This article may sound like a ‘fifty worst list’, but it’s more a selection of movie characters who I believe deserve a stab at this title. You know the ones I mean. The ones who whinge until they get their own way or kill their entire family for no reason other than they’re bad.
It’s usually better if ‘baddies’ aren’t cardboard cut-out bad, like evil Nazi’s in Indiana Jones, or Orcs in The Hobbit. They need a reason as to why they’d not like the hero to succeed, like Commodus in Gladiator, or the Colonel in A Few Good Men. We don’t have to like them, but understand why they act, or failing that, a redeeming, interesting or quirky quality to them.
I won’t join the band-wagon with Prometheus slagging, but I’ll quickly mention Charlize Theron’s character, Meredith Vickers, who’s mean to everyone for no apparent reason, and her similar ‘screams more than she talks’ role as Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman. I’ve nothing against Theron. She’s great as Mavis in Young Adult, who has a questionable goal to get back her happily married ex with a new born baby. She’s tragically funny, but she’s great because I understand her need to get back the past to replace her crappy future.
Commodus is betrayed and heartbroken when his father doesn’t choose him for Caesar, so I get why he’s angry enough to kill him, which he does in floods of tears. Compare this to TV mini-series Labyrinth (not the David Bowie one) where a character kills her father with zero remorse (she poisons him then tells him she did it before he’s dead) for unclear reasons.
Kathryn in Cruel Intentions manipulates people to stay in a position of power, but I’m still drawn to her because she’s a human who puts on a happy visage to hide her darker self. These are probably the best ‘baddies’. The ones we hate but still watch, like the mother in Ordinary People, who’s mean to her child out of suffering for her favourite son’s death.
If a character is still irritating even once we know why they act, it’s probably because the motivation is weak and gets outweighed by other traits. Queen Ravenna may want to be the most beautiful lady in the land, but her constant screaming makes me want to pelt her with rotten veg. Did Kathy Bates scream at James Cann in Misery? A little, but she also made soup and fluffed his pillows, down-right evil for a man whose feet you’re willing to break!
It’s true we’ve had some recent examples of poor ‘baddies’ and will probably still do so for a variety of reasons, but there are even more examples of great ones coming out today, like Turbo in Wreck-it-Ralph, and the authorities in Moonrise Kingdom (although they become allies in the end), but we get why the social service lady helps the parents get their child back. I merely point out the annoyance of the bad ones, who I often wish were in a horror movie to suffer a vicious death, which does perhaps provide a purpose for them after all.