When fans and critics aren’t raving about Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight or talking about Ledger’s death, they’re going on about where the Joker stands on the list of great movie villains. 2007 alone brought an onslaught of new famous movie villains, with the summer of 2008 now dominated by the Joker. Villains are usually defined by the likes of Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, the Wicked Witch and Hal, with Ledger’s Joker now possibly on that short list. But there have been a lot more movie villains than the Joker and those other legends that have helped to redefine movie villainy. Here are ten of the best non Joker movie villains over the years, ruling out the obvious choices like Vader and Hannibal.
Agent Smith- played by Hugo Weaving: The Matrix
The Joker and Anton Chigurh may use simple methods of destruction, but sometimes super powers and cloning can help for villains too. They did for Agent Smith, the Matrix’s chief humanoid weapon, until Keanu Reeves came around. Smith’s endlessly imitateable voice and barely disguised contempt for humans was one of the key non CGI/martial arts successes of the original Matrix. The sequels,which got enough wrong as it is, stumbled a bit with Smith by giving him clones for almost no reason and making him more of a wisecracking lunatic. But luckily, Smith had Hugo Weaving to still make him sound cool.
Anton Chigurh- played by Javier Bardem: No Country for Old Men
While everyone goes on about the Joker being an unstoppable force of nature with no back story, they may forget that Anton Chigurh had that same appeal too. Whereas the Joker represents anarchy and chaos, Anton Chigurh represent the hopeless dismal tide of all mankind. Whereas the Joker uses over the top destruction to make his points, Anton Chigurh just uses simple weapons like oxygen tanks. Chigurh even borrows Two-Face’s weapon of choice, the coin, to decide the fate of those around him. But whereas it is debatable whether the Joker’s methods ultimately prevail, Chigurh’s chaos is more clear cut victorious. And for the last time, Chigurh does not say the line “Call it, friendo” in the movie like he appeared to do in the trailers.
Bill the Butcher- played by Daniel Day-Lewis: Gangs of New York
Daniel Day-Lewis has almost cornered the market for playing psychos in this decade, with both Bill the Butcher and Daniel Plainview being among the decade’s great villains. But Daniel Plainview saved his deranged villainy for the end of his movie, whereas Bill the Butcher was a loon right from the get-go. Fans and audiences were split on almost everything about Gangs of New York, but the only thing they agreed on was that Bill the Butcher either saved the movie or made it a classic. Even by Day-Lewis’s evil standards, Bill is something creepy- let’s see Daniel Plainview deliver his milkshake lines with the American flag draped over his shoulder.
Emperor Palpatine- played by Ian McDiarmid: Star Wars saga
Darth Vader already gets the credit for defining evil in Star Wars. But some people very easily forget that it’s his boss, Emperor Palpatine, who ran the Empire. Palpatine wrapped up the first Star Wars trilogy by showing Luke and audiences who the real puppet master and schemer behind the curtain was, as Palpatine mostly had it won before Vader had his change of heart. Then Palpatine’s rise to power was documented in the prequels, as he put together countless successful evil plots to seize power and create Darth Vader. It can be said that the only illuminating part of the prequels was to show just how much of a master planner and brilliant mastermind Palpatine was in destroying the Republic, and Anakin Skywalker.
Hans Gruber- played by Alan Rickman: Die Hard
Alan Rickman is one of the actors most typecast in villain roles, which all began in Die Hard. Just as Die Hard spawned a new kind of action movie and action hero, Hans Gruber formed a new kind of action villain. Rickman’s special skill in making every line seem unsettling, and Hans’s carefully thought out schemes, certainly gave John McClane his biggest workout. Though future Die Hards had terrorists, hackers and another Gruber as villains, none had Hans’s panache. The poor quality of Die Hard ripoffs and knockoff European master thieves make Rickman’s Hans even more special by comparison.
John Doe- played by Kevin Spacey: Se7en
By now, it’s become a bigger cliche than usual to feature villains who only target other bad guys and sinners. But none are like John Doe, the ultimate hater of all those who delve in sin. Doe’s gruesome punishments put Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt through the ringer and always one step behind. But it isn’t until Doe finally reveals himself and shows the final stages of his masterpiece that his sick genius sinks in. Doe’s ultimate payoff ranks among the best film endings of the last 20 years.
Keyser Soze: The Usual Suspects
There are so many movie villains, but few are regarded with as much fear and terror as Keyser Soze inspires. The ultimate villain in the shadows, Soze works in as many mysterious and powerful ways as the Devil himself- and both of their greatest tricks are convincing skeptics they don’t exist until it’s too late. Soze is frightening enough when it seems everyone and anyone out there could be working on his behalf against you. But that’s nothing compares to when Soze comes to get things done himself. And as it turns out, Soze is a heck of a crafty storyteller as well.
Little Bill Daggett- played by Gene Hackman: Unforgiven
Clint Eastwood’s final Western sought to turn the many Western cliches he himself helped create on their ears. In the case of Sheriff Little Bill Daggett, his extreme measures to stop crime and assassins might make him the hero in other movies. Here, Little Bill’s use of villainy to stop villains is just another example of how you can’t take Western legends at face value. Little Bill uses torture and violence one moment, then goes back home and comically struggles to finish building his house the next. Even villains struggle at things other than defeating heroes.
Mitch Leary- played by John Malkovich: In the Line of Fire
After Eastwood battled Little Bill, he returned to the cop genre the next year to battle a more clear cut psychopath. Villains tend to use a menacing phone voice and constantly bring up a hero’s demons, but when the villain is Mitch Leary and he’s played by John Malkovich, it’s no less freaky. The would be Presidential assassin pushes Eastwood to the edge, which is saying something for him. Leary’s endless resources and Malkovich’s characteristic lunacy help make In the Life of Fire more than just Dirty Harry set in the White House.
Scar- voiced by Jeremy Irons: The Lion King
Animated villains often have to be more comedic and less scary for the kids. No one told that to the sinister lion Scar, however. Scar may make sarcastic and dry commentary to express his jealousy and desire for power, but that only disguises the murderous rage at his core. His cold, ruthless dispatching of his own brother, followed by his chilling success in making his own young nephew feel responsible, is among the most evil acts of villainy in animated history. Jeremy Irons already won an Oscar for playing evil as Claus von Bulow, but he nearly tops even that high with Scar. Which makes his unbelievably awful work as the villain in Dungeons and Dragons even more mind boggling.