5. Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
One of the more visually impressive villains on this list, Lo Pan is a baddy that highlights the fantasy and entertainment value of Big Trouble in Little China. The film tells the story of Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), who helps his buddy, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), save Wang’s fiancée (Suzee Pai) from thugs in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Their mission takes them into the mysterious underbelly beneath Chinatown, where they face an ancient sorcerer named David Lo Pan (James Hong).
Lo Pan is a fantastic villain. The mystical elements of this Fu Manchu-like antagonist make Lo Pan a worthy advisory for Burton, and a fun yet menacing villain to watch.
Lo Pan makes a bold statement with his first appearances as he summons witchcraft that causes light to pour from his mouth. His ghostly look is just as detailed and creative as his weak old man form thanks to the remarkable layers of 80’s makeup and effects.
In Big Trouble in Little China, Lo Pan is an exceptional antagonist that quickly makes his presence known.
4. Victor Maitland from Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Beverly Hills Cop not only gives audiences a lovable hero in Axel Foley, but it also gives spectators a marvelous villain in Victor Maitland. In the film, Detroit, rebellious cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) travels to Beverly Hills, California to solve the murder of his childhood buddy. He reaches out to an old friend, Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher), and starts to suspect her boss, art dealer Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), might be involved in the murder.
Without a doubt, there are few people that can ooze a sense of danger just with a look and a few quips. Luckily for this film, Stephen Berkoff as Victor Maitland is one of these people. Every time the character of Maitland stares Foley down, there is a perfect stillness. Even when Foley and Maitland do begin to talk to one another, Maitland keeps his clam poker face but also adds a smug confidence and self-assurance to his dialogue and facial expressions that makes him a classic action villain.
Victor Maitland is an important factor that makes Beverly Hills Cop an enjoyable action-packed film.
3. The Tall Man from Phantasm II (1988)
Returning for the sequel, the Tall Man remains terrifying and criminally overlooked as a legendary villain in Phantasm II. The film follows Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) after his release from a mental hospital. Finding his old friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), they team up to track down and defeat the grave-robbing Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his minions. This time the Tall Man is after a girl (Paula Irvine) who has started to psychically infiltrate Mike’s dreams. It is up to Mike and Reggie to find this girl before the Tall Man does.
As before, the Tall Man steals every scene he is in and reclaims his title as the dark heart of the Phantasm franchise. Scrimm as the Tall Man is so foreboding as the stoic, cold, almost silent, and unholy mortician. Not only a mortician, but the Tall Man is also death personified, and this is a major factor that makes him the thing of nightmares. He heavily emphasis the scariest notion that any human can face. This notion being that no one on Earth can escape death. As the Tall Man tells one of his unlucky victims, “When you die, you don’t go to heaven. You come to us.”
The Tall Man is a true Boogeyman.
2. John Ryder from The Hitcher (1986)
With no identity, no reason, no motive, and no place to be, John Ryder is one of the most threatening villains of the 1980s. The story centers around a young man, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell), transporting a car from Chicago to San Diego. While on the road, Halsey picks up a hitchhiker named John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) who reveals he is a serial killer. After evading death by throwing Ryder out of his car, Jim believes he is safe and will never see Ryder again. However, Jim soon learns Ryder is not fished with him yet.
With so many questions and no answers, John Ryder (If that is his real name) becomes a chilling tour de force. Who this man is and what he wants becomes irrelevant thanks to the terror he causes the main protagonist. John Ryder becomes less human and much more of a violent, cunning, and all-knowing predator toying with his prey. Always having the upper hand and seemingly aware of Halsey’s every move, Ryder sends shivers up audiences’ spines.
Along with the psychology of Ryder, it is the specific acting choices of Rutger Hauer as the main antagonist that shine. Without an excessive amount of dialogue and backstory, Hauer uses a soft but serious way of speaking that becomes frightening every time he is on screen. In other words, he does not need to yell or scream to get his point across. Lastly, Hauer’s use of stares and long direct eye contact also add to Ryder’s menacing demeanor.
Ryder is more than just a standard villain. He is an antagonist that generates such real fear that he cannot be replicated.
1. Dick Jones or Clarence Boddicker in Robocop (1987)
Unlike the other films previously mentioned, Robocop boasts not one but two underrated villains. In the movie, a near-apocalyptic Detroit is home to an evil corporation, Omni Consumer Products (aka OCP), who privatizes the police force. When a police officer, Alex Murphy (Weller), is lead into an armed confrontation with crime lord Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and killed, OCP revives Murphy and turns him into a cyborg law enforcer. Unaware of his former life, RoboCop implements a harsh campaign against crime while coming to terms with the lingering memories of his humanity.
As OCP’s Senior Vice President, Dick Jones is a gangster in a high-rise office and a business suit. Jones is more of a straight-forward kind of villain as he uses hired muscle to brutally murder. However, the physical harm Jones inflicts on his opposers through others is still very intimidating. What makes Jones a particularly memorable antagonist is actually his downfall. Jones has an iconic scene where his termination from OCP results in his literal exit through a top floor window.
Along with Jones, Clarence Boddicker is another villain in Robocop that must be discussed. Rather than having grandiose goals to control the city, Boddicker is a type of villain that strives to continue his day-to-day actions as a violent criminal. While this may not appear to make Boddicker a villain worthy of this list, he remains a very troubling and unnerving antagonist. Similarly to the Joker in Batman, Boddicker thrives on chaos. He will kill and steal anything he desires, whenever he wishes. When emboldened by his backing from Dick Jones to perform his dirty work, Boddicker’s level of menace and swagger becomes unforgettable.
Both Clarence Boddicker and Dick Jones are two villains who definitely deserve a spot on this list.