Choosing ten ‘deadliest movie characters of all time’ from over a century-old history has been quite a task. As a result, some deadly characters that deserve inclusion might be excluded.
Even before starting out to collate the ‘deadliest movie characters of all time list’, there was little ambiguity about a few of them. Topping the must-have names was the most chilling performance of all -Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. The next name that called attention for was Javier Badlem, as the methodical, cold blooded killer Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers film ‘No Country for Old Men’. Close on its heels was the insomniac, taxi driver Travis Bickle, whose descent into madness was brilliantly portrayed by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. Then there was Samuel Jackson as the sermon-spewing hit man Jules Winnfield in Tarantino’s cult movie ‘Pulp Fiction’.
And who can forget the classic story of the New York crime dynasty ‘Godfather’, where Marlon Brando ed the role of the aging patriarch, Vito Coreleone. Among five of the rest, there is one film by the Korean auteur Kim-Ki-Duk that simply had to be included because of the complexity of the central character played by Suh Jung and also the visceral intensity of the film.
While ten is too less a number to capture many of the deadly characters, it is sure to guarantee an interesting read. So go on and enjoy as the countdown begins.
10. Ellen Ripley: Alien
There were many firsts that Ridley Scot achieved with Alien in 1979. It was the first horror movie that was set in outer space. Another first was that a woman was put centre-stage as the leading character. And Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley didn’t let us down.
The build up of Alien is such that it gives the sense of some unnamed horror to strike. And like the slow build-up, Weaver’s role too picks up momentum gradually. When we first see Ripley, she like the other crew members, is sceptical and aggrieved. But as the other crew members are killed one by one by this ever-evolving monster, Ripley becomes the de facto leader who doesn’t have a choice but to take the onus of eliminating the monster in her own hands.
The character of Ripley was human even in the most iconic moments. The pure force by which Ripley shouts”Shut Up” is the moment-of-truth for the character. It is at this point that the audiences get their first glimpse of the character’s raw emotional strength. It serves be the turning point in Ripley’s evolution as the one who can lead with conviction in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. In her final encounter with the alien intrusion, Weaver’s wide-eyed terror and the steely resolve of a flamethrower was indeed done with great style.
Sigourney Weaver was nominated at the BAFTA Film Award for ‘Most Promising Newcomer in a Leading Film Role’. In 2008, American Film Institute ranked her as the eight best heroes in American Film history in their list of the 100 greatest heroes and villains.
9. The Bride: Kill Bill
On one hand, she is stone cold, and on the other, nurturing. One side of her is single-minded and lethal, and the other, compassionate – that is what makes the character of ‘The Bride’ so intriguing.
As a member of Bill’s all-girl assassination Viper Squad, Beatrix Kiddo had trained under the legendary Hattori Hanzo and Kung Fu Master Pai Mei, who even taught her his deadliest killing style – the Five Point Palm exploding heart technique. According to Uma Thurman, she had to undergo intense physical training eight hours a day, five days a week for three months to get into shape before filming began.
On a mission abroad to kill a criminal, Beatrix discovers her pregnancy. From then on, her motherly instinct propels her to bid adieu to a life of danger and mayhem. But fate had other plans. On her wedding day, Bill’s deadly Divas find her and bludgeon’s everyone to death. But Beatrix survives and goes into a coma – a coma that keeps her in bed for four years. Her preparation and subsequent ‘rampage of revenge’ starts after she recovers and leaves the hospital.
8. Catherine Tramell: Basic Instinct
A magnetic personality, an enigmatic past, an intriguing career and a controversial lifestyle – that’s how one would describe Catherine Tramell, the diabolic leading character of Basic Instinct, who leads a luxurious life, living alone at a seaside villa. When Catherine’s bed mate for over a year is hacked to death with an ice pick, in bed, the finger of suspicion naturally points towards the misanthropic Ms. Tramell.
The breakthrough role of Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell earned her the Golden Globe Award. The famous scene where Sharon Stone crosses and uncrosses her legs takes place at the police station when she is called in for questioning. The room was taut with tension and anyone else would have been nervous and intimidated – sitting in the centre of the room with a group of policemen hurling questions at her – but not Catherine Tramell.
With great deft, she turned the tables in her favour by disarming the men, telling them that she wouldn’t be so stupid as to kill someone exactly the same way that she had described in her novel. (Being a novelist, one of her stories dealt with a woman who kills her partner with an ice pick while having sex in bed).
What makes Catherine Tramell find a place in the ‘deadliest movie characters of all time’ is Sharon Stone’s total identification with the role and nuanced acting beneath the character’s façade of normalcy. The character idiosyncrasies, body language, along with a hint of madness that she brought effortlessly to her career defining role became etched in the audiences mind even after decades.
7. Norman Bates: Psycho
Norman Bates says: A man’s best friend is his Mother. This one line encapsulates the film Psycho in its entirety. Such spine-tingling act of soft spoken monstrosity was hardly seen before or after Psycho.
The dissociative identity disorder that Norman Bates was suffering from was the result of a tormented childhood at the hands of his Mother Norma. She taught him that all forms of sex were sinful. Later, when she gets a lover, the teenage Norman, in a fit of jealousy, kills them both.
When Marion Crane shows up in the middle of the night, he makes her a sandwich even though Mommy dearest doesn’t want him to – which in reality means he himself doesn’t want to. In the battle between the two halves of his personality, he overcomes the bad side, and offers the hungry woman some late night dinner. But then Mommy dearest (his alter ego) isn’t happy and takes her revenge by stabbing the woman in the shower.
Anthony Perkins, the actor who played Norman Bates was disturbingly at ease with the role of the psychopath. He admitted to similarities between the character’s life and his own. He recalled praying for his father to die so that he could get his Mother all for himself. And his Father did die when he was five.
Later, his relationship with his Mother turned to years of repression and guilt. “We were more like lovers than Mother and Son”, he said. He was so engrossed with the character that he suggested several character idiosyncrasies to Hitchcock, which the director accepted. Like the stuttering of the nervous Norman was one of his suggestions. Many a time, he went to great extremes to imbue his character with verisimilitude.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was an adaptation of the novel by the same name, by author Robert Bloch. Norman Bates was ranked #2 in the American Institute’s “100 Heroes and Villains” in 2003.
6. Vito Coreleone: Godfather
Vito Andolini turned Vito Coreleone rose from being a petty criminal to become the most feared and respected patriarch of a crime dynasty in New York, in the early twentieth century.
First, it was De Niro who ed the role of the young Vito and then Marlon Brando as the aged patriarch – both went about enacting their roles with such finesse that it has remained etched in the collective consciousness since then. The film was Coppola’s most substantial achievement, and not surprisingly, went on to win three Oscars for Best Picture, Actor and Adapted Screenplay.
Mario Puzo, who wrote ‘The Godfather’ has said in an interview that it was only with Brando in mind that he had written the book. Though Brando was only 47 at the time of filming, the director Francis Ford Coppola along with the writer was convinced that it was only Brando who could do justice to the role of the sixty plus year old patriarch. But as history has it, the top brass at Paramount Pictures, the producers, were dead against casting Brando. It took the director a lot of convincing, before they agreed.
This also included a screen test. According to the director, Brando tied his long blonde hair into a bun, coloured it with shoe polish to make it black, inserted cotton balls into his mouth to simulate the puffed-cheek look, muffled his voice, and stuffed ear plugs so that he had to strain to hear like an old man, all of this to get into the skin of the character. The rest as they say is history as the role became a mid-career turning point in the actor’s life.