Good and evil are all about perspective. In Jaws, the shark is the baddie; in Shark Tale, the shark sounds like Will Smith and is one cool motherfucker. Are some of cinema’s nastiest villains, then, actually given a bit of a bad deal, victims simply of not being the main character? Let’s explore in far greater detail than necessary, because what the hell else is there to do?
Walter Peck, Ghostbusters
In the Film: Peck is an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency, who tries to have the Ghostbusters’ facility shut down due to concerns about waste materials generated by their containment unit. In a heated meeting in the Mayor’s office, he is branded “Dickless” (or, in the TV edit, “Wally Wick”) — actor William Atherton ended up barely able to set foot in a bar without people starting on him as a result, and was occasionally subjected to whole busloads of tourists accusing him of dicklessness.
But Come On: If a group of renegade scientists build a huge, mysterious thing in the middle of a densely populated metropolitan area, then refuse to show it to anyone or explain how it works, 99 times out of 100, letting them get on with it would be a real dumbass move. Peck’s concerns are completely legitimate (for what it’s worth, if Peck’s nemesis Peter Venkman wasn’t played by Bill Murray, you’d probably hate Venkman, too), and he’s treated like a prize a-hole for it. A lot of it is down to Atherton’s performance — he does Resting Dick Face so well.
Prince Hans, Frozen
In the Film: Hans pulls one of the all-time heel turns in the last 10 minutes of the film, going from the dashing, crooning romantic lead to a big, bad bastard. His plan is foiled, and he is sent back to his homeland in disgrace (then shit-talked a lot in the sequel).
But Come On: Here’s the thing about Hans: There is absolutely no defending a man who tries to silence/kill two women just to further his own career… unless he did it entirely against his will? There’s a popular fan theory which is oddly compelling, suggesting his bastardry is actually the work of those weird, annoying trolls that raised hunky ice delivery man Kristoff. In their catchy-but-wildly-problematic number “Fixer Upper,” the trolls claim Anna and Hans’ engagement is something they can take care of easily enough, and they’ve earlier been shown to be capable of wiping and changing people’s memories.
Turning Hans — who has so far been 100 percent noble and, indeed, constantly works against his own evil plan before the turn — into a fuckface probably isn’t beyond them, then, especially if it clears the way for their beloved adopted son to get into the palace. Thus, perhaps Hans’ story isn’t one of villainy, but a tragedy about a guy who gets mind controlled by rock monsters. Just something to think about.
Ed Rooney, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
In the Film: Rooney is the Dean of Students, the man whose job it is to maintain discipline in Bueller’s unnamed high school (which may or may not be the same school the Breakfast Club went to). Adamant Bueller is playing hooky, he spends his day getting hoodwinked and humiliated in more and more embarrassing ways, ending up attacked by dogs and covered in mud. He’s also played by Jeffrey Jones, who is literally a straight-up bad guy.
But Come On: He’s right. He thinks Bueller is skipping school, and Bueller is skipping school. You’re not meant to do that. Sure, he’s got a sneering asshole way about him, is definitely kind of a turd and seems unjustifiably blase about what he thinks is a father-daughter tongue kiss, but he’s totally right.
Shooter McGavin, Happy Gilmore
In the Film: A golf pro, certain his time has come and out to win the PGA Tour, McGavin is a magnificent sleazebag, every sneer and tic oozing shittiness thanks to the peerless work of actor Christopher McDonald. And he eats pieces of shit for breakfast. Humiliated and beaten by Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore, he ends the film by being, uh, beaten to death?
But Come On: Happy Gilmore’s tagline is “He doesn’t play golf… He destroys it.” As utterly pointless and wasteful as golf is, if you’d dedicated your whole life to it, you’d probably feel a bit protective of it, especially against some dude that showed up, openly contemptuous of the game and the traditions surrounding it, freely talking about just being in it for the money. Yeah, resorting to underhand tactics like hiring Joe Flaherty to heckle from a boat is fairly woeful behavior, but nobody is at their best when having their dreams stolen from them.
Colonel Miles Quaritch, Avatar
In the Film: Nobody really remembers what happened in Avatar. There’s a tree made of feelings, and everyone’s blue, but the white guy, Jake Sully, is the best blue guy. The bad guy, Colonel Quaritch, is a none-more-military hardass handling security on a mission to mine unobtainium from beneath Hometree on the Na’vi home-moon of Pandora. Avatar is the second highest grossing film ever made.
But Come On: This is less a case of the bad guy being less of a bad guy on reexamination, than it is of the good guy not being that great by comparison. Quaritch is totally a bastard, but the point of getting the unobtanium is to save Earth, which is overpopulated and starving. Jake Sully has all kinds of wonderful, profound experiences that make him understand the Na’vi, but from Quaritch’s perspective, this guy goes to a few parties with some hot blue people, then decides the hell with humanity and condemns his home planet to death.
Sure, Quaritch’s attitude of “Fuck these aliens” isn’t very nice, but, “My new friends are so cool that I’m happy for everyone I loved prior to meeting them a few days ago to die horribly” arguably isn’t great, either.
Gaston, Beauty and the Beast
In the Film: Gaston is a handsome, muscular hunter with some terrible beliefs about women and reading and a tremendous sense of his own magnificence. Angry after being rejected by Belle — an outcome he had never considered — and her subsequent affection for the eccentric buffalo-man who lives in the woods, he leads an angry mob to try to kill the Beast, and ends up plummeting to his death.
But Come On: Although it’s no excuse for his behavior, Gaston is clearly troubled and in need of therapy — a hypermasculine man trapped by his own ego and vanity, calling out for help (“Why, it’s more than I can bear!” “Nothing helps!”) but receiving none. Everyone just reminds him how big and tough he is — nobody listens. In one early draft of the script, he was to take his own life after realizing Belle would never love him — he’s obviously a massively sexist dick, but nobody deserves that. The Beast — who, let’s not forget, was such a choad that his entire staff gets punished as a direct result of his assholery, and that’s before he starts kidnapping random old dudes and their daughters for smelling his roses — gets years of hairiness to brood, look inwards and improve himself, but Gaston just gets thrown off a fucking building. Bleak.
Ivan Drago, Rocky IV
In the Film: An Olympic boxing champion with a 100-0-0 record, man-mountain Drago is a seemingly unbeatable killing machine, ruthlessly beating veteran fighter Apollo Creed after the bell and killing him, dismissing it with a cold-blooded, “If he dies, he dies.” He’s eventually beaten by good ol’ Rocky.
But Come On: Even without the sort-of redemption he gets in Creed II, isn’t Drago at least slightly sympathetic? While Balboa’s training is of the meat-and-potatoes, help-a-horse-up kind, all lumberjacking and farting about with carriages with his pals, Drago is connected to computers and pumped full of mysterious goops, treated more like a weapon than a man. We all felt sorry for Wolverine when he was treated like that, but when it’s a 6-foot-6 Russian, everyone’s like, “Ooh, fuck this guy.”
The FBI, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
In the Film: While peaceful, beer-swilling alien E.T is having adventures and psychically teaching his young friend how to free enough frogs that you make out with Erika Eleniak, the Feds are trying to get ahold of him for way less fun purposes. Although their intentions are never explicitly stated (“They’ll give it a lobotomy or do experiments on it or something”), they’re presented as a kind of faceless force for evil, grown-ups coming in and ruining everything. In the (legendarily bad) video game adaptation, the two baddies are “FBI Agent” and “Scientist.”
But Come On: If an alien lands on Earth, don’t you kind of want that to be looked into as much as possible? The authorities never say they’re going to harm E.T. — in fact, they work hard to save his life — and the only G-man to get a character, a nameless scientist known in the script only as “Keys,” is pretty nice. No lobotomies anywhere — that’s all speculation on Elliott’s part. As cute and heartwarming as E.T’s lovely escapades are, “Fuck science, fuck the greatest opportunity humanity has ever had to learn about its place in the universe, let’s just hang out eating Reese’s Pieces,” isn’t a great attitude.
Sid, Toy Story
In the Film: Skull-shirted, be-braced Sid loves destroying toys, blowing some up with fireworks and rebuilding others in monstrous chimera form, eventually getting his comeuppance when the toys reveal their sentience, terrifying him.
But Come On: Toys aren’t actually alive. There is no reason for Sid to go about his day-to-day existence worrying about hurting them. Sure, blowing up toys is wasteful and environmentally unsound, but reconstructing them in different configurations is fairly creative, surely? Like, at Sid’s level, it’s not necessarily, “Wow, what a talented and successful artist” creative, but probably “quite good at memes” creative. A less unfortunate-looking version of him could easily be the lead in a quite bad Netflix thing about moody teen outcasts.
Benjamin, Wayne’s World
In the Film: If this guy were an ice-cream flavor, he’d be pralines and dick. He tries to ruin everything Wayne and Garth have, as well as steal Wayne’s girlfriend. What a cock.
But Come On: Isn’t Benjamin’s main crime simply being too goddamned handsome? Apart from in the Scooby-Doo ending where he’s revealed as Old Man Withers in disguise, he really doesn’t do that much wrong — he pays Wayne and Garth for their show, lets them bring their crew with them and only fires them after Wayne suggests, on air, that their main sponsor has no penis. That’s a fairly justifiable firing offense, which Wayne and Garth would know if they’d read their contract, like grown-ups.
Half of the things Benjamin does that are presented as dick moves pretty much come down to “being smart, ambitious and good-looking.” And again, let’s compare him to the so-called good guy, Wayne: Benjamin speaks Cantonese. It’s quite poor Cantonese, and he uses it to make a fairly strange food order including an entire pound of pork, and the thing he says about Kowloon Bay is complete nonsense, but still. Isn’t that at least slightly better than making a lazy-ass “cream of sum yung gai” joke?