• In the golden age of action movies, villains were more captivating and memorable than they are in modern franchises like the MCU and Fast and Furious.
  • Iconic villains like the T-800 from The Terminator, Luther from The Warriors, and Clarence Boddicker from Robocop brought creativity, risk, and improvisation to action movie villains.
  • Villains like Castor Troy from Face/Off, the Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Agent Smith from The Matrix added depth and made those films unforgettable.

Some action movies achieved classic status thanks to their iconic villains. Colorful and enthralling antagonists are something of a lost art in mainstream action cinema. While many modern films still boast complex, layered villains who present a compelling counterpoint to the hero’s way of life, it’s become rare for an action film’s villain to strike a vivid, eccentric image that makes them the highlight of the movie. From the MCU, to John Wick to the Fast and Furious saga, modern action franchises rarely boast truly inventive and memorable villains.

It’s worth revisiting a bygone era of action cinema, one in which franchises and sequels didn’t dominate as they do today. The late 20th century saw numerous original action films, some of which kickstarted their own series, boasting multi-layered villains brought to life by daring performances. It’s true that this era wasn’t perfect, with plenty of action films lacking the depth and sophistication of modern blockbuster plots, but it was also a landscape that encouraged creativity, improvisation and risk. The quality of action movie villains in this time reflects the payoff of such risks.

RELATED: 8 Action Movie Villains Who Were Actually Justified

10 The Terminator (The T-800)

The Terminator 1984 original T-850

Director James Cameron’s breakout action classic The Terminator is defined by the bulk and charisma Arnold Schwarzenegger brings to the title role. While Linda Hamilton is great as the young Sarah Connor, it’s the murderous time traveling robot himself that viewers remember best. While Schwarzenegger had done a handful of other films beforehand, including two Conan The Barbarian movies, The Terminator is generally credited as the film that cemented his movie star status. More than a wall of muscle, Schwarzenegger’s arresting screen presence is what makes the machine come alive. It’s hard to believe that other actors were considered for the T-800, including O.J. Simpson and Sylvester Stallone.

9 The Warriors (Luther)

Luther in the Warriors

In the 1979 action cult classic The Warriors, a New York gang must safely make their way back to their home turf after being wrongfully accused of the assassination of a major gang leader. For the titular gang, the trouble is all caused by Luther, an unstable rival gang leader who carries out the assassination and blames the Warriors for it. Luther is best remembered for the iconic moment in which he clicks together three beer bottles on his fingers, while repeating the haunting line “Warriors, come out to play-ay”. While the bottles detail was written into the script, the oft-quoted line was improvised by actor David Patrick Kelly.

8 Robocop (Clarence Boddicker)

Clarence Boddicker taunts Murphy before slaying him in RoboCop

Paul Verhoeven’s classic action satire is filled with striking imagery and well-developed characters. However, the film’s protagonist Alex Murphy, who sees himself transformed into the titular Robocop, is not intended to be a particularly nuanced or engaging character. The film paints the cyborg enforcer as an extension of the faceless authority of the law. Contrarily, the film’s criminals are overflowing with personality, none more so than the gang boss Clarence Boddicker. The character’s rimless glasses give him an intellectual look which makes his taste for violence all the more sickening. Likewise, Kurtwood Smith plays Boddicker with a humorous streak that gives his evil acts an unsettling texture.

7 Face/Off (Castor Troy)

Face/Off 1997

One of the most unhinged action movies of the 1990s was furnished by a villain performance carried off by two of the decade’s biggest actors. Face/Off sees an FBI agent agree to go undercover as a crime boss by swapping faces with him in an experimental surgery. The notorious concept allows both of the film’s stars, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, to play the unstable criminal Castor Troy. Both performances bring their own manic charms to the character, easily upstaging the FBI hero, who keeps a straight, somber face, no matter whose face he’s wearing.

RELATED: 10 Movie Villains Who Deserved More Screen Time

6 Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (The Sheriff Of Nottingham)

Alan Rickman in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves

While Kevin Costner faced criticism for his unconvincing English accent and one-note performance as the titular bandit in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the film boasts a strong supporting cast. Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater and Brian Blessed all make memorable turns in the film, but Prince of Thieves is dominated by Alan Rickman’s odious Sheriff of Nottingham. The classically-trained actor seems to be enjoying himself immensely as the cartoonish villain who scowls and sneers his way through the film. Rickman’s performance elevates the movie, helping it strike a delicate balance between straight-faced adventure and nostalgic romp.

5 The Matrix (Agent Smith)

Agent Smith with broken glasses in The Matrix

Cyberpunk masterpiece The Matrix changed the action genre forever with its groundbreaking special effects and ambitious fight scenes. The film’s cerebral plot, which encompasses weighty philosophical and scientific concepts, is grounded by the magnetic and sinister performance of Hugo Weaving as the resistance-crushing computer program, Agent Smith. Weaving’s uncanny composure as the menacing embodiment of authority makes Agent Smith the perfect counterpoint to the vital, grungy resistance. However, it’s the deep-seated hatred and contempt for humanity lurking behind Smith’s expressionless face that makes him such a fearsome threat.

4 Predator (The Predator)

The Predator emerges from the water in Predator (1987)

1987’s original Predator film introduced the world to one of Hollywood’s most beloved monsters. While Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hulking Dutch and his squad of muscle-bound commandos make a memorable team, it’s the titular alien hunter that steals the show with his varied arsenal, guttural clicking and imposing look. The effectiveness of the Predator as a villain is underscored by how the creatures relentless hunt in the movie wound up spawning an entire franchise. And though Schwarzenegger was the movie’s star, it wasn’t him that kept coming back – the Predator concept has fueled several more stories since the 1987 classic.

3 Speed (Howard Payne)

Howard Payne holding a bomb in Speed

Another colorful antagonist in a Keanu Reeves movie, Speed boasts a manic performance from Dennis Hopper as the psychopathic bomber David Payne. Reeves’ cool, stoic demeanor plays perfectly against Hopper’s wide-eyed bloodlust. It would be impossible to buy into Speed’s ludicrous concept, that of a bus fitted to explode if it drops below a certain speed, without a suitably ludicrous villain. Hopper sells the logline with greedy panache. Payne’s violent run is even punctuated by one of the most satisfying action villain deaths.

2 Die Hard (Hans Gruber)

Hans Gruber holding a gun in Die Hard

One of the best action movies of the 80s is boosted by one of the decade’s best villain performances. Before his scenery-chewing appearance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Alan Rickman made cinema history with his starmaking performance as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. The film is based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever”, which features a fanatical eco-terrorist as its main antagonist. The film smartly adapts this character into Hans Gruber, a slick, classically educated thief masquerading as a terrorist. Rickman plays the character with a loathsome but undeniably charismatic composure which makes him the perfect foil for Die Hard’s hot-headed, freewheeling hero, John McClane.

1 Point Break (Bodhi)

Patrick Swayze in Point Break

Point Break is brought to life by its vivid cast of characters. Keanu Reeves puts in one of his best performances as the hilariously-named undercover surf-cop Johnny Utah; the film’s supporting cast likewise shines, with Gary Busey, Lori Petty and John C. McGinley all making the most of limited screen time. However, the film belongs to Patrick Sawyze’s enigmatic bank-robbing surfer, Bodhi. Best known for his career as a leading actor, Swayze leverages his unique charisma to sell Bodhi’s cult of personality, drawing Utah and the viewer themselves dangerously close to his adrenaline-junkie philosophy. It’s a mesmerizing performance, and probably a career best for Swayze.

Source link