Tom Beasley on the 10 best villain actors working in Hollywood today…
Ask most actors what kind of role they like playing the most and they’ll tell you that they love having the opportunity to play a full-throttle, moustache-twirling villain. The old adage that bad guys have more fun is definitely true on the big screen, where it’s good to be bad on just about every level.
But not all screen baddies are created equal. There are some actors seemingly born to play the worst possible specimens of humankind – and indeed alienkind – in movies. With that in mind, Hollywood seems to have a travelling rep company of actors who can knock even the most generic of villainous roles out of the park with ease.
In that vein, let’s take a look at the 10 best villain actors in today’s movie world.
10. Mads Mikkelsen
Anyone who has been a villain in multiple blockbuster franchises is deserving of a prime spot on this list and Mikkelsen has certainly managed that. He leaked blood from his eye as Le Chiffre in Bond’s soft reboot Casino Royale and then did a solid job as the zealot sorcerer Kaecilius in Doctor Strange. Most notably, though, Mikkelsen made his villainous name over on television as the title character in Hannibal, playing one of the most iconic bad guys in the history of fiction.
Mikkelsen is capable of doing charming and congenial on the big screen, as well as evil, but he’s absolutely best known for essaying some of the most memorable villains in cinema history. His measured way of speaking and fine ability for controlled aggression makes him a viable choice for anyone looking to cast a baddie.
9. Tom Hardy
Anyone who questions the fear factor of Tom Hardy need only watch that clip of him reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the recent royal wedding. He’s currently shaved bald to play the role of notorious gangster Al Capone in Josh Trank’s Fonzo and looks even more terrifying than he did while wearing a facial mask as the physically intimidating Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy, of course, has form for gangster parts, having embodied both of the Kray twins in the popular biopic Legend.
Of all of the actors on this list, Hardy is perhaps most effective and impressive as a physical villain – a man who intimidates the hero with sheer bulk and power. His undeniable intensity makes him a compelling baddie, whether his face is covered or not.
8. Helena Bonham Carter
If you were reaching for the best word to describe Helena Bonham Carter, “kooky” is probably the one you’d plump for. However, she has shown above all else an ability to add the word “terrifying” to that repertoire. For me and many people my age, she’s indelibly linked to the psychopathic Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies and, between her bizarre Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd and unhinged Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, she knows how to bring the horror.
Carter does crazed better than just about any other female performer in Hollywood today – even her more subdued roles often seem to come with a side order of barely concealed insanity – and that makes her an ideal villain. The subtle mannerisms of Mads Mikkelsen are a long way from Carter’s wheelhouse. For a shrieking banshee of unrestrained evil, she’s the actor you pick.
7. Ralph Fiennes
As memorable as Helena Bonham Carter was in the Harry Potter franchise, she played second fiddle to the true Big Bad. It has its detractors, but Ralph Fiennes’s performance as Lord Voldemort is pantomime baddie at its absolute best. He has the presence of a man everybody fears on instinct and, whether he’s whispering with gentle aggression or yelling in uncontrolled rage, Fiennes knows exactly the right way to chill the blood of even the most desensitised movie fan.
But he’s far from a one trick pony when it comes to villainy. Fiennes made a tremendous impact both as a brutal Nazi in Schindler’s List and as the gangster Harry Waters in Martin McDonagh’s jet-black comedy In Bruges. Harry has none of the whispering menace of Voldemort; he’s all deafening aggression and straight-forward psychopathy. It’s also a performance that showcases Fiennes’s ability to play the duality of evil and comedy, with Harry landing many of the best lines in McDonagh’s typically brilliant script.
6. Benedict Cumberbatch
First, he was Khan. Then, he wasn’t Khan. Then, it turned out he was Khan all along. The worst kept secret in cinema history was definitively unveiled in Star Trek Into Darkness, which showcased a snarling, verbose Benedict Cumberbatch as the thorn in the side of the Enterprise crew. The suave star of Sherlock and Doctor Strange is as much a villain as he is a hero, and it’s often his most evil roles that are the most enjoyable.
He snarled as Smaug in the Hobbit trilogy and is donning the motion-capture onesie again to embody man-eating tiger Shere Khan in Andy Serkis’s Mowgli. In all of these roles, the plummy accent and obvious charm that makes Cumberbatch so attractive and likeable in many of his other parts is turned on its head for an insidious, malevolent persona that will serve him well in the many terrifying roles he has still to come.
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