Alan Rickman turned Hans Gruber into a legendary villain back in 1988. It was his first movie role after a series of TV work. Playing a terrorist hellbent on robbing rich executives in a high tower in Los Angeles, Rickman helped create an iconic movie character. A true villain. The best villains stay in a film addict’s mind decades later. Rickman played a few different unique villains and got me thinking about other great bad guys of cinema. Here are five that come to mind.
Heath Ledger’s Joker(The Dark Knight)
Ledger took over a role that Jack Nicholson made iconic and didn’t just paint a better shade of evil on it, he won an Oscar and created a role that help transcend what comic book bad guys are supposed to be on the big screen. His work led to many interpretations and impersonations. It consumed him and may have led to his early departure. Ledger didn’t just take a script and memorize lines. He did his own makeup, kept a diary as the Joker and locked himself in a hotel room for six weeks becoming this guy. Mastering the walk and the voice. Full immersion. In the end, Ledger made Joker the good guy and made you feel for his character and crave more. It is easily my favorite movie performance of all time and something all movie fans could respect.
Daniel Day Lewis’s Bill The Butcher(Gangs of New York)
Playing the epic bad guy in the old streets of New York facing off against Leonardo DiCaprio’s Amsterdam Vallon, Day Lewis created a nasty, cynical yet charmingly bashful bad guy. Ruthless, tough and all the necessary evil involved. However, Bill had a cause that he deemed noble. He wasn’t a villain or evil in his eyes. He was simply chasing a belief that suited his morals. Like any great bad guy, they aren’t really evil in their eyes. Just chasing a different thing. Worse than the good guy.
Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito(Goodfellas)
The smallest guy in the room who happened to be the toughest. You didn’t want to cross Tommy DeVito because he’d kill you and had help. Sure, Pesci threw a B-side album twist on this character in Scorsese’s Casino, but his most ruthless role will always be Tommy. A guy who beat a man to death with a gun, go to his moms house for dinner and a knife, and then shoot and carve that bloodied man and bury him. He’d oversee the killing of women if they got in the way and even killed a poor bus boy who crossed him. Pesci taught the world that size and muscle doesn’t mean much unless you are fearless.
Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris(Training Day)
Oscar winning performance for a reason. Denzel went full bad here and stepped into evil, playing a corrupt cop in need of a big score on the same day he is training a new detective(Ethan Hawke, the soft innocent foil to Washington’s rage fueled Kong). At first, he was merely corrupt. Then, he turned into a cold blooded murderer. Afterwards, he was willing to hand over his young partner to a drug kingpin in exchange for an escape plan. At the end of the film, you hated to see him go but loved watching him catch a thousand bullets in the chest. After a career of playing bad guys, Denzel went rogue in the most brutal way possible.
Rickman’s Hans Gruber(Die Hard)
The perfect suit. The perfect beard. The perfect silver plated handgun. Ruthless, cunning, and with an accent that even Alfred would be envious of, Rickman burst onto the scene with Gruber. The mastermind terrorist who has a simple plan thwarted by a relentless cop from New York. He was 44 when Die Hard came out, getting a late start in the movies after being content on the stage and on the smaller screen. As much as Willis commanded the screen as the action hero, Rickman held your attention as the action villain. You wanted them to get another movie perhaps and go at it again in a different high rise. Every Die Hard that followed the original wasn’t as good because they couldn’t find a bad guy as good as Rickman. He was a cinematic virgin and after Die Hard, couldn’t stop finding work over the next 25 years.
Rickman was five weeks shy of his 70th birthday when he lost a long battle with cancer this morning. He will be remembered for Harry Potter by most people in their teens and 20’s but for the film addicted souls of the 1970’s and 1980’s he will be Hans. Forever. Rest in peace. Hopefully they buried him in a suit half as good as Hans’.