A good film cannot happen without a good hero. That much is clear to everyone. The fact that one cannot happen without a good villain as well seems to have been forgotten by many filmmakers throughout the decades and we have been left with a bunch of cardboard cutouts instead of real bad guys of flesh and blood, that we can actively recognize as real people.
Fortunately, however, the unsung heroes of cinema constantly went against the norms in order to create motion pictures that could be properly enjoyed, with actual human beings with their motives, needs and wishes on both sides of the story. We got baddies with a soft side, psychopaths with moral codes, serial killers with loving families.
We also got our fair share of criminal masterminds, villains that you can’t help but admire for their intellect, if not actively root for them. Here is a list of mostly human antagonists of motion pictures that rank among the smartest characters in cinema. Some half-human and alien admissions are also present:
10. Pinhead – Hellraiser (1987)
It should be noted, before we move on, that this charming villain portrayed by Doug Bradley, now almost universally known by the name of Pinhead, was simply dubbed the lead Cenobite in the first installment of the Hellraiser franchise. We shall still refer to him by the more well known name.
What once was a man of flesh and blood, now is a paranormal being dubbed the Cenobite, under the command of this weird looking fellow. He doesn’t speak a lot, like some villains do, detailing his plans and actions, but the wordless torture he brings upon the souls unfortunate enough to cross his path speaks enough of both his capabilities as a villain and a man of intelligence.
Some would perhaps claim that his large success rate has more to do with a bunch of other wordly abilites he has, but it is pretty evident from the earliest moments that there is also quite a bit of thinking involved in the little sadistic hell of Pinhead’s.
9. Norman Bates – Psycho (1960)
It would be downright absurd to try and explain influence of Alfred Hithcock’s wondrous mind on the way we view cinema today. Famously dubbed master of suspense, he reformed the genres of thriller and horror, paving the way for many talented filmmakers that would come in the future.
He truly had a knack for a good villain, from the earliest days of his career back in Britain, through his golden years in Hollywood, all the way to the inglorious finish of his career in the seventies.
Psycho remains his best known work to date. Rightfully so, many would claim, but a good portion would also disagree, citing North by Northwest and Vertigo as superior works of the master.
Whatever you hold to be his true masterpiece, it is undeniable that Psycho brought us one of the greatest villains on the silver screen: Norman Bates. Portrayed by the great Anthony Perkins in what proved to be the role of his career, this young man with mommy issues and a plethora of other, related and unrelated mental problems, remains wonderfully cunning throughout the film despite the fact that he is also emotion driven a lot of the time.
8. John Doe – Se7en (1995)
With a stellar cast consisting of Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, and an intriguing plot building on the themes of religion and justice, Se7en was an instant success, and is still widely considered one of the greatest achievements in the not so long, albeit marvellous opus of David Fincher.
Similarly to one villain that we’ll focus on more later on in this article, the bad guy Spacey portrayed occupies only a fraction of the film’s screen time, and is still unidentified by the investigators by the time the end credits roll, yet he leaves the strongest impression on the audience due to his calm demeanor, cruel mischiefs and the plan that he is so commited to carrying out.
The secret of his success lies in both the fantastic writing and the flawless acting. Unlike some of the other entries here, the greatness of John Doe is almost equally made up of these two parts and even a slight mishap in casting or writing would result in a villain not as great and not as smart.
7. Patrick Bateman – American Psycho (2000)
Brett Easton Elis’s novel shocked the hell out of the American public when it was released in 1991, but was also widely praised. Nine years later, the movie adaptation, though quite liberal in its use of source material and shocking in a completely different right than the novel it builds upon, did the same: once again, the moralists stood in horror as Patrick Bateman slashed hookers and killed kittens while critics focused on the subtext and analyzed the hidden meanings of a seemingly larger message film was trying to get across.
While undeniably unlikable to a significant degree, and oftentimes emotion driven, one cannot deny that Bateman is an intelligent fellow, if sometimes in matters not directly concerning the ordeal of events in the picture.
6. Dr. Heiter – Human Centipede (2009)
Human Centipede hit the world of horror like a shockwave when it appeared, about a decade ago. Just when we gave up on the idea that something truly shocking would ever again appear in cinema, Tom Six gave us his directorial debut.
Truth be told, it wasn’t a film of exceptional artistic merit: it is often cliched, mostly unrealistic, sometimes naive, but always horrifiyingly disgusting. The mere concept of three human beings being sewn together in a centipede like conjuction is enough to evoke disgust in some people, so it’s suffice to say how deeply the depiction of the aforementioned process affects the viewer.
One of the brighter parts of the film, besides the shock and gore factor, was the late Dieter Laser’s stunning performance as a lunatic surgeon fullfilling his demented fantasies.
Cold and emotionless, yet stunningly smart, one can’t help but admire him for his capabilities, if not revere him for his goals. In all honesty, he would probably turn out to be a fairly unremarkable character was it not for stellar Mr. Laser.