Is there a Hans Gruber in the house?
Can Hannibal Lecter come out and play?
Darth Vader, please report to the principal’s office.
You know where I’m heading with this: It’s our annual list of the most memorable movie villains of the year.
Heroes are only as good as their villains are bad. A worthy adversary is necessary in measuring the worth of our heroes.
Every actor will tell you that it’s more fun to play a villain than a hero. The good guy must stay within a structure and conduct himself by certain rules of behavior, which can be confining for an actor. But a bad guy doesn’t have to play by the rules so it is inherently more freeing than a leading man role.
But not all villains are created equal.
Some villains are dastardly but delightful, like the aforementioned Hans Gruber, played so well by British actor Alan Rickman in “Die Hard.” Likewise, Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader are villains we love to hate.
The flip side to those lovable villains, of course, are the movie characters we don’t like so much but love to watch on the big screen. Amon Goethe, the sadistic Nazi camp commandant of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” played with chilling efficiency by Ralph Fiennes, and Nurse Ratched of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (Louise Fletcher) are not the kinds of people you’d like to meet in a dark alley, although you love them in a darkened movie theater.
The performance of a great villain is etched in our movie memories. Not-so-great movie villains are forgotten before you get to your car.
So, how does this year’s crop of movie villains look? Do any of them have staying power? Will any of them be remembered 10, 20 or 30 years from now? The only test is the test of time.
Here are our nominees for the most memorable movie villains of 2013. Do you think any of them could be a classic villain like Auric Goldfinger? Or perhaps they will be dismissed like Mel Gibson’s Luthor Voz in “Machete Kills”?
1. Edwin Epps — Played by Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave,” he is the sinister slave owner who is so much more complicated than the classic mustache twirler of the Silent Era, who would look into the camera and twirl his mustache as he tied the damsel to the railroad tracks. The best villains are complex, and Epps is conflicted as he inflicts beatings on the same young female slave that he also covets. It is a performance that not only will be remembered, but might bring Oscar nominations to both Fassbender and his victim, a young actress fresh out of the Yale School of Drama — Lupita Nyong’o.
2. Bilal — The terrorist leader opposite Tom Hanks in the thriller “Captain Phillips” was played by newcomer Barkhad Abdirahman, who responded to an ad in a Minneapolis newspaper. The filmmakers conducted their search for actors to play Somali pirates within the substantial Somali community in Minnesota. Who knew there was a substantial Somali community in Minnesota?
3. Khan — Benedict Cumberbatch (that’s right, another British actor) plays Captain James T. Kirk’s formidable foe in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and almost makes us forget Ricardo Montalban, who first breathed life into the Khan character in the 1982 film “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan,” which remains to many the best “Star Trek” ever. And one of the reasons is the film’s awesome villain.
4. General Zod — Like Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon of “Boardwalk Empire” fame had to deal with the ghost of the villain’s originator (Terrence Stamp in the 1978 film “Superman”) when he pulled rank on the “Man of Steel.”
5. Loki — Let’s see, sibling rivalry leads one brother to try to kill the other brother. Where have we heard that story before? Tom Hiddleston played Thor’s villainous brother in “Thor” and “The Avengers,” and then reprised the character in the 2013 film “Thor: The Dark World.”
6. Alien — It may have seemed as if James Franco made an appearance in every movie in 2013, but that’s not exactly true. He appeared in only half of them, and one of them was “Spring Breakers.” Former teen princesses Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez got all the media attention for trying to change their squeaky-clean images, but it was Franco who stood out as a drug and arms dealer who bails the young women out of jail and then mentors them in a life of crime.
7. Butch Cavendish — Not much can be said about “The Lone Ranger,” but William Fichtner’s villain was truly villainous. The bird on Johnny Depp’s head was a close second.
8. The Mandarin — Ben Kingsley’s terrorist leader in “Iron Man 3” is not what he seems. That’s all we can say under penalty of death.
9. Harlan DeGroat — Woody Harrelson in “Out of the Furnace” is not channeling Woody Boyd of “Cheers.”
10. President Snow — Donald Sutherland is a politician that everybody can hate in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” regardless of which side of the aisle you sit.
11. Ed Pegram — Stacy Keach has rarely been more menacing than in his current role in “Nebraska.” He is not a super-villain with dreams of world domination, but he becomes a dominating force in Bruce Dern’s world when he tries to extort money from someone he believes has just won a fortune. It’s a quiet menacing, and it’s done in black and white, so there is danger in the air.
12. Owen Shaw — If you thought Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) was tough in “Fast & Furious 6,” imagine how tough villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) is when he tells Dom: “I can reach out and break you any time I want.”
13. Violet Weston — Meryl Streep could play a can of peas and win an Oscar, so imagine how delightfully sinister she is in “August: Osage County,” based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play. As a villain, she doesn’t technically kill anyone, but what she does to her three daughters is pretty close to character assassination.
14. Smaug — Yes, we’re talking about the dragon in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” This isn’t Puff the Magic Dragon. This is a nasty, trash-talking monster who likes to play with his food before he eats it.
15. The zombies — Remember when I told you that a hero is only as good as his villain? Well, what villain could match Brad Pitt’s pretty face better than millions of zombies in “World War Z”?