5 of The Most Memorable Film Villains of all Time

If everyone was nice there’d be no stories.  Heroes overcome obstacles to get the girl, the boy, the money or whatever and though the obstacles might come in the form of bears or burning buildings, the most interesting ones are always human.  The really great ones are those you remember more than the good guy.  There are some great female villains, Lotte Lenya in ‘From Russia with Love’, but they rarely get central roles.  So, I’m afraid I’m going for five guys, don’t blame me, blame it on the patriarchal bias of western cinema, or maybe it’s just that men are naturally nastier than women.

  1. Orson Welles as police chief Hank Quinlan in A Touch of Evil


Welles at his most bloated mumbling best.  The crooked cop whose physical degeneration reflects his moral corruption.  Quinlan looms into the frame of a low angle shot and peers into the camera so that you can see every sweaty pore and practically smell his cheap cigar and then he strangles a witness.  And yet despite Welles transformation of himself into a sleazy gargoyle he also manages to create a sympathetic character, far more appealing than the earnestly incorruptible good cop played by Charlton Heston.  His character also gets the greatest of all screen epitaphs in the closing lines of the film: ‘He was some kind of a man.  What does it matter what you say about people’.

  1. Robert Mitchum as the Reverend Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter


The great sleight of hand that this remarkable film achieves is that Mitcham’s villainy is only recognised by the boy Billy, to everyone else he is a wholly admirable minister of the Lord.  Mitchum’s character is a chilling portrayal of a sexual psychopath, plausible, manipulative and completely without conscience.  The threat of what this character might do is far more unnerving than any contemporary depiction of explicit violence.  The Reverend’s party piece, the battle between good and evil, which he enacts with his tattooed hands, is an unforgettable sequence in which the gullibility of his audience is as chilling as the hypocrisy of his performance.

  1. James Fox as Chas in Performance

Chas is a villain and no doubt about it.  He’s a nasty London gangster. Intimidation and violence are the tools of his trade, but when he’s forced to go into hiding in the home of reclusive rock star Turner, played by Mick Jagger, everything becomes a little weird, well not a little weird, very weird.  Chas has entered a deranged drug fuelled hippie twilight and everything he thought he was slowly slips away.  This gem of a film, a deconstruction of macho man if ever there was, sat on the shelf for two years before its release.  ‘You’ll look funny when you’re forty’ says Chas to Jagger’s character.

  1. Joe Pesci as Tommy in Goodfellas


Joe Pesci has made a career out of playing deranged villains but his performance as Tommy tops them all.  Tommy flips from wisecracking bonhomie to psychopathic sadism in an instant.  Even when this character is in a good mood he’s terrifying: ‘I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown?’

  1. George Clooney as Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven


Enough nastiness, Danny Ocean is a villain but he is one of the most charming and honest villains ever to grace the screen.  This 2001 comedy heist remake, often referred to as one of the best gambling films of all time, is a delightful confection full of lovely criminals.  Danny is clever, suave and debonair, he doesn’t kill anyone and he doesn’t swear and such is his charm that we’re completely on the side of the lawbreaker.

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