Big budget thrills from T2 to the gritty realism of Heat, the 1990s gave way to some of the greatest action films ever made. These action-packed classics come with a handful of iconic villains.
In golden eye, James Bond got tangled up with a former 00 agent who had been presumed dead. In The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan Kenobi sliced an evil Sith Lord in half with his fallen master’s lightsaber. In The matrix, Keanu Reeves’ Neo simultaneously battled an army of black-suited computer programs and an existential crisis stemming from his destiny to become a messianic superhero.
ten Cyrus “The Virus” (Con Air)
Nicolas Cage starred in a bunch of high-octane, high-concept action movies throughout the 1990s. One of the most entertaining is Air conditioning, in which Cage is trapped on a plane with a gang of sadistic criminals.
John Malkovich leads the villains as Cyrus “the virus”. Everyone in this movie is an over-the-top pulp archetype played to perfection by an overqualified actor like Steve Buscemi or Ving Rhames – or, indeed, John Malkovich.
9 Howard Payne (speed)
Described as “die hard in a bus,” Speed stars Keanu Reeves as a cop who ends up on a bus that’s been rigged with a bomb that will explode if its speed drops below 50 mph. The bomb was planted by psychotic villain Howard Payne.
Just as Reeves’ portrayal of Jack Traven as a straight arrow differentiates the character of the relatively flawed John McClane, Dennis Hopper’s depiction of the villainous Payne as an unpredictable sadist differentiates him from the cold, collected Hans Gruber.
8 Darth Maul (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace)
Generally, The Phantom Menace was a very polarizing film. Jar Jar Binks and political discourse divide the star wars fan base. But one thing all fans and critics could agree on was that the movie’s villain was awesome.
A peerless Devil-like martial artist, Darth Maul is one of the most terrifying Sith Lords in the world. star wars canon – and he’s responsible for the film’s most devastating moment when he kills Qui-Gon Jinn in cold blood.
seven John Hammond (Jurassic Park)
Richard Attenborough did a fantastic job of bringing John Hammond’s ‘dark Walt Disney’ characterization to the screen in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of jurassic park. Escaped dinosaurs terrorize the protagonists throughout the film, but the real monster is the corporate lord who played God and brought these dinosaurs back to life to increase his company’s profits.
Dr. Ian Malcolm sums up Hammond’s delusions of grandeur perfectly: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could or could not that they didn’t stop to think if they had to.”
6 Neil McCauley (heat)
Michael Mann’s sleek LA neo-noir Heat is the quintessential cat-and-mouse thriller. It paired Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on screen for the very first time. De Niro plays a bank robber named Neil McCauley, while Pacino plays the cop on his trail, Lt. Vincent Hanna.
Neil’s success as a bank robber stems from his ability to drop everything and move on when the law closes in, but he’s reluctant to leave Los Angeles after falling in love – which ultimately becomes his downfall.
5 T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
James Cameron’s explosive and epic sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day shakes up the formula of the first film. In the first, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 was sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor in order to prevent the birth of her son, Resistance leader John Connor.
In T2, a reprogrammed T-800 is sent as a protector while the even more advanced T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, is the assassin assigned to kill John himself. The threat of the T-1000 raises the stakes of the story’s conflict (and the spectacle of its action sequences).
4 Bodhi (breaking point)
Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze were perfectly matched in the lead roles of Johnny Utah and Bodhi in the action buddy Breaking point. Utah is an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates a gang of surfers who also rob banks on the side.
Bodhi is the leader of the gang, which Utah finds so charismatic that he can’t bring himself to stop him. Swayze is charming and fascinating enough to make this goofy premise believable.
3 Catwoman (Batman Returns)
Danny DeVito was perfectly chosen to play the Penguin in Tim Burton Return of Batman, but Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show as the sequel’s other villain, Catwoman. Pfeiffer offers a quintessential take on the character as the ultimate femme fatale and shares terrific chemistry with Michael Keaton’s Caped Crusader.
Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle has a real sadistic side. The actor plays her with a horror sensibility, similar to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Burton’s previous Batman movie.
2 Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye)
Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond was first presented to the public in golden eye. In the opening scene, 007 infiltrates a chemical weapons factory with another 00 agent, Alec Trevelyan (006), played brilliantly by Sean Bean. Trevelyan is seemingly killed during the opening mission, and grief over his supposed death becomes the emotional backbone of Bond’s character arc throughout the film.
Then, mid-act, Bond is shocked by the shocking twist that reveals that not only is Trevelyan alive and well; he’s the latest villain to plague MI6.
1 Agent Smith (The Matrix)
Hugo Weaving gave a haunting performance as Agent Smith, Neo’s nemesis, in The matrix. He was also one of the few saving graces in critical sequels. The new Agent Smith in The Matrix Resurrections – played by Jonathan Groff – only served to underscore how perfect Weaving was for the role.
Agents are sinister AIs tasked with eliminating human simulacra that threaten the stability of the program. Weaving stars as a cold-hearted bureaucrat armed with a monotone but captivating voice.
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