There's no denying that playing the bad guy is fun. You get to blow things up, kidnap the hero's best girl, and generally ham it up as much as you like. And while it's fun, it's certainly not easy. That might be why so many supervillains are played by Oscar winners.
Since the original Superman The Movie, getting a proven, Oscar-winning actor to play the bad guy has practically been an institution. Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. (Christopher Walken's turn as Max Schreck in Batman Returns didn't exactly skimp on ham, either.)
Marvel's gotten into the action as well, with Chris Cooper about to play Norman Osborn (Goblin or not), with Jamie Foxx as Electro. Hot damn.
Oscar nominees are no strangers to playing bad guys, either. Willem DaFoe as the Green Goblin. Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman. Ned Beatty as Otis in Superman. Soon Paul Giamatti will join their ranks as the Rhino.
Even independent hero flicks have been graced with Oscar-winning talent. Geoffrey Rush was fresh off his academy award win for Shakespeare in Love when he played Casanova Frankenstein in Mystery Men. The inimitable Christoph Waltz faced off against the Green Hornet as Chudnofsky, a costumed criminal with delusions of grandeur. (The movie was terrible, but it still counts.)
So why? Why have so many superhero flicks tapped Oscar winners to play their villains? The job looks simple enough: brandish an evil remote control, cackle menacingly. Threaten the hero's loved ones, chuckle with malice. Fire the death ray, laugh evilly.
But there's more to it than that. An actor's body and voice are their instruments. They've trained and finessed their skills to master levels. So why not get the best to bring your villain to life? Can anyone deny that Jack Nicholson's Joker was terrifying? Or that DaFoe's Green Goblin was insidious as he was brilliant?
Maybe that's the trick: while the heroes are left to do the heavy lifting, these films and others tapped Oscar-winners (and nominees) because they knew the actors would give the roles everything they had. Nothing phoned in.
Regardless, these actors brought energy and life to these villains, to the point that you might have caught yourself rooting for them. I don't know. What do you think?
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