As the central character on HBO’s The Sopranos, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) was a lot of things; a ruthless crime boss, a manic-depressive, a loving father, and an intimidating sociopath who was known for having a short temper. Throughout the six-season run, we saw all these aspects to Tony’s character at different times, the worst of him always capable of revealing itself at a moment’s notice, turning a room dark with his menacing presence. If you want to experience that change and the magnificence of James Gandolfini in full, you can always stream all episodes of the show on HBO Now, but if you need an appetizer or a reminder, here’s a look at Tony’s most intimidating, unnerving, and downright terrifying moments.
Moving in on the hotel business – “Denial, Anger, Acceptance”
A Hasidic man named Shlomo Teittleman (Chuck Low) looks to help his daughter divorce her abusive husband, Ariel (Ned Eisenberg), which, due to their faith, requires him to willfully sign a get (a Jewish divorce settlement). While Shlomo is bound by his faith from acting on this himself, he hires Tony Soprano to solve his problem in exchange for 25 percent of his hotel. After Paulie (Tony Sirico) and Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) try unsuccessfully to beat the cooperation out of him, they call Tony for help in the middle of the night. As Ariel lays there, confidently telling the story of 900 Jewish soldiers holding back Roman forces of more than 15,000, he asks snidely, “where are the Romans now?”
“You’re looking at ’em,” says Tony, towering over him, a formidable presence even in his bathrobe and slippers. His intimidation isn’t limited to Ariel, either. Afterwards, when Shlomo tries to recant on their agreement, Tony takes the same ruthless, unyielding stance with him as he had his soon-to-be former son-in-law.
Enforcing the dress code – “Boca”
One of Tony’s rare ‘old school’ mobster moments comes when he goes out to eat at a nice restaurant with Artie (John Ventimiglia), and the two become increasingly irritated with another patron wearing a baseball cap. Tony handles the situation rather calmly, by making a crack about how they don’t serve hotdogs there before simply staring the guy down until he takes it off. Of course, being an ‘old school’ moment, he remains a gentleman and sends him over a nice bottle of wine afterwards.
Disagreeing with Dr. Melfi’s analysis – “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano”
After spending the first season using his therapy to help him handle his Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese), a failed attempt on his life prompts Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) to finally starts spelling out what she’d been pushing him toward for some time — the idea that his mother was responsible. While anyone would have a hard time facing such a realization, Tony reacts by destroying her glass table, then getting less than an inch away from her face, telling her “that’s my mother we’re talkin’ about!”
Coming to collect from Davey Scatino – “The Happy Wanderer”
“You know I’m good for it,” pleads Davey Scatino (Robert Patrick), Tony’s old high-school buddy who finds himself in considerable debt after sitting in on Tony’s newly inherited ‘Executive’ card game. Once things start wrapping up, Tony tells him bluntly that he has “exactly one day” before he expects to start collecting on the principle owed to him. After that one day has come and gone, Tony comes to collect payment, staring Davey down as he lazily looks for excuses, assuming their friendship will give him some kind of pass. Tony’s stone-cold gaze says otherwise, before attacking him in his office, assuring him that their friendship won’t be a factor here.
Putting Richie in his place – “Toodle-F*cking-Oo”
Richie Aprile (David Proval) expected a lot when he was released from prison. The older brother of the old acting boss, right away goes out and brutally attacks Beansie Gaeta (Paul Herman), a civilian sandwich-shop owner that he tries to shakedown for cash, claiming he feels disrespected by his lack of visitation. Despite being told by Tony to lay off, Richie ignores the order, running Beansie down in his car, making him a paraplegic. When Tony calls a meeting with him at a mall (a setting that, among everything else, rubs Richie the wrong way), he tells him under no uncertain circumstance that he is the one in charge, and that if he had a problem with that, he would have a very big problem, before pointing to himself and clarifying “a bad one.”
A neighborly visit with Angie – “Second Opinion”
After Big Pussy’s widow, Angie Bompensiero (Tony Kalem) runs into Carmela (Edie Falco) at the supermarket, she casually mentions her dog’s sickness before slipping in a comment about struggling to make ends meet with her husband gone. Once Tony gets word of this, he pays her a visit, and with the site of a new Cadillac in the driveway, he smashes out the window, before honking the horn in order to drive her out of the house. While the entire scene is brimming with tension, as Tony rather frankly explains what he doesn’t want discussed with his wife, it’s when Big Pussy’s old dog runs up to jump on Tony that you can’t help but hold your breath while fearing for the worst possible outcome. Luckily, Tony happens to be an animal lover.
The gift of a good golf club – “Second Opinion”
What good is being the mob boss of north Jersey if you can’t use your power to intimidate the cancer surgeon (Fred MacMurray) that’s been avoiding your sick uncle for the last several days? Again, it’s one of Tony’s classier moments as he brings Dr. Kennedy a new golf club as a simple courtesy, the kind he expects to see repaid toward Junior.
Slapping Jackie Jr. around in the bathroom – “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power”
Tony, Silvio, and Christopher (Michael Imperioli) head out to the new strip club in town when Silvio spots Jackie Jr. (Matt Cerbone) getting a lapdance, despite him dating Tony’s daughter, and having repeatedly promised to straighten up his act. Pulling him into the bathroom, he throws Jackie against a wall, demanding that he put his hands up and fight him. Refusing to do so, he cowers before Tony and tells him coldly that he “bottomed out,” before receiving a knee in the stomach.
Tony stops short of killing Gloria – “Amour Fou”
After Tony tries to break off his affair with Gloria Trillo (Annabella Sciorra), she becomes a blubbering mess, calling him at work and rambling incoherently into the phone. Against his better judgment, he goes to her house, where after another failed attempt to break things off, she threatens to tell his wife and his children about their affair. It’s then that Tony goes from (relatively) calm and (sort-of) compassionate to his old table-flipping self, storming his way through her house where he starts to choke her in a blind rage. The breath she gasps for are used to ask him to kill her, even spitting in his face to help make it happen. Though he eventually relents, it’s Tony at his most raw and visceral.
Christopher’s defiance is not met kindly – “Army of One”
After a botched card-game robbery, Christopher insists it was Jackie Jr. who was responsible, and vows to kill him that very night. Tony forbids it, refusing to give him an explanation besides the mob-boss equivalent of, ‘because I said so.’ Christopher, feeling betrayed by his decision, more or less throws a tantrum, telling Tony that he used to love him. Tony simply grabs him by the collar and shoves him against the wall, spouting “you don’t have to love me. But you will respect me,” all while his eyes flare with a deadly severity.
Controls Ralph in the E.R. waiting room – “Whoever Did This”
With Ralph’s son, Justin (Dane Curley), badly injured after playing with a friend, he quickly becomes unhinged, blaming the accident on everyone from his mother, to her new husband, and even the boy he was playing with. Tony, quick to intervene, easily overpowers Ralph, throwing him against the wall and forcing him to calm down. It’s an important reminder of not only Tony’s size, but the raw physical strength he employs, as it won’t be the last time he uses it against Ralph.
Taking over bear patrol – “Two Tonys”
With the two of them separated and Tony living at his mother’s old house, Carmela and A.J. (Robert Iler) are soon plagued by a late-night visit from a black bear. Tony sends members of his crew to guard his old house, before a crushing rejection from Dr. Melfi (who Tony was trying to pursue romantically) prompts him to take guard duty himself. With a cigar in his mouth and a semi-automatic weapon at his side, he makes even sitting on the back patio a menacing sight.
Takes Christopher out to execute him – “Irregular Around The Margins”
Tony’s flirtatious relationship with Adrianna (Drea De Mateo) gets close to out of control, and the two get into a car wreck late one night. The ensuing gossip eventually gets back to Christopher, the betrayal pushing him off the wagon and on a violent, drunken bender. Once Tony has control of him, they drive far out into the country. With Christopher kneeling down on a dirt road, Tony shoves a gun in his face, telling him to move past the rumors, and that if he can’t, then, “this is as far as we go.” While Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) eventually convinces everyone to try his workaround, for those few moments, Tony was ready to pull the trigger.
Letting his greed get the best of him – “Chasing It”
Not an outright intimidating moment as much as it is a representation of the worst aspects of his character, Tony begins to feel desperate as his gambling losses start to get more and more out of control. Once Carmela’s spec house helps make her some money, he tries to convince her to put it on a Jets game, based on some insider knowledge he’s privy to. When Carmela pushes back on the idea, Tony’s anger gestates inside him, eventually throwing the substandard construction of the house back in her face, calling out her business sensibilities, and even going so far as to claim it will kill everyone living in it. It’s Tony at his loudest, lewdest, and most despicable.