This post originally appeared on VICE UK
Roy Batty's speech at the end of Blade Runner is the stuff of movie legend. As a murderous android nearing the end of his battery life, Rutger Hauer moved crew members on Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic to tears with a semi-improvised soliloquy that showed his nominal villain had the soul of a poet.
"I have... seen things you people wouldn't believe," he tells Harrison Ford's dumbstruck detective Rick Deckard. "Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain... Time to die."
As monologues go, it's short and sweet (Hauer reportedly cut some of the techno-babble from the scripted lines and added the "tears in the rain" part himself). But it also tells us everything we need to know about Batty's capacity to feel—pain, wonder, existential anguish... the whole human shebang, basically. Which makes him a great baddie, but also the sneaky hero of the piece.
It's long been said that bad guys get all the best lines. But too often, villainous speeches are little more than an opportunity for vain showboating—not so much revealing of anything about the character as they are excuses for the hero to get out of a jam.
But what of the bad guys whose words cut to the core of their complicated, tortured, or plain depraved souls? Keep your Voldemorts and your Sarumans—the best villains are those with depth. Here are a few of them, along with a MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT.
JOHNNY IN NAKED
Mike Leigh's darkest creation is a work-shy drifter who drowns out his own self-hatred with meaningless sexual encounters and relentless bullying of his intellectual inferiors. Somehow, we still love him:
"Was I bored? No, I wasn't fuckin' bored. I'm never bored. That's the trouble with everybody—you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it; you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it; you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with it; so now you want cheap thrills and plenty of them, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new, as long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in 40 fuckin' different colors. So whatever else you can say about me, I'm not fuckin' bored."
LADY EBOSHI IN PRINCESS MONONOKE
Though ostensibly the baddie in Hayao Miyazaki's eco-minded masterwork, Lady Eboshi is the probably the one character you'll become the most enamored with. Because she's really fucking cool.
As the boss of Iron Town, a fortress city that derives its wealth through the systematic plunder of the surrounding countryside (and the gods that call it home), her green credentials are admittedly shaky. But she's also a feminist, philanthropist and stone-cold hardass who's prepared to risk it all for the sake of progress. Plus she says shit like this:
"Now watch closely, everyone. I'm going to show you how to kill a god. A god of life and death. The trick is not to fear him."
Leave it to a kids' film to show everybody how it's done.
WITHNAIL IN WITHNAIL & I
Bad guys are typically creatures of want, craving everything over the course of their disgusting lives from revenge and money to helicopters, rings of power, and the indiscriminate slaughter of Jedi younglings. But sometimes, all a rotter needs is some cake and the finest wines available to humanity. Richard E. Grant's Withnail may not be a villain in the strictest sense, but you'd be hard pressed to argue he isn't a bully, coward, misanthrope and self-pitying wretch.
His last scene performing Hamlet to a pair of disinterested wolves at London Zoo is genuinely tragic. "What a piece of work is a man!" he says ruefully from under an umbrella in the rain. Cheer up, mate—at least you didn't top yourself, like Bruce Robinson originally envisioned in his unpublished novel of the same name.
NOAH CROSS IN CHINATOWN
When he's not busy plunging half of California into drought, Noah Cross is the kind of guy who likes to kick back with a spot of incestual child abuse. His mea culpa regarding the rape of his own daughter is evil incarnate, revealing the true end-game of his senseless greed.
"I don't blame myself," he tells Jack Nicholson's private dick Jake Gittes. "You see, Mr Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything."
John Huston's performance as Noah Cross was echoed by Daniel Day Lewis more than 30 years later as...
DANIEL PLAINVIEW IN THERE WILL BE BLOOD
The milkshake scene may drink up the plaudits (and the YouTube remixes), but Day-Lewis's most revealing moment in Paul Thomas Anderson's quasi-biblical epic comes during a scene where his character, the ruthless oil prospector Daniel Plainview, lays bare his hatred of humanity in a speech which chips away at the heart of American capitalism.
"I have a competition in me," he says, hellfire twinkling visibly in his eyes. "I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people. Well, if it's in me, it's in you. There are times when I... I look at people and I see nothing worth liking."
COLONEL JESSUP IN A FEW GOOD MEN
Right wingers. All horrible evil baddies, right? I tend to think so, too. But Jack Nicholson's endlessly parodied speech ("You can't handle the truth!") as a Navy colonel in the dock has me welling up like George Osborne at Maggie Thatcher's funeral. Chalk that one up to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who—with one beautifully weighted monologue—gifts us a three-dimensional baddie to stalk the dreams of hand-wringing liberals for years:
"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns... You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honour, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline."
LILLY DILLON IN THE GRIFTERS
For John Cusack's character Roy in The Grifters, Anjelica Huston is a MILF in the worst possible way. Stephen Frears's adaptation of characteristically bleak crime novel by Jim Thompson, the film sees Anjelica play Lilly Dillon, a veteran scam artist who tries to hook up with her own son (Cusack) in order to pay her way out of a spot.
Oedipally-obsessed little bastard that he is, Johnny comes perilously close to accepting before things get quickly out of hand and we see that Huston's ruthless baddie does have a heart, after all. Quite amazingly dark, and a wonderful performance from Huston to boot: "I have to have that money, Roy. What do I have to do to get it?"
HAL IN 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Forty-odd years after his creation, HAL still sets the gold-standard in sci-fi robot villainy. The crew of the Discovery One pulls the plug on their monotonously voiced computer after he tries to bump them off for reasons unknown—but that doesn't make powering him down any less traumatic: "I'm afraid... I'm afraid, Dave."
Indeed, HAL's influence is such that modern-day cinema-goers are conditioned to believe that all robots in space must have some sort of hidden agenda, a fact which Christopher Nolan took full advantage of in Interstellar with TARS, an aspiring joker-bot who makes endless bad-taste gags about abandoning the crew and looks like an 80s businessman's stress-relieving toy. Needless to add, he's no HAL.
HARRY LIME IN THE THIRD MAN
Carol Reed's film noir is dominated by Orson Welles's performance as Harry Lime—and he's only on screen for five minutes. An American ex-pat who stages his own death in postwar Vienna, Lime is revealed near the film's climax as a murderous black marketeer who's been bumping off the locals with dodgy penicillin.
Confronted about his diabolical deeds by his former friend, played by Joseph Cotton, Lime chides: "Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"
Which is already pretty great (as you'd expect from a script by Graham Greene), but then Welles himself reportedly added the topper: "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed—but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love—they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
KURTZ IN APOCALYPSE NOW
Despite surrounding his jungle home with a picket fence of severed human heads on sticks, Colonel Kurtz is honestly a sensitive soul. A military genius haunted by the worst excesses of the US's war in Vietnam, he has, in the modern-day parlance, "gone native" on his superiors, using a tribe of locals (who revere him as a god) to commit nameless atrocities.
"Horror has a face," he tells his would-be assassin Captain Willard (Martin Sheen). "And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared." Brando famously refused to learn any lines for the part— here's a glimpse of how the scene could have taken a turn for the distinctly less terrifying.
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