100 Years, 66 Villains: Number One
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 13, 2008
Hey, I actually finished this one
Over the past few months here at IITS, we’ve reviewed 65 of the dirtiest, cringe-worthiest and most despicable barrel scrapers in the history of the film medium (or, more specifically, from its last 30 years or so). We’ve dealt with teenage bullies and full-grown thugs, abusive siblings and neglectful parents, bad friends and worse enemies, and it’s all come down to this–the lowest of the low, the scum of the fucking earth. Take a deep breath, distance yourself from all easily breakable items, and make sure the eyes of your loved ones have been sufficiently averted, because it’s about to get pretty ugly in here.
But first, a moment to address some of the villains I mistakenly left off the list, as well as some of the guesses and suggestions you all made in the comments box of our #2 entry. Kevin Spacey deserved some props as the sniveling, incompassionate middle-management type John Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross. I remembered to include John Cassavettes selling out his wife’s womb to the devil in Rosemary’s Baby, but I forgot about Peter Masterson giving the town permission to kill wife Katherine Ross and replace her with a twin robot in The Stepford Wives. I still haven’t seen all of Purple Rain, but the parts I have seen leave no doubt that Morris Day and/or The Time deserve inclusion on this list. Die Hard is so overstuffed with villains of various stripes that I forgot all about the slimey Ellis (Hart Bochner), who tries to sabotage McClane (Bruce Willis) in an extremely misguided attempt at terrorist solidarity. And finally, as portrayed in Waiting to Exhale, the entire male gender probably merits inclusion somewhere near the list’s high-end.
As for those villains you all came up with, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) of Schindler’s List is undoubtedly as villainous as anyone here, but is disqualified by virtue of being a legitimate killer. Natalie (Carrie Anne-Moss) of Memento isn’t a bad choice (especially for the scene where she quite literally tells Guy Pearce, “I’M GONNA FUCKING USE YOU!!”) but really, she doesn’t do anything particularly destructive in the movie. Lovably vile as Anton Newcombe is in Dig!, I kept the list to non-fictional characters, and the Asian Doctor bitch in Juno is far too slight to be included among these heavy-hitters. Noah Cross (John Huston) of Chinatown and Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were included on the AFI Villains list, and thus ineligible. I went with Kittie Farmer over Jim Cunningham from Donnie Darko. As creepy as Benjamin (Rob Lowe) is in Wayne’s World, he doesn’t really do that much could be considered legitimately villainous (at least outside of Wayne’s paranoid fantasies), and Crisp from Kindgarten Cop is pretty clearly implied as a murderer. I tried to keep the list to human villainy, so no Gozer from Ghostbusters. Kathy Bates’ husband in Fried Green Tomatoes is no doubt a jackass, but is more clueless than he is abusive. I’m not really sure why I didn’t include Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club, good call. I haven’t seen Con Air in a long-ass time, but considering I don’t even remember Colm Meany being in that movie, I doubt he was ever bound for our list.
All this said, however, one of you did manage to come up with a correct #1 prediction. And if you’ve seen the movie, and if you think about the character, and about all the characters that have preceded this one on this list, you’ll know that there’s absolutely no one else that this spot could’ve gone to. So, drum roll, please…
I guess I’m not sure that I felt this way before I saw In the Company of Men (though since I didn’t even remember the name of Aaron Eckhart’s character before I re-watched this recently, I’m guessing I did) but there’s just something about the name Chad that sends chills down my spine. Think about it–have you ever been friends with someone named Chad? Have you ever known anyone named Chad that was a half-decent individual? Are any of your most revered politicians, artists or athletes named Chad? (Norman Chad doesn’t count). Can anyone even tell me what the capital of the African country Chad is? Sorry if that little rant just alienated our entire Chad-loving readership, but point is, I can’t picture anyone thinking likeable, sympathetic, upstanding citizen when I think of the name Chad. More likely, you’re thinking despicable teen heartthrob Chad Michael Murray. You’re thinking mediocre butt-rock peddler and perpetual assassination target Chad Kroeger. You’re thinking of hanging chads in the 2000 election, even. And you are, whether you realize it or not, thinking of Aaron Eckhart in In the Company of Men.
Chad is not a nice person. He is, in fact, a very mean person, something made clear from the very beginning of Company, in which he convinces friend and co-worker Howard (Matt Malloy) to join him in courting the same emotionally fragile woman, then to dump her simultaneously in a gruesome act of vengeance and empowerment against All Things Vaginal, both having been recently left by their girlfreinds. They decide to prey upon Christine, a kind, deaf co-worker that immediately takes to both, but quickly begins to prefer the company of the handsome, sweet-talking Chad to the nerdier looking, more mild-mannered Howard. Things get predictably complicated when Howard realizes that he’s no longer faking his affection for Christine, and Chad moves in closer and closer for the kill.
To call Chad a misogynist is almost too easy. He is that, surely–he even makes countless jokes to that effect over the course of the movie (“Never trust anything that can bleed for a week and not die,” “What’s the difference between a golf ball and a G-Spot? I’ll spend 20 minutes looking for a G-Spot!”). But unlike Maxine’s extremely focused evil, Chad can not contain his hatred to only one person, or even to just one gender. Even calling him a misanthrope makes him sound a little cuddly, a little too romantic. What Chad is, simply, is an asshole. There’s nothing particularly deep about it, there’s no grand psychology to be had–Chad is just like any other asshole that you have to deal with in your day to day life.
The difference, however, is that Chad is really quite exceptionally good at being an asshole. He’s charming, he’s cunning, he’s incoscionably manipulative, and worst of all, he plans ahead. He’s capable of plenty of small-scale villainy, as when he pockets some of the change Howard drops in the office bathroom before giving him back the smaller coins. He’s certainly capable of mid-level villainy, as when he forces an intern underling to strip naked in front of him in order to unmetaphorically prove that he has the balls for the job. But it’s the big stuff–the arcing stuff, the villainy that really requires time, effort and patience to pull off–that earns Chad the #1 spot on this list. After all, Maxine, for all her cruelty, was still relative small-time in comparison, emotionally uncommitted and merely desirous for amusement. Chad, on the other hand, is the real-world Lex Luthor.
The scene everyone remembers, and justifiably so, is the movie’s climax, where Christine confronts Chad about Howard’s confession that he and Chad were just dating her on a bet. He tries to deny it, then to weasel around it, and when he realizes he can’t do it, he just lays into her. Much as you’ve seen Chad’s dickness first-hand over the course of the movie, you still can’t believe that he’s going to go where he does in this scene. You think some sort of humanity in him is going to be piqued by the amount of pain he’s doubtless going to cause Christine, that he’ll at least try to let her down easy. But Chad instead admits that he “can’t keep a straight face” during the scene, so not only does he cop to the con, he rubs it in as much as possible, even asking her, like Christopher Guest asking Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, to describe what the hurt is like. She lets out a small cry–not as emotional as either you or Chad expect, but one that’s all the more disturbing as a result–and Chad leaves. Compared to Chad in this scene, Troy in Reality Bites might as well be Rick at the end of Casablanca.
Just as bad, however, is the subplot I didn’t even realize was there until re-watching the movie recently–how Chad secretly and subtly tries to undermine the authority of Howard, his temporary boss on the company retreat. He screws up reports and loses important documents, using his “friendship” with Howard to get the blame shifted elsewhere, until it eventually starts to fall on Howard himself. You don’t even really realize that Chad is doing this until the movie’s penultimate scene, in which Howard confesses his real love to Chad, who, tired and extremely unsympathetic, explains that his girlfriend never actually left him at all, and that he only did the thing with Christine “because he could” (perhaps uncoincidentally, the same reasoning used by the Stepford husbands). By that point, it has also become apparent that Chad has leapfrogged the floundering Howard on the company ladder, and it makes you wonder if the whole competition was just engineered by Chad to distract Howard while angling for the superior position he feels he always should have had.
But, as with so many other villains on this list, what really makes Chad so villainous, so hateable, is that when you get down to it, you really still kind of like his character better than Howard. Sure, Howard is the nice guy (although he’s not that nice, agreeing to the competition, and even yelling “Look at you! You are fucking handicapped! You think you can choose?” at Christine), he’s the one who has the personal growth over the course of the movie, he’s the one with the legitimate romantic feelings. But he’s also boring, dorky and extremely charmless. Not even in the movies would it be feasible for Christine to choose Howard over the dashing, well-practiced Chad, even if she already knew how evil he was. The reason why Chad sucks is the same as the reason why life sucks–not only do the bad guys usually win, but most of the time, we actually root for them to do so. Let’s see if Harvey Dent can top that.
Congrats to reader Brent for accurately guessing that Chad from In the Company of Men would indeed be our #1 movie villain of all-time. You can redeem your $15 prize winnings at the IITS gift shop, or you can e-mail me your address at firstname.lastname@example.org for a direct cash payment.
(Now here’s the entire list, for those of you who’ve missed any piece thus far, all of which can be viewed in their entirety here):
66. Ian / Ray (Tim Robbins), High Fidelity
65. Jacy (Cybil Shepherd), The Last Picture Show
64. Jesus’s Entourage (Bill Nunn, Rosario Dawson, Arthur J. Nascarella), He Got Game
63. Sarah Mitchell (Bridget Fonda), A Simple Plan
62. Agents Big Johnson and Little Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), Die Hard
61. Taylor Vaughn (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), She’s All That
60. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), Varsity Blues
59. Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Pretty Woman
58. Mrs. Chasen (Vivien Pickles), Harold and Maude
57. Officer Coffey and Officer Graham (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson and Kirk Kinder), Boyz n the Hood
56. Oliver Slocumb (Ryan Philippe), Igby Goes Down
55. Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), Magnolia
54. Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), This Is Spinal Tap
53. Larry Sokolov (Ron Livingston), The Cooler
52. Muriel Lang (Rosie Perez), It Could Happen to You
51. Zachary “Sack” Lodge (Bradley Cooper), Wedding Crashers
50. Bert Jones (George C. Scott), The Hustler
49. Little Bill’s Wife (Nina Hartley), Boogie Nights
48. Amber (Elisa Donovan), Clueless
47. Warden (Patrick McGoohan), Escape From Alcatraz
46. Various Game Ruiners (Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, Don Harvey), Eight Men Out
45. Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), The Craft
44. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), The Ice Storm
43. George Willis Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Scent of a Woman
42. David Bedford (John Laroquette), Blind Date
41. Ronny and Donny Blume (Ronnie & Keith McCowley), Rushmore
40. Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), Searching for Bobby Fischer
39. Bernie and Joan (Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins), …About Last Night
38. Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep), Kramer Vs. Kramer
37. Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
36. Bill Houston (David Morse), Dancer in the Dark
35. Sid (Voice of John Morris), Toy Story
34. Mike (Joe Mantegna), House of Games
33. Buck Grotowski (Peter Boyle), Monsters’ Ball
32. Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), The Purple Rose of Cairo
31. Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant), Donnie Darko
30. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space
29. Mitch Hiller (Billy Campbell), Enough
28. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner), The Virgin Suicides
27. Rose Chasseur (Glynis Johns), The Ref
26. Cobra Kai Dojo (William Zabka, Martin Kove, others), The Karate Kid
25. Heathers (Shannon Doherty, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk), Heathers
24. Cal Hockley (Billy Zane, Titanic
23. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
22. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
21. Jo (Gretchen Mol), Rounders
20. Ruth Folwer (Sissy Spacek), In the Bedroom
19. Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes), Rosemary’s Baby
18. Earline and the Rest of the Fitzgerald Clan (Margo Martindale, Others), Million Dollar Baby
17. Coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith), The Mighty Ducks
16. Jack Lopate (Thomas Hayden Church), Sideways
15. Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters
14. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiensen), Shattered Glass
13. Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore), Ordinary People
12. Professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), Loser
11. O’Bannion, Darla & Clint (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt), Dazed and Confused
10. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election
9. Troy (Ethan Hawke), Reality Bites
8. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Mean Girls
7. Steff (James Spader), Pretty in Pink
6. Biff Tannen (Michael F. Wilson), Back to the Future trilogy
5. Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), Dead Poets Society
4. The Egan Sisters (Nicole Gelbard, Mia Weinberg, Julie Hermelin, Karen Hermelin, Lisa Spector, Hazel Mailloux and Mary Lynn Rajskub), Punch-Drunk Love
3. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo
2. Maxine (Catherine Keener), Being John Malkovich
1. Chad (Aaron Eckhart), In the Company of Men