In movies, there are heroes and there are villains. While seemingly simplistic, this dichotomy is actually applicable to many great movies. The best movies, however, are those that can create villains that we can appreciate, if not necessarily root for. So, for your viewing purposes, here are the ten best villains ever.
1. Best Comic Villain: Ian McKellen as Magneto — X-Men:
While many swear by Heath Ledger's admittedly remarkable performance in The Dark Knight, the mantel of best villain in a film comic adaptation would still have to go to Ian McKellan's performance as Erik Lensherr. Magneto's greatest strength as a character is the fact that he is certainly a villain but no simplistic definition of evil applies to him; he legitimately believes that humans hate his kind and, quite frankly, he's right. McKellan does absolute justice to the role of a Holocaust survivor and brings to life a character that knows hatred far too well.
2. Best Thriller Villain: Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh — No Country for Old Men:
He does not say much more than is necessary, does not do much more than kill and does not reveal anything about who he is. On paper, Anton Chigurh had all the qualities of a villain in a teen slasher flick. However, Bardem's beautifully understated performance and the Coen Brothers' minimalist dialogue allow us to see so much more depth than just a mindless killer. Does he kill indiscriminately? Absolutely not. Chigurh has an uncompromising attitude towards a code we do not understand but, evidently, he does. It makes him an absolute bane of humanity and a grim reminder of death's morbidly humorous unpredictability.
3. Best Spy Villain: Albert Finney as Dr. Albert Hirsch — The Bourne Ultimatum:
While the men persecuting Jason Bourne were numerous, they could never get inside the super agent's head; the only who could do that was Albert Hirsch. The mastermind of a program designed to dehumanize soldiers and make them into merciless killing machines, Finney's performance as the pragmatic brainwasher inspires absolute hatred. Men sign on for civil duty because they are patriotic; Hirsch gave them a program where they were pushing personal interests, killing innocents and putting their own nation's security at risk. Finney displays no arbitrary emotions, letting the character exist without any additives; the end result is a chilling, grim performance that shreds the delusion of morality to pieces.
4. Best Cop Drama Villain: Andy Lau as Inspector Lau King Min — Infernal Affairs:
Proof that the protagonist of the story can just as easily be the villain, Andy Lau delivered a masterful performance in one of the most tense and intelligent police films ever made. As a criminal who spent his life pretending to be a cop, Inspector Lau lost his sense of identity and would forever be haunted by the life he had hidden but could never quite renounce. He was legitimately evil but even the most wicked suffer and sometimes dreams of another life, a complexity that Lau captures perfectly. In the end, you know there will never be any reprieve for him and you actually feel bad for him, something that owes itself greatly to Lau's immensely convincing portrayal. The movie aptly quotes Buddha, who once stated, "He who is in Continuous Hell never dies."
5. Best Historical Drama Villain: Chen Daoming as Qin Wang — Hero:
An Academy-worthy performance in an Academy-nominated film. Throughout much of the story, the viewer learns about the assassins, cares about them and understand why they would legitimately want to kill Qin Wang. The king has an ego greater than his kingdom, strange imperialistic tendencies and a superiority complex so visible that even approaching him is deemed an honor. Wang is not kind, he is not great but, as the movie shows and Chen masterfully portrays, he is the unifying force that the nation needs. The moral on display is essentially that security and stability matter more than rights and equality, a chilling message the actor captures perfectly. The movie's political leaning are quite disturbing so it doesn't merit agreement but its dedication to cinematic mastery definitely merits a viewing.
6. Best Animated Villain: Kevin Spacey as Hopper — A Bug's Life:
Easily the best villain animation has ever seen, Kevin Spacey's Hopper is a character that understands how intimidation works. Even when he doesn't need food for the rainy season, he still tortures those smaller than him. Ants pick the food, grasshoppers take the food, ants live beneath the grasshoppers' feet; a simple recipe that everyone from dictators to slave owners have always utilized. The striking visual design, coupled with Spacey's flawless delivery, makes you understand why the ants wouldn't dare rise, despite outnumbering their opponents a hundred to one. That it is so simple to completely rule over someone is a terrifying thought and one that we have no trouble believing after Spacey's performance.
7. Best Satirical Drama Villain: Ed Harris as Christof — The Truman Show:
Simply the kind of performance that defines a career. Christof was a delusional man that genuinely believed that he had created life when he controlled every aspect of his television character. He believed in his creation so much, in fact, that he felt himself entitled to forever command it, freedom be damned. Ed Harris makes us care for this character, shows us how he really did love Truman like a father loves a son. When Truman walks out on him, probably to never see him again, all he is left with is a static television screen. The rest of the world could simply change the channel but, for Christof, his life ended the day his star walked off the set.
8. Best Martial Arts Villain: Benny Urquidez as Henchman — Wheels on Meals:
It's a martial arts film that delivers some laughs; don't expect Shakespeare from it. The story in this Jackie Chan classic is legitimate drivel, simply serving up an excuse to script elaborate fight scenes and maybe incorporate a few shots of a scantily clad Lola Forner. The best fight scene in the film, however, is also one of the best in the history of martial arts cinema, where Jackie Chan's character takes on an elite henchman, played by real-life kickboxer Benny Urquidez. Both Chan and Urquidez were in their prime at this time, resulting in a fast-paced and fairly hilarious fight. Movies like The Matrix look cool but they lack the gritty realism and fantastic athleticism that Hong Kong cinema has produced for decades, the best of which is in this fight. Seriously, one of Benny's kicks is so fast that it actually put out some distant candles during filming.
9. Best Comedic Villain: Matt Damon as Archer Midland — The Informant!:
An experimental movie if there ever was one, this fact-based comedy by infamous risk-taker Steven Soderbergh is about a protagonist that really isn't able to stay focused on anything. Much of the film has narration akin to stream of consciousness and Damon really brings to life what would have been a very grim tale. There are several moments that make you laugh and, even as you start to realize that this is not a guy you should support, he still brings a smile to your face; for a corrupt businessman to be able to do that, particularly in a post-99 world, is a testament to how well this story is told and acted.
10. The Usual Suspects:
And by that, I don't mean the film starring the aforementioned Spacey. Instead, I mean the people that are so famously tied to villainous roles that not mentioning them means I am inviting anger-filled commentary. So, for the sake of my safety, I include the likes of Dr. No, the Joker, Darth Vader, zombies, ninjas, and the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. If there are any that I missed, just imagine they were right here.
Or, you know, just share in the comments.