I love the Harry Potter series (books and movies), and I care about every teacher and child within Hogwarts and the Order of the Phoenix. I shed tears whenever J.K. Rowling killed off another one of the good guys. But when inevitably my attention constantly strays back to the Death Eaters and while this post centers on Lucius Malfoy, I'm rather entranced by them all: Lucius' wife Narcissa, her sister Bellatrix, Severus Snape, and Igor Karkaroff. They have the best costumes, the nastiest lines, and some of the finest special effects. (The way they operate in black smoke makes even broomsticks seem dull.)
But my favorite Death Eater remains Lucius Malfoy. Chris Columbus' installments have been harshly dismissed by cinephiles, but I think it's time to back down from the cries of "Alfonso Cuaron saved the series!", because Columbus accomplished a very weighty task: He set the stage. Every director following Columbus has been able to dispense with "The Boy Who Lived" origin stories, details, and explanations (something even Rowling could never quite bring herself to do until #7) and plunge right into the best parts of the story. But most importantly, Columbus set the stage for the bad guys. His installments may have erred on the juvenile, but by Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets even the smallest kid in the audience knew that Voldemort meant serious business. That's entirely due to the appearance of one Lucius Malfoy.
Sure, Tom Riddle (and by ghostly extension, Voldemort) is the villain of the story, and Malfoy's sneer is nothing compared to a basilisk. But Malfoy's the one who puts the game in motion by slipping Riddle's diary into Ginny's cauldron and he's the palpable threat through most of the movie. His crimes range from the parental to the political, and he casually endangers all the Muggle-borns by eliminating Hagrid and suspending Dumbledore. He doesn't know who the heck opened the Chamber of Secrets, but he's delighted at the evil prospects of it. He's eager to see young, "impure" blood spilled. Even without the Nazi overtones, the truth is nasty and simple: Lucius Malfoy is willing to kill children. You expect that out of Lord Voldemort, but it's still surprising from his underlings who you imagine would have some flicker of human compassion. Malfoy is a father himself, and you'd think he would have some sympathy for the little students of Hogwarts. But there's nothing in his cold, racist heart but fanatic loyalty.
Lest you think he lets a basilisk or a diary do his dirty work, he's quite prepared to pull an Avada Kedavra (the killing curse, for those unfamiliar with the Unforgivable Curses) on Harry Potter -- and not even because of who Harry is, but because he cost him his house elf. It's worth noting that in the book, Lucius just vaguely "lunged" at Harry, and may have intended only to box his ears. It's only in the movie that he pulls a weapon. I wish I could find a clip of this scene but instead, YouTube has decided to show me nothing but creepy fan made videos. So, let's just conclude with one that shows what an unpleasant fellow he is even when he's in sunshine and civil company. He won't go down as a classic villain like He Who Shall Not Be Named, but he's just as frightening because he's the human face to Voldemort's madness: