Even in the most lighthearted movies, there’s usually some kind of villain attempting to foil the good guys. It doesn’t always have to be as blatant as a cackling madman threatening a city with a bomb; sometimes it’s a low-key character who simply makes off-putting comments or can’t be seduced.
However extreme a villain is, the actor behind the sinister personality has to nail the role or viewers won’t buy into the film (talk about pressure). These 20 actors turned up the evil to bring moviegoers some of the most intense and memorable characters of all time — but you wouldn’t have guessed it just by looking at them.
1. Jason Vorhees: Stuntman Kane Hodder, the man behind the hockey-masked killer, suffered severe burns after a stunt went wrong. Because of the burns, he was initially chosen to play Freddy Krueger before losing the role to Robert Englund.
2. Alien: Nigerian design student Bolaji Bodejo landed his only movie credit ever playing Ridley Scott’s intergalactic monster — and going toe-to-toe with Sigourney Weaver — because of his height: 6’10!
3. Apocalypse: Actor Oscar Isaac admitted playing the role of Marvel super villain Apocalypse was “excruciating” due to the heavy prosthesis and makeup. He frequently overheated, and the whole experience hampered his enjoyment of making the film.
4. Darth Maul: It took a true martial artist to pull off the double-sided lightsaber-wielding Star Wars villain’s moves, so professional stuntman and actual martial arts expert Ray Park was the perfect man for the job.
5. The Night’s King: Richard Brake petrified Game of Thrones audiences with a piercing stare, but due to scheduling conflicts and a disinterest in Long Nights, he left the show after season five. His replacement, Vladimir Furdik, brought the same intensity.
6. The Joker: Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker was put to shame by the sadistic life Heath Ledger breathed into the character. It was so intense that Ledger slipped into a serious depression and died as a result of a prescription medication overdose.
7. John Fitzgerald: Sean Penn first earned the role of The Revenant’s cold-blooded John Fitzgerald. But after he dropped out, Leonardo DiCaprio called up Tom Hardy and personally asked him to take the part.
8. Hans Landa: Quentin Tarantino claimed General Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds was “one of the greatest characters I have ever written.” Christoph Waltz earned himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his slam dunk performance.
9. Emperor Commodus: Gladiator director Ridley Scott said he had Joaquin Phoenix in mind to play the merciless Emperor Commodus long before the role was cast. Phoenix, feeling the character, ad-libbed the iconic line, “Am I not merciful?”
10. The Joker: Jared Leto reportedly annoyed many of his fellow actors on set by playing dark and absurd pranks to get himself into the Joker’s mindset. “I took a pretty deep dive [into his psyche]” Leto said. “But this was a unique opportunity… It was fun.”
11. Voldemort: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from the Harry Potter films almost never saw actor Ralph Fiennes step into the role. The actor knew nothing about the series, but his sister’s young children convinced him to take it.
12. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg: His name is quite a mouthful, and so were the irreverent traits Gary Oldman brought to this villain from The Fifth Element. Interestingly, he later admitted he can’t “bear” the film. Well, at least he did a memorable job.
13. Cruella de Vil: The puppy-hungry villain from 101 Dalmations was perfectly played by Glenn Close, but the role didn’t come without some scares. The corsets on her over-the-top outfits were so tight she almost fainted a few times!
14. Maleficent: Disney executives wanted to take advantage of her stunning looks when marketing Maleficent, but Jolie objected; instead, she worked closely with the costume and makeup crews to achieve her menacing appearance — she wanted to be a true villain!
15. The Mandarin: Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley flexed his villain chops in Iron Man 3 as The Mandarin. A producer said the former Gandhi actor was “so excited about his part and so into this character, and frankly just scaring the heck out of everybody” on set.
16. John Ryder: Actor Rutger Hauer’s role in The Hitcher serves as a grave reminder to avoid hitchhikers. In fact, fellow actor C. Thomas Howell admitted he was terrified of Hauer both on and off set because of his intensity.
17. Queen of Hearts: Helena Bonham Carter’s sassy persona in Alice in Wonderland is actually a combination of two book characters: The Red Queen from Through the Looking Glass and The Queen of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
18. Anton Chigurh: The Coen brothers chose Javier Bardem for the ultra-violent role of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men because of his hatred of violence. Bardem ranked the character as the “least human” of any he’d ever played. “There’s no empathy,” he said.
19. Hannibal Lecter: Audiences were captivated — and terrified — by Sir Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of the cannibalistic killer, Doctor Hannibal Lecter, in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins is only onscreen for a total of 24 minutes, but he earned an Oscar for the role. Wow.
20. Vision: Actor Paul Bettany embodied this mutant to perfection and stole every scene he was in. Incredibly, he received the call about the role literally minutes after a Hollywood producer told him his career was dead. What a way to prove someone wrong.
Actors who portray evil characters can absolutely make or break a film — horror films especially. Aside from villains, though, there are plenty of classic films hiding details that make both the films and the actors even more enticing!
1. The Thing: If only the researchers spoke another language, they could’ve saved themselves a lot of trouble. When a husky runs into their camp, a Norwegian stranger — whom they ignore — yells in his native tongue, “That’s not a dog, it’s some sort of thing! It’s imitating a dog, it isn’t real!”
2. Scream: Just because director Wes Craven is a master of horror doesn’t mean he’s afraid to poke fun at himself. He cameos as a janitor in his first Scream flick dressed like his most famous creation, Freddy Krueger.
3. A Quiet Place: Human survivors in this horror have to keep silent, or blind aliens will hunt them down. That’s why all the bags of potato chips in this pillaged grocery store are still on the shelves. They’re too noisy to eat!
4. It: You’ll probably miss this detail the first time around, but Pennywise the Clown can turn his eyes from yellow to blue. He does this to lure George Denbrough, who also has blue eyes, into the sewer.
Reddit / DrAneurysm
5. The Dark Tower: Speaking of Stephen King’s evil clown, this 2017 flick references Pennywise. The young protagonist Jake wanders through an abandoned fairground, which features some creepy balloons and the clown’s name on a sign. Just another connection in the multi-layered King universe!
6. Land of the Dead: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright lovingly spoofed the zombie genre in Shaun of the Dead. Iconic director George A. Romero was so impressed that he gave the two of them undead cameos in his 2005 film.
7. Halloween H20: Janet Leigh made horror history in Psycho, in which she drove a stylish Ford sedan. When she appeared onscreen with daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in this Halloween sequel, she was driving the exact same car! Her character here is even named Norma, after Norman Bates’ mother.
8. Final Destination: Before it drops its Rube Goldberg methods of death upon various characters, Final Destination likes to hint at their demises. Before a ladder impales Evan’s eye, for example, magnetic letters spell out the word “eye” on his refrigerator.
9. Hereditary: One exterior shot of the Graham house abruptly cuts from day to night. Once the shadows fall, you can briefly see a ring of cult members surrounding the entire house, though we don’t see them up close until the end of the film.
Reddit / thejohnblog
10. Rosemary’s Baby: To include a bit of levity in an otherwise dark story, Rosemary Woodhouse breaks the fourth wall. When speaking with a neighbor, Rosemary mentions she looks just like model Victoria Vetri. The neighbor responds that she gets that all the time. Funnily enough, Vetri is the actress playing her!
11. Saw: Most viewers don’t figure out the identity of the Jigsaw Killer until the end of the movie, though it’s secretly revealed partway through. This shot shows cancer patient John Kramer lying next to a series of sketches. Close inspection reveals they’re the murderer’s devious traps!
12. Donnie Darko: This deleted scene shows just how much Frank the rabbit has permeated Donnie’s consciousness. When he and his sister carve jack-o’-lanterns, he makes his out to be in the exact shape of Frank’s face.
Reddit / comatthew
13. Psycho: Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock loved making blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos in his films. One of his most difficult to spot appearances comes in the opening minutes of Psycho. You can see him sporting a cowboy hat through an office window.
Alfred Hitchcock Wiki
14. Insidious: Not unlike Wes Craven, scare maestro James Wan enjoys referencing his previous films. In 2011’s Insidious, a chalk portrait of Billy the Puppet from the Saw franchise pops up behind Patrick Wilson.
15. Cabin in the Woods: This Drew Goddard/Joss Whedon film is basically a love letter to the horror genre, with too many references to count. The most obvious one is when the mysterious underground facility lists all the monsters – many taken from other movies — they can unleash on their victims.
16. Signs: The news footage scene of this M. Night Shyamalan fright-fest is probably its scariest, with one of the sinister aliens emerging in a Brazil alleyway. Shyamalan modeled its stride and blurry appearance after the famous Bigfoot photo.
Reddit / SollyMcFatNeck
17. Slither: This film made no secret that it took a lot of inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Thing. It even features a sign for a funeral home run by R.J. Macready, the main character played by Kurt Russell in the 1982 movie.
18. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Some people believe the term “easter egg” may have originated with this cult classic. Crew members scattered literal eggs all over the set, and viewers still enjoy trying to spot new ones in the background.
19. Shaun of the Dead: When Simon Pegg’s character wants to organize a dinner at a local seafood restaurant, he looks up a place called Fulci’s in the phonebook. This is a reference to Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci, known in film circles as the Godfather of Gore.
20. The Shining: The number 42 shows up all over this Stanley Kubrick masterpiece. It’s on Danny Torrance’s shirt, a license plate, and in the movie Summer of ’42, which plays on a TV in the hotel. Critics don’t agree on what exactly this pattern means, but it may represent the inevitability of history repeating itself.
Another Shining theory relates back to the conspiracy that the 1969 moon landing was faked with the help of director Stanley Kubrick. Supposedly, the film contained an apology when Danny discovers Room 237 — a reference to the hypothesized distance between the Earth and the moon (237,000 miles). Not convinced? Take a look at Danny’s sweater…