Cinema’s greatest villains

Victoria Keane takes a look at cinema’s greatest villains

Victoria Keane considers the rise of ‘supervillain’ movies and takes a cross-generic look at some of the greatest cinematic antagonistsThe recent Hollywood trend of milling out films told from the villain’s perspective is probably thanks to the commercial success of 2016 film Suicide Squad. Although it panned critically, it opened the floodgates for other big-budget projects that offered a sympathetic view of antagonistic characters. Upcoming films such as Venom and Joker will offer viewers a chance to empathise with these comic book villains with stories told from their perspective. However, Joaquin Phoenix will be under considerable scrutiny as the Joker in this new film as it warrants comparison to Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the same character in The Dark Knight. The movie villain isn’t reserved solely for the ‘superhero’ genre, however, as many other brilliant antagonists have emerged over the years.
“If you were to just momentarily forget “chick flicks” as a ‘trashy’ genre or Mean Girls as being far too over-referenced on most online mediums, you can see that Regina George is a truly admirable villain”
Alex deLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is an unforgettable and unsettling villain. His entire purpose in life is to terrorise those around him, including his own friends and cohorts, going as far as to commit detestable acts of rape and murder out of boredom. He is undeniably irredeemable and also serves as an earlier example of films based on the antagonistic character. It is the audience’s inevitable sympathy for him after his ‘treatment’ that makes it most unsettling as Alex shifts from unrepentant violence to becoming neutered and submissive. Despite this, he continues to lack empathy for past victims and is inflicted with intense pain each time he feels the urge to embark on “a bit of the old ultraviolence”. The Entity in the 2014 horror flick It Follows is perhaps the worst STD imaginable, a curse that can take the appearance of any person and stalks their victim, leaving the carrier living in perpetual fear that anyone nearby could be their killer. The Entity is a truly chilling antagonist. The uneasy tension that builds from the fact anyone walking in the general direction of the curse-carrier could kill them, makes the Entity a nightmarish “character” that would incite fear in anyone. What is especially unsettling is that even if the curse is passed on and kills its current target, it will revert to stalking the prior carrier, which makes herpes seem far less traumatic!
“Lector showed audiences that evil can hide in anyone”
One can see why many people wouldn’t consider Regina George from the 2004 high school comedy Mean Girls in a serious list of the greatest movie villains. But if you were to just momentarily forget “chick flicks” as a ‘trashy’ genre or Mean Girls as being far too over-referenced on most online mediums, you can see that Regina George is a truly admirable villain. She goes to extensive measures to bring hell upon her victims. Regina George is so memorable for a reason; she commanded every single scene similarly to how she controlled the ‘Plastics’. Her presence evoked such a raw callousness yet simultaneous sense of cool that you can hate her but know if you met her, would do anything to be her friend just for the recognition. Most people probably remember their first time watching The Lion King as a child and the trauma of watching Scar propel his own brother from a cliff to his death. It’s a typical characteristic of Disney villains to lack a moral compass, yet Scar is the only one that can lay claim to having murdered a family member. His lack of remorse and the cold delivery of his “long live the King” line shows that Scar is a real villain’s villain, who’ll stop at nothing in the pursuit of power. The psychopathic, serenely calm psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs is one of the greatest screen performances of all time. Lector showed audiences that evil can hide in anyone. His intelligence and charm make him seem almost friendly, that is, until he says, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti” when discussing one of his victims. Lecter is often staring wildly into the camera, piercing through the lens to make direct eye contact with the viewer. The sense of contained rage and tension he brings is unequivocal and despite lacking much screen time, his presence is etched in viewers minds long after they’re finished watching.