Empire's greatest villains – Clancy Brown's list

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For the September 2016 issue of Empire, we polled some of film and television's greatest villains to come up with their own lists of favourite bad guys. Some respondents just gave us a list. Others provided a line or several of explanation. But the enthusiastic Clancy Brown wrote us 2000 words, including half-numbers and sidenotes. Here then are the unexpurgated thoughts of The Kurgan.

For everyone else's votes, click here. For in-depth discussion of the final top 50, be sure to spend an hour or so with this dedicated Empire podcast. But for Clancy Brown, read on. Many thanks to him once again for giving himself far more work than we intended.

"The first few," he begins, "are easy..."

1. The Monster

Boris Karloff as The Monster

Boris Karloff in Frankenstein.

"The template for all movie monsters. What made this character completely terrifying was his innocence. He was driven to monstrousness through no fault of his own. He was the creature born of unexamined ambition and intellectual ego, created to exalt his maker without regard or consideration of what it meant to be human. Karloff was probably not meant to "create a character" or "act", but how could he avoid it? Juxtaposed with the stylised melodramatics of his fellow cast-members, Karloff’s performance is simple and economic. Behaviourism before it was stylish. He never did anything like it again throughout his long career."

1.5. Dracula

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Bela Lugosi in Dracula.

"This is a complete snooze of a movie but Lugosi’s performance makes it a classic. It is not scary now, but in it’s day... wow! My favourite Lugosi bad-guy is Igor in Son Of Frankenstein. It’s a brilliant, crazy, one-of-a-kind character, lamely satirised in Young Frankenstein by Marty Feldman."

2. Tommy Udo

Richard Widmark in Kiss Of Death

Richard Widmark in Kiss Of Death.

"The template for every homicidal maniac in cinema. The original gene-sequence for The Joker. This was Widmark’s film debut. He won an Oscar for it... which probably saved him from a lifetime of reprising Tommy Udo. I think this character was so upsetting that audiences and the studios never wanted to see it again. So they reinvented Widmark as a leading man. As a piece of acting, he was never as good."

2.5. Duke Mantee

Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest

Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest.

"This role made Bogart a star. He’s crazy good as Mantee. And it came out of nowhere. Bogie made almost no impression in the dozen or so films he did before this one. Something clicked with this character. This guy was so bad, he had to get it in the end. What was weird about this Mantee dude, though, was that it seemed like he knew it, like he wanted it more than anyone else in the movie or anyone else watching. It wasn’t a death-wish so much as a craving to be set-free from his own madness.

James Cagney did something like it in White Heat, but Cody Jarrett had charisma as a psychopath (and a ton of excuses). Mantee was just a horrible person who knew he was horrible. He hated himself just a little bit more than he hated everyone else. And it's another simple, still, even stiff performance that just obliterated every other actor on screen."

3. Harry Powell

Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter

Robert Mitchum in Night Of The Hunter.

"Only the kids know he’s a heel because, well, they’re kids. Also he kills a dog. Fuck him!!! Shelley Winters' performance as the oblivious, needy, love-starved, widowed mom has a lot to do with how scary Mitchum is in this movie. You just watch this movie unfold with absolute dread cause the kids are so smart/cute, the mom is so pathetic/stupid, Harry is so calm/sociopathic, and the DOG IS DEAD!!! FUCK HIM!!!"

3.5. Max Cady

Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear

Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear.

"Harry Powell beats Cady as Mitchum’s best bad guy, but both are top notch Mitchum bad-guys. Mitchum’s Cady is so scary, angry, cruel and single-minded that Robert De Niro, at his most powerful as an actor, couldn’t come close in the remake. And I love De Niro."

4. Frank

Frank (Henry Fonda) - Once Upon A Time In The West

Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In The West.

"Fonda as Frank kills it! Another cold, cruel, relentless bad-guy. Nothing redeeming about him. This is the villain that Sergio Leone was building with Lee Van Cleef in his Dollars trilogy. Casting Fonda took balls but Fonda’s balls were way bigger when he agreed to play it. And boy-oh-boy does he play it. This character is straight out of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Frank is Anton Chigurh's meaner, tougher, crueller grandpa.

4.5. Anton Chigurh

Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men

Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men.

"Like I said, straight-line drawn from Fonda’s Frank to Anton. Plus, he won the Oscar for it."

5. Regan MacNeil

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

"Okay. This is the only movie that ever scared me. Really scared me. Nightmares, chills, palpitations, the works. Still does. And Linda Blair was like 12 or 13 years old! The whole movie is brilliant. William Friedkin is off-the-hook talented. Hands-down the best director of the early '70’s – an era filled with "best" directors. And Regan was no-doubt his creation. But Linda was the actor playing the role and... She. Was. Perfect. And check this out: she had to be both the bad guy AND the victim! She did NOT win an Oscar but she should have. Tatum O’Neal – a ten-year-old – won it for playing... a ten-year-old. Linda Blair was robbed. But that whole Oscar year (1974) was screwy."

5.5. Freddy Krueger

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger

Robert Englund in A Nightmare On Elm Street.

"So Freddy became silly by the end (Freddy Vs. Jason). But Robert’s performance powered the entire franchise. And one can’t overstate how truly terrifying Freddy was at the beginning. The character himself was monstrous, but it was the concept that a maniac lives and wreaks his revenge in the dream plane that turned the genre on its head. How good an actor do you have to be to make that real? Wes Craven thought it up and made it work, but without Englund it doesn’t become the gamechanger it was. Watch that movie again. It’s cheesy and campy and there are a lot of moments that do not hold up. But Freddy Krueger saves it every time. Just when you think you are too cool for it, Freddy jumps out and doesn’t just startle you, he shocks you. He’s not supposed to be able to do what he does. He’s not supposed to be able to cross over from your subconscious. Freddy is a genius creation, cast with a genius actor.

Side note: Michael Myers (Halloween), Jason (Friday The 13th), Leatherface (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

Michael Myers / Jason Voorhees / Leatherface

"These bad-guy monsters do not make the list. They have backstory and are formidable villains, but they lack any real character as far as I’m concerned. I consider them 'forces-of-nature' bad guys like the Alien, the Predator, Godzilla, or King Kong. There is an argument to be made that they are all-star bad guys, but what else could they possibly be? Is the category five tornado a 'bad guy' in Twister? or the earthquake in San Andreas? Or the asteroid in Deep Impact? Sure they are franchise 'characters' like Freddy Krueger but they they have more in common with Agent Smith of the Matrix trilogy. They are pure constructs. Freddy is different. He’s a construct too but he is also self-hating like Duke Mantee and relentlessly cruel like Frank. He is both a victim, like Regan and Frankenstein's monster, and the perpetrator. He is conscious and purposeful. Those other guys are just bogeyman.

6. The Joker

Heath Ledger as The Joker

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

"I’m not a fan of these movies. Love the director. Love the genre. Love all the actors. I just can’t bring myself to love the movies themselves. I just don’t care that much about the stories. That said, The Dark Knight is the best of them and Heath Ledger’s performance is why. Heath’s Joker is truly a bad, bad egg. Scary crazy. Not whacky and clever like Jack Nicholson’s or Cesar Romero’s. Heath’s Joker is seriously damaged. Sick in a very bad way and knows it. This Joker is a guy that would kill you – or not – just for sharing the same space. Sexy? Yes, it’s Heath Ledger. But sexy like a black mamba. If he feels like it, you’re dead. But you won’t know whether or not he feels like it until the light leaves your eyes."

6.5. The Joker

The Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke

Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series.

"Actually, in every iteration of the animated Batman series, Mark rocks The Joker. In Arkham Asylum, a Batman video game, he is out of control. Animation is the correct platform for Batman, and Mark is the essential Joker as Kevin Conroy is the epitome of Batman. I cannot add anymore explanation. Heath Ledger is great in The Dark Knight. Kevin Michael Richardson is terrific in The Batman. But forever and always, Mark Hamill is The Joker.

Now it gets difficult...

7. Vincenzo Coccotti

Christopher Walken in True Romance

Christopher Walken in True Romance.

"The best scene in the movie when he is questioning Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper) about the whereabouts of Worley’s son, Clarence (Christian Slater)."

7.5. Brad Sr.

Christopher Walken in At Close Range

Christopher Walken in At Close Range.

"Should've been a better movie, because we all know a guy like Brad Sr. and they are bad news. Walken nailed it. But really... take your pick of Walken bad guys. They’re all great. Even the funny ones like Hatcher in The Rundown or Feng in Balls Of Fury."

8. Hans Gruber

alan rickman

Alan Rickman in Die Hard.

"Also the best thing about this movie that launched a franchise. Rest in peace. Hans would have had no patience with Severus Snape."

8.5. Amon Goethe

Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List

Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List.

"Nominated for an Oscar for bringing this Nazi-beast to life. Should have won but he was too good. Voldemort is a pussy compared to Amon."

9. Mitch Leery

John Malkovich - In The Line Of Fire

John Malkovich in In The Line Of Fire.

"The only actor I ever thought could kill Clint Eastwood. Leery is a direct descendant of...

9.5. Scorpio

Andrew Robinson in Dirty Harry

Andrew Robinson in Dirty Harry.

"This choice is personal. I know and love Andy. He’s a terrific actor and terrific guy. He created this iconic character – the No-Name Killer – that would show up in movies for decades to come. The 'vigilante cop' genre suffered as a result. Andy made so much out of this thankless role that hundreds of actors would be tasked with completing the screenwriter’s antagonist character. My character of The Kurgan in Highlander was woefully underwritten and only motivated by 'homicidal madness' according to the script. Watch Dirty Harry again and realise how little Andy had to work with and how little attention was given his actual character and you will be astounded by how much he accomplishes."

10. Darth Vader

Darth Vader - The Empire Strikes Back

James Earl Jones / David Prowse / Bob Anderson in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.

"Another antagonist performance that launched a franchise, but was so good that it retarded screenwriting for years. Voiced by Jones, embodied by Prowse, lightsaber fights by Anderson. I do not include any Star Wars episodes that include Anakin because he was not a bad-guy. Darth Vader is the baddest bad guy ever in those first two movies. Too bad he had to be redeemed.

10.5. Koba

Dawn Of The Apes - Koba

Toby Kebbell in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

"This is the 'new wave' of bad-guy acting. Because of technology there is no limit to who, what, how bad guys can be brought to life. But actors that can master the tools of technology and turn it into a fully realised character performance are rare. Toby is at the head of the pack. It took three guys to bring Darth Vader to life 40 years ago. Toby and actors like him (although there’s no one quite like Toby) can do it by themselves now. Well, almost. There will be an iceberg of technicians and artists supporting him, but the essential performance is all him."