Who is your favorite movie villain of the 1990s, and why is it Kevin Spacey?
With The Usual Suspects and Se7en to his name, we’ll forever remember Spacey as the undisputed greatest movie villain of the decade, but what about the antagonists hiding in Keyser Soze’s shadow? What about the Hollywood heels who demonstrated enough ingenuity to plot and scheme without tying a damsel to the train tracks? Baddies whose big performances helped define wildly successful films, but who still managed to be overlooked by the Academy and who have been — at least somewhat — forgotten by time?
Here are the 10 most underrated movie villains of the ’90s?
Wesley Snipes in New Jack City (1991)
Of all the villains of all the movies of the ’90s, Snipes is the only one who says, “Sit yo five-dolla ass down ‘for I make change.” If you can’t follow that logic, know that he was nominated for the oh-so-coveted MTV Movie Award for best villain that year, but got lost in the shuffle among Robert De Niro, T-1000 and Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Also, if you listen to his character’s courtroom testimony on the drug war in Harlem with your eyes closed and imagine it’s happening in 2015, he sounds like a Green Party candidate.
Christopher Lloyd in Dennis the Menace (1993)
The score does a lot of the heavy lifting here, but Lloyd proves that sometimes less is more in the film adaptation of the classic ’50s comic strip. Like Captain Hook sauntering through Grover’s Corners, Lloyd plays a vagrant who smokes near playgrounds, steals a little girl’s dolly, creepily chomps his teeth and deprives a young boy of the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables.
Charles Dance in Last Action Hero (1993)
Budget problems, poor critical reception and a sluggish showing at the box office doomed Shane Black’s action movie spoof from the start, but Dance’s performance as the quick-witted Benedict somehow still holds up. More than a decade before he’d control the Iron Throne and rule Westeros with an iron fist on Game of Thrones, Dance pulled a David Caruso and slid his shades down his nose and told us to have a nice day. Also, not every villain can rock a glass eye and a neck tattoo and still look like he’s on his way to shoot a Backstreet Boys video.
Peter Greene in The Mask (1994)
Perhaps the only thing scarier than a wannabe gangster with his back against the wall and a chip on his shoulder is one with a magical mask on his face. Greene’s Dorian was sleazy-scary as a human and downright evil once he commandeered the mask.
Ben Stiller in Heavyweights (1995)
Stiller’s Tony Perkis is the perfect combination of someone who is up his own ass and eager to tell you about his daily workout regimen. It’s like a cross between that annoying marathoner in your office and the self-help dick from Donnie Darko. Perkis also proved to be somewhat of a dry run for Stiller’s other over-competitive villainous role, White Goodman in Dodgeball.
Dennis Hopper in Waterworld (1995)
Hopper is one of the most iconic movie villains of all-time. His turn as the disgraced former cop in Speed might be the most memorable role of his career and his real-life version of King Koopa in Super Mario Bros. is hilarious, if not unforgettable. But it’s his zany, one-eyed portrayal of The Deacon that often falls through the cracks… probably because the film is known more for its budget than its story.
Gary Sinise in Ransom (1996)
You probably think of Sinise as the Gil Grissom stand-in on CSI: NY or as Ken Mattingly in Apollo 13, but his turn in this Mel Gibson vehicle is more entertaining than you remember. If nothing else, it’s fun to watch him throat-chop Liev Schreiber in front of Charlie from Californication.
Gary Oldman in Air Force One (1997)
“Get off my plane!” That’s what most people remember from the classic action film that takes place on President Harrison Ford’s plane. But Oldman slays as international terrorist Ivan Korshunov by employing the three Cardinal rules of playing a villain in the ’90s:
1. Be nostalgic for Cold War Russia
2. Have a goatee
3. Threaten the protagonist’s family
Oldman is believable in an unbelievable role and his portrayal of the decisive, merciless Korshunov led to one of the most memorable movie quotes of the decade.
Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions (1999)
The only thing scarier than Buffy’s particular brand of viciousness in this film is the prequel it inevitably spawned. Her Kathryn Merteuil is dangerous combination of bored and manipulative. Of all of the sociopaths on this list, one could argue that she’s the only one who didn’t have real motive beyond her own sociopathic tendencies. She’s like a cross between Regina George and Jigsaw from Saw. No thank you.
John Malkovich in Con Air (1997)
In a movie with a literal cargo plane full of villains, Malkovich shines as the ruthless ringleader, Cyrus “The Virus.” He’s driven, calculated and equally terrifying during action sequences, seemingly innocuous small-talk and the, um, more lighthearted scenes. “Don’t move, or the bunny gets it.”