Some decades are just built for bad guys it seems. They were allowed to be over the top, severely nasty and even cheesy at times, but they were almost always memorable. Think about this for a moment, the 1980s had some of the absolutely worst bad guys that could have ever been devised in the history of cinema. But we remember them, don’t we? Why is that? Because they made an impact in the way that most bad guys in this day and age don’t seem capable of making. Sad but true.
Here are our picks for the top 20 action movie villains of the 80s
20. Thulsa Doom – Conan the Barbarian
Steel is not strong boy. Flesh is stronger! So he is responsible for killing Conan’s entire village, in a way, and literally beheading his mother while Conan is still holding her hand. And then, once Conan confronts him, he has him crucified. Oh that wasn’t it, then he killed Conan’s woman, and then you just knew it was on. By the time Conan finally repays the favor the taste of revenge is almost sour in one’s mouth, but it’s still satisfying to know that such a vile character finally got his comeuppance.
19. Brad Wesley – Roadhouse
Sometimes the most normal guys are the absolute worst bad guys, in the most devious sense of the word. You look at a guy like Wesley and wonder why anyone would follow him instead of just knocking him off and then taking the influence for themselves? That’s fairly easy to answer, because at the merest hint of betray Wesley would likely shoot the person or sic his hired muscle on them to do the job. Charisma and power, they’re a dangerous mix.
18. Biff Tannen – Back to the Future (all of them)
It’s almost too easy to hate Biff simply because he’s a big dumb ox that likes to hurt people and doesn’t seem to have an ounce of redemption in his entire body. Even when the future is altered and he’s a simpering wimp you can’t help but think that at home he’s still the penultimate jerk he was when he was younger. He’s definitely the guy that viewers were waiting to get roughed up in each movie, just to renew the satisfaction.
17. Ace Merrill – Stand By Me
Street-level gutter snake. Or cheap dime store hood if you prefer. Either way it describes Ace Merrill to a tee. This guy takes the bad boy image to another level entirely, and it’s called psychotic. Any guy willing to cut a kid’s throat over taking the credit for finding a dead kid’s mangled body has a few things missing upstairs to be certain. Also, playing high stakes chicken with a truck carrying a full load of timber seems to suggest that Ace really doesn’t like to lose. While this isn’t as much of an action movie like the rest on this list, come on. Hard to not include Ace. Or you could include Kiefer in The Lost Boys because yeah, that’s awesome too.
16. Ivan Drago – Rocky IV
On some level it’s almost acceptable to respect Drago near the end of this movie. Any other man than Rocky would have gone down and been admitted to the nearest hospital with traumatic brain injury, but despite his dominance in the fight Drago had the look of a man that’s continually wondering “How is this possible?” While it’s assumed that he’s fighting for the glory of his country, the moment he hoists one of his own trainers into the air, with a single hand no less, it is apparent that all thoughts of country have fled from this upstanding patriot.
15. Johnny Lawrence – The Karate Kid
Pain does not exist in this dojo! Okay, Johnny didn’t speak the words but he certainly lived by them. While there are wild theories that Daniel was the real bad guy in this film there’s no doubt that Johnny was not your stand up hero type either. At the very least he’s able to redeem himself later on as he actually presents Daniel with the tournament trophy. We won’t go into how kicks the face seemed to jump the line between legal and illegal hits…
14. Boba Fett – The Empire Strikes Back
Now this is as bad as a bad guy can be without actually being the worst of the bunch. Back in this appearance Boba Fett was not the worst of the bad guys, but he was certainly not on a best friend basis with the Rebellion. Truth be told with as much backstory as Fett has his one beef throughout the entire trilogy was with one man, a guy he eventually caught up to. Maybe it’s his choice of career or his disposition that paint him as a villain, but in all honesty he’s more of a pragmatist than an evil mastermind.
13. Lord Humungus – The Road Warrior
You’ve got to wonder how he gets that big by just sitting on his car and rolling around the desert. Eventually he must get off and get a little bit of a workout in, but standing on his vehicle and pumping his fist at the enemy surely can’t be enough to give this guy that kind of body. Trying to think of anything else to write on this guy is a little difficult considering that he didn’t do much except make threats and choke out one of his own minions.
12. Stan Gable – Revenge of the Nerds
What makes a good villain. Well, superpowers and a devious mind are definitely great qualities. But being prejudiced and having little to no remorse for their actions are just as good. Stan Gable was a guy that had everything and he knew it, but that didn’t seem to be enough when the nerds moved into his university. The unrelenting torment he and the Alpha’s heaped on the nerds eventually came back to bite them with a vengeance as they lost their place on the Greek council and Stan even lost his main squeeze. OK is this an action movie? How could I NOT include Stan?
11. Mama Fratelli – The Goonies
You always loved him best ma. That’s right! (SLAP) Motherly instincts don’t seem to mean much to Mama Fratelli considering she chains one of her sons to the wall of a basement and slaps another one silly just for the heck of it. While she tends to favor the third son she still isn’t much of a mother really. After all, what kind of mother berates her sons after they’ve just been racked on an oil-slicked log?
10. Beetlejuice – Beetlejuice
Let’s just not say his name again, just in case. This guy is a certifiable nightmare wrapped in a thin veneer of hilarity. If he’s not catching flies, literally, he’s getting a little tail at the local cat house. That’s not even to mention the fact that he actually attempts to marry a young girl and kill the former owners of her home. Yeah, he’s a sleaze, but at least it’s funny to watch what happens to him near the end.
9. Al Capone – The Untouchables
I want him dead! I want his family dead! Capone wasn’t one to mince words, either in real life or in cinema. The actors that have played Capone throughout the years have done a fairly good job of capturing the absolutely unbalanced but crafty manner of this infamous criminal, and have the character more relevant in the modern age than ever before. There’s something to be said about a guy that would actually go after another man’s family in such a manner. It’s not good, but there’s still something to be said.
8. Tony Montana – Scarface
Every dog has his day. Some might have thought that this film got off to kind of a slow start, but once it got going there was no stopping. Montana is the kind of villain that knows he’s a bad guy, relishes it, and makes no apologies for the things he does. Cross him and he’ll make sure you don’t do it again, make him angry and there’s no telling what will happen. Mess with his sister and you’d best start praying, because you’re will have just run out.
7. Freddy Krueger – A Nightmare on Elm Street
Krueger is probably one of the most over top villains on this list just for the fact that he dominates a niche that is really hard to fill. How do you fight a guy that attacks you in your dreams? It’s been shown that even the most disciplined mind has trouble standing up to him, and even a guy that can’t die eventually finds that he has his hands full with the likes of Krueger. As diabolical and nasty as he is however, he still has, oddly enough, a playful side that lends an air of corniness to his films in a dangerous, off beat sort of way.
6. Ed Rooney – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
If you’re the type that doesn’t care for truancy, skip days, or any high school shenanigans then you might actually feel for poor Rooney. As much as he tries to nail Ferris Bueller to the wall for his carefree ways and often flippant attitude, Rooney just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to catching him in the act. It might help if didn’t try to be so straight-laced and just took a chill pill now and again, but then he wouldn’t be the same uptight guy that we’ve all come to know and despise.
5. Victor Maitland – Beverly Hills Cop
Now this is a classic movie villain, nasty, unrepentant, and devious as they come. Composing himself as a legitimate businessman and hiring thugs and bullies to do his dirty work, Maitland only has to get his hands dirty when the hero detective finally sees fit to invade his heavily guarded mansion. Some might claim that Foley didn’t really go about things the right way, but when the bad guy seems to enjoy the protective loop holes afforded by the legal system it’s important to remind them that criminal acts such as killing one’s best friend and kidnapping another good friend just aren’t allowed.
4. Clubber Lang – Rocky III
He’ll knock ya into tomorrow Rock! So Rocky didn’t listen and Lang did in fact knock him down so hard that he lost all will to fight. He did do what he said he was going to do, and proved that he was meanest man in the ring to that point. Of course hubris is almost like karma sometimes, you’ve got to watch out before the both circle around and plant their collective foot in the wrong place. While Lang certainly had the drive and the lack of respect necessary to take the title, he didn’t quite have enough development in his game to keep it.
3. General Zod – Superman II
So take the power of Superman with the arrogance of a well-established general and the inherent vicious nature of a dangerous psychopath and what do you get? If you add a bit of ruthless aggression you get Zod, the megalomaniac that in past and recent versions has given Superman a serious run for his money. The Kryptonian superhero has come up against a lot of bad guys in the past, but Zod is especially dangerous because 1) he’s a better fighter than Superman, 2) he has the same power set, and of course 3) he has no compunction about killing, like Superman obviously does. So how does Superman beat him? Well, in the earlier version he traps him, while in the most recent he snaps his neck. Either way seems to work, at least for a little while.
2. Jack Torrance – The Shining
All these villains and Jack Torrance, a common human, makes it this high. Why you might ask? Well imagine a man that creates stories for a living, now imagine him stuck in a vacant hotel where there may or may not be unknown disturbances that have occurred over the years. This man is a writer, so he’s already tethered to reality by a rather thin thread as it is, and all it will take to push him over the edge is an unknown shove in the right direction. The unpredictability of it is why, as a writer and potential killer, Torrance is perhaps one of the most dangerous on the list. Most of the villains shown on the list are very predictable in their methods. A lot of times writers are teetering on the edge of madness by dint of their profession. Let that sink in a bit.
1. Darth Vader – The Empire Strikes Back
There couldn’t possibly be another on this list that could match the dark lord of the Sith for sheer brutality, madness, and all around mayhem. This is a character that has slaughtered thousands, possibly millions, just by the order of his master alone. Whether you go by canon or non-canon, Darth Vader is perhaps one of the most notorious mass murderers within any genre and he is able to keep this title simply because HE DOES NOT CARE. If it’s an orbital bombardment or an up close confrontation with a lightsaber, or even amputating his own son’s hand, nothing seems too despicable for this guy.
He’s not even number one because he’s so far above anyone else that he doesn’t even get a number. Hands down the best movie in any villain in any movie ever and there’s no debate on this, not even a discussion. *In reality there are a TON more than these (Jason Vorhees, Hans Gruber, etc etc) but these are my personal favorites. Sue me. And don’t think we forgot about this guy either.