The last 15 years of film have been dominated by comic-book adaptations and YA fiction turned into bankable movie franchises with hyperbolic antagonists. But between the alien robots and the Dark Lord and Liam Neeson’s fu manchu lies a tier of baddies still very much worthy of our appreciation.
Mad men and psychopaths of perversions and mean streaks to which we can hardly relate — villains so evil and terrifying that they suffer from sicknesses for which there is no cure… not even more cowbell.
Here are the 10 most underrated movie villains of the 2000s.
Christopher Walken in The Rundown (2003)
It’s tough to really envision Walken as a dictatorial third-world developer because Walken mostly just plays himself these days. But that’s the case because “himself” is simply delightful in nearly every circumstance imaginable. In The Rundown, he plays an eccentric slumlord who offers a convoluted metaphor about the tooth fairy to complain about the protagonists.
Ethan Hawke in Taking Lives (2004)
The list of most surprisingly vicious elevator scenes in movie history goes something like:
2. A vast abyss of nothingness
3. Taking Lives
4. The Departed
The shame of it is that people seem to forget all about Hawke’s villainous turn as Martin Asher, being that they’re too busy pretending it’s not the scene where he and Angelina Jolie consummate their relationship while surrounded by horrifying crime-scene photos.
Geoff Bell in Green Street Hooligans (2005)
Green Street‘s become a bit of a cult classic — mostly thanks to the charm exuded by Charlie Hunnam and Charlie Hunnam’s abs — but Bell more than delivers as the steadfast and vengeful Tommy Hatcher. One of the big things Bell had going for him is that any character who can beat a man to death while reciting a cinquain in perfect ABCCB rhyme scheme is a guaranteed 8.5 on a scale of mildly frightening to wet-your-pants terrifying.
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III (2006)
One of the great injustices of the cinema in our lifetime is that we never got to see Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Bond villain. First of all, “Owen Davian” just sounds like the name of a trust-fund baby who developed a diabolical scheme after getting cut from his prep school’s lacrosse team. Secondly, Hoffman’s confidence is matched only by his humanity, and that range is on full display when Davian calls Ethan Hunt’s bluff while dangling from a cargo plane and immediately re-embraces his hubris once Hunt caves.
Rose Byrne in Wicker Park (2004)
We all know some selfish people, but it takes a special brand of sadistic to come in the way of true love as Byrne’s Alex does in Wicker Park. The shamelessness required to insert herself into the equation by deliberately dating Luke to get closer to Matthew while keeping him from Lisa is nothing short of cruel. The scariest part is that, on some small level, Byrne manages make her character sympathetic.
Jordi Mollà in Bad Boys II (2003)
The accent, the suits, the lavish compound… Johnny Tapia is a caricature of action-movie villains in the early 2000s. Even Buster Bluth would struggle to understand why a vicious Miami drug lord would live in a mansion with his mother. And the irony of Tapia literally shooting his own money to rid it of rats is wonderfully poetic.
Tom Cruise in Collateral (2004)
Jamie Foxx was the one who got an Oscar nod for his role in this Michael Mann thriller, but Cruise carried more than his own weight here, too. In the above scene, Cruise’s character — a ruthless hitman — recounts the story of a man who died on the subway and rode around for six hours before anyone noticed. Between Cruise’s iconic roles in the ’80s and ’90s and his surprising cameo in Tropic Thunder, it’s almost as if his performance in Collateral can relate to that anecdote. It’s easy to ignore, but unforgettable once you know it’s there.
Robin Williams in One Hour Photo (2002)
As Williams is mostly fondly remembered for his dramatic or fun-loving roles, it’s his portrayal as an obsessive photo-lab employee that goes commonly unmentioned. Perhaps Williams is particularly creepy here because it feels like Mrs. Doubtfire is stalking a nice suburban family, but the effectiveness of this role is also directly tied to Williams’ ability to meander from small talk to psycho killer so effortlessly.
Olivier Martinez in S.W.A.T. (2003)
The most terrifying villains are the ones who do their own dirty work, and work doesn’t get much dirtier than slitting your uncle’s throat in the middle of a crowded restaurant. It also doesn’t hurt to have more money than God, so that you can publicly offer a sizable reward for any person or persons savvy enough to spring you from incarceration.
Ben Foster in Hostage (2005)
In a year that featured Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sin City, A History of Violence and The Devil’s Rejects, Hostage proved to be an overly violent, oft-forgotten, but surprisingly thrilling film. So goes Foster’s overly violent, oft-forgotten, but surprisingly thrilling performance as Mars, the deviant among deviants who lashes out when cornered and realizes that he has more fun doing the cornering.