When I closed my eyes and pictured the greatest villain costumes in sci-fi movies, I was surprised how often hair -- and headpieces -- come into play. That makes sense for those of us who are not costume purists because we're thinking of the character as a whole, and in movies we're very often looking at close-ups of villains. We want to get up close and personal, to study the sneer, to examine the evil eyes, to absorb the dismissive scowl, to observe the raised eyebrows.
Isn't it the whole package that sells a character as a villain? The actor makes all the difference in the world, no matter if he's buried under a ton of makeup or becomes nearly unrecognizable, but the costume plays an important role. In honor of all those who will sally forth this weekend in costumes that are good, bad, and ugly, we salute the designers of the top ten (plus a couple of bonus selections) greatest villain costumes in sci-fi movies, and the actors who wear them.
The Emperor Ming (Flash Gordon)
It takes a truly evil villain to pull off this particular outfit. Arrayed in varying shades of deep red and gold, Ming (the always game Max von Sydow) threatens to steal the show when those eyebrows are raised. Somehow Ming looks both sartorially forward-thinking -- what is that raised cowl doing back there except to frame his bald head -- and ridiculously, gloriously silly.
Darth Vader (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)
Classic lines in a traditional black outfit. Communicates strength, power, and leadership. For all the magnificence of James Earl Jones' voice, it's David Prowse who strides about purposefully, angling that awesome helmet to just the right degree of evil, shaking that black glove so memorably.
We tend to be so distracted by the magnificent headpiece that we fail to fully appreciate the body wear of the Predator (Kevin Peter Hall), which is built for action and is ready for any terrain -- though it seems to do especially well in jungles both traditional and urban.
Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
An iconic costume for an alien invader from a simpler time, when robot villains ready to destroy the earth walked under the power of their own two feet. Gort favored a single color for his outfit, which I imagine made it easier to clean. In a nice touch, his costume matches his spaceship. Tres chic!
As Harry Knowles would say, "Man in suit! Man in suit!" The tiny picture doesn't do old Gojira justice; from the jagged, oddly friendly face right down to the huge flat feet, Godzilla is a magnificent creation. The mere sight of the lumbering beast inspires fear, and it's all thanks to the costume.
Mmmm, I could stare at this ... er, what was the topic? Oh, yes, Mystique's costume is worth gazing upon for a very long time. She doesn't look evil; as I've mentioned before, that's one reason it's such a good costume, highlighting the power of distraction.
Ursa (Superman II)
A very 70s outfit that will always be in style, thanks to the unexpected cutaway slits along the arms and legs. Ursa (Sarah Douglas) can look sexy, yet also enjoy the freedom of movement to strike at her enemies with whatever limb is most appropriate -- without fear of binding! Also, love those boots.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Dune)
Yes, the face is disgusting (no disrespect to actor Kenneth MacMillan), all boils and bubbles, toil and trouble. His costume is garishly appropriate, contrasting blue and red interlocking in a jacket with huge cuffs, over a gold shirt with a high collar and a daringly bared midriff section.
The jagged red lines are very mathematical and precise, dominating the outfit, yet the powder blue background softens it. This could easily be the costume of a hero. Sark (David Warner) doesn't really imagine himself to be the bad guy, so the costume fits him perfectly.
Terl (Battlefield Earth)
The long strands of rasta man hair are definitely the most memorable element of the costume of the ultimate bad guy of the universe, but I like the strategically placed metal and the puffed out chest piece, its horizontal stripes and traditional leather at war with one another.
Borg Queen (Star Trek: First Contact)
She is regal, bald, and veiny, her costume an extension of her computer mastery and love of the insect kingdom. The multiple ribbed lines make the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) look like she should have eight legs rather than two.
Honorable Mention: Mathilda May (Lifeforce)
Dispensing with fabric altogether, the evil space vampire strikes terror into the hearts of men right before she sucks the life out of them -- if they can take their eyes off her lack of any kind of costume whatsoever.