?Like acting, villainy is a subtle art, except for when it’s not. Sometimes what a villain lacks in finesse, an actor makes up for in enthusiasm. It is then we move into Ham Country, population: these folks. Some are genuinely well acted and the goofiness is intentional. Others, well, it gets to a point where we just can’t take the villain seriously — but all of them are still fun as hell to watch on screen. Two things: 1) this list is by no means definitive, so don’t complain which of your favorite ridiculous bad guys are missing; just tell us about them in the comments so we can include them in Part 2. 2) While there are comedies on this list, you won’t find things like Batman ’66 or Power Rangers here, because that would quickly turn into The Feast of a Thousand Hams, and this list can only handle 10.
10) Gary Oldman as Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg in The Fifth Element
The name alone lets you know you’re in for porcine delights. Gary Oldman of Leon: The Professional fame is having a criminal amount of fun in this role, and it shows. Hilariously inept yet dangerously greedy and ambitious, Zorg is an entertaining and memorable villain with really weird hair. Memorably, Oldman also gave Zorg the voice of an evil Southern plantation owner or Texas oil baron… in spaaaace!
9) Denis O’Hare as Russell Edgington in True Blood
Hold on a minute there, vampire-haters. There’s a good reason for the king of Louisiana to be here. Sure, some vampires in True Blood uselessly mope around falling in love or trying to curry favor with humans. Not Russel Edgington. He knows that the true purpose of a vampire is to eat you. Edgington’s moment of ultimate badass here is followed by a descent into madness so melodramatic that it results in him carrying a crystal urn containing his dead husband’s gooey remains wherever he goes, and holding conversations with it.
8) Miranda Richardson as Queen Mab in Merlin
In this 1988 miniseries, Miranda Richardson gave Queen Mab a voice that sounds like she screamed until hoarse after gargling acid. This, plus her hippy-goth-raver wardrobe, puts her squarely in the realm of high hammery. It is both obnoxious and fun to see her berate her gnomish minion Frick (played by an equally silly Martin Short) and make life hell for Sam Neil’s Merlin. Not since her performance as Queenie in Blackadder has there been so campy a royal figure. It is worth noting that, while Helena Bonham Carter makes a valiant effort to the point of giving Morgan Le Fay a ridiculous lisp, she ultimately fails to out-overact Richardson here.
7) David Warner as Evil Genius in Time Bandits
David Warner is no stranger to silliness, with voice acting roles for numerous cartoons (including Freakazoid and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) on his resume. MSTies will recognize him as villain Lord Vultare from that campy renn-faire romp Quest of the Delta Knights. Tron fans know him as an evil programmer dude and evil program. But in Time Bandits, he plays a villain so brilliantly evil his actual name is Evil Genius. He has particular ideas about how the world should be run, and thinks God is just messing around making crap like slugs and nipples for men. Lasers, eight o’clock, day one indeed!
6) Willem Dafoe as The Green Goblin in Spider-Man
Some folks would disagree, but there is much to enjoy in Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of the Green Goblin. From the moment Osborn opens his mouth and yells, “You know how much I sacrificed?!” it is clear that Dafoe has unhinged his jaw like a mighty python to gobble the entire audience up, bones and all. If we accept his batshit insanity and roll with it as comedy, Dafoe’s Green Goblin becomes pretty much the most enjoyable villain ever (you can pretend he’s a Skrull if it helps.) Certainly we can agree that his defeat is entertaining to watch!
5) Kurtwood Smith as Clarence J. Boddicker in RoboCop
Thus Spake Boddicker, the best coked-out ’80s crime boss ever. Boddicker is chock-full of yelling, flailing, foamy ultra-violence. Part of Kurtwood Smith’s charm in this role comes from watching a man who looks like a balding substitute teacher do bewilderingly violent deeds. Plus he has the sheer unbridled nerve to spit blood in Robocop’s face the first time he meets him. I must admit every time I watch Robocop I keep hoping Smith will call one of his goons “Dumbass!” a la Red from That 70’s Show.
4) Terrence Stamp as General Zod in Superman II
Rise before Zod! Kneel before Zod! Zod is now your personal trainer! Well, if Terrence Stamp commands you to do anything in that epic voice of his, you do it. He graduated from the School of British Villainy, after all (with a minor in Evil Facial Hair.) General Zod was Stamp’s first role coming back to film after a long hiatus, a dramatic entrance full of campy flair. Oddly enough, Stamp went from playing one of Superman’s iconic foes to voicing his own father Jor-El in Smallville.
3) Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman
Ever danced with the devil in the . . . ah, you know how it goes. Sure, the Joker is a hammy character by nature, but actors like Heath Ledger have proven he can be as nuanced as he is unpredictable. Not so with Jack Nicholson! In Tim Burton’s ’89 Batman flick, he goes full blown Jack Torrence on Gotham City, gleefully dispensing cash and poison gas, even taking the time to musically trash an art gallery while dressed in a poofy purple hat. This guy is over the top in a way that would make Cesar Romero’s mustache twitch with envy.
2) Clancy Brown as The Kurgan in Highlander
When we first meet the Kurgan, he is wearing the giant skull of a creature he probably killed with his forehead and ate raw while making T-Rex noises. The Kurgan steals every scene he is in, chewing the scenery to a pulp when the Quickening isn’t blowing it up. He just growls out every line in between joyfully bestial fits of laughter. Honestly, there is no point in this film in which he is not pretending to be in a heavy metal music video. Actor Clancy Brown went on to voice Lex Luthor in the animated Superman and Avatar‘s Long Feng, because some people were just born to be villains.
1) Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
It has been said that Ricardo Montalban’s chest looks weird and fake in Wrath of Khan. It was not, however, made of soft Corinthian leather, but 100% pure Montalban. In any case, he is an utter joy to watch while he’s hamming it up as Khan. The man even reprised the role for a modest salary out of sheer love for the character. Wrath of Khan is a rare case in which an actor’s exaggerated performance does not detract or distract from the impact of any scene, but instead enhances it. Anyone playing a Captain Ahab analogue is going to need to be over-the-top, and Montalban delivers a performance that takes the audience with him right over the edge into revenge-fueled insanity. And if you don’t enjoy Montalban’s performance as Khan? From hell’s heart I stab at thee! For hate’s sake . . . ahem. Sorry, got a bit carried away there.