Those of a certain age group are still stuck in the 1980s, especially when it comes to movies. More specifically, we still can’t get enough of those ’80s villains, bad boys and girls. Those antagonists made cinematic life miserable for our favorite protagonists. We love to hate them.
Whether they were in action films, comedies, or teen romantic dramas, here are our favorite ’80s villains.
There is no more menacing yet cool representation of evil than Darth Vader (played by David Prowse; voiced by James Earl Jones). We were first introduced to him in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope in 1977, but Vader truly had his moment in the 1980 sequel when he alerted the galaxy, and Luke Skywalker, that “I am your father.” Have more stunning and devastating words ever been uttered in science fiction film history?
Not many people are stronger than the “Man of Steel,” but General Zod (Terence Stamp) gave it a run. After Superman inadvertently released Zod and his two fellow criminals from the phantom zone, the ruthless and revenge-fueled Zod aimed to rule the world. While humans are no match for his powers, a conflicted Superman stands in the way of Zod’s world dominance and “must kneel before Zod.”
The late, great Rutger Hauer is stellar as the ringleader of the Nexus-6 replicants. It’s easy for some fans of the movie to be conflicted when it comes to Batty’s like/dislike level. What can’t be argued is that he’s one tough film antagonist with the perfect combination of superhuman strength and off-the-chart intellect.
Rocky Balboa has faced plenty of intimidating opponents, but was there ever one more fierce and determined than Chicago mauler Clubber Lang (Mr. T)? This was Mr. T’s first major film role. It turned him into a household name and led to eventual television stardom with The A-Team. We “pity the fool” who doesn’t think Clubber Lang is one of the best ’80s bad guys.
This is a case where the sequel is better than the original, mainly because Ricardo Montalbán knocks it out of the park as the evil Khan. The genetically engineered antagonist is a menace to James T. Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise, but Montalban is so sensationally ruthless and maniacal that he remains one of the coolest film villains ever.
Maybe it’s not fair that we include the star of his own film, but Al Pacino is so good as drug lord Tony Montana in this remake of the 1930s crime film. Montana is ruthless, violent, obscene, and maniacally fantastic as this unabashed criminal who thinks he’s above the law and the most powerful man in South Florida. Montana and the film still carry plenty of cinematic weight.
This is perhaps the most recognizable horror figure of the 1980s. Actor Robert Englund made a career of playing the boiler-room dwelling, razor-gloved terror who turned dreams into nightmares for five films within this franchise during the ’80s. The original from 1984 is still the best and by far the most frightening.
When we think of ’80s film villains and bad guys, Sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) should quickly come to mind. He wasn’t interested in teaching the art of karate in his Cobra Kai dojo, but rather, he focused on using it to inflict pain. Show no mercy, sweep the leg: all that Hollywood good stuff. Of course, Kreese was never a match for Mr. Miyagi.
William Zabka actually played two memorable teen bad guys during the 1980s. He was solid as the arrogant Chas Osborne in Back To School, but he will always be known as the cocky but talented nemesis of Daniel LaRusso from The Karate Kid. Zabka has kept the role of Johnny going on Cobra Kai.
All-American quarterback Stan Gable (Ted McGinley) was smarmy and conceited. He gave a bad name to all “jocks and face men” who graced a college campus in the 1980s. Of course, the Tri-Lambs got their revenge on Gable and Co. McGinley reprised the role for the forgetful television movie Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation.
Terminator is one of the cooler villains of all time. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic cyborg is also perhaps the deadliest movie bad guy ever. Plus, he’s known for classic lines like “I’ll be back.” Though Schwarzenegger’s Terminator turned good as the film franchise continued, his role in the movie that started it all is still pretty special.
The classic film bully of any decade, Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) is as much a part of the Back to the Future legacy as the DeLorean and Marty’s skateboard. The nemesis and tormentor of George McFly and Marty, Biff is always a pain. Wilson also portrays other annoying members of the Tannen family throughout the film franchise, though Biff is still the biggest moron of the bunch.
There’s usually one high school teacher or administrator who likes to abuse his authority and thinks he’s God or his job is more important than it is. That was Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), the assistant principal at Shermer High, who makes $31,000 per year and threatens the students with “cracking skulls.”
Drago is the closest thing to a human killing machine in film history. And he didn’t need a weapon. The Russian heavyweight (Dolph Lundgren) ended Apollo Creed’s life with no remorse and was poised to do the same to Rocky Balboa. Of course, Rocky is superhuman in his own Hollywood way and managed to essentially end the Cold War in addition to taking down Drago.
Here’s another school figure who likes to flaunt his authority, although Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) was a plain doofus who was hilarious to watch. Though he has many misadventures in trying to catch Ferris, we almost feel sorry for this goofball. There is plenty to love about this classic film, including Rooney’s hilarious incompetence.
Teen bad guys don’t come much sleazier than rich-boy Steff. Of course, James Spader is one of the best at playing the antagonist. The sleaze alert is high with Steff, and Andie (Molly Ringwald) is well aware of how rude, demeaning, and downright despicable he can be. At the end of the day, Steff seems to realize it himself.
There was never a scene in this great Rob Reiner flick where Ace (Kiefer Sutherland) wasn’t an awful human being. He just might be the most hated member of this list.
Here’s one character whom we truly love to hate — unless we’re talking about the film’s famous volleyball scene. The conceited, self-serving, opinionated, and plain annoying “Iceman” might be Val Kilmer’s most memorable role. Ice and “Maverick” have their moments, but he’s still pretty much a jerk.
This list is not limited to men. There aren’t many scarier characters than stalker Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), who became obsessed with Michael Douglas’ Dan Gallagher in this massively popular psychological thriller. Forrest will do anything to keep her fling with the married Dan going, and even his family’s pets aren’t safe.
Jenns might not be the first name that comes to mind in this category. But as a viewer of this fantastic ’80s teen romantic drama, it would have been fun to see what happened to Hardy (Craig Sheffer) when Duncan and Co. busted up the party and perhaps the host’s head. There is nothing to like about the womanizing, self-righteous, pompous Jenns.
The man who told us that “greed is good.” Michael Douglas won an Oscar for portraying Wall Street raider Gordon Gekko. He’s easy to hate, but there is a hint of respect that needs to be thrown his way. Gekko doesn’t care who he has to step over or how he gets his information to make a buck. The confidence exuded by this character is another reason to tip your cap — love him or hate him.
While Bloodsport was Jean-Claude van Damme’s breakout film, bad guy Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) should have left an impression on viewers. He’s less genetically enhanced than Ivan Drago, but he is not above killing a man during competition. Chong Li’s win-at-all-costs mentality is also on display against van Damme’s Frank Dux in one of the best final fights in any martial arts movie from any decade.
He’s right up there with Darth Vader as the greatest movie villain of all time. Gruber doesn’t have that physical, menacing quality, but he’s a diabolical evil genius who gets our blood boiling with every scene. Late legend Alan Rickman is great in the role.
The leader of the “Heather” and Veronica Sawyer clique, Heather Chandler (superbly played by the late Kim Walker) is a true “mean girl” in every sense of the word. She ruled Westerberg High until her untimely demise, had no trouble stepping over or on anybody toward her way to the top of the popularity poll, and was too cool for high school boys. Not to mention, she had some of the best lines in this cult classic.
For years, the ruthless Wesley (Ben Gazzara) extorted money from and essentially made life miserable for business owners of Jasper, Missouri. Wesley ruled the small town, getting what he wanted and sending his group of henchmen to take care of his dirty work if anybody balked at him. That was until Dalton (Patrick Swayze) came to town.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.
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