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Top Actors in "Bad Guy" Film Roles

Updated on April 17, 2013



I am starting with Richard because to me this is the epitome of "Bad Guy" in a film. Widmark starred as Tommy Udo, small time hood with a blood curdling laugh and an insatiable grin from ear to ear.

More importantly, this was Widmark's very first film and he was nominated for an Academy Award. Whenever I think of Hollywood bad guys, Tommy Udo is the first one that comes to mind.

One can never forget Tommy pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. Ever since that role, I continued to listen for Widmark's erie laugh in his future films.



Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, ex-con who is idolized by the neighborhood kids. Rocky's best friend as a kid was Jerry Connolly who grows up to be a priest. Father Connolly is constantly trying to get his old friend to change his gangster ways for the sake of the boys who think he is such hot stuff.

Cagney is given a death sentence and Father Connolly asks him to pretend to be afraid for the boy's sake. If he goes to the chair as a tough guy, the boys will still admire him.

Cagney walks down the last mile to the hot seat acting as tough as ever to the guards. Father Connolly looks on in despair. But, when they strap Rocky into the chair he starts to squirm and squeal and pretty soon he is squealing like a pig and begging for mercy. Father Connolly has a smile on his face. He thinks Rocky has done him the favor he wanted for the boys.

We will really never know if Rocky did it for the boys, or was just plain scared.



Christoph, in my opinion, gave the best performance I have ever witnessed as a bad guy in a film. He was truly magnificent as a German interrogator in this wartime film. This was the first time I had seen or heard of Waltz.

For his role of excellence, he won an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.



De Niro took this role to the limits when he shaved his head and began his vigilance against the filth in the streets of New York.

Both Robert and Jodie Foster were nominated for Academy Awards for their roles; his as a Vietnam veteran and Jodie as a street prostitute who De Niro tries to save from herself. 



I just love this man. Alfonso was a Mexican star who made many American films. He is so memorable because of his voice and the way he expressed himself. His laugh mixed with his violent temper made a lasting impression upon me.

In Treasure, he was stopped by Humphrey Bogart and asked for his badge. His reply is one of the great lines in film history, voted #36 on the American Film Institute list; "Badges: We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

You would have to hear Alfonso say it to appreciate it.



Robinson plays Rico who becomes a gang leader known as Little Caesar. E.G. is one of the great actors of all time, both in bad guy roles and in straight roles. In this film, he is a pioneer of film gangsters who would become immortalized. Funny how the little guys in Hollywood such as Robinson, Cagney and George Raft would play the tough guys in films.

Another famous quote comes from this film when Rico is laying in the street, a victim of a bullet and he says, "Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Rico?"



Ernie plays sergeant of the guard at the military brig, Fatso Judson. Fatso is a fun loving, piano playing man until provoked to cruelty. Then, he loves to dish it out as he did to private Angelo Maggio played brilliantly by Frank Sinatra.

Fatso is crude, mean and unrelenting in his punishment to those he dislikes. Funny how Borgnine would go on to win an Oscar for portraying a gentle man in Marty.



Strother is one of the all time great supporting actors as demonstrated in Luke. His southern drawl taken to its limits was a perfect match for his delivery of memorable lines in this film. Strother plays Captain of the prison farm.

One early line was, "Now, I can be a good guy, or I can be one real mean sum-bitch." However, the most famous and most often repeated comes after Luke, portrayed brilliantly by Paul Newman is once again disobedient to authority. Captain says, "What we got here is... failure to communicate."



One of the rare times ever for Fonda to play a bad guy. This gentle, soft spoken man most always played the good guy, the defender of the right, the man you could trust with your son and daughter.

But, in this film, Frank, as he was called is as ruthless as can be imagined. His eyes command the film as they stare right through you. He is so ruthless that he slaughters an entire family including small children.


BEN HUR 1959

Boyd plays Messala, Caesar's choice for military rule in Judah. He was best friend to Judah Ben-Hur played by Charlton Heston, but when push comes to shove he becomes his worst enemy.

He is run over by chariots during a race with Heston and as he lay dying he begged for his men to bring Ben-Hur to him. He then gave a brilliant performance while he lay squirming and gritting his teeth with unimaginable pain as he spit out his hate for Judah.



Okay, I know you younger film-goers will argue that Robert De Niro was the best Max Cady in his remake of Cape Fear in 1991. Please take the time to see the original with Mitchum made in 1962.

De Niro is made up to play the bad guy with his stringy hair and tattoos. That does not do it for me. Mitchum needs no stringy hair, or tattoos to be ugly and vicious. His performance is just outstanding and is delivered by a man who is somewhat clean cut and nice looking. He just delivers the evil and violence with his skills as an actor and I for one was convinced.


I did not list a particular film for Henry because he was such a great bad guy in so many films such as Manchurian Candidate, The Boss and Sharky's Machine.

Silva was on a radio show in Dallas and I called to talk to him. I told him that I thought he was the best "Bad Guy" ever in movies. I don't think he appreciated it. He even says in his bio that he doesn't know why everyone thought of him as a bad guy when in fact he is a really nice guy.

He was one of the original Rat Pack members along with Sinatra, Dean and Sammy. For me, I will always think of him when asked about Bad Guys in films. He had the look and the talent and came across as the true personification of evil. Sorry, Henry!



This actor just blew me away with his performance as the ruthless, merciless British commander who did not believe in taking prisoners.

In one scene, he has his men round up all the town's citizens and put them in a barn and then sets fire to the locked barn.

His fight to the death with Heath Ledger is one you won't soon forget. Terrific actor!



Spencer normally played the good guy, but took a detour with this film in which he actually does play a good guy as Dr. Jekyll, but after drinking a potion of his experimental drug he becomes the sadistic, womanizing Mr. Hyde.

Ingrid Bergman is one of his frightened victims in his quest for dominance over women. Tracy, nominated 9 times for an Academy Award is superb as always.



It is still amazing to me that a man can smile and be thought of as villainous and evil while doing so. This outstanding actor brought to the screen a really nasty and ruthless bad man to go up against Clint Eastwood, the so-called good guy.

Gene's talent as a monster is remarkable since in real life he is quite the decent and humble human being.



Who can ever forget Jack staring through the opening in the door that he just smashed and quoting that famous everlasting line, "Here's Johnny!"

Again, we find a man always smiling as he demonstrates his psychopathic ability to scare his victim.



Both Hopkins and Jodie Foster won the Academy Award for their lead roles. Anthony, playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter is magnificent in his cunning portrayal of an educated man with psychopathic tendencies taken to their highest levels.

He works on people's weaknesses through his overpowering persuasiveness and captive eyes. He almost controls FBI agent, Jodie in her quest to gain information from him.



Wow! What a performance this man gave in this film. He had me believing that Gary Oldman was a really bad dude. Sensational acting as a drugged out underworld character who has no comprehension of life as we know it.

Gary is and has always been a truly remarkable actor. This was one of his best and one that leaves an impression with me.



You had Jack Nicholson's satiric version of The Joker and you had the straight version by Burt Ward, but give me the sadistic, insane version played by Heath.

Ledger simply stole every scene from Batman with his outrageous performance. You could never look away from the screen, or you would miss the fast paced Joker doing his evil.

Brilliant performance by a very talented actor who left us way too early.


SHANE 1953

One of the all time great westerns had the good guy, bad guy theme going all the way through this wonderfully acted, beautifully filmed epic. A man with an obvious past in gunfights, Alan Ladd finds himself in the middle of a range war between the homesteaders and the cattle baron.

Ladd is the defender of the right and to him that would be the homesteader played by one of my favorite, Van Heflin and his wife played by Jean Arthur in her last film.

The cattle baron brings to town a hired gun played by Jack Palance. This guy laughs while he is getting ready to shoot you and laughs as he is pulling the trigger. A beautiful piece of work by Palance who had been the bad guy in many of his films, but will mostly be remembered in Shane, especially when he guns down the little homesteader in the street played by long time character actor Elisha Cook, Jr.. The bad guy fires and the little guy is thrown backwards into the muddy street by the impact and all the while Jack is smiling.

Of course, this brings a final showdown between Ladd and Palance, the man dressed in black and Ladd prevails.

In the end, as Ladd rides off into the sunset, Heflin's son, played by Brandon De Wilde calls out the phrase still heard around the world today, "Shane! Come back!


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    • discovery2020 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from GARLAND, TEXAS

      You know, I started to put Pesci and forgot to add him. Appreciate the comments.

    • Rain Defence profile image

      Rain Defence 

      7 years ago from UK

      Although not a bad guy as such, I always think of Robert Pesci in Goodfellas when I think of actors who have played psychos/bad guys. He is very scary when he plays an unhinged gangster, even though in most films he is just a nice cuddly little man.

      Someone else who did a great job was Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting. Not really a bad guy, but an excellent nutcase.

    • DoctorDarts profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice one, I'll have to check some of these movies out, only seen a handful of 'em.

    • discovery2020 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from GARLAND, TEXAS

      You need to quit working so hard. Good to hear from you, again. Thanks for comments.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I have a lot of catching up to do since I haven't been on HP for longer than few minutes most days but this is a good list. I haven't seen most of these flicks with the exception of Dark Knight but Heath Ledger was simply brilliant. Great hub!

    • randy360 profile image


      7 years ago from Greeley, Co.

      Great additions to the list, who knows, you might just spring up some more.

    • discovery2020 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from GARLAND, TEXAS

      Hey, Randy. I also forgot one that I intended to list, Gary Oldmam in True Romance. Take another look. I have added Oldman and Ledger. Thanks for the heads up.

    • discovery2020 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from GARLAND, TEXAS

      Thanks, Randy. Funny, the moment I finished and published I thought about Heath. I had just mentioned him in another film, Patriot and it rang a delayed bell. Thanks for stopping by.

    • randy360 profile image


      7 years ago from Greeley, Co.

      What about Heath Ledger as the Joker, made the part more sinical and psychotic, better then any other actor that portrayed the part. Loved Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, revived his career and brought him back into acting. Jack Nicholson was great in The Shining, though the movie didn't stay true to Stephen Kings book, he (Stephen King) didn't enjoy making the movie. All in all amazing choices.


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