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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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Remar 48 Hrs

James Remar
What You Know Him From: Gravely crusty voice, dead-eye stare, authoritarian tone...when you’ve got Remar on your side, you’ll bust whomever you’re after. When you’re facing Remar, he’ll eat glass to break your legs.
Movies: Even when Remar plays heroes, there’s a bit of darkness about him, whether it’s rapey Ajax of “The Warriors” or slick, hungover cop Joe in the underrated “Quiet Cool.” Remar is nothing if not prolific, portraying villainy in a number of classic films, including (but not limited to) big parts like the nefarious Ganz in “48 Hrs” and the cokey mob boss of “Band Of The Hand,” or wasted-out henchman thugs like in “Judge Dredd” (where he out-toughs Stallone in his brief minutes of screentime) and last year’s “Django Unchained,” where he revealed his grunts and growls suited two separate on-screen characters. Remar is sort of a gold standard, and over four decades now he’ll play villains in your blockbuster (“The Phantom”) or your no-budget indie (“Vs.”).
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Five fire-belching croaks, to signify those iron pipes of Remar, which have also had a steady life in animation and video games. Remar: the Swiss army knife of villainy.

David Patrick Kelly, Warriors
David Patrick Kelly
What You Know Him From: His bizarre, proto-Crispin Glover delivery, where he drags out words and sentences randomly, whether playing low class ingrates or upper-echelon douchebags.
Movies: Kelly got his start as the evil Luther, who convinces you of his black heart when he explains his shooting of gang leader Cyrus with a babbling, “I just like DOIN’ stuff like dat!” Over the years, Kelly has gone on to menace foes as diverse as Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Commando”), Malcolm X (“Malcolm X”) and The Crow himself (“The Crow”). There’s always an ersatz threat to the diminutive Kelly, an unpredictability that imagines audiences to imagine the worst should he ever truly get mad. He’s a guard dog, essentially, the first line of defense for the villain enterprise. Underestimate him against your own will.
Rating On The Creep-o-Meter: Four Coke bottles. All gently smacking together, accompanied by a chant. “Waaaaariors, come out to play-yay-yay-yay-yay!” The iconic line that launched a career of being evil.

Randall "Tex" Cobb
Randall "Tex" Cobb 
What You Know Him From:  Having the mustachioed, pug-nose face only a mother could love, Cob started out his career as a professional boxer (which might explain the pugilist face), maintained an impressive record (he beat Leon Spinx) even fought heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. Cobb then went to Hollywood where his villainous mug straightaway earned him many thug and heavy roles.
Movies: Those born early enough will remember him as one of the motley crew team members in Gene Hackman’s saving-POWs-from-Vietnam film, “Uncommon Valor." Other memorable roles include the sort of slow-witted Mongolian heavy in Eddie Murphy’s “The Golden Child,” and thuggish roles in "Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol," "Fletch Lives," "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and “Ernest Goes to Jail.” Cobb even logged time on television on shows like “MacGyver," "Miami Vice," “Walker, Texas Ranger,” always playing a type of thug or muscle, naturally. But Cobb would certainly remain an actor you only knew by face and not name if it weren’t for his most iconic role: Leonard Smalls, the bear-like bounty hunter in the Coen Brothers’ “Raising Arizona.” Perhaps his biggest role with the most lines -- often he was just a silent menace -- in the Coens absurdist classic, Cobb’s Smalls opportunist character offers to find the missing child of a furniture baron in Arizona. When the scion refuses, this dirty, smelly hulk of a man -- deceptively much more canny and sharp than any of the characters he played subsequently -- decides to go after the child anyhow to sell it on the black market. When he eventually tracks down the hero of the film, Nicolas Cage, with his bloodhound nose and instincts, Cobb is literally hell on wheels wailing into the last act like Ghost Riding banshee on fire. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have defined the unstoppable force that will track you down, but for our money, we’ll take this colorful terminator over him any other day.
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter:  There’s a mild cuddliness to Cobb due to his teddy bear like visage, but he’s also quite boar-esque. A mean, stinky species that you would probably never want to awaken or fuck with lest you suffer the painful consequences.

Keith David
Keith David
What You Know Him From: David is easily one of the most underrated actors still working today. You definitely know his face, which seemingly hasn’t aged much in more than 20 years, but his voice...goddamn what a voice. In another life, he could’ve been the smoothest DJ to ever don a pair of headphones. We’ve been blessed to not only hear him, but see him as well, showing up memorably in seminal John Carpenter flicks “The Thing” and “They Live,” but also beating a guy with his fake leg in “Dead Presidents” and smoking tons of weed in “Platoon,” to name merely a few great turns (his IMDB page is something of a tome).
Movies: Disney was wise to cast him in 2009’s “Princess and the Frog,” taking advantage of that memorable, devilish voice, as he put his singular inflection to great use in that film (you could argue he did similar things as The Cat in “Coraline,” but that’s not a villain). But leave it to Darren Aronofsky to cast him as a thoroughly debauched nasty dude looking to leech off pretty Jennifer Connolly’s drug habit. If you don’t know the reference when we say “ass to ass,” than you haven’t seen “Requiem for a Dream,” or you closed your eyes and plugged your ears during the devastating climax. You could argue further that his roles in “They Live” and “The Thing” are at times villainous. Regardless, they’re both quite complex, at times antagonistic to each film’s hero but also the voice of reason. Keith David is another actor where, even when playing a good guy, the audience will doubt his nobility throughout. There’s something about him that’s more than just creepy, because as scary as he can be, you may also want to hug him, or at least be in his circle. 
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Questionable/confusing simmer. He’s terrifying, to be sure, but he’s the bad guy you want to be friends with, because it’s better to have him on your side than be against him.  

Billy Drago
Billy Drago
What You Know Him From: The single least trustworthy face in movie history. Did Billy Drago emerge from the womb with a sneer? Perhaps a clenched fist? Drago is a guy who wears scars the way the rest of us wear hats.
Movies: Do you need a villain shorthand where an actor pops up onscreen and, without dialogue, you have to know he’s evil? Drago’s your man, seemingly paid by the syllable as he haunts films like “The Untouchables” and “Invasion USA” like he literally just killed someone offscreen before the director yelled “action.” Drago has appeared on screens both big and small, but he is unquestionably a villain: there’s a certain perversity to Takashi Miike pursuing the actor to be the protagonist of his infamous episode of “Masters Of Horror” knowing just how grody and unwelcoming Drago could be. Drago rarely gets the call to play in the big leagues, offering his villainy to low-rent actioners over the years, but when he surfaces, he makes an immediate impression. You’d love to see him causing trouble in one of these Marvel movies if they weren’t pointlessly casting Oscar nominees to flex and growl instead.
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Seven spinal shivers. If you bring him home to meet your mother, she’ll jump out the window. Few know how to make an impression as starkly as Drago does.

Michael Wincott, Strange Days
Michael Wincott
What You Know Him From: Few actors are identifiable simply by their voice, but Michael Wincott is one of those actors -- he has a voice that is both terrifying and serene, whispery and gravelly, all at the same time. He's got a willowy figure, too, which just adds to the otherworldliness of his presence. You hear and feel Michael Wincott before you ever actually see him, which might be even more terrifying.
Movies: When it comes to playing bad guys, Wincott is scarily in command: as Top Dollar, a villainous mob boss in moody comic book adaptation "The Crow," he is downright scary. Part of this certainly had to do with the macabre mood of the film, which intensified after its lead (Brandon Lee) was accidentally killed on set, but Wincott is commanding in his own right. Long before Jamie Lannister was banging his sister in Rapunzel-y towers, Top Dollar was having intimate relationships with his kin in "The Crow." The nineties also saw him playing a pair of equally memorable slimeballs -- in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," as the Sheriff of Nottingham's equally vile cousin and a seedy music mogul in Kathryn Bigelow's underrated apocalyptic thriller "Strange Days." Apparently he also played a villain in Ridley Scott's "1492: Conquest of Paradise," but considering nobody has seen or remembered that movie since it came out (it's never even been put out on DVD), we'll just have to take the internet's word for that one. Even when he's not playing a baddie his characters still have an unavoidable level of slime to them, like his starship captain in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's nearly unwatchable "Alien: Resurrection" or his slithery intergalactic pilot in Disney's animated "Treasure Planet." Most recently, Wincott got to let his freak flag fly once again in "Hitchcock," playing Ed Gein, the real life serial killer that inspired "Psycho." In one of the film's best flourishes, Gein advises the filmmaker (Anthony Hopkins) on how to spy on (and possibly murder) his wife, who he suspects might be cheating on him. It's a fantastical bit of horror movie ickiness, brought to the screen in a way only Michael Wincott could.   
Rating On the Creep-O-Meter: Unreasonably high. This guy could scare us silly just by talking to us on the phone. Even when he's not explicitly bad he gives us the willies.

William Sadler, Die Hard 2
William Sadler 
What You Know Him From: Those glorious, glorious pockmarks! Sadler’s unsmiling mug allows for a gaunt, terrifying profile, like a skeletal golem eager to pry your soul from the body. He’s always had these intense, angry eyes that threaten to sizzle your steak, providing a capable enemy for scores of heroes, to the point where it almost seemed like a winking joke when Shane Black brought him in to play the President in “Iron Man 3.”
Movies: Sadler is 63 years old, and busier than ever. If he’s the reaper (as suggested by “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”) then he’s certainly getting his exercise in. Ubiquitous without ever being a household name, Sadler has played both sides of the hero/villain spectrum, but it’s probably those darn pockmark biases that make him such an unwelcoming presence. Among all post-Gruber villains to menace John McClane, Sadler was the best in “Die Hard 2,” bringing a sense of menace that poncy Jeremy Irons couldn’t match in the third film, never mind the focus-grouped baddies in parts four and five. He also vowed to take it to the bank in “Hard To Kill,” only for Steven Seagal to promise he’d be going to the BLOOD BANK, possibly the best call-and-response of any hero and villain ever. A generation of TNT viewers probably know him best as the would-be thug in “The Shawshank Redemption” who, behind bars, learns a new sort of humanity and redeems his murderous edge.
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Four angry glares. Sadler could play a world-crushing bad guy, but he was also at home playing your garden-variety angry dad, swigging a cold one from the porch and sneering as you raked the leaves incorrectly.

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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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