"Playing the villain is always more fun." It's a line you've heard a thousand times, spluttered from the embittered few originally turned down for a hero role. And yet, every once and a while, it actually turns out to be true.
After all, some heinous roles offer a chance for actors to release their inner demons, to push themselves to their darkest levels, or, to a lesser extent, just act like a douche on camera. Which must make it all the more infuriating when they realise they're the only good part of the film they've signed on for.
Which was definitely the case with these 10 lesser-appreciated baddies...
Walter Wade Jr – Shaft
Released in the same year that American Psycho catapulted Christian Bale back into Hollywood’s consciousness, this forgettable Shaft reboot saw the Welshman playing another rich New York-based maniac with a passion for wanton violence as much as fine tailoring. And sure, while nowhere near as iconic, nor ironically appealing as Patrick Bateman, Bale’s tenacious portrayal still manages to give Wade Jr an extra veneer of scumbag.
Darth Maul – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Jar Jar Binks will forever be scarred onto your retina. We can't change that, sorry. Instead it was left to largely muted Sith Lord Darth Maul to be the only decent character spawned from George Lucas’s limp return to the Star Wars franchise. His acrobatic fighting skills and cool double-ended lightsaber brought new energy to a saga which until then had barely offered so much as a camp somersault from its galactic warriors.
The Man With The Plan - Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead
Wheezing into a tube for wheelchair movement, Christopher Walken's ailing, twisted mob boss known only as The Man With The Plan manages to save some breath for some unnerving put downs aimed at Andy Garcia's former wise guy turned straight and who is reluctantly dragged back into the underworld for this offbeat thriller. If nothing else, the film's pitiful 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is at direct odds, and altogether unbecoming, of Walken's villain, whose vileness makes even his Mafioso from True Romance seem tame in hindsight.
Ben Pinkwater - Terminal Velocity
Another menacing alumnus of True Romance, here - James Gandolfini followed up his brief role in the Tony Scott classic with a slightly larger role as a baddie in this thunderous dud. Its woeful script, feeding unlikely hero Charlie Sheens such lines as "It's the KG-used-to-B!", belies an impressive box office gross (it entered at #2 behind Timecop in 1994), which, frankly, is an utter shame as Gandolfini’s sadistic Russian brute hunting down gold is first-rate.
Herod– Quick And The Dead
Sam Raimi directing a violent, cartoonish Western set around a gunfight tournament and boasting upcoming heavyweights Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio? It should have worked - it didn’t. Not that this stopped Gene Hackman from delivering a characteristically mean-eyed performance as Herod, the corrupt, gun-slinging mayor so full of his own despicable bluster that he echoes his own titanic performance as Little Bill in Unforgiven from three years earlier.
David McCall - Fear
Just three years after that acrimonious split with the Funky Bunch, Marky Mark starred in Fear, an average boy meets rich girl story save for the bit where passionate boyfriend becomes an irrational lunatic towards Reese Witherspoon’s naïve schoolgirl. Despite generally looking like a naff TV movie, Wahlberg’s performance as madcap stalker was scarily impressive at the time, hinting at the sort of cinematic hot-headedness which would make the young actor a star.
Hannibal Lecter - Hannibal
To say this abomination of a thriller belongs in the Silence Of The Lambs series, let alone one that sees Anthony Hopkins reprising his iconic role as the culinary curious doctor, should have fans of the book and original films alike spitting out their fine Chianti. Drastically different than the Thomas Harris novel of the same name (FBI agent Clarice Starling tries to apprehend Lecter at the end of the film, whereas in the book the pair share a plate of brain before absconding together), it’s not even that scary - bar from the odd brilliance from Hopkins.
Marty Wolf – Big Fat Liar
For an actor who’s carved a career from playing ill-fated schlubs, being blue is clearly no stretch for Paul Giamatti. Even literally, it turned out mid-way through this second-rate kid’s caper when his venal Hollywood exec gets a lark-filled comeuppance. Riotously douchey, Giammati’s Wolf, boogieing to Hungry Like A Wolf at one point, is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures.
Carnegie - Book of Eli
Given his murderous, pill-popping performance as a bent New York cop in Leon, twinkle-eyed Ruskie hijacker in Air Force One, and oily-haired space villain in The Fifth Element, Gary Oldman doesn't need to play an 'English' baddie. Such a cut above hammy stereotypes, in fact, the man even manages to elevate proceedings in otherwise flat post-apocalyptic thriller The Book Of Eli, making blood boil as a gangster mayor. Touting himself a new messiah, he'll do anything to get his hands on a copy of the King James bible.
Dieter Von Cunth – McGruber
Even for a spoof film, McGruber, the latest example of why stretching out an SNL sketch into a feature length film should be frowned upon, was alarmingly bad. And it might have been worse, too, if not for Dieter Von Cunth. Brilliantly and knowingly given life by Val Kilmer, armed with the best lines, and himself no stranger to the genre, having previously starred in 1984’s Zucker/Abrahams Top Secret, shows he’s (slightly) too good for this sort of drivel as the regrettably-monikered super villain.
(Images: AllStar, Buena Vista)