Movie villains exist only when there's a hero to offset their abhorrent behaviour.
In the absence of a dominant good guy, you're left with a bad dude - someone like Norman Bates in Psycho, Alex Delarge in A Clockwork Orange or Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver - desperately in need of a moral counterpoint, a warm body on which to inflict pain.
The historic James Bond franchise is full of some of the best baddies in the business, from Goldfinger to Jaws. The franchise's latest instalment, Skyfall, arrives in theatres Friday with another antagonist on 007's tail: Silva, a splendidly maniacal-looking Javier Bardem.
Just as he proved in No Country for Old Men - a performance that won him an Oscar - Bardem knows a villainous role can produce the most wondrous of result.
Here's some of most memorable movie villains to date.
1, Darth Vader, Star Wars (1977). One of the best franchises in film history could not have survived without the presence of Darth Vader, the supreme commander of cranium crushing. He first appeared as the ultimate villain in Star Wars, but grew more complex as the series progressed, even becoming a protagonist for a few films before the dark side took control. As iconic as they come, Darth Vader is the best bad guy in the business.
2. Anton Chigurgh, No Country for Old Men (2007). Bardem was a coiled spring in this Coen Brothers' classic, a modern-day western starring Tommy Lee Jones as one of the few characters on the right side of the law. Bardem's Oscar-winning performance as a bloodthirsty criminal with not a shred of redemption is one that will live on for decades. Some of his best lines ("Call it") read like pure comedy in print, but sound like absolute hell on screen. That's a good thing.
3. Mr. Potter, It's a Wonderful Life (1946). There's only one character cruel enough to make George Bailey contemplate suicide, and that's mean old Mr. Potter, the land baron without remorse in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Played with nefarious delight by Lionel Barrymore, crooked smile and all, the character of Mr. Potter was up against Bailey, the town do-gooder, played with apple-pie sincerity by Jimmy Stewart. Potter doesn't win the battle, but stages a pretty nasty fight.
4. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Anthony Hopkins was at his zenith playing convicted murderer Hannibal (The Cannibal) Lecter, a gifted psychologist with a taste for human blood. The genius of Hopkins' Oscar-winning performance is that he makes the imprisoned Lecter almost likable, despite his obvious failings as a human being. He is a villain by definition, but Hopkins makes him one of the most complex characters in movie history.
5. Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Ken Kesey's novel came to life by way of a stellar Cuckoo's cast, which is drawn and quartered by a head nurse with a vengeance - Nurse Ratched, the dictator who runs an Oregon psychiatric ward with a cast-iron fist. The role won Louise Fletcher (in one of her earliest film roles) a much-deserved Oscar, though it came at a cost, career-wise. Fletcher, 78, has yet to escape Ratched's long, villainous shadow.
6. Det. Alonzo Harris, Training Day (2001). Confidence isn't a problem for detective Alonzo Harris, a highly effective but morally dubious member of the LAPD who compares himself to King Kong. Harris is a beast, no doubt - beholden to no one, including himself. Denzel Washington won Oscar gold for his performance, a tour-de-force that put Harris at the top of the crooked-cop list. He's one of the all-time best bad guys.
7. Alex Forrest, Fatal Attraction (1987). It was an ingenious bit of casting putting classically trained Glenn Close in the role of Alex Forrest, a Stage 5 clinger who makes life hell for Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction. Close's note-perfect performance was fearsome but fully rounded; she infused her villain with a human, almost sympathetic, element, up until the point she boiled the family's rabbit. After that, it was all downhill for Forrest.
8. The Joker, The Dark Knight (2008). Jack Nicholson was terrific in 1989's Batman, but he was no match for the late Heath Ledger, who took the legendary comic-book villain and made The Joker real-life flesh and blood in The Dark Knight. Ledger's villain specialized in controlled chaos, which made the shock and awe of his performance even more menacing. The role (which won Ledger a posthumous Oscar) is deemed one of the best in movie history, villain or otherwise.
9 Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds (2009). Villains aren't always over the top. Case in point: the calculated and cunning - but highly intelligent and personable - Nazi colonel in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Bas-terds. Christoph Waltz won an Academy Award for his shocking yet effective portrayal of "The Jew Hunter," one of the most colourful, despicable characters in Tarantino's vast array of oddball inventions.
10. Amon GÃ¶th, Schindler's List (1993). Evil incarnate - that's the only way to describe Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg's masterful epic, one that tells the true-life tale of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saves more than 1,000 Polish-Jewish prisoners from the hands of Amon GÃ¶th, a heinous Nazi commander. That Fiennes's Oscar-nominated performance was based on a real person made it all the more horrific.
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