What is a great movie without a great villain, a good movie? With apologies to the heroes of the story, no great movie can withstand the absence of a great villain. Without further ado, the greatest villains in modern movies (in no particular order):
1. The Joker - The Dark Knight. Initially the Joker wasn’t even going to be in the series. Then it was recast as Heath Ledger to much public outcry. Then during the Superbowl he asked us ‘why so serious’ and we fell in love. Chaos Incarnate, Heath Ledgar’s Joker is one part clown and two parts terrifying, no more so when he holds a blade. While the movie is a masterpiece, no other part of it plays such significance as The Joker. Ra's al Ghul may have given Batman life, but Joker made him great.
2. The Operative – Serenity. Great villains need great writers to give them great parts. Before Avengers, Joss Whedons’ Serenity had a great villain. One part fanatic, one part assassin; the Operative is a clinic in how to make a good villain from start to finish.
3. Darth Vader – Star Wars. From his signature theme, to the breathing that always heralded fear in those around him, Darth Vader, as the emissary and right hand of the Emperor of the Galactic Empire, is supremely magnificent.
4. Silva – Skyfall. Javier Bardems’ Silva is understated at first. Each line delivered with an aplomb that has you wondering when you’re going to be scared. But each line in the movie, rises like a crescendo, each moment on screen brings you closer to the realization that he is not going to make you afraid, and yet he is the reckoning for past deeds. Still like a boxer that is never where you punch, Silva is the best villain in the Daniel Craig era.
5. The Shark – Jaws. Single-handedly making summer vacationers fearful of the water, Jaws is proof positive that what we don’t see often scares us more than the monster. His theme song is instantly recognizable and his fins bring an instant shudder. The Great White Shark is forever immortalized as the biggest, baddest fish in the deep blue sea.
6. Hans Gruber – Die Hard. The suave European villain, Hans Gruber charmed audiences with his debonair accent, cold-blooded exterior, and best of all, the fake American accent when caught pants down by the hero, John McClane. Die Hard has had four sequels since then, yet Hans Gruber still stands tall as the best of the bunch.
7. Hannibal Lector – Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal/Red Dragon. What do you say about a man who served human flesh to dinner guests when he got annoyed at a concert flutist for playing slightly out of tune? Nothing, you might be next. Cultured, erudite, and wealthy; Dr. Hannibal Lector captivated audiences for more than a decade.
8. Mr. Smith – The Matrix Trilogy. ‘Why do you persist?’ Mr. Smith, of the Matrix Trilogy, is both beginning and end. The tale of the program tired of Life itself, Smith is a villain best noted for his persistence in trying killing the hero and his nihilist tendencies. While others might try and give up, Smith kept at it. He might not be the greatest villain in the group but he was sure memorable.
9. Wah Sing Ku – Lethal Weapon IV. One part family man, two part cold-blooded gangster; Jet Li’s Ku is a force to be reckoned with. He’s dangerous and motivated by the love of his brother. The introduction of Jet Li to western audiences (those who hadn’t watched Kung Fu movies) was both impressive and fairly unique; it would take Li a decade to play another villain.
10. Ozymandias – Watchmen. Golden Boy turned bad. Hero turned Villain. Friend turned Enemy. The tale of the plan to ‘save’ mankind was proof positive that the end does not always justify the means. Despite all the heroes and villains featured in Watchmen, in the end it was the villainous Hero and the heroic Villain that stole the show.
Honerable Mentions: John Doe – Seven, Anton Chigurh - No Country for Old Men, Hans Landa - Inglourious Basterds, Lord Voldemort - The Harry Potter ennead