Top 10 Films Dominated By Absolutely Horrible Men

Although they can sometimes be fun to watch, not all male anti-heroes or villains are necessarily appealing. Mark Fraser looks at 10 instances when the lead blokes are either too mean-spirited or excessively sadistic for comfort.

10. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

Top 10 Films Dominated By Absolutely Horrible MenIn some ways it’s arguable that Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) doesn’t deserve to be on this list, particularly as he can’t bring himself to kill his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) after finally tracking her down – in the end with murderous intent – some five years after she was kidnapped by a bunch of Commanches. But that’s really one of the main points of the film – despite the fact he’s a complete bastard, the uncompromising Edwards always makes the right choices; plus he ultimately pays the price for his dictatorial ways, literally becoming an outcast from the family he has worked so long and hard to keep together. Wayne should have won the Oscar for this.

9. The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)

The French Connection, Top 10 FilmsNew York detective “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) is a first class bully and bigot. He also dubiously seconds motor vehicles from members of the public, takes part in dangerous high speed car chases through built up areas and doesn’t give it a second thought when he accidently kills one of his colleagues (Bill Hickman) while chasing the titular character. However, as the film’s original advertising campaign pointed out, he is also “a good cop” – so much so that, because of his brutal pig headedness, he manages to circumvent a massive international heroin deal.
Discover More: Top 10 Films of Gene Hackman

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Johnny Depp, Top 10 Films,Admittedly journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his Samoan lawyer Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) are pretty funny as they consume mind-warping drugs, terrorise hitchhikers, trash hotel rooms and cause general havoc in the environs of Las Vegas. In some instances, though, their anti-social behaviour borders on the dangerously psychotic – especially when the intimidating Dr Gonzo breaks out his large sharp hunting knife.

7. Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987)

top10films-mickey-rourke-angel-heartAt first blush New York-based private investigator Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) seems like a typically benign 1940s noir gumshoe. But then it is revealed he is – in fact – a vicious murderer on the lam from The Devil (Robert De Niro), who inadvertently has unbridled sex with his daughter (Lisa Bonet) before slaughtering her.

6. Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)

Scarface, Brian De Palma, Top 10 Films,Al Pacino’s Tony Montana doesn’t change throughout this almost three-hour movie, remaining a greedy, repugnant and murderous thug from beginning to end. The only differences between the Cuban “political refugee” being interrogated by US border protection agents at the start of the film and the gun-toting gangster who is shot down during its violent finale are that he is richer, has scored (and lost) the American dream woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and become a coke head in the process. Interestingly, Montana’s undoing comes about when he refuses to kill children during the planned hit of an informer. If anything, his restraint shows that even this Cuban cocaine dealer has something of a conscience.
Discover More: Top 10 Bathroom Scenes in Film | Top 10 Brian De Palma Films

5. (TIE) Man Bites Dog AKA C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992)

Man Bites Dog, Top 10 Films,Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) is an insidiously amusing hit man, who has hired a small film crew (including Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel) to follow him around as he cheerily robs and murders a number of hapless victims in order to fund the making of his macabre home movie. This sophisticated and oddly charismatic killer writes poetry, plays classical piano and is something of a cinephile, yet knows no moral boundaries. Before long he has the film makers actively participating in his heinous crimes. While initially played for laughs, the tone of this mockumentary turns quite dark when the boys drunkenly break into the apartment of a young couple, making the male (Zoltan Tabolik) watch as they gang rape his partner (Sylviane Gode) before (off-screen) shooting him in the head and disemboweling her. In the end they all get what’s coming to them when they get eradicated by the Underworld.

5. (TIE) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986)

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, John McNaughton, Michael Rooker,There’s absolutely nothing funny about this extremely grim and quite disturbing film, which is loosely based on the life of white trash US murderer Henry Lee Lucas (1936-2001) and his sadistic pal Ottis Toole (1947-1996). As played by Michael Rooker and Tom Towles, this pair is downright vicious, killing at every available opportunity with a sense of inexplicable impunity. As with Ben in Man Bites Dog, even mothers and their young children are fair game for these fiends.
Discover More: “Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer” Challenges Us To Readdress Our Reaction To Screen Violence

4. Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)

natural-born-killers_oliver-stone_top10filmsAll of the leading men in this delirious crime caper are particularly awful. Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) is a cold blooded killer who happily pops off victims in a murderous cross-country spree with his demented bride Mallory (Juliette Lewis). Meanwhile the policeman pursuing them – detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) – turns out to be just as criminally psychotic. Also bordering on the insane is prison warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones), who runs his jail like a southern slave owner. Then, leaching off them all in one way or another is the egotistical TV reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jnr), whose over-the-top Australian accent suggests he represents the worst of the Rupert Murdoch press. Finally there’s Mallory’s father Ed (Rodney Dangerfield), a pedophile slob that ends up (quite deservedly) getting beaten to death by his daughter and her new beau before they embark on their destructive rampage.
Discover More: Top 10 Oliver Stone Films

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Top 10 Films, Horror, Tobe Hooper, Leatherface, Sunset,The terrifying Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), the jovial shop owner (Jim Siedow), the crazy hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) and the just-alive Grampa (John Dugan) make up what is arguably modern American cinema’s original family from hell – a group so horrifyingly twisted that they even give the Fireflys in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) a good run for their money. In addition, one of Leatherface’s victims – the wheelchair-bound Franklin (Paul Partain) – is a totally obnoxious pain in the butt until his demise at the end of the masked monster’s chainsaw.
Discover More: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Remains An Assault On The Nerves

2. Maniac (William Lustig, 1980)

joe-spinell-top10films_maniacFrank Zito (Joe Spinell) gets a kick out of murdering people and scalping his female victims so he can nail their bloodied hair pieces to the mannequins with which he shares his dingy Manhattan apartment. During the course of the story this sweaty killer (who is no oil painting) garners the attention of an attractive photographer (Caroline Munro). Unfortunately, the prospect of an unlikely romance with this hot babe is not enough to distract him from his brutal rampage. As the protagonist, Spinell delivers one of the slasher genre’s most hideous acting tour de forces. Even the sweet-faced Elijah Wood – who plays the same character in Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 graphically splashy remake of the film – can’t match him.
Discover More: Top 10 Films of Joe Spinell

1. Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)

salo_120-Days-Sodom_PasoliniThe Duke (Paolo Bonacelli), the Bishop (Giorgio Cataldi), the Magistrate (Umberto Quintavalle) and the President (Aldo Valletti) are possibly the most detestable quartet of leading men ever to appear together on screen. Declaring themselves as libertines, they hole up (no pun intended) in a northern Italian palace towards the end of the Second World War and systematically humiliate, brutalise, rape (read sodomise) and torture to death a group of kidnapped teenagers while awaiting the arrival of the Allies. These fascists effectively represent the worst humanity has to offer – plus they end up getting away with it.
Discover More: 10 Movies That Are Literally A Pain In The Behind

Written and compiled by Mark Fraser

Over to you: what your fave films dominated by absolutely horrible men?

Discover more writing on film by Mark Fraser
“Salvador” Is More Revolt Than Revolution | “The Deer Hunter” Remains An Adult Fairy Tale | “The Train” Still One Hell Of A Ride | “Barry McKenzie Holds His Own” Maintains Its Irreverent Grip | Umberto Lenzi’s “Eaten Alive” Is A Hard Act To Swallow | William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” Is A Curiously Mistreated Masterpiece | “To Catch A Thief” Shows Hitchcock Dabbling In Blandness

About the Author
Mark is a film journalist, screenwriter and former production assistant from Western Australia.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Fantastic list. I’ don’t think I’ve ever seen a top ten list here that has Salo on it, especially at the number one position. Well done Mark. I love the inclusion of Johnny Favorite…..”alas, how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise, Johnny.” Angel Heart is so twisted. One small observation is that I’d include Last House on the Left in here somewhere. Sure, there is one woman, but the others are just pure evil.

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      Dan Reply

      Believe it or not, Salo has been number one before… on another one of Mark’s lists: 10 Movies That Are Literally A Pain In The Behind

      • Avatar
        Dan Grant Reply

        Hey Dan. I havent seen Salo in about ten years. I have it in my collection and im doing a 1-2 punch of Salo and Men Behind the Sun tonight. Loads of fun.

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    Callum Reply

    Wow…incredible stuff. Dare I say I’ve hardly seen any of these films. What sort of film fan am I! Salo looks like a film I’d perhaps rather avoid but if I’m seeking a truly horrible male character I’ll seek it out. Great list Mark.

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      Dan Reply

      Perhaps work your way up to Salo, Callum. In fact, watching the films in this list in descending order will probably condition you for Salo. That or it’ll see you committed!

      • Avatar
        Callum Reply

        Thanks for the advice. This list definitely features some powerful films by the looks of things. I’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre of course and that’s terrifying.

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    Dan Reply

    Such a brilliant idea, Mark. Love the inclusions of the psychopath killers from Maniac and Henry. Can’t argue with number one.

    I’d throw into the mix Gordon Gecko in Wall Street.

    I suppose an obvious one – heck, the guy’s a cold-hearted, sadistic psychopath who has a fetish for killing people – but Kevin Spacey’s murderer in Seven would get my vote for the cool, calculated gut-punch that is the film’s final twist. “What’s in the box?” It physically hurts. That said, he doesn’t so much dominate the film as rub his grubby paws all over the finale.

    A cheesy one from a cheesy film – Don Johnson’s David Greenhill in Sidney Lumet’s Guilty as Sin.

    Robert De Niro keeps cropping up in my thoughts too. There’s a few potentials – Cape Fear or Jackie Brown (principally for that scene when he shoots Bridget Fonda). But the one that really fits the bill: his father character in This Boy’s Life. He’s horrible to Leo DiCaprio and his mother.

    The entire cast of A Clockwork Orange could make this list too, I guess.

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    Kuldos Reply

    Great films on here. Good job. Texas Chainsaw is one of my favourite movies.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Great Top 10! I am so glad you included Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in this list. He is the face of no conscience. So void of human connection he even killed the chance of happiness at the end, brutally killing Otis sister.

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    ArchE Reply

    Oh you tickle me Mr Fraser… you fiend! I seem to remember Salo appearing before on a list bearing your name. Only a man with a perverse sense of humour could think of such a thing. A man, it must be said, after my own heart.

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    Paul Townsend Reply

    The drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket.

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      Dan Reply

      A powerhouse performance and one of film’s greatest bullies!

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    Paul Townsend Reply

    The pair of torturers in Funny Games also spring to mind.

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      Dan Reply

      A film I find difficult to watch.

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    Rory Reply

    A certain Matthew Hopkins – aka Witchfinder General – would sit quite happily amongst this lot.

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      Dan Reply

      Good one, Rory – talk about a dominating performance!

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    CineGirl Reply

    Love this top 10. I must have a penchant for nasty men as some of these are my all-time favourites – French Connection, Texas Chainsaw, Fear and Loathing, Scarface. Never seen Salo though…I guess it’s a film you probably have to watch at least once or you lose your cineaste credits!

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    Joe Brooks Reply

    The cheesy cult classic Blue Steele with Jamie Lee Curtis as a stalked cop features a very nasty guy. He’s relentless. Great top 10 by the way.

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    jackdeth72 Reply

    Great list of films!

    Having grown up in the 1960s and traveled extensively inand out of CONUS during the 1970s and beyond.

    Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle being what today would be called a “bigot” and a “bully” was Standard Operating Procedure for any white cop. Uniform or detective working Harlem and Bedford~Stuyvesant precincts in the early to mid 1960s.

    My choice for a cinematic “Truly Horrible Man”?

    Alan Arkin’s Harry Roat, Jr. From Scarsdale. In ‘Wait Until Dark’!

    Second choice would be Martin Sheen’s Presidential wannabe, Greg Stillson in David Cronenberg’s ‘The Dead Zone’.

  13. Avatar
    Mark Fraser Reply

    @ DAN G: “I haven’t seen Salo in about ten years. I have it in my collection and im doing a 1-2 punch of Salo and Men Behind the Sun tonight. Loads of fun.” So, how did that one go? Get any sleep afterwards?

    @ all – thank you for reading and the feedback. I did consider The Last House …., but ruled it out because of the lesbian. A Clockwork Orange, though, is a worthy adjunct; aside from Alex and the Droogs, all the men – from Alex’s school counsellor and his working class father to the medical experimenters who treat him – are pretty dire. Even the crippled writer doesn’t garner much sympathy as he waits for Alex to kill himself during the revenge scene.

    @ Paul T: Yes, the duo in Funny Games also came to mind. I’ve only seen the US version, so my attention was somewhat distracted by Naomi in white underwear. Back to Kubrick with FMJ – like ACO it too could be included …by the end of the film, not only did we hate the drill sergeant, but we really didn’t have a great deal of sympathy for any of the boys who were brow beaten during basic training by him and his ilk.

    @ Rory: Price and his sidekicks in Witchfinder General would also be worthy additions, although the boyfriend and the girl’s uncle are pretty decent chappies.

    @ Callum: Watch Salo at least once – unfortunately it is seminal viewing for any cineaste.

    @ArchE: Thank you – you tickle me as well.

    @Jackdeth – can’t believe it’s reached this state of affairs after 40-plus years of watching films, but I still haven’t seen Wait Until Dark.

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