The Top 10 Movie Scumbags

February 9, 2009

Scumbags are all around us in real life. They hit on our women, they crack stupid jokes, and they grow ill-advised facial hair. However, there are also many great examples of sleazy weasels in cinema, as well. Whether they’re corrupt businessmen with sneaky grins and slicked back hair or they’re ponytail-wielding womanizers, they’re slimy as hell – each and every one of them.

By Nathan Bloch

The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.


10. Shannon from Mallrats


That’s right: he’s a guy and his name is Shannon. That’s pretty creepy right there. Played by Ben Affleck in one of his more realistic roles, Shannon tries every trick in the book to get into the pants of every girl he meets – and he beats people up when he gets the chance, too. This guy is not cool. This guy is a major scumbag.

It doesn’t help that he wears a blazer through the whole movie, or that he works in the mall and takes it seriously. But the crux of Shannon’s sliminess lies in this infamous line: “I like to pick up girls on the rebound, from a disappointing relationship when they’re vulnerable. They’re much more in need of solace, and they’re fairly open to suggestion. And I use that to f&*# them some place fairly uncomfortable.” That’s pretty much the Declaration of Scumbagependence right there.

9. Ellis from Die Hard


Source: Twentieth-Century Fox

Ellis (Hart Bochner) has his heart in the right place. Actually, he doesn’t. He has his nose full of coke and his head up his ass. Which is how he manages to get his brains blown out, acting like a cocky hero when in fact he’s really just a stupid scumbag.

It’s hard to tell whether Ellis risks his butt to impress the ladies, to resolve the crisis, or to prove to himself just how dope he is. Unfortunately he doesn’t accomplish any of these, nor does he even leave the room alive. For all his pompous showmanship, he gets a bullet between the eyes. So we shall christen Ellis one of the few scumbag martyrs in modern cinema. He’s earned it.

8. David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused


David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) is the kind of guy who enjoys a good old fashioned high school party. Of course, he hasn’t actually been in high school for a decade or so, but still. Some people never really mature past a certain age, and some people, like Wooderson, never date anyone who’s matured past a certain age.

If nothing else, Wooderson gave us this immortal line that forever sums up his particular breed of scumbag: “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” Think of this line as a kind of Constitution to Shannon’s Declaration.

Wooderson is your classic high school predator, complete with muscle car and a blonde seventies ‘stache. If he weren’t such a scumbag, he’d be pretty dang close to cool. Not just anyone can rock a meaty ‘stache and wear pink corduroys at the same time. Wooderson encapsulates everything that was cool about the seventies, as well as everything that was very, very wrong.

7. Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia


In the end it turns out that Frank (Tom Cruise) actually does have a soul; indeed, a whole set of human feelings. But that doesn’t exempt him from scumbag status. The man makes a living by teaching other men how to successfully hit on women. And, yes, he sports the ponytail.

Frank is not your run-of-the-mill slimewad, though. He is a somersaulting, chest-pounding, intensely energetic dude who goes to great lengths to maintain his sleazy lifestyle. But Frank is different from your typical weasel: when you start asking questions about his mom he gets very sensitive. And when he finds out his dad is on his deathbed, abandoned though he was, he returns to usher him into the next life.

But still. Frank T.J. Mackey embodies sleaziness. Anyone who hands out calendars to schedule hitting on women at a seminar for men with low self-esteem has issues.

6. Ray in High Fidelity

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Ray (or Ian), played by Tim Robbins, practices Karate. Or Kung-Fu. Or whatever. Ray most likely meditates daily, and, yes, Ray rocks the ponytail. Ray also poaches women when they’re rebounding from recently failed relationships. It’s like these scumbags all study the same playbook.

The funny thing about Ray is that beneath his cool exterior of new-age hipness resides the threat of violence. Ray is a dangerous man deep down, and Rob (John Cusack) knows it. That’s why they never duke it out over Laura, the girlfriend in question. That and the fact that Ray gets dumped soon after he takes up with Laura. For all his patchouli-smelling, ponytail-wearing, Karate-chopping ways, Ray is a scumbag through and through, and no amount of koan chanting is going to change that.

5. Simon from True Lies


Simon (Bill Paxton) sells cars during the day and lies to women at night. He’s a class act scumbag, not least because he’s too stupid to realize he’s being inspected for his sleaziness by the husband of the woman he’s been hitting on.

Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger), while spying on his wife, winds up talking to a car salesman who’s been selling her a pack of lies to impress her. In the process he becomes acquainted with Simon, scumbag extraordinaire. Simon gives Harry the lowdown on what to say, what to drive, and how to maintain his image. Did I mention Simon sports a ‘stache? His personal motto is: The ‘vette gets ‘em wet.

Suffice it to say Simon is pretty damn clueless. But you have to give the guy credit: he tries. Really, really hard. He’s not one of those lazy scumbags. Those are the worst. No, Simon is a go-getter scum bag, and he earns bonus points for the effort.

4. Carter from Aliens


Carter (Paul Reiser) is another businessman scumbag, always looking to do whatever it takes for the corporation he’s shilling on behalf of. In this case it involves getting a woman and little girl impregnated with the most hideous creature ever to plague the galaxy. That’s pretty dang low. But you can’t accuse Carter of only trying to score chicks!

No, Carter sets his sights much higher than just getting laid and growing ponytails. The man is dead set on eradicating the human race for a nice profit. You can’t say the dude isn’t ambitious, though you can say he’s evil.

Signs that he’s a scumbag and not just a businessman with no conscience: he sweats above his upper lip, he lies (about everything), and he tries to sneak evil man-eating alien embryos aboard a ship by locking a woman and child in a room with a face-hugging alien impregnator. As a sleazy dirt bag, Carter goes above and beyond the call of duty. (It should be noted he gets his karmic comeuppance when an adult xenomorph catches him hiding in a closet and annihilates his face.)

3. Van Zant from Heat


Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) is a vengeful little businessman who decides one day, after some of his bonds get ripped off, that he’s going to play tough guy. He takes a hit out on Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his fellow thieves. After the first attempt gets totally botched and Neil’s guys take down an entire posse of hit men, Van Zant makes the ill-advised decision of hiring Waingro, a one-time coworker of Neil’s, to track them down and deliver justice businessman-style.

But this is all sort of beside the point. Van Zant digs his own grave by having all the standard scumbag qualities: overconfidence, greed, and an expensive suit. He gets himself killed for two out of those three. A scumbag martyr? I think not. Van Zant goes down as a scumbag chump for the ages.

2. Gordon Gekko from Wall Street


Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) has the slicked back hair, the expensive suit, the nice car, the big bank account, and many other accoutrements of a high-class scumbag. In fact, he set the standard for the ‘80s high roller scumbag. A whole generation of stockbrokers, who would go on to create hedge funds and collateralized debt obligations and collectively destroy the US economy, took their inspiration from Gordon Gekko and his illegal shenanigans. It seems none of them paid attention to the end of the movie when Gekko goes to jail.

It should be said, though, that of the scumbags on this list Gekko makes it look the most fun. The man does it in style, and damn if he doesn’t have a good time doing it. If he’s not carousing with a saucy tart, he’s sucking on a Cuban cigar, or perusing fine art that costs more than most doctors make in a year.

Yes, Gekko doesn’t play by the rules, and this is why he gets ahead. And yes, this is precisely what brings him down. But you have to hand it to him, Gekko is one of the most enjoyable scumbags to watch in action, and he embodies a perverse angle of the American dream. Should we be like Gekko? No. Can you blame us for wanting to be like him? Again: no.

1. Walter Peck from Ghostbusters


Walter Peck (William Atherton) has no dick – at least, that’s what I heard. But he sure has a lot of nerve. Here’s a guy who’s a crony for the Reagan era Environmental Protection Agency, but he’s concerned more about keeping up his rep than actually watching out for New York’s well-being. Who else would get a court order to shut down the Ghostbusters’ containment unit without actually having the slightest grasp as to what it contains??

Peck single-handedly unleashes what is possibly the most terrifying, deliciously gooey biological hazard upon the Big Apple in its entire history: the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Does Peck offer to help build a giant graham cracker, or to make a huge bonfire and put together a couple truckloads of chocolate bars? No, of course not. Peck runs amok in the street like a terrified little girl. That’s what I call a useless civil servant.

In the end, though, we have to give Peck his due. If it weren’t for Peck, the Ghostbusters never would have had to prove themselves against Gozer the Gozerian, and thus would not have been prepared for Vigo and his slimy deluge of the city. If it weren’t for Peck, the Ghostbusters never would have been able to cross the streams – and if that had never happened, well… That just would’ve been a damn shame.