CATEGORIES Features, Hot Topic
Minions in 'Despicable Me'It's hard to find a good bad guy.

It was not always so. During Hollywood's golden years, it was easy to pick a bad guy. If it was a war movie, the villains were the Germans or the Japanese. A spy thriller? The Russians. A Western? The Indians. A populist underdog tale? Big-business fat cats.

Today, however, a set of reliably hissable bad guys is hard to find. With the end of the Cold War, the onset of transnational terrorism, and the rise of group-identity politics -- not to mention such film industry developments as the global marketplace and the demise of the Western genre -- how does a screenwriter pick easily recognizable villains who aren't so stereotyped as to be offensive to some ticket buyers?

For nearly two decades, it seems, Hollywood has been searching for a new set of reliable heavies, auditioning lots of groups for the dubious honor without really settling on anyone. In fact, in some of this summer's movies, we've come full circle, with the Russians serving as foils in 'Salt' and Wall Street fat cats as the criminals in 'The Other Guys.' (There's also totally made-up villains, like Gru and the minions from 'Despicable Me,' but they're too darn adorable for frequent re-use.) Here's a look, then, at 10 contenders for the next group of dependable Hollywood villains. Minions in 'Despicable Me'It's hard to find a good bad guy.

It was not always so. During Hollywood's golden years, it was easy to pick a bad guy. If it was a war movie, the villains were the Germans or the Japanese. A spy thriller? The Russians. A Western? The Indians. A populist underdog tale? Big-business fat cats.

Today, however, a set of reliably hissable bad guys is hard to find. With the end of the Cold War, the onset of transnational terrorism, and the rise of group-identity politics -- not to mention such film industry developments as the global marketplace and the demise of the Western genre -- how does a screenwriter pick easily recognizable villains who aren't so stereotyped as to be offensive to some ticket buyers?

For nearly two decades, it seems, Hollywood has been searching for a new set of reliable heavies, auditioning lots of groups for the dubious honor without really settling on anyone. In fact, in some of this summer's movies, we've come full circle, with the Russians serving as foils in 'Salt' and Wall Street fat cats as the criminals in 'The Other Guys.' (There's also totally made-up villains, like Gru and the minions from 'Despicable Me,' but they're too darn adorable for frequent re-use.) Here's a look, then, at 10 contenders for the next group of dependable Hollywood villains.

Angelina Jolie in 'Salt'Russians
Recent villainy: 'Salt,' 'Iron Man 2,' 'The Spy Next Door'
Pros: Given that they're still actually planting sleeper spies in America, not all that far-fetched.
Cons: Kind of quaint and stale, they evoke memories of old and silly threats -- Khrushchev's shoe, fluoridation, Yakov Smirnoff.

Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time'Arabs/Muslims
Recent villainy: 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,' 'Sex and the City 2,' 'From Paris With Love,' 'The Hurt Locker'
Pros: Necessary if you're making a movie about current combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Cons: Most of those movies don't make any money. Also, a wave of movies with Arab or Muslim villains isn't going to help persuade Islamist extremists that Hollywood isn't really part of a Zionist plot to defame their religion.

Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise in 'Knight & Day'Latinos
Recent villainy: 'Knight and Day,' 'The A-Team,' 'Cop Out'
Pros: Play well into current anxieties about illegal immigration.
Cons: Probably not a good idea to alienate America's fastest growing demographic.

Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'Germans
Recent villainy: 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'MacGruber'
Pros: In movies, at least, they're refined, effete Eurotrash, just like Frenchmen, but actually scary.
Cons: Did anyone actually go see 'MacGruber'?

'The Karate Kid' (2010)Chinese
Recent villainy: 'The Karate Kid,' 'The Hangover'
Pros: China's a big country; it can handle some unflattering portrayals.
Cons: Won't be so funny when they own Hollywood.

Will Ferrell in 'The Other Guys' Wall Street/Corporate Fat Cats
Recent villainy: 'The Other Guys,' 'Dinner for Schmucks,' 'Inception,' 'The Losers,' 'Repo Men,' 'Edge of Darkness,' 'Avatar'
Pros: BP, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Worldcom, Enron -- how can you not hate these guys?
Cons: Aren't anti-corporate movies biting the hands that feed them? Someone has to finance and distribute these films.

Ellen Page and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Inception'Science/Technology
Recent villainy: 'Inception,' 'Splice,' 'Repo Men'
Pros: Plays into fears as old as Frankenstein that our inventiveness is outracing our moral growth and creating monsters that will destroy us.
Cons: Hard to root against technology when you're watching a movie on your iPhone.

the a-team The CIA
Recent villainy: 'The A-Team,' 'Green Zone,' 'The Ghost Writer'
Pros: Well, we're always ready to believe the worst about our own government.
Cons: Surely these guys have done something right in the last 60 years. Haven't they?

'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse'Renegade Vampires
Recent Villainy: 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,' 'Daybreakers.'
Pros: Right now, at least, they're hotttt!
Cons: Not as frightening as they used to be. The 'Twilight' bloodsuckers, in particular, are more like vampire Muppet Babies.

Megatron in 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'Space Aliens
Recent villainy: 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,' 'Predators,' 'Star Trek,'
Pros: They're scary to everyone on the planet (this planet, anyway). They could unite audiences worldwide instead of dividing them via easy and offensive stereotyping. Plus, no aliens are complaining about defamation.
Cons: Aren't we writing off a huge potential future market?

Vote for Hollywood's new villains:
Arabs/Muslims302 (15.7%)
Chinese63 (3.3%)
The CIA77 (4.0%)
Germans60 (3.1%)
Latinos65 (3.4%)
Renegade Vampires62 (3.2%)
Russians78 (4.1%)
Science/Technology335 (17.4%)
Space Aliens516 (26.8%)
Wall Street/Corporate Fatcats367 (19.1%)


•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.