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

Features
by The Playlist Staff
July 3, 2013 3:03 PM
45 Comments
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J.T. Walsh
What You Know Him From: J.T. Walsh was felled by a heart attack at the age of 54. Had he lived, he would probably have amassed a resume that rivals the great bad guy actors. As it stands, he already kind of did. He's got the face and body of a suburban dad, which probably explains why not too many people could place him, but man was he good at being bad.
Movies: While Walsh often played bad guys, or at least guys you loved to hate, like in the fantasy "Pleasantville," his best and most memorable role was probably as an insane truck driver in Jonathan Mostow's underrated gem "Breakdown." This was Walsh in full effect: he comes to the aid of Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan, whose car has suffered from engine trouble. Walsh, milking that suburban dad thing for all its worth, offers to drive her to the nearest service station while Russell waits for a tow truck. And then Russell never hears from his wife again. It was like an incredibly taut episode of "The Twilight Zone," and Russell and Quinlan made such an unassuming couple that you rooted for Walsh to get his comeuppance. Which he does. Spectacularly.
Rating On the Creep-O-Meter Scale: Off the charts. He doesn't just make your skin crawl - it drives away to find a gas station and never comes back.

Lance Henriksen
What You Know Him From: A voice that suggests a layer of hell below the sulfur. A craggy old visage that paint his life as a hard one where he’s had to fight and scrap for every inch. This man has LIVED.
Movies: The original choice for “The Terminator” was apparently Henriksen, which would have been a decidedly different version of film history. While Arnold The Superstar has been responsible for several unforgettable movie moments, there’s no argument that the less physically-imposing Henriksen would have been scarier. There’s a lanky, haunted menace in Henriksen, a weary spirit that suggests a spirit constantly running from the devil, eager to cause just a little extra pain. Leading the vampires in “Near Dark” was a major turning point for him, coming after his good guy android in “Aliens” and painting him as a potential sadist to match those sunken, dead eyes. He would go on to play scum-of-the-earth thugs in “Johnny Handsome,” “Hard Target” and “Stone Cold” (the latter a particularly thrilling, and apparently improv’d lead villain performance), marking him as king of the b-movie set.  The stories of Henriksen’s niceness are legendary, but onscreen, you just couldn’t trust him, even in his neutral roles as law enforcement agents are cowboys, cementing him as a man out of time. His choice of roles improved considerably after a run as an unlikely leading man in TV’s “Millennium,” which showcased his underrated skills as a dramatic performer, but soon it was back to the same direct-to-DVD schlock and historical roles that were his bread and butter. Never one to turn his nose up at a dubious role, he’s showed up in some peculiar places as of late, but you sense the actor has one last great villain left in him.
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Seven packs of cigarettes, which the invincible Henriksen has likely just finished on his lunch break.

Brion James
What You Know Him From: “My mother? Let me tell you about my mother.” BLAM. There's no way the opening interrogation scene from “Blade Runner” was ever going to end nicely, but the moment still makes you jump, even on the umpteenth rewatch, thanks above all to the seething menace of Leon Kowalski, all forehead and bicep and played by the one and only Brion James.
Movies: James, who died in 1999 aged only 54, was great muscle in a number of excellent Hollywood flicks because he was also, always, more than great muscle. Skin-job Leon Kowalski is still his best part, but James brought his oddly loveable lunkheadedness to many other '80s and '90s classics, some great (“The Fifth Element”, “48 Hrs.”), some terrible (“Tango & Cash”, “Enemy Mine”), some with James as villain, some as hero (or supporting hero, at least): and that's without even starting in on his TV work, and the fact that he produced a film called “Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills”. And the fact that he was in “Blazing Saddles”! We could go on all night...
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: 6. Nexus-6, that is.

Jason Isaacs 
What You Know Him From: Aristocratic asshole behavior of the worst kind. This guy is probably bullying your favorite hero because his servant buttered his toast incorrectly.
Movies: Best known as the patriarch to the snobby Malfroy clan in the “Harry Potter” movies, Isaacs certainly has perfected a certain queenly upper-class sort of villainy, the type that would have swallowed up 'Potter' co-star Alan Rickman had he not rejected the sea of post-“Die Hard” villain parts he was offered. But Isaacs, a legit capital-A actor, also brought a nastiness to Col. Tavington in Mel Gibson actioner “The Patriot,” proving a memorable, vicious foil that could not be more British against the apparently super-American Gibson. Isaacs’ condescension also shined in the kidflick “Peter Pan,” where he outdid Dustin Hoffman’s contemporary, campy Captain Hook in “Hook” with his own savage, bitter, slimy swashbuckler. 'Pan' is just one of many roles where Isaacs brings so much more to the role beyond what’s on the page, bringing great dimension to his baddies to suggest there was once a good man there. Even if he’s talented enough to ham it up, Isaacs is the guy when you want a baddie with layers.
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Honestly, maybe a ½ magic spell. Isaacs would likely charm you off your feet before revealing he had evil plans for you. He’s so good at it, but it’s simply not the main quiver in his bow.

Honorable Mention
There are plenty of undersung bad asses that we didn't have room for but still deserve our respect (and cold, mortal fear). Christopher McDonald is probably best remembered in his villainous role in "Happy Gilmore," but he's been more serious (and far creepier) in things like Robert Rodriguez's "The Faculty," Ridley Scott's "Thelma and Louise," hell, even Brad Bird's "Iron Giant"; Walton Goggins is a villainous superstar in the making, thanks to turns in "Predators" and "Django Unchained" (and a prolonged arc as a very bad dude on FX's "Justified"); John Getz is the perfect eighties sleazeball in "The Fly" (he even showed up in "The Fly II!"); not even an Oscar nomination for "Babe" could take away the low rent anonymity of James Cromwell, who proved he could be very bad in "L.A. Confidential" (and other, less films like "Species II"); Anthony Heald was so memorable as Chilton, the warden who looked after a band of incredibly deadly psychopaths in "Silence of the Lambs" (and later "Red Dragon") that when the character was introduced on NBC's "Hannibal," we let out an audible sigh because it wasn't him again; Mark Strong continues to do excellent work in often marginalized bad guy roles in things like "Sherlock Holmes," "Sunshine," "John Carter" and "The Guard" - maybe being British makes you bad; MC Gainey has had a host of memorable bad guy roles, starring alongside Goggins (at least for a little while) as a similarly fiendish character on "Justified" and in last year's "Django Unchained," as a bible-quoting slaver named Big John Brittle; Billy Burke can strike fear into your heart without you ever knowing his name, both as an abusive husband in the J. Lo basic cable staple "Enough" and as a Satanic cult leader in "Drive Angry;" Gary Cole might have been the boss from hell in "Office Space" but he brought a little more heat to "Pineapple Express" as a murderous drug lord and (even chillier still) a gangster in Sam Raimi's woefully underappreciated "Simple Plan;" and ending on a high note, Gregg Henry, a favorite of director Brian De Palma (who knows a thing or two about bad guys), was unstoppable in "Body Double" and returned for even more ass-holey-y fun in James Gunn's horror throwback "Slither." - Erik McClanahan, Gabe Toro, Rodrigo Perez, Drew Taylor, Ben Brock

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45 Comments

  • 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. youtube.com/watch?v=305QDgmv9ag

  • 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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