5. Gary Oldman
Anyone expecting something complex from Darkest Hour – for which Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill – would definitely have been disappointed. Despite the presence of Oldman, the movie is not a revisionist view of a controversial political figure – it’s a tribute to a hero. However, Oldman has built a career out of embodying villains, from Dracula in 1992 and True Romance to one of the most iconic baddies of all time in Leon: The Professional. His Sirius Black in Harry Potter is ultimately a good guy, but Oldman is far more comfortable in the wide-eyed lunatic segment of the part.
There isn’t another name on this list who has a list of big screen bad guys as lengthy and varied as Oldman, whose signature brand of shouty intensity is perfect for a particular brand of movie antagonist. He even played a psychotic peacock in Kung Fu Panda 2. Now that’s a commitment to villainy.
4. Javier Bardem
Earlier in this list, the topic of Bond villains came up – and it will again before the end. This time, though, it’s the best villain of the Daniel Craig tenure – Javier Bardem as Silva in Skyfall. Bardem has the ability to monologue with the best of them, and he is terrific at quiet intensity. The same is true of his most memorable baddie – Anton Chigurh in the masterful No Country For Old Men. As Chigurh, Bardem simply holds himself in a way that is instantly terrifying, leading to the most tense and unbearable coin toss in the history of cinema.
This is a man who has cemented himself as an untrustworthy face whenever he appears on the big screen. Even in mother!, in which his character isn’t necessarily a villain, he brings a sinister aura to proceedings that really ramps up the tension of the movie. Bardem is a great villain, though perhaps don’t mention that fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Nobody came out of that one smelling of roses.
3. Toby Jones
There’s a long history in cinema of hiring British actors to portray villains in American movies. Whether it was Christopher Lee or Alan Rickman, Hollywood has always enjoyed making Brits into bad guys. The latest favourite in that realm is Toby Jones, currently sliming his way through cinemas as a floppy-haired businessman in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Jones is compelling as a bad guy, capable of chilling the blood as he did when he portrayed the serial killer Culverton Smith in the best episode of Sherlock‘s uneven fourth season.
Perhaps Jones’s most memorable slimeball turn was as a very dark incarnation of Alfred Hitchcock in TV movie The Girl, which portrayed the director as a predatory figure, obsessed with actress Tippi Hedren. Jones also ticks the box for franchise villainy, having brilliantly portrayed Nazi chemist Arnim Zola in the Captain America films.
2. Christoph Waltz
So devoted is Christoph Waltz to his villainous roles that it has become a long-standing joke that he always plays the baddie. He came to the attention of mainstream moviegoers as SS officer Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, for which he won an Oscar – a rare feat for an outright antagonist role. He has since gone on to portray the iconic Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Spectre, as well as the main villain in the mostly forgotten franchise reboot The Legend of Tarzan.
Waltz is tailor-made for bad guy roles and has a very similar, measured approach to evil as that of Bardem. Even when he’s not overtly villainous, as in Big Eyes or Downsizing, there’s something inherently creepy about the characters he plays and so the effects of his villain roles continue to work.
1. Ben Mendelsohn
If you see Ben Mendelsohn in a movie, then you know exactly which way it is going. He seldom appears as anything other than a villain and, even when he does, there’s always a dark side to his character. Most recently, he played the ruthless tech company boss in Ready Player One and the snivelling Director Krennic in Rogue One. Later this year, he will portray the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood and he’s set to add the MCU to his repertoire as Talos of the Skrull Empire in Captain Marvel.
Mendelsohn is a bona fide bad guy star, but what’s most impressive is his versatility. Nolan Sorrento in Ready Player One is completely in charge and sure of his position, while Krennic is entirely subordinate to Darth Vader and the Emperor and acts with the corresponding sense of fear and uncertainty. Whether he’s at the top of the food chain or lurking further down the chain of command, Mendelsohn is a chilling presence and he will no doubt continue to embody terrifying figures in the years to come.
A version of this article was originally posted in June 2018.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.