Within the realm of cinema there have been characters that range from the beloved, to the feared to the sheer hated; an entire range of emotion can be evoked, and has done so for an entire century of moving images.
Perhaps the most rewarding feeling is being able to engage with our on screen heroes. For example, the complexity of Rutger Hauer’s portrayal– and final speech– in Blade Runner evokes empathy towards a character otherwise deemed a villain. Even the criminal dexterity of Michael Corleone in The Godfather allowed us to warm to his family sentiment and moralistic values beneath the murder and crime. Similarly Michael Clarke-Duncan’s heartbreaking turn in The Green Mile had audiences weeping into their popcorn.
However, removing the likably flawed protagonist in its classical sense, and venturing towards the other end of the Donnie Darko themed ‘Love-Fear’ spectrum, there lies something far sinister; something that also engages but in a more terrifying way; a way that has audiences quivering in anxiety, determined not to sign their own death warrant with an unfortunate moment of eye contact with such volatile, unpredictable individuals.
#10 WILLIAM FOSTER
Actor: Michael Douglas
In a tale of a man who reaches breaking point with the pressure of conformity, and constantly getting screwed by ‘the man’, William decides to take his personal frustrations out on just about anyone, whether it be a local Korean shop owner demanding too much money for his produce, or a fast food restaurant failing to provide him an option of the breakfast menu just after the cut-off point, they all feel the anger he has to vent. All with the aid of a bazooka and semi-automatic machine gun, obviously.
Never… Overcharge him for a soda. He’ll still pay, but boy, will he be pissed.
#9 WALTER SOBCHAK
Actor: John Goodman
Film:The Big Lebowski
Somewhat of an emotional mixed bag, the jovial elements of Nam Veteran, Walter, clash explosively with his short fuse and prone nature to erupt at the smallest of things. Easily set off, the most unnerving part in the Coen classic is his inability to allow a fellow bowling competitor to score points after stepping over the line. Naturally he pulls out a gun and holds it to his face as he marks it down as zero. It was a league game, after all.
Never… Question his ability to attain a severed nail-varnished toe by 3pm.
Actor: Robert Carlyle
This self-proclaimed hard-knock Scot (I mean Begbie, not Carlyle himself) thinks he’s invincible throughout Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Edinburgh heroin addicts and social misfits written by Irvine Welsh. Highly unpredictable, he’ll happily pummel you to the floor should you sup a pint the wrong way. Speaking of which, the most extreme depiction of his crazed personality is when he downs a beer before lobbing the empty over his head and into the crowd below. Even then he doesn’t go quietly, but insists on humiliating the livid victims with a beat down. Just a quiet night at the local, then.
Never… Buy him a pint.
#7 TRAVIS BICKLE
Actor: Robert De Niro
Psychotic probably best describes one of the more well known of De Niro’s characters. Created during his peak period with Scorsese, Taxi Driver offers an unnerving intensity of cabbie loner, Travis, who ultimately breaks under societal corruption. In one of cinema’s all-time classic scenes, the man stares at his reflection culminating in the unforgettable “You talkin’ to me?” monologue. Even more chilling is that the entire scene was improvised, too. They do say there’s a fine line between genius and insanity.
Never… Look like you’re about to talk to him. In fact, don’t even look at him.
Actor: Paddy Considine
Film:Dead Man’s Shoes
One of the rawest British talents of his generation, Considine exudes such an authenticity to his performances; it’s hard not to be completely engrossed and equally terrified at the same time. Writer/director, Shane Meadows, takes us down a horrifying path of one man’s thirst for revenge against a gang of bullies who torture his disabled brother. The ex-soldier knows how to scare the shit out of the small-town gang, before showing the world and his dog he has no problem disposing with each and every one of them in a brutal and systematic fashion. The most notable scene takes place in a cafe. Richard sits. A cocky member of the gang swaggers in. He stares at him intensely before retorting to “What the fuck you lookin’ at?” with “YOU, YA CUNT!” Brilliant.
Never… Mess with his family.
#5 JOHN RAMBO
Actor: Sylvester Stallone
Stallone’s simple story of Vietnam drifter, John Rambo, becomes anything but, as he is provoked by a local Sheriff (Brian Dennehy), who in turn becomes the catalyst for Rambo’s explosive custody breach and subsequent escape into a hunt-or-be-hunted scenario in the nearby forestry. Unafraid to kill to survive, his skills and techniques are second to none. When threatened, he won’t hesitate to calmly slit your throat, so be careful where you tread out in those woods.
Never… Antagonise him without just cause.
#4 JACK TORRANCE
Actor: Jack Nicholson
One of Kubrick’s best as well as Nicholson’s; this psychological horror from 1980 shows a perfect blend of psychosis, insanity and isolation buried beneath the exterior of a seemingly ordinary man. A mental breakdown in the most extreme form climaxes in an attempted slay of his family in one classic scene where he chops into the bathroom door, before poking his mad-man face through, spouting the inaugural words “Here’s Johnny!” The definition of an axe-wielding manic, if ever there was one.
Never… Give him access to wood-chopping equipment.
#3 NICKY SANTORO
Actor: Joe Pesci
Joe Pesci knows how to do unstable down to a tee. So in Vegas-set gambling/gangster debauchery, his character, Nicky, is truly in his element. Whether it’s mercilessly stabling someone in the jugular with his own ball point pen, he’s definitely a fella you should not mess with. The most notorious act of violence he embarks in has to be crushing a man’s head in a vice to teach him a lesson. It’s ok though, as he only popped his eye out his skull a little. Sure he made a complete recovery.
Never… Give him access to a vice. Or a clamp.
Actor: Gary Oldman
Luc Besson’s assassin-thriller not only focuses on a fascinating relationship between hitman Leon (Jean Reno), and a young Mathilda (Natalie Portman), but incorporates a truly mentalist villain, who also happens to be high up in the police rankings. Stansfield looks deranged from the moment we clasp eyes on him and as we learn of his ruthless intent towards Mathilda’s family, we witness the chilling composure of a real monster. His creepy neck-clicking way of taking his ‘happy pills’ warns us all to be careful when you breath, let alone stand in his presence.
Never… Give him a reason.
#1 TOMMY DEVITO
Actor: Joe Pesci
A second entry for the man and perhaps one of the most fearfully intimidating characters of all time and certainly the most unpredictable; Pesci establishes himself as one of the iconic wise guys in Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece. Prone to snap in an instant, a cold-blooded killing here and there is always on the cards; with the scariest thing is how he’s based on a real person.
Even the portrayal of an incompetent burglar succumbing to a 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin later that year couldn't dispel the immense tyranny generated here. Well, maybe a little.