What is it about smiling that can turn an otherwise ordinary bad guy into a memorable villain? Smiles, we are told, reveal that someone is happy about something. A villain, though, uses a smile for a different purpose: not to reveal, but to conceal. A great movie villain often doesn't see himself as a villain, but nevertheless, he knows that the best way to fit in -- to deflect suspicion and give the appearance that he is anything but a villain -- is a simple smile.
Not too long ago, we took a look at 15 famous screen villainesses who hid some serious dark sides beneath sunny, smiley exteriors. Now, it's time for the men -- and we bet you can't guess who comes in at No. 1. (Hint: He's not human.)
Gallery | The 20 Smilingest Male Villains in Movies
20. Claudius (Derek Jacobi), 'Hamlet'
"Oh villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables, meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark."
Thus did Hamlet describe his Uncle Claudius, the newly installed king of Denmark, and thus was the inspiration for this article born. Only makes sense to start with him then, right?
19. El Guapo (Alfonso Arau), 'Three Amigos!'
Why yes, Guapo, we would say that you have a plethora of piñatas.
18. John Milton (Al Pacino), 'The Devil's Advocate'
That swagger, that silky-smooth voice, that way with women, that itty-bitty secret that he's actually, you know, Lucifer ... Keanu Reeves never had a chance against Al Pacino's John Milton.
17. Dr. Evil (Mike Myers), 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery'
Sure, it's a parody (see #14), but Myers' send-up of world-dominating James Bond villains is so spot-on and smile-riffic, we just had to include it.
15. Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), 'The Witches of Eastwick'
The second appearance of the devil in disguise, as Daryl Van Horne, Jack Nicholson put that legendary grin of his to good use: seducing Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer.
15. Harry Lime (Orson Welles), 'The Third Man'
Welles' voice was always mesmerizing, and in combination with that wry little smile, it worked especially well in Carol Reed's noir masterpiece.
14. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), 'Goldfinger'
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"
Long before Mike Myers' Dr. Evil came along, Gert Frobe set the standard for super-rich, international criminal geniuses with charm and brilliant witticisms to spare.
13. The Joker (Jack Nicholson), 'Batman'
"Wait'll they get a load of me ..."
Jack as the Joker was almost too perfect, and the makeup process that set his face in a permanent smile was the finishing touch.
12. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), 'Wall Street'
There's no way this dapper, charming gentleman could possibly take over your company, then break it into little pieces and kick you to the unemployment line, could he? Nah, not with a million-dollar smile like that.
11. Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), 'The Running Man'
In one of the great pieces of stunt casting, 'Family Feud' host (and notorious kisser) Richard Dawson played Damon Killian, host of the futuristic television program 'The Running Man,' in which contestants literally compete for their lives.
10. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), 'Blue Velvet'
YES, A PABST BLUE RIBBON WILL BE FINE, THANK YOU! (link NSFW for language)
Sorry about that, but Frank Booth is still one of the scariest characters ever seen on film, and a big part of it is that smile that Dennis Hopper used so well in his many, many villainous roles. But never was it more terrifying than in David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet.'
9. Max Cady (Robert De Niro), 'Cape Fear'
Robert Mitchum in the original 'Cape Fear' would have been a fine choice as well, but man, that scene at the school where De Niro grins at Juliette Lewis, slowly seducing her on the auditorium stage puts him over the top.
8. Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), 'Reservoir Dogs'
Madsen brilliantly used his charm to mask his characters' darker, true natures, and in 'Reservoir Dogs' he turned it up to 11. The smiling, dancing guy is also the ear-slicing, psychopathic guy.
7. David Lo Pan (David Hong), 'Big Trouble in Little China'
6. Noah Cross (John Huston), 'Chinatown'
Wait, you mean that kindly old grandfather-lookin' fella did WHAT to his daughter? Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown.
5. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), 'Superman'
No one does Smiling Bad Guy better than Hackman. In fact, this list could probably consist solely of Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Gene Hackman roles.
4. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'
One of the few classic '80s slashers who didn't wear a mask, Freddy frequently used sarcasm and (often terrible) puns to taunt his terrified victims. The hat, the charred skin, the razorblade fingers and, yes, that smile gave an entire generation nightmares.
3. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), 'The Silence of the Lambs'
Has there ever been a more seductive serial-killing cannibal? Almost certainly not. Clarice was warned: You don't want Hannibal Lecter inside your head. But once you've seen him smile, good luck getting him out.
2. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), 'Psycho'
Poor Norman Bates. Ever since they moved the highway, no one stays at his motel anymore. How's a boy supposed to keep himself busy? At the end of 'Psycho,' Perkins gives us maybe the all-time-spookiest smile -- just a tiny one, it's ever so slight, but man oh man, is it spine-tingling.
1. The Shark (Bruce), 'Jaws'
As in: "SMILE, YOU SON OF A B-TCH!"
Photos courtesy of Everett Collection, Miramax, Fox.