The 10 best bad guy actors have a lot more fun than their heroic counterparts. In amplifying the sadistic, hedonistic tendencies of mankind, they revel in over-the-top nastiness. Here’s out list of the greats:
Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff embodies film villainy, having played both Imhotep in “The Mummy” and the Creature in “Frankenstein.” Karloff’s crazed stare went great lengths in conjuring evil and monstrousness. While Karloff had a long, respectable career, his role in defining onscreen evil makes him one of the best bad guy actors.
Peter Lorre. Lorre is a German actor best known as Ugarte in “Casablanca.” He invented the tortured, psychologically damaged villain with Fritz Lang’s “M.” Unlike monsters of previous films, Lorre and Lang defined evil as humans with psychological problems. The final, crazed monologue by Lorre’s child killer is a precursor to hundreds of tortured geniuses, from Hannibal Lecter to “Se7en” psycho John Doe.
- Christopher Lee. Christopher Lee’s volcanic voice and imposing stature make him perfect for playing bad. In his seven-decade career, Lee’s played Dracula, Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, traitorous wizard Saruman and even Satan. Born in 1922, Christopher Lee, like Karloff, helped define villainy, and is one of the great bad guy actors.
- Klaus Kinski. That German screen legend Klaus Kinski is actually insane helps a great deal in making him one of the best bad guy actors. From the crazed conquistador in “Aguirre: Wrath of God” to a vampire in “Nosferatu,” Kinski embodies darkness with a psychotic zealotry few actors can match. Kinski’s tumultuous relationship with director Werner Herzog greatly inspired his evilness. Herzog famously shot the thumb off an “Aguirre” crew member attempting to kill Kinski.
- Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis is a dedicated method actor. On the set of “Gangs of New York,” he referred to co-actors by their character names. This complete absorption makes his villains terrifying. The genteel Englishman’s Daniel Plainview of “There Will Be Blood” and Bill the Butcher of “Gangs of New York” are two of the great monsters in film.
- Geoffrey Rush. Rush is one of the best bad guy actors. His turn as Marquis de Sade in “Quills” is seductively villainous. Rush oozes malevolence, but his unparalleled intelligence and charm make you love de Sade as much as hate him. Who else could say, “These chastity vows of yours, how strict are they? Suppose you only put it in her mouth?” to a priest, then rebut with “Are your convictions so fragile they cannot stand in opposition to mine?” In a more sanitary role, Rush brings baroque, old school villainy to Captain Barbosa in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy.
- Jack Nicholson. While Jack has successfully taken on the dark side of human nature a number of times (the Joker in “Batman,” Frank Costello in “The Departed”), his performance as Jack Torrance in “The Shining” makes him one of the great villains of all time. Nicholson’s psychotic declaration, “Here’s Johnny!” while in the middle of trying to axe his wife and child to death is classic.
Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is best known for films like “The English Patient,” though his charm lies in his nastiness. From his “In Bruges” cockney gangster to the Nazi in “Schindler’s List,” Fiennes’ status as a best bad guy actor is well established. None of his creations can match his grotesque, sadistic portrayal of “Voldemort” in the “Harry Potter” films.
- Alan Rickman. Alan Rickman fell into infamy as Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.” Since then, Rickman has played the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” stealing the movie from star Kevin Costner, and Professor Snape in the “Harry Potter” series. Rickman is one of the best living bad guy actors. Who could forget the line, “I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon”? Classic.
- Hugo Weaving. Australian Hugo Weaving played a good guy in “The Lord of the Rings,” but his remorseless bureaucrat, Agent Smith, in the “Matrix” films is a great villain. What makes Weaving’s Smith so bad is his lack of emotion—he’s a computer program, after all. Weaving manages to completely rid himself of actor's tricks, creating a character so deadpan he’s as funny as he is scary.
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