Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top Five . . . Actors Who Make Awesome Villains

Actors hate being typecast, but they are often tapped for the same type of role repeatedly because of how they can become that character.  (Examples:  Jesse Eisenberg and socially awkward nerds, Samuel L. Jackson and badasses, Hugh Grant and flustered male leads in romantic comedies)  Actors who make good villains are notoriously typecast, something they probably don't enjoy, but that works to the audience's benefit (as we get amazing performances).  Submitted for your approval are my Top Five picks for actors who make awesome villains:

5.  Gary Oldman

Oldman is probably the least pigeonholed actor on my list, as he has had a long and varied career.  Some of his best known performances include Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series, and Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan's recent Batman reboots.  It is his intensity and commitment to his characters that makes him an excellent actor . . . and an excellent villain.  Catch his bad guy turns in flicks like The Fifth Element, True Romance, and Bram Stoker's Dracula

My pick for best villain role:
Corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield in Leon (aka The Professional)

4.  Malcom McDowell

It is easy to see why McDowell tends to be typecast in villainous roles.  He has a very intense-looking face and a sinister-sounding voice, both of which enhance his excellent performances.  In addition to his many on-camera roles, McDowell has done a lot of voice-over work for documentaries and video games.  Some of his most famous villains can be found in Caligula, Star Trek Generations, Tank Girl, and the first season of acclaimed series "Heroes".

My pick for best villain role:
Cliche, but true - Psychopath and classical music lover Alexander DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange

3.  Christopher Walken

Even when Walken plays a seemingly innocuous role, he creeps the bejeebers out of me, so he had to have a place on this list.  Although in more recent years he is more known for his comedic turns (especially his repeated SNL appearances) and his surprisingly good dance moves in Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" music video, he's played plenty of villains throughout his career.  The unusual cadence in his speaking voice and his deep-set eyes make for a unnerving villain, especially in films like King of New York, Last Man Standing, and The Prophecy.

My pick for best villain role:
Walken fans would probably select renegade archangel Gabriel in The Prophecy (and rightly so)*, but I have to go with the Headless Horseman from Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow.  Never have a set of teeth so haunted my dreams.

2.  Clancy Brown

Brown is a dark horse contender in a list of heavy hitters, but he's also an amazing character actor.  This makes him my go-to guy for the number two spot.  The combination of his acting skill, his imposing frame, and his mega deep baritone voice make him tailor-made for villain roles.  His incredible voice has scored him a large amount of voice-over work, especially in animated comic book features.  He can be seen on-screen in The Shawshank Redemption, Pet Semetary II, and Highlander.

My pick for best villain role:
Nefarious preacher Brother Justin Crowe in the short-lived, but amazing HBO series "Carnivale"

1.  Christopher Lee

In my book, Lee is the end all and be all of actors in villainous roles.  Knighted in 2009, Lee holds the Guinness World Record for most film acting roles.  Throughout his illustrious career, he has played everything from Count Dracula several times over (in the iconic Hammer horror films) to the Jabberwocky in Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland.

My pick for best villain role:
It's a tie:  King Haggard in The Last Unicorn (purely for nostalgic reasons) and the evil wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

*Seriously, if you haven't seen this film, you definitely should - if only for the excellent cast.  In addition to Walken it includes Eric Stolz, Elias Koteas, and arguably Viggo Mortensen's best (and most underrated) performance.

So, let's hear it.  Who are some of your favorite villains?


  1. Love this. I heart Gary Oldman so was specially pleased to see him there, although he had to be really. Don't if you've ever seen his turn as playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears, it amazing. funny and tragic, also stars Alfred Molina as his ill-fated lover. Do love your list though. Funny how it's often us Brits who are consistently cast as the villains. We're so evil :) On a side note; I miss Carnivale.

  2. Glad you liked it! I will definitely check out Prick Up Your Ears. I love him in villain roles, but he is such an amazing actor that everything he does is good as well. My favorite has always been his Sid Vicious!

    I miss Carnivale too. I got HBO specifically to watch it and then I was crushed when it got canceled.


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