No story could exist without a conflict, so the bigger, the better— give us a sickeningly evil, conniving, fearless bad guy that brings tension to the screen like nobody else. A good movie needs a guy that can really mess everything up. Find out what the authorities really want the most and destroy it. Take the worse case scenario and make it torturous. Be right there at the most unwelcome moments. Be unpredictable, and strategic, with intelligence slightly higher than the rest. A guy who throws all caution to the wind, obliterates every rule and regulation, and gets away with it. A bad guy so bad, that the audience respects him. He makes the villain look like the hero, and the cops look like a bunch of bumbling fools.
Nobody plays by the rules all the time, so each of us can relate to some insubordination. We’ve all got a bit of the Dark Side in us. We’ve been put down and disciplined. Our fleeting moments of triumph have been stifled and stolen. We can understand where the villain is coming from.
And sometimes the “hero” is just a total dork. It’s like: “Really? This guy saves the day?” Maybe it’s due to poor movie casting, or bad direction and acting. Maybe the hero has a goofy looking outfit on, or just can’t compete with the villain’s irresistible charisma. For whatever reason it is, the villain does occasionally steal the spotlight, and here are some of the finest.
15. Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Would anyone like some farva beans and a nice chianti? Ftph! Ftph! Ftph! That was an attempt to duplicate Lecter’s unforgettable teeth sucking noise that every moviegoer tried to imitate after seeing the thriller Silence of the Lambs. Let’s not forget the guy was talking about eating a human liver. That’s disgusting! And that’s just one example of Hannibal the Cannibal’s awful crimes. Only a truly loveable actor could make that character appealing, and Anthony Hopkin’s performance won him an Oscar. He was delightfully creepy and maniacally tricky with all the wonderful mind games he played on his muse, FBI detective, Clarice.
14. Tony Montana
Say hello to my little friend! This coke addicted lunatic murderer was so likeable that his character is still referred to in hip hop lyrics, and his image still graces dorm room walls around the world. Pacino plays the perfect little monster. Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone, is actually a remake of Scarface, produced by Howard Hughes. Pacino plays Tony Montana, a Cuban in Miami, while in the older film Paul Muni plays Tony Comante, an Italian in Chicago. The Chicago version is based on the real life gangster king, and original Scarface, Al Capone, who is quite possibly one of history’s most endearing real life villains.
13. Jack Torrance
Now here’s a guy that is dripping with charisma. In Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Torrance is trying to kill his wife and son, but after he chops a hole through a door, pokes his head in and say, “Here’s Johnny,” the whole audience wants to either laugh or burst into wondrous applause. Jack is seeing some strange ghosts in that Overlook Hotel, so he’s not really that bad, right? The ghosts are leading him, affecting his decisions. It could happen to anybody. Add to the scene a toothy wife and a whiny kid, that are both extremely annoying, and you have a recipe for a hero-villain favorite. Go Jack go!
12. The Shark
Here we have a poor, scared, innocent animal trapped in the midst of all these idiot humans. The shark in Jaws is just trying to get a meal, right? Why do these moronic men keep chasing him around? Maybe these dudes should just close the beach for a while and wait until the shark finds a better place to hunt. Maybe there’s a beach a few miles south with a bunch of seals or sea lions to eat. The men have zero charisma too, at least compared to the shark. Jaws had his own amazing theme music and everything, who wouldn’t root for him?
11. Jordan Belfort
Leo DiCaprio plays an extremely likeable, somewhat nonfictional, scheming, rotten crook. And in this one the guy gives hedonism a run for its money. In The Wolf Of Wall Street, Belfort is partying with beautiful bikini babes on Caribbean yachts, making love on a pile of cash, driving fancy cars, buying expansive mansions, motivating his team of crooks, and ripping off the American middle-class to the core. But who cares about that last part, the guy is living the dream! A fantasy we all crave, minus the getting caught part of course, and a pass on the pill-popping addiction too.
Each time this feline troublemaker is portrayed, the circumstances are slightly different, but the overall result remains constant—she is very hot and very dangerous. The audience and Batman cannot resist. And just like with Batmans over the years, there is the ongoing debate of who played Catwoman best. There was a slinky Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, or smoking Halle Berry in Catwoman, or lately the leggy Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises. Or there’s old Julie Newmar who was seriously banging back in the 1960s TV series. Either way, Catwoman is possibly the best comic-based female character ever.
9. The Terminator
Who doesn’t want to root for Arnold? In the original James Cameron directed Terminator, the Governator kills like a thousand dudes with a limitless supply of ammunition. He walks around with such a blank expression that he is either an awful actor, or he is SO into character as a robot. Maybe it’s the latter, maybe. It’s hard to tell because he literally had 16 lines throughout the whole film. But he made them count. “I’ll be back.” He was such a charismatic guy that the sequels just had to turn him good.
8. Doug MacRay
In The Town, Ben Affleck plays the lead and directs a story about a bunch of Boston bank robbers who eventually rob the Red Sox’s own Fenway Park. Along the way he gives Blake Lively a nice how do you do, and then sleeps with the teller from a bank he just robbed. There’s a great car chase in there too, as they race through the hilly, narrow streets of Charlestown. Affleck makes it clear that these are some pretty sleazy guys, but John Hamm’s detective is no nice guy either. The best part is the note he leaves on the oblivious detective’s car.
Patrick Swayze was way cooler than Keanu Reeves in this original action-packed film, Point Break. There are so many movies about undercover cops that fall into the gang because the leader was so irresistible (e.g. The Fast and Furious series). Point Break is no different, only it’s set against a tropical backdrop. Bodhi’s laid-back gang robs banks with their ex-president masks on and then go surfing. Sounds like paradise. These guys are so cool that Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers hangs out with them. The skydiving and surf stunts inspired a remake, but bets are nobody can beat Swayze, or the mooning guy.
6. Darth Vader
Gotta have old Darth on the list. For years people thought this guy was just a ruthless jerk, but we loved him anyway. Strangling annoying generals with his mind. Blowing up insignificant planets. Racing his custom TIE fighter around and blowing up dudes. He had the awesome voice, cool clothes, slightly taller than everyone else. In his light saber battles he was awesome, way more likeable than Luke or Obi Wan. And then in the end of Return of The Jedi, he turns out to be a good guy. What? Wow. Somehow the baddest guy got even better.
5. Frank Abagnale
Sometimes the movie is even better when there’s a true story behind it, and nobody does loosely-based nonfiction like Leonardo DiCaprio. From the very beginning of Catch Me If You Can, once Frank gets teased by a classmate, and then walks up to the front of the classroom and pretends to be the teacher, he has our support 100%. As the film goes on he impersonates a pilot, forges money, and evades capture like a magician. Are we supposed to be rooting for detective Tom Hanks in this one? No way. The real Frank Abagnale is now doing ads for IBM. Commercials are easy money. He’s still fooling everybody.
4. Travis Bickle
Another bad guy with a catch phrase that took over popular culture, “You talking to me?” Travis Bickle had such an irresistible smile and naïve presence, that all the gun throwing, assassination plans, and a sloppy Mohawk didn’t make him seem all that scary. In Martin Scorsese and DeNiro’s arguably best collaboration, Taxi Driver takes a stab at NYC’s crime, media and politics. The guy is a complete mess, but after he shoots up a brothel he’s hailed a hero. This film proved Scorsese’s strength of blurring the line between hero and villain, catapulting him towards more awesomely violent films like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed.
3. Wicked Witch of the West
First her sister gets murdered by a flying house, and then she doesn’t even get to keep her shoes to remember her by? Who wouldn’t be mad? Maybe she should be called the justifiably vengeful witch. Or perhaps the super smelly witch, right? Because she can’t take a bath or a shower. Whatever she is, The Wizard of Oz would be a truly boring film without her. Instead it is one of the most loved films in the history of cinema. And the only reason she’s green was to show off that fancy new technology—color film. Without her popularity and influence it’s questionable if Harry Potter would even exist.
2. Vincent Vega
John Travolta made the comeback of his career as this loveable gangster in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. Who could forget the long greasy hair, the finger waving dance with Uma Thurman, or the description of his recent trip to France and the Royal With Cheese. But make no mistake, this guy was as bad as he was clumsy. He accidentally shot a guy in the backseat of a car, and then missed his chance to kill Bruce Willis because of a poorly timed trip to the toilet. Tarantino’s balance of evil and humility, always make his villains sparkle.
1. The Joker
Now this guy is arguably the best comic-based villain of all time, and the actors who played him on film totally lived up to the high expectations. Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman, combined hilarious with creepy in the most entertaining way. You had to root for him at some point, especially when he pulled that 6-foot revolver out of his shorts, that looked more like a golf putter that a gun. Then Heath Ledger came along in The Dark Knight, and outdid big Jack. Ledger’s performance was over-the-top creepy, and done with such conviction that it earned him a posthumous Oscar. We’ll see Jared Leto’s take on the role in Suicide Squad this August 2016.