Friday, June 12, 2009

The Villain Makes the Hero

Entertainment Weekly recently did an article on the 20 best villains (April 3, 2009). It sparked my interest, so I decided to do a little research on my own. What I found was very surprising, and I'll share it here with you. My results are based more on gut feel than on actual scientific study. I didn't have access to any survey data, and I don't have any metrics other than how often a particular character appeared in a list, and how close to the top of the list the character appeared. Nevertheless, I think I can safely say who the top three movie villains of all time are.

The number one movie villain of all time has to be The Joker, from DC Comics. As a comic book villain he is absolutely unforgetable. As a character on the silver screen, whether played by Jack Nicholson or by Heath Ledger, he is epic. If the joker isn't numero uno on a list, he is always in the top ten.

Number two would be Hannibal Lecter. Can you say twisted? Anthony Hopkins had only 15 minutes of screen time in Silence of the Lambs, but his execution of that role was instantly seared into the public conciousness.

Number three would be Hans Gruber from Die Hard. You wouldn't believe how many lists he made it onto, and quite a few placed him at number one.

What are the other top villains? Here they are in order of precidence, as best as I could group them:

  • Michael or Vito Corleone, Godfather 1 and 2. I lump these together because one of the Godfather movies appears on most of the lists. "I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse."
  • Norman Bates, from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. This was the seminal slasher horror movie. Even today, people who have never seen the film recognize references to the shower scene.
  • Jack Torrance, from Stephen King's, The Shining. He isn't number one by any account, but Jack Torrance is on literally every list out there.
  • Auric Goldfinger. I'll have to see this film again (since I don't even remember him). Nevertheless he ranked high on quite a few lists.
  • Count Dracula. Vampires have an enduring allure. Sex, gore, gothic wardrobe, sex, gore, gothic wardrobe.
  • Darth Vader. I really thought Darth Vader would have ranked higher than he did. There were quite a few lists where he didn't even rank.
  • Jaws. I remember the summer this movie came out. EVERYONE saw it. Don't go in the water. I know plenty of people who wouldn't go swimming in the ocean for years, afterwards.
  • HAL 9000. It's creepy way a computer, so trusted by the entire crew, turned on them and systematically began to wipe everyone out. Most people can't stand to watch 2001 a Space Odessy, but nearly everyone knows the quote, "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that." The servant has risen against the master. The only thing missing is the wicked laugh, bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!
  • The Wicked Witch of the West. I wouldn't have put this on my list in a million years. Her lines are corny, and her character so 1-dimensional, but you'd be surprised at how often she popps up. "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!"
  • Pazuzu, the demon that possessed the little girl in The Exorcist. There's something about the innocence of a little girl being so completely violated.
  • Katherine Trammell, from Basic Instinct.

Here are the comic book villains (minus The Joker) that most consistently ranked in the top ten:

  • Lex Luthor. He is always in the top 5. As a super-villain, he has no powers. He's the Godfather to the DC Comics universe.
    Venom. A symbiotic suit that makes you turn evil. There is something so cool about seeing Spidey decked out in black. It enhanced his powers considerably, then it made him slowly turn evil.
  • Magneto
  • Jeane Gray, the Dark Phoenix
  • The Green Goblin.

In my opinion, it's the villain that makes the hero. Without Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker would be just another whiny, angst-ridden teenager. Without The Joker, Batman would still be pretty cool, but he wouldn't be nearly as memorable. Serlock Holmes was fairly popular in his own right, but it was Professor Moriarty that made people clamor for more. Last but not least, without Voldemort, Harry Potter would be a mediocre wizard, destined for a life of peaceful anonymity--and J. K. Rowling would be nowhere near as rich as the Queen of England.

So what do I, personally, look for in a villain? My favorites are the ones with good character development and back-story; but most of all, I like a villain that gets away, continually thwarting the hero time and time again. Here is my list of favorites:

  • Darth Vader
  • Voldemort
  • From Fullmetal Alchemist,

    • Scar the vigilante,
    • The seven Homunculi, and their masters, Dante and Hohenheim of Light.

  • The Goauld from Stargate Atlantis
  • From Heroes, the TV series:

    • Sylar from Heroes
    • Mr. Linderman from Heroes

  • Cloney the Sourge from the novel, Redwall. I haven't kept any of the other Redwall books, but Cloney the Scourge is just so awesome.

So that's it. I know, I know, you're probably going to think I missed one or two. Feel free to let me know what you think.

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