5. Iago from Othello. He’s not the original bad guy. That honor goes to Satan, but, seeing as Iago is modeled after Milton’s Satan, he’s pretty close to the first. In way too many modern stories, the bad guy is clearly the bad guy. Everyone should see it, but for narative reasons everyone in the story is oblivious to this fact until it’s too late. Iago is different. Everyone (or nearly everyone) trusts him, and it’s easy to see why. He’s polite and seemingly subservient, and really good at lying to people. Becuase get some well-written insight into his nefarious musings, it’s not a surprise a surprise when his ultimate plan is revealed.
4. Marlo Stanfield from The Wire. Marlo is the young guy who doesn’t respect the rules the game. Most of the other bad guys–Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, Proposition Joe, Omar Little (technically, he’s a villain to the villains, which almost make him a hero)–all play according to established precedent. Marlo doesn’t care for any of this. He is willing the cross anyone and everyone to get what he wants, and he has the muscle and wits to do it. What makes Marlo so frightening is how realistic he is. It’s really easy to imagine dozens of Marlos managing dozens of little empires across the country, maybe even in your city.
3. Noah Cross from Chinatown. Played brilliantly by John Huston, Noah Cross reminds us of everything wrong with American industry. He could easily be the poster child for Ayn Randian capitalism. Polanski’s camera, however, has no love whatsoever for him. He has all the power and can do what he wants. At one point, he says to Jake Gettes, “You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of ANYTHING.” He is unapologetic in his evil. He is what he is, and he is fine with that.
2. Harry Lime from The Third Man and Harry Powell from The Night of the Hunter. I present these two together in tribute to Siskel and Ebert. When they compiled their lists of best movie villains, these were the two number one picks (I can’t remember who chose whom). It’s hard to separate the two. They both have their charm. Powell is the hat-wearing, hymn-singing creation of the great Robert Mitchum. He fills every scene with the unmovable weight of his being. He has one objective, and he’s does care that he has to go through a widow and several children to get it. The equally great Orsen Welles provides Lime with a visiage that seems almost child-like and innocent. We have little trouble seeing what everyone, especially Joseph Cotton’s Holly Martins, find so magnetic about him. He could easily be the life any party, except for the fact that he couldn’t care less that the diluted penicillin he has sold has caused severe health problems, and even death, for numerous children. He is willing to do most anything to escape war-torn Vienna, and, like Martins, we keep hoping that Lime will reform his sinful ways.
1. Judge Holden from Blood Meridian. I’d be willing to bet that either Sarah or (more likely) Blake places Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men on their list. He is indeed an unique villain, almost a pure incarnation of evil. But it’s that “almost” that separates him from Judge Holden, another McCarthy creation. Holden, tall, completely white and completely bald, is unmitigated evil. While Chigurh has some motivation (he is a hired killer and has a specific goal), Holden seems to revel in causing destruction for no reason but the destruction itself. When we first meet him, he stirs up a mob to violence by accusing a man he’s never seen before of pedophilia and bestiality. The last anyone sees of him is when he is dancing naked off to the horizon, perhaps back to the great abyss that birthed him, after sucking the soul out of the young protagonist. “He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”