If we take the traditional Hollywood narrative, movie villains are often there for a specific purpose, depending on the genre of the flick. Whether it is comic relief or to add suspense, villains are often not on the winning end and unfortunately are more often than not very one dimensional characters. Once in a while though, movies provide us with some very interesting villainous characters. Some are charming and polite….until they show their true colors, others are frighteningly good at their objectives. To the dismay of some devoted fans some of these characters do not get the deserved attention their portrayal deserves. Often they are relegated to the fringes of villainy, becoming well……underrated. This article will explore the cinematic value of these forgotten rogues and highlight their status as integral parts of their respective films.
7. Wade: The River Wild(1994) Portrayed by: Kevin Bacon
In the movie The River Wild, starring Kevin Bacon, Meryl Streep and John C. Reilly the viewer is taken through literally….a wild ride. The plot outline is relatively straightforward, Meryl Streep plays a rafting expert on a trip with her estranged husband and their young son. The trip is meant to try and patch up their failing marriage. In pop the villains, played by Bacon and Reilly. They befriend the family and quickly through Wade’s charisma and charm ingratiate themselves with them. Eventually it becomes clear that Wade and his friend are not all they appear. In fact they are bank robbers on the lam from the law. Here is where it gets interesting. Bacon’s character Wade, despite his cover being blown plays it cool and even still manages to charm his way out of tough situations, other times he uses crude and violent force, but he keeps it together. Throughout the ordeal its a cat and mouse game between the family and essentially Wade the main antagonist. Yet Wade, even when Streep’s character has the upper hand by pointing his own gun at him, manages to dissuade her…albeit temporarily from shooting him. Now that’s a villain with strong mental and persuasive powers.
6. Dr. Jonas: Conspiracy Theory(1997) Portrayed by: Patrick Stewart
Conspiracy Theory starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts and Patrick Stewart does not leave a lot to imagine what the plot is about, it’s in the title. Mel Gibson plays a former government guinea pig who was programmed Manchurian Candidate style to assassinate at the whim of the government. At the helm of such a program was Stewarts’ character, Dr. Jonas, a CIA agent and interrogation expert. What makes his character convincing is that we as an audience are not accustomed to seeing Patrick Stewart in such villainous roles, we remember him playing much more positive characters, such as the moral and upright Captain Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek, or Professor X from X-Men. Yet Stewart adds an interesting dimension to this character. Dr. Jonas has an air of intellectualism about him and in a public setting can almost seem pathetically harmless. That is until he has you alone in a room with him with the light in your eyes and your eyelids taped to your forehead(scene from the film). That’s where we see the real Jonas, not just cruel for the sake of being cruel, but for an even scarier reason…..he sees it as art, breaking down men and molding them to his liking. A villain like that, should not be underestimated, nor underrated.
5. Alonzo Harris: Training day(2001) Portrayed by: Denzel Washington
Now here’s another movie villain I happen to think is woefully underrated. Denzel Washington as Detective Sgt. Alonzo Harris is as crooked as they come. Being a veteran of the LAPD for 13 years is going to at some point taint you with the same filth you are trying to put away. The movie does a good job of concealing Alonzo’s true intentions until the climactic finale. On the particular day that the film takes place, Alonzo is tasked with showing novice rookie Jake Hoyt, portrayed by Ethan Hawke the ropes. Using a lethal mix of charm and intimidation Alonzo gets his way every time, from robbing drug dealers of cash to using that money to obtain an arrest warrant, Alonzo even manages to get straight laced Jake to agree with what is being committed….all in the name of “street justice.” The latter being excused by Alonzo as the only effective method to clean up the streets. What the villain almost nonchalantly fails to tell the rookie and the audience is that the entire elaborate plan is a life saving measure for him. Alonzo has fallen so deep into the depravity of the underworld, that he finds himself owning the Russian Mafia $1 million dollars by midnight or his life is forfeit. What makes Alonzo underrated as a villain is his human side; he has a toddler son and a wife, in the finale as he is stripped of his money and effectively his life, he glances one more time at his family and laments his situation. He’s not a robot from outer space bent on destroying our planet, or an evil vampire…..just a cop who took it too far. A believable villain.
4. The Caller: Phone Booth(2003) Portrayed by: Kiefer Sutherland
This is arguably, at least in this author’s personal opinion, the most underrated movie villain. Why you might ask? Although the movie Phone Booth is a run of the mill thriller action flick from Joel Schumacher I find it to be interesting solely due to the villain portrayed brilliantly by Kiefer Sutherland. In this movie we see the eventual protagonist, sleazy publicist Stu Shepherd, played by Colin Farrell held hostage at gun point by a maniacal sniper inside a phone booth. The sniper seems to be very pissed off at Stu’s attitude towards life; he’s got a wife but cheats on her with an aspiring actress, and Stu has gotten into the bad habit as his profession calls for it to sell lies and spin to the people via magazines and newspapers. All these “sins” as the sniper calls them are enough for him to kill Stu. But he doesn’t…why? Well, because the sniper likes to toy with his prey, playing mind games with Stu. The fact that the Sniper killed a pimp who was attacking Stu inside the booth and that action attracted the cops does not help the already boiling situation. What makes the sniper a great villain that has been unfortunately been forgotten, is that despite his warped version of vigilante justice he does in fact get Stu to confess all his sins and seek redemption from his wife. And get away with it all to boot! Even having the last word on Stu, revealing himself and warning him not to go back on his word, much to the horror of poor Stu, thinking the villain dead.
3. Ivan Korshunov: Air Force One(1997) Portrayed by: Gary Oldman
OK, this is a bit of a cheesy and predictable movie to choose, but Gary Oldman is in it and that’s reason enough. Oldman is a very talented actor and he can pull off any role, but villains seems to be his penchant. The plot is in line with the genre of the action flicks of the 90’s. Russian villain hatches a gusty plan to hijack Air Force one with the first family on board and use it as a bargaining chip to release a former Soviet General with nostalgic plans to recreate the USSR(isn’t someone else trying to do that today)? The villain as usual does not count on the heroism and bravery of none other than Mr. President himself, portrayed by Harrison Ford in another Jack Ryan-esque role. What makes Oldman’s villain interesting is the sheer passion exudes for his “Mother Russia” and the longing to make it great again. He’s ruthless, but shows a surprising human side when trying to justify his cold blooded murders to the daughter of the President. Despite the predictable plot, Oldman does not allow Korshunov himself to become predictable, he adds dimensions to the character. Unfortunately due to the genre of the movie, Korshunov’s villainy is forgotten and underrated.
2. Simon Gruber: Die Hard With a Vengeance Portrayed: by Jeremy Irons
Alright this is a bit of weird choice to those who are not familiar with the Die Hard franchise. Admittedly, Jeremy Irons does not cut a very intimidating figure, but his character is not trying to be so in this movie. Of course the ending is a foregone conclusion, any villain that goes toe-to-toe with John McLane(Bruce Willis) does not have a happy ending. What makes Iron’s character Simon Gruber(remember that last name) an interesting villain is his brains, yes sheer brains. Undeterred by what McLane did to his little brother Hans Gruber in Nakatomi Plaza in LA….threw of him of the 32nd floor, Simon goes about his elaborate plan of exacting revenge on McLane, but is that motive? Is that the reason for setting off bombs in NYC and playing cat and mouse games with McLane over the phone, taunting him and giving him time wasting and rudimentary “tasks” to complete otherwise more bombs will go off. Of course not. Anyone that knows the Gruber brothers, knows deception runs in the family. Simon is pulling a heist, just like his little brother was in the first movie. Not one to be upstaged, Simon targets….get this, The Federal Reserve of New York, where the largest Gold Bullion depository in the world is located. Unlike the villain in Goldfinger, Simon is content with greedily taking the money for himself. Of course McLane tracks him down and wins the day, but what makes Simon Gruber an awesome villain is that he wasn’t even trying to be one, it was a facade to get rich. What makes him underrated is that he had the unfortunate luck to have to go up against John McLane who as of 2014 has a 5-0 record against villains.
1. Ra’s Al-Ghul: Batman Begins(2005) Portrayed by: Liam Neeson
Now here is the ultimate villain. Not only does he want to destroy the entire world via deadly pathogens but he also trained Batman! That’s right, the caped crusader got his training from arguably the biggest, baddest villains out there. I mean….come on, he’s aiming for a world wide genocide. The name of this villain is none other than Ra’s Al-Ghul, meaning Head of the Demon in Arabic….should give you hint what he’s all about. Ra’s is in fact a very interesting villain. He’s not afflicted with the villain syndrome of one dimensionality. He’s a complex character, unlike the Joker who wants to see the world burn, he wants to see it burn for a reason. To rebuild it again with mother nature given more respect and importance, basically he’s an eco-terrorist. He sees the world as beyond redemption and thus requiring massive social and ecological engineering. What makes Ra’s underrated is that he’s seen as pure evil, when in fact he professes to have had a long lost love and does seem to be motivated by a mission for the greater good…unfortunately that involves wiping out most of humanity. On the plus side he’s literally got his own little fiefdom somewhere in the Himalayas, complete with his own Dojo carved into a mountain!