We just got through reviewing the Best Heroes of 2014, Scott. Now let’s pick the Best Villains of 2014.
The phrase “best villains” sounds like an oxymoron, but it is actually a paradoxical truth: The better the villain, the more we love to hate him or her.
I picked my villains for how insidious they could be, or how they transformed from one state to another in the film.
Greg’s Top 10 Villains:
10: Time (Interstellar, Imitation Game, The Fault In Our Stars)
9: Disease (Cancer in The Fault In Our Stars & ALS in The Theory of Everything)
8: Koba (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
7: The Bird (Unbroken)
6: Walter Keane (Big Eyes)
5: Madame Mallory (The Hundred Foot Journey)
4: Racism/George Wallace (Selma)
3: Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)
2: Terence Fletcher (Whiplash)
1: Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler)
For me, a villain’s strength lies in the character’s backstory and depth of development. I love a villain to the extent that we gain an understanding of the origins of his or her villainy. Also, the more complex and realistic the character, the better.
Scott’s Top 10 Villains:
10: Madame Mallory (The Hundred Foot Journey)
9: Trask and the Sentinels (X-Men: Days of Future Past)
8: Alexander Pierce and Brock Rumlow (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
7: Teddy (The Equalizer)
6: Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler)
5: Koba (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
4: Max Dillon and Harry Osborne (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
3: Maleficent (Maleficent)
2: Terence Fletcher (Whiplash)
1: Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)
It looks like we have some villains in common. Let’s review each of our top five villains, starting with my #5 pick – Madame Mallory from The Hundred Foot Journey. When an Indian family moves in across from her French restaurant and opens their own restaurant, she is appalled. The newcomers have invaded her space and have interfered with her goal of raising her 4-star restaurant to 5-stars. She starts to sabotage the new restaurant by buying out all their ingredients at the local farmer’s market. The tit-for-tat battle increases until one of her chefs attempts to burn the Indian restaurant down and injures their young chef. This is when Madame Mallory realizes that she has gone too far and has a change of heart. She takes in the young chef and teaches him the ways of fine French cuisine and becomes his mentor. I loved this “redemptive villain” and felt we got a nice look at her backstory as well as a look into her inner self.
Madame Mallory was my 10th most favorite movie villain in 2014. What I loved about her character was her transformation from villain to hero. The reasons for her original villainy are clearly spelled out; she feels threatened by the new upstart Indian restaurant that has opened across the street. But gradually she reveals her human side and is won over by the good nature of the Indian family. This change of heart struck me as both realistic and inspiring.
My #5 choice was Koba from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Koba portrays a character that exudes tragic realism. He is an ape who has been abused and tortured by the humans. Koba has lost the ability to trust and carries around a great deal of anger and a need for revenge. As a result, he cannot fathom Caesar’s open-mindedness about striking up a positive relationship with a group that once physically and emotionally scarred his fellow apes. Koba’s character struck a chord with me, as his experience illustrates a central reason why there is so much inter-group conflict in our world today.
I rated Koba as my #8 villain of 2014. As you point out, we get some of the reasons for Koba’s hostility towards humans. Eventually, his hatred turns him against Caesar and he attempts to murder him and sets fire to the village – blaming the humans. We see in Koba very real and human actions and I enjoyed his descent into villainy, treachery, and betrayal.
My #4 pick is the institutional racism from the movie Selma. Sometimes it’s hard to portray an idea as a character in a movie. To deal with this, Selma uses Alabama Governor George Wallace as the face of racism. Wallace refuses to intervene in anything that happens in his state that interferes with Blacks getting the right to vote. Not only that, but he won’t reign in the sheriff of Selma, Jim Clark, who uses his posse of men to beat and even kill innocent Blacks. Racism is a blind and mindless villain which Selma shined a bright light on.
The racist hatred of Wallace and J. Edgar Hoover is certainly vile, but it didn’t make my top-10 list. For me, the movie Selma was more about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s heroic and courageous fight against those racist institutional barriers than it was about those barriers themselves. Still, I understand your inclusion of this important and tragic phenomenon in American history (and, sadly, in America today as well).
My #4 pick was a pair of villains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Max Dillon and Harry Osborne. This villain pairing impressed me because the filmmakers went out of their way to show us the genesis of their evil. Dillon and Osborne both turned to villainy because they were adversely affected by some traumatic event. They didn’t start out evil; they allowed their pain to skew their moral judgment and determine their life purpose. In this way they are similar to Koba from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I don’t mean to imply that trauma always leads to villainy — consider the story of Batman, who as a child witnessed his parents’ murder. Somehow, heroes use pain to better themselves and the world, whereas villains use pain to avenge the world.
That’s a good observation. I agree that these characters (and most characters in the Marvel universe) are given better backstories. I didn’t vote these guys in because I felt we had seen this story before in dozens of other superhero movies. There were other villains this year who more capably caught my imagination.
Among them was my #3 pick, Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. She starts out the film looking very much like the victim of a murder. Her diary entries all point to her husband Nick as a controlling, narcissistic, and unfaithful husband. Just when you’re ready to mentally convict Nick, it’s revealed that Amy is alive and well and is framing Nick from afar. It’s such a shock, and so skillfully delivered we’re blown away. We’re then led through Amy’s vindictive plot step-by-step until she kills an ex-boyfriend and claims he kidnapped and raped her. Amy returns home to Nick and reveals that she’s pregnant with his child (through sperm she froze) and has roped him into a life with her. Amy Dunne is a cold and calculating villain that was as frightening as any since Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.
Amy Dunne from Gone Girl was my #1 movie villain of the year. I agree with you, Greg, that she is the ultimate villain, making everyone around her look foolish as they try to keep up with her true motives or her next move. Amy is a force unto herself, literally; there are no henchmen or henchwomen to aid her. She is a true lone villain, perhaps the most formidable force of evil in the movies in 2014. I consider her to be Hollywood’s most memorable villain we’ve seen in years. Her level of malevolence rivals that of Hannibal Lecter. She tops my list because of her magnetism, her backstory, and her ability to surprise us with one chilling act of evil after another.
My #3 pick is the character Maleficent from the movie of the same name. The film is a prequel to Sleeping Beauty and it injects some surprising complexity to the so-called evil queen in that classic fairy tale. We see how Maleficent starts out as quite a benevolent presence in the forest and only turns toward darkness when she is betrayed and disfigured by an evil man. We also are treated to Maleficent’s restoration to her true good self by the transformative power of love. This theme of love having the ability to change people is also present in movies such as Interstellar. Maleficent is a round tripper protagonist, having undergone an evolution from hero to villain then back to hero again.
I so heartily agree with you – except that I categorize Maleficent as a hero, not a villain. She starts out good, is betrayed and through this hurt falls into villainy. Then, through the love of a child, she turns good again. We aren’t treated to this kind of hero’s journey (or is it a villain’s journey) often. I would have included her in my Villain’s list, too – but she was my #3 hero of 2014.
My #2 pick is Terrence Fletcher from Whiplash. Young Andrew Neiman is a first-year music student at Shaffer Conservatory when he meets Fletcher. Fletcher is the conductor of the school’s award-winning jazz ensemble. All Neiman wants is to be the greatest jazz drummer of all time. So when Fletcher invites him to take second seat drum, he jumps at the chance. But it isn’t long before we realize that Fletcher is an extreme perfectionist. He screams at the students when they make the smallest mistake. He hurls a chair at Neiman’s head when he is out of rhythm and slaps him around. By the end of the story, Neiman is demoralized and ready to quit. But he goes back on-stage and drums his heart out – effectively forcing Fletcher to accept him as his drummer. Fletcher is the first villain/mentor I have ever seen, and is a character that will live in my mind for a long, long time.
Terrence Fletcher from Whiplash is my #2 pick, also. Fletcher is an anti-mentor, the type of character who send heroes down dark paths that can lead to ruin. It’s then up to the hero to overcome the dark mentor. Fletcher is a true scumbag and his cruel, self-aggrandizing methods come at the expense of our hero. This film teaches us to be wary of how we choose our mentors; not all of them look out for our best interests. Fletcher is a lying, cold-blooded, abuser who doesn’t quite get his full comeuppance at the end but is nevertheless defeated.
Finally we come to my #1 pick: Louis Bloom of Nightcrawler. Louis starts out as a naive low-level thief of hubcaps and manhole covers. When he stumbles upon a film crew taping late-night accidents, he realizes that he is capable of delivering the same content. Louis then enlists the aid of sidekick intern Rick to work the night. Louis realizes he has to eliminate the competition so cuts the brake line of the van of his nearest foe. Finally, he stages a shooting and films his sidekick getting murdered. Louis Bloom has a chilling villain’s journey where he starts out amoral and falls deeper and deeper into depravity. Since he’s the main character of the story, I would normally call him the hero. But since he’s a villain, I categorize Louis Bloom as the anti-hero.
Louis Bloom of Nightcrawler didn’t make my top 5 list of villains but there’s no doubting the fact that he is Evil with a capital E. Bloom is a classic sociopath who lacks a conscience and has no empathy, remorse, or moral core. He uses people and hurts others to obtain his goals. Nightcrawler is a movie about villainy and how it blossoms. The film shows us how villainy is allowed to prosper when we allow it to prosper, when we condone it, when we cooperate with it, and when we place money ahead of basic principles of decency. I considered including Bloom in my top-5 but we are never told how he become such a scumbag, and without any backstory I just couldn’t include him in my list.
That brings us to the end of another year of movies, heroes, and villains. Tune in throughout 2015 as we continue to review movies and their heroes. We will keep looking at the villains in the movies, and we will start looking at the supporting characters beside them as well. If you haven’t already, check out our Best Movies of 2014 and the Best Heroes of 2014.