What is a hero without a good villain? Batman has made several points on the subject, and any good movie has a great foil somewhere in the plot. The villain must be viable, vicious, dangerous, and must make the audience fall in love with the hero of the story. However, sometimes watching the vile antics of a great villain can be the best part of a film.
The Joker – Batman, The Dark Knight (Portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger)
What villain does more to enhance his hero foil than the manic Joker? I couldn’t think of one, and the Joker has gone through a lot of different portrayals over the years. With all due respect to Jared Leto, I think these two are the gold standard. Jack Nicholson brings a crazy energy to the Joker character. Bringing us around for laughs along the way before he gets his due outcome at the end of the film. Heath Ledgers, The Joker, is just so dark and well portrayed it’s difficult to not be in awe of him. Every time he is on the screen you get a sense of dread, and you are waiting for the Dark Knight to save the day.
Bill The Butcher – Gangs of New York (Portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis)
Daniel Day-Lewis may be the greatest actor of all time. His performance in “There Will Be Blood” is haunting and almost made the list, but this one is a little more straightforward as the main foil on the film. His violent, controlling character is based on a real man, which makes the performance even more chilling.
Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men (Portrayed by Javier Bardem)
“Just how dangerous is he?”
“Compared to what? The Bubonic Plague?”
These words sum up the path of destruction set in motion by one of the most dangerous antagonists in film history. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, this movie tells the story about a drug deal that has gone wrong and the consequences of the money surrounding it. Javier Bardem won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and the character remains just as haunting a decade later.
Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs (Portrayed by Anthony Hopkins)
Is there a character that brings a greater sense of ease and dread at the same time? Anthony Hopkins plays a chilling character that is as soft-spoken as he is dangerous. Jodie Foster portrays the film’s protagonist, and they build a correspondence against the film’s main antagonist Buffalo Bill, who is played brilliantly by Ted Levine. However, looking into the eyes of the demented cannibal doctor is enough to put him on the list.
Tommy Devito – Goodfellas (Portrayed by Joe Pesci)
I know he is one of the central leads of the film, but his performance is too good to leave off the list. The violence in mob films is consistent across the genre, but no one is more brutal and visceral than Pesci in this movie. I was scared as a teenager of the mafia, in a small rural town. That’s how good this performance was.