Sometimes it's hard not to feel sorry for a top-notch bad guy (or girl) who's stuck in a terrible movie. Many of us cherish some guilty pleasure films that we watch just for the evil characters. The plot may stink, the hero or heroine may be as dull as dishwater, the dialogue makes soap operas look subtle ... but oh, those glorious villains add a much-needed spark of life. Often, such villains and villainesses are played by critically acclaimed actors who need a gig with a big paycheck.
I've always wished I could pick up a few of these notably evil characters and move them to a better movie, one where their talents are more appreciated, one that doesn't end up on a DVD that people hide on the bottom of their shelves so no one makes fun of them. Here are a few of my favorites -- who am I missing on this list?
George Kaplan (James Coburn) in Hudson Hawk
Someone suggested I include Richard Grant and Sandra Bernhardt from Hudson Hawk on this list, but I found them incredibly irritating. James Coburn, on the other hand, deserved something better. His double-agent George Kaplan (yeah, I know) was one of the very few performances in the film that didn't cause my eyes to roll and my brain to try to recast and rewrite the film. Fortunately, there are many other wonderful Coburn bad guys we can enjoy, such as his menacing Tex in Charade.
Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
I know this movie had many fans, but I wasn't one of them. I don't really need to watch Robin Hood and his Merry Men helping women give birth, among other things. And although I love Rickman's portrayal of the Sheriff, I found the attempted-rape scene near the end to be unpleasant and jarring. Rickman has played some memorable nasties in very successful films, from Die Hard to Sweeney Todd ... and of course Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, although I know some of you want to put those films on this list as well.
Cardinal Richelieu (Tim Curry) in The Three Musketeers (1993)
Admittedly I am just a big ol' Tim Curry fan in nearly anything and I knew I would pick him for something on this list, although originally I'd thought of his role as Rooster in an otherwise lackluster Annie. This version of The Three Musketeers is a pale, lame shadow of the 1973 version except for Curry and occasionally, Rebecca de Mornay. If only we could create a time warp and substitute Curry for Charlton Heston. For an equally campy Curry villain in a more fun movie, try his Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island, or Bill Sykes in a made-for-TV Oliver Twist ... but avoid Legend.
Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Hairspray (2007)
I prefer the original movie version of Hairspray to the 2007 adaptation of the Broadway musical, which I find less edgy and more homogenized. Plus ... no Divine. At least the older characters in the remake are kind of fun, and that includes Michelle Pfeiffer as the ambitious TV station owner/stage mother Velma Von Tussle. She's unabashedly racist, mean-spirited, and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Fortunately, she gets what she deserves. While I would in no way want to substitute Pfeiffer for the also delightfully evil Debbie Harry in the original version, I do hope Pfeiffer gets the chance to play an unabashed villainness in a better movie. Oh, wait, she did -- check out her evil witch in Stardust.
Huxley (Mandy Patinkin) in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
Sometimes the best bad guys around are in children's movies where the characters don't have to be especially realistic. The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland is too cutesy-pie even for grown-up fans of Sesame Street -- there's too much Elmo and not enough Grouchland -- but Mandy Patinkin gets a chance to show us his inner old-fashioned villain. He even gets a song. I hope Patinkin will favor us with more evil characters, perhaps in movies for grown-ups.
Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace), and Green Goblin II/Harry Osborn (James Franco) in Spider-Man 3
I really wanted to like Spider-Man 3, but one big problem was that there were too many bad guys. Near the end, it grew awkward and difficult when you had this big gang of supervillains all wanting to fight Spider-Man, or one another, or both. Bleah. If the franchise had been more reasonable and spaced these evildoers out into two or three movies, each would have had a chance to shine -- or glower, as the case may be. We don't get to spend the time with them that we had in the previous two Spider-Man movies. What a shame.