Slide Shows

Readers respond: Cinema's best unexpected villains

Slide show: Last week, we gave you our favorite "good guy" actors at their most devious. Now, we let you choose

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    Leslie Nielsen, “Creepshow”

    In the third vignette, Nielsen plays a devil-may-care psychopath whose avuncular gray-haired presence and spry jocularity make his gleefully remorseless blood lust all the more shocking.

    As revenge for his wife’s adultery, he buries both the wife (Gaylen Ross), and her lover (Ted Danson), up to their necks on the beach below the high tide line. He also installs closed-circuit cameras and television monitors so they can watch each other drown, and he can savor the spectacle of their deaths from the comfort of his plush, well-appointed beach house.


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    John Goodman, “Barton Fink”

    “I’ll show you the life of the mind!”


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    Fred MacMurray, “Double Indemnity” and Spoiler Alert

    In “Double Indemnity.” Great performance, great film. And quite a shock for those of us who grew up watching him as Dad in “My Three Sons.”


    There are villains and then there are villains. Personally,I absolutely loved Fred MacMurray’s role in (And this qualifies as a SPOILER) “The Caine Mutiny.” For much of the film, he’s presented as a caring, friendly sort who seems genuinely concerned about what’s going on around him. But by the climax of the film, he’s exposed for what he really is: A weaselly provocateur who pushes others to do things he doesn’t have the … guts … to do himself. And when the s**t hits the fan, he hides in the shadows and lets others take the blame for his actions.

    While his villainy is not as obvious or even as explosive as that of some of the villains presented, I think his actions are even more chilling because they are so uniquely … human.

    E.R. Torre

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    Louise Fletcher, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

    As Nurse Ratched … Perfectly cast, her performance chilled me to the bone.


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    Harrison Ford, “Mosquito Coast” and “What Lies Beneath”

    It wasn’t a very good movie but casting Harrison Ford in “What Lies Beneath” definitely took advantage of the trust built by his previous roles.

    I say it wasn’t a good movie, but actually it still squicks me. A killer you’ve known and loved for years is so much more horrifying than a random psycho that picks you out of a hat. I don’t think that feeling would have been evoked so strongly for me if I hadn’t grown up with a crush on Indiana Jones.


    I never saw “What Lies Beneath,” but “Mosquito Coast,” a 1996 film might qualify. Ford’s character is a man of frightening obsessions interwoven with some magnificent dreams. The result is riveting and painful as chance and obsession choke the dreams.


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    Tom Cruise, “Collateral”

    How can you omit Tom Cruise in “Collateral”? Playing against type and the best acting he’d done in years.

    (I’m not sure he quite qualifies as a villain in “Magnolia.”)


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    Angela Lansbury in “The Manchurian Candidate”

    Especially for those of us who had parents who watched “Murder She Wrote” when we were kids, and only saw this when we were older.


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    Michael Palin, “Brazil”

    (Recommended by ouinon)

    An inspired and unexpected choice to play the state torturer.

    Terry Gilliam said that he was adamant about casting Palin in the role (even though Robert De Niro wanted it) because his former Monty Python colleague was one of the nicest people he knew. Indeed, Palin’s chipper, happy-go-lucky veneer of “niceness” belies his ruthless professionalism as a state-sponsored sadist.

    It is precisely this sort of grim irony that makes the movie such a sly and caustic satire of government secrecy, malfeasance and incompetence.


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    Larry Drake, “Darkman”

    I would argue that at that point in his career (1990) Drake was cast against type, being best-known as the saintly Benny on L.A. Law.

    It was quite a change for him to play a villain fond of clipping off fingers with a cigar cutter.


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    10. Ben Kingsley, “Sexy Beast”

    As Gandhi’s evil, English twin, Don Logan.

    Christopher Drinkwater