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Oh, That Guy: 15 Character Actor Villains You Love To Hate

by The Playlist Staff
July 3, 2013 3:03 PM
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Character Actors You Love To Hate

When we talked to William Fichtner about his role in "The Lone Ranger" as reptilian villain Bartholomew "Butch" Cavendish (a character boldly reimagined from the character's original incarnations), he told us, "I've played some characters who are rough in nature but I've never looked at a character like, 'Oh I can't wait to play this bad guy.'" Well, we can't wait for him to play the bad guy. Fichtner is one of countless character actors, many of whom were steadily employed in the '80s and '90s, whose oversized personalities and penchant for playing villainous goons made them unforgettable (even if you couldn't quite place their names). Those of us who would study movie posters like they were the stats on the back of baseball cards would easily recognize, identify, and follow their careers, but for many, these actors would appear and be met with a knowing, "Oh yeah, it's that guy..." For those guys everywhere, and to celebrate Fichtner's truly awesome villain, we thought we'd run down some of our favorite character actor creeps.

Oh, and if you're wondering where you've seen Fichtner before, he played the mobster bank manager in "The Dark Knight" ("Do you have any idea who you're stealing from?"), a rumpled agent of Satan in the underrated 3D extravaganza "Drive Angry," the pistol-packing hard-on in "Armageddon," and the oddly gay cop/Amway salesman in Doug Liman's "Go." See what we mean?

Ronny Cox
Ronny Cox 
What You Know Him From: If you need a slimy bastard to represent mustache-twirling corporate villainy of the future, look no further than Ronny Cox. He was the ne plus ultra of late '80s/early '90s bad guys, fitting perfectly into Paul Verhoeven’s often hilarious, ultra-violent action satires from the era. But dude is the epitome of a working character actor, still working consistently today, mostly in TV. You may remember him from the first two “Beverly Hills Cop” movies, but beyond his villainous turns, his other most famous role has to be Drew, the banjo-playing nice guy in “Deliverance.” Lucky for his character, he narrowly avoided all that pig-squealing sodomy at the hands of sadistic rednecks (poor Ned Beatty), but he didn’t fare much better in the end. 
Movies: Before we knew him by name, any time Ronny Cox appeared in another movie or TV show, all we could think of was, "Hey! That’s the deliciously assholish, power-hungry corporate bad guy from 'Robocop' and the deliciously assholish, power-hungry corporate bad guy from 'Total Recall.' " So yeah, he’s been at this acting thing for a long while, but Cox was so memorable, so easily hateable in “Robocop,” that seeing the titular hero lay waste to him at the film’s climax was unquestionably a highlight of an already great film (that’s aged quite well, we have to say), leaving behind any quaint notions of the questionable nature of bloodlust in big budget Hollywood cinema, and simply making the audience stand up and cheer. So good was Cox, that Verhoeven called on the man to basically reprise his villain turn for “Total Recall,” another film that’s aged well since it opened in 1990. In both films, Cox’s bad guy is always the puppet master, relying on even nastier sub-villains (Kurtwood Smith and Michael Ironside, respectively) and disposable henchmen to do his dirty work. You knew he was great, because even though you hated these two villains, the movie would be worse without Cox’s wonderfully smug portrayals. 
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Fairly high. Slimy, slithery, the embodiment of '80s corporate of greed and hubris. In short, awesomely loathsome. 

Michael Ironside

Michael Ironside
What You Know Him From: Another Verhoeven regular (“Total Recall,” “Starship Troopers”), and another great undervalued character actor that most people recognize (how could you forget that face, that wonderful bald dome, those eyebrows that almost out-arch Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”) but couldn’t name. It's a shame, really, because Ironside has all the tools and talent needed to be a more famous actor, or at least appear in better movies. His voice is unforgettable and creepy, his look unsettling to such a point that even when he plays good guys, you never quite know what to think about him. And regardless of what he’s in, he commits fully, elevating even the weakest material.
Movies: Sure, we all remember his turn as Jester in “Top Gun,” and he’s good in it, certainly. But come on, need we say more than “See you at the party Richter!”? While we already proclaimed the virtues of fellow “Total Recall” villain Ronny Cox, it’s Ironside as Richter that proves to be the meatier, more interesting foil to Arnie. Not enough is said about his performance in the film, and how his character has built-in history with Schwarzenegger’s hero, as he’s been sleeping with his girl (Sharon Stone, no less; any man would feel unworthy knowing she was getting it on with the superhumanly muscle bound stud). It adds layers to the good guy/bad guy dynamic while the relentless chase narrative whizzes by, and adds another layer of subversive playfulness to Verhoeven’s often misunderstood sci-fi action spectacle. But it’s his performance as Darryl Revok in David Cronenberg’s “Scanners,” a very good film that overcomes its low-budget technical shortcomings, thanks in large part to Ironside’s scary turn. There’s a reason the cover for the film has his picture on it, because nobody looks more believable using mind-power to cause some poor bastard’s head to explode. 
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Scorching! He may look like a guy that nefariously hangs out watching kids in a playground, but his skill as an actor makes him endlessly watchable. 

James Hong
James Hong  
What You Know Him From: At the tender age of 84, Hong has appeared in something like 350 movies, television shows and videogames (his IMDB page is so long it'll break your computer) up to and including vocal performances in things like "Kung Fu Panda" and appearances in episodes of "The X-Files," "Seinfeld" (in the classic "The Chinese Restaurant" episode) and "The Big Bang Theory." For a while, it was probably because Hollywood unimaginatively cast him as "the Asian guy" in whatever movie they were cooking up at the time, but that's not to say that Hong isn't a great actor, because he is. He can be warm and charming and funny, and when he brings these qualities out of himself while playing a bad guy (as he has done a number of times), then things get really interesting and scary. He's a character actor machine, built to last.
Movies: Most film freaks will identify Hong most often as the immortal wizard in John Carpenter's cult classic "Big Trouble in Little China," a role that required extensive prosthetics but is 100% "Hong." (Hong manages to ham it up even when buried under all of those appliances.)  He also appears as the shady eye manufacturer in Ridley Scott's immortal "Blade Runner," and played a comic villain in "Wayne's World 2," where he got to kung fu fight Mike Myers." He also gets mad props for appearing in both "Chinatown" and its ill-fated sequel "The Two Jakes."
Rating on the Creep-O-Meter: Surprisingly low most of the time, possibly because it's hard to look at Hong and not think about the 5,000 other characters he's played (many of them comedic), but when he really ramps it up (like in "Big Trouble in Little China"), he can be pretty bone-chilling. 

John Glover Gremlins
John Glover
What You Know Him From: Glover is one of those actors who can be slippery and charming at the same time, like some freaky deep sea fish that learned how to smile. He's played a number of villainous roles precisely for this reason; he can be an outright psychopath or one that can make life-altering decisions from some skyscraper's boardroom.
Movies: While we're currently in a bout of Super-mania following "Man of Steel," it's probably worth mentioning that Glover played Lex Luthor's father on the first seven seasons of Superman-in-high-school series "Smallville" (he came back for the tenth season as an alternate universe version of himself because... sci-fi... y'know?) But he showed up in a trio of skuzzy roles -- as Bill Murray's morally bankrupt successor in "Scrooged," as a morally bankrupt advertising executive in "RoboCop 2" and, most winningly, as a morally bankrupt real estate mogul in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch." All of these roles allowed to tap into Glover's reservoirs of charm and sliminess, and they're all incredibly memorable no matter how much screen time he accounts for. In 'Gremlins 2,' he's probably got the most on-camera time and the greatest arc, and he's allowed to indulge in a gleefully perverse satire/caricature of Donald Trump (his character's name is Clamp).
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Pretty high, if only because he's the kind of guy who you can imagine as both the leader of a corporate takeover, or the devil himself (whom he played on a short-lived Fox series, of course).

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  • Akurei | July 30, 2013 9:30 PMReply

    Yeah, if Michael Wincott (who also voices Death in Darksiders II) called me I'd have an orgasm. I get so turned on by his voice.

  • ETFP | July 22, 2013 6:12 PMReply

    How could you mention Jason Issacs and there not be one mention of his badass role in "Brotherhood".
    I'd NEVER want to cross Michael Caffee. Not even if he was offering me caffee (That was a Boston accent joke)


  • ETFP | July 22, 2013 6:13 PM

    I'm an idiot. I forgot that this was primarily about films.

    But still. Everybody go find "Brotherhood" and watch it.

  • Andrew | July 9, 2013 10:10 PMReply

    It seems like such a shame to mention Michael Ironside and not mention Highlander II: The Quickening. The subway scene is one of the single funniest things I have ever seen in a science fiction/action movie.

  • Andrew | July 9, 2013 10:13 PM

    Also, speaking of Highlander (and Starship Troopers for that matter), Clancy Brown would have fit really nicely in this list.

  • scl | July 9, 2013 9:42 PMReply

    I woulda included Peter Greene in this... not really a scary bad guy, but always the bad guy, and memorably so.

  • sdhfdshj | July 8, 2013 6:35 PMReply

    Good call on JT Walsh. Rent Needful Things, a little-seen Stephen King movie that has Ed Harris AND JT Walsh, playing a tormented small town businessman with an obsession for train sets. Don't call him Buster! It is Walsh's best performance.

    Also, where the hell is Cole Hauser on this list? Dude played the most chilling villain I've ever seen in Higher Learning, a manipulative neo-Nazi skinhead. He was also great as the drug-addicted bounty hunter and secondary villain of Pitch Black.

  • Celeste W | July 8, 2013 12:53 PMReply

    Yes, the aforementioned should be on this list, I second that Jonathan Banks has been sorely omitted as well as Mexican thug extraordinaire Danny Trejo. Others of note are Kim Coates (currently brilliant on Sons Of Anarchy ), Nick Chinlund (was great in Con Air, Movies and TV) William Forsythe (does cold and calculating really well) Robert Davi (who can play cold and remorseless quite well), Khigh Dhiegh (The North Korean Brainwasher in the original Manchurian Candidate and the infamous Wo Fat on the original Hawaii Five-O, et al), Henry Silva (perennial Villain of the 50's thru 70's), Andrew Divoff ( Good at playing a Villain with no soul-Does Russian and South American really well), Robert Lo Sardo ( totally tattooed on his upper body, bald head and moustache. Plays the ice cold murderer Gang Leader, Menacing Psycho to the hilt), I could go on. I am somewhat of a Movie Nerd and know A LOT of the many great Character Actors' names.

  • Theo | July 7, 2013 7:00 PMReply

    No Tony Todd??? Oversight of the week. haha

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 6, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    No Clancy Brown?! What the French, toast?

  • Andrew | July 5, 2013 6:49 AMReply

    Awesome list. Another vote here for Powers Boothe, Clancy Brown and Jurgen Prochnow. No Stacy Keach either?

  • RP | July 5, 2013 10:13 AM

    As we usually mention in the outro, these things could go on and on and on and yeah, we generally like to do a part 2 of these kinds of features, so yeah, all these other guys mentioned rule too. Though I'd like to hint that some of them are being saved for a kind of sub-feature. :)

  • Fas | July 5, 2013 5:25 AMReply

    The Shawshank Redemption must be noted for the great love-to-hate character actors:

    The aforementioned William Sadler
    Clancy Brown (how did he not get a mention on this list!)
    Bob Gunton

  • Den | July 4, 2013 2:55 PMReply

    Raul Julia (Street Fighter, The Addams Family)!

  • j | July 4, 2013 9:52 AMReply

    Miguel Ferrer! Miguel Ferrer!

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 6, 2013 12:07 PM

    Especially for "Robocop" and "Traffic." I loathed then pitied him in both films.

  • bohmer | July 4, 2013 12:32 AMReply

    Udo Kier (Blade), Tony todd (The Rock), William Atherton (Die Hard, Ghostbusters)

  • DC | July 4, 2013 12:06 AMReply

    surely Sean Bean?

    this Billy Drago Death reel is pretty decent.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 6, 2013 12:10 PM

    One does not simply make this list.

  • cory everett | July 4, 2013 9:43 AM

    If you were the lead on an HBO series at some point, you are probably too famous for this list.

  • Rabiman | July 3, 2013 8:25 PMReply

    What, no Powers Booth?!!?

  • rabiman | July 3, 2013 8:25 PMReply

    JT Walsh is the first face on Mt. Rushmore of creepy character actors. Even his last role in Pleasantville utilized his rep perfectly. JT will be missed.

  • GMan | July 3, 2013 7:54 PMReply

    Good list. I remember Michael Ironside most from "The Next Karate Kid" - another villainous role.

    Another one I would add is Miguel Ferrer.

  • Carlos | July 3, 2013 6:24 PMReply

    A list like this one is bound to leave out some great names , but I consider myself satisfied with the inclusion of Ironside, Wincott, Billy effin Drago. Man, that guy!

    (Also: Disqus, people!)

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 6, 2013 12:14 PM

    Everything about Drago's portrayal of Frank Nitti in "The Untouchables" was chilling. His butter-white suits, the slicked back hair. How he looked on as if about to yawn as Capone was home running that guy's head in. Lighting up Malone's ass in the alley. And that last line: "Your friend died screamin' like a stuck Irish pig. You think about that when I beat the rap." Coldblooded!

  • Greg | July 3, 2013 6:06 PMReply

    How do you confuse Billy CAMPBELL in Enough with Billy BURKE in Drive Angry?

  • loudrockmusic | July 3, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    How could you guys forget about Billy Drago in Briscoe County, Jr.??

  • Steve Mesa | July 3, 2013 4:59 PMReply

    It was Billy Campbell, not Billy Burke, who played J.Lo's abusive husband in ENOUGH.

  • barky bark | July 3, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    Some others: Jurgen Prochnow, Udo Kier, Eric Roberts, William Atherton, Richard Lynch...

  • BJC | July 3, 2013 4:37 PMReply

    John Glover in 52 Pickup big oversight.

  • droop | July 3, 2013 4:12 PMReply

    you didnt even mention wincott in three musketeers! for shame

  • TheoC | July 3, 2013 4:04 PMReply

    Excellent list, in my head you could probably fill a list with Michaels alone but you got the main two, Ironside and Wincott. great stuff.

  • JD | July 3, 2013 3:55 PMReply

    Note: Ridley Scott's 1492 IS available on DVD. You can get it on Amazon. It's not great, but it's not bad either. One of Ridley's more interesting mid-level films. (And Wincott's terrific in it.)

  • cwoodrun | July 3, 2013 3:49 PMReply

    OWDL114 - Said it all. Also good list all around. Billy Drago is so great in The Untouchables.

  • jonathan | July 3, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    Love Keith David, but you should have mentioned his role in Men At Work. He's not a villain, but it's because of all the other roles you believe he's going to snap and kill everyone at any moment in this movie.

  • TheoC | July 3, 2013 4:06 PM

    Though not the bad guy, I loved him in Clockers too.

  • cinejordan | July 3, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    William Sadler was terrifying in 'Rush.' Sweaty creep...

  • owdl114 | July 3, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    (Because I just can't not say it) Hello to Jason Isaacs!

  • Drew Morton | July 3, 2013 3:22 PMReply

    Michael Wincott. Amen.

    Also, John Glover is pretty great in the c-level NIGHT OF THE RUNNING MAN (with Scott Glenn and that guy from WEEKEND AT BERNIES as the lead!).

  • JD | July 3, 2013 3:42 PM

    And John Glover in THE CHOCOLATE WAR, as the priest who is both a wise mentor and a clever manipulator. One of the deepest, most complex, most realistic villains of the 80s, and without a doubt one of Glover's best performances.

  • Hayden Maxwell | July 3, 2013 3:21 PMReply

    Tom Noonan basically epitomizes this criteria.

  • Brad | July 3, 2013 3:18 PMReply

    Brion James was awesome in Blade Runner no question, but him and Johnathan Banks absolutely destroyed it in Armed and Dangerous.

  • eduardo | July 3, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    Oooh, I love these guys. Nice list, could've used more Rutger Hauer.

  • Denise | July 20, 2013 3:20 PM

    Remember White? He did the maytag (washing machine comercials. He played some of the mean, nasty & vicious parts.

  • JDS | July 5, 2013 10:51 PM

    I agree about Rutger Hauer. He deserves the love and he's connected to many of these actors. He was Roy Batty in Blade Runner with Brion James, of course, but they also starred together in "Precious Find." Randall Tex Cob also was a baddie in Blind Fury opposite Rutger. Consider Batty and Rutger's John Ryder in "The Hitcher," Rutger definitely needs to be in list 2.

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