their 50 Greatest Heroes. My list, on the other hand, is more of a personal one. These are the villains I’VE loved the most. I can’t argue that Cruella De Vil isn’t a great villain, she just doesn’t move me like the Predator does. Needless to say, the Predator doesn’t make the AFI’s list. So let’s get crackin’!
My favorite. Brought to life by Alan Rickman, Gruber actually does make the AFI’s list, at #46. The key to a great action movie (this one is Die Hard) is a great villain. Gruber is funny, cultured, and not playing around. His plan is sound…perfectly so. He just doesn’t count on Bruce Willis‘ John McClane (“a fly in the ointment…a monkey in the wrench”), in town on vacation and just the person to save us.
Another classic. Less well-known than the Alien, The Predator is its superior in almost every way. Equipped with laser firepower and heat-vision, predators are quad-jawed animals that hunt other species (who are at the top of their respective food chains) for sport. Immortalized in its battle with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Predator has made several unfortunate attempts to re-appear in films, from sequels to prequels, and out-and-out Alien battles.
#22 on the AFI’s list, the Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is an unstoppable killing machine from the future. Well, unstoppable by anyone but Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The Terminator was James Cameron‘s first attempt at larger-than-life sci-fi danger. Good start.
The biggie. Committed to celluloid dozens of times, the characterization that sticks in my mind is Rosalinda Celentano‘s chilling performance in Mel Gibson‘s divisive The Passion of the Christ. Maligned by many, awe-inspiring to many others, the film was, if nothing else, hugely successful. And Celentano’s pale, androgynous Satan, complete with demon-baby, is a villain that will stick with you.
With acid for blood and a lust for human flesh, the Alien (Alien, etc.) is one of the freakiest monsters ever envisioned, and #14 for AFI. Designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger and brought to life by some of the greatest filmmakers of our generation (Ridley Scott, Cameron, David Fincher, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet), the Alien is the ultimate there’s-something-out-there-in-the-dark fright. Or the ultimate my-stomach-feels-a-little-funny worst case scenario.
Our most human villain, it is the ease with which we identify with Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) that makes him so frightening. Denied by God the skill to do the one thing he craves, Salieri must stand by and observe the brilliance of a buffoon. Milos Forman‘s Amadeus is a case study in human nature, and of its tragic ends.
The Blair Witch
Our winner for least-seen villian. Never appearing on screen, the Blair Witch terrorized the kids of her titular Project via sounds, heavy breathing, and bloody handprints on walls. Seeing this for the first time was an incredibly intense experience; my friends and I went right home and watched Pleasantville, the pleasant-est movie we could think of, so that we 22-year-olds wouldn’t have to dream of the Maryland woods at night.
An interesting one, Gumb (Ted Levine) never actually shares screen time in The Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who ranks #1 on the AFI’s list of all-time villains. Unkempt where Lecter is put together, Gumb is the stuff of nightmares where Lecter is the stuff of psychology texts. Until Lecter whimpers to a captive, “It puts the lotion on its skin,” Jame Gumb will be the scarier villain to me.
So, who scares you? Whose villainy knows no bounds? Who keeps you up at night? Discuss!