The Top 10 Actors Who Play Great Jerks
Any old actor can play a hero. Since the audience is on your side right from the start, all you need to do is show up, kick a little ass, maybe crack a one-liner or two, and ride off into the sunset. But being a great bad guy is a lot harder. They have to make us hate him, but at the same time enjoy hating him.
Here's our rundown of some of the actors who have the skills to play the jerks, thugs, a**holes, bullies, and punks in some of the best loved movies of all time.
Source: Columbia Pictures
10. William Zabka
If you were making a teen movie in the 1980s and you needed a bully to terrorize the main character, there was only number you needed to look up on your Rolodex - William Zabka's. Tall, blonde, handsome, and sporting the kind of arrogant smirk that could make even Shaq jealous, William Zabka was the king of the bullies. In classic flicks like The Karate Kid, Back To School, and Just One Of The Guys, Zabka had an almost preternatural gift for playing incredible pricks. Whether he was pouring a milkshake on the head of the nerdy hero, treating his sensitive cheerleader girlfriend like garbage, or sweeping the leg for Cobra Kai, Zabka was a bully's bully - willing to do anything to humiliate the main character.
In Rodney Dangerfield's Back To School, Zabka's character is even willing to throw a diving competition just to screw with Dangerfield's geeky son. This commitment to pure jerkiness made Zabka great, but it also typecast him. He still continues to work in Hollywood, but mostly in minor roles and direct-to-DVD junk. William Zabka's heyday may have passed, but for a few short years in the '80s he was the undisputed master of the art of playing a total douchebag.
But Zabka's a good sport about it. In No More King's video for their single "Sweep The Leg," Zabka celebrates his mastery of '80s villainy:
9. William Atherton
Source: Columbia Pictures
American actor William Atherton has played a lot of tools in his long Hollywood career. From the selfish professor who exploits Val Kilmer and that other dude in Real Genius to the preening reporter Dick Thornburg in Die Hard and countless other film and television appearances besides, Atherton can really ooze smarm. Most people, however, know him from his most famous smarmy character, the jerk role that first aroused the public's scorn- EPA Agent Walter Peck in Ghostbusters. Yes, William Atherton had the grave misfortune to be the stuck-up, pushy bureaucrat that tries to take on Bill Murray and the Crew.
First of all, anybody going up against Bill Murray in any flick is going to suffer. It doesn't matter how well trimmed your beard is or how tight your three-piece suit is, when you're going up against The Crown Prince of wiseguy slackers, you're going down. Hard. In the film's finale, Peck gets buried under a ton of molten marshmallow. It's a great sight gag, and Atherton suffered for it. He actually had to have 200 pounds of shaving cream dumped on him for the shot. The guy is such a professional, that he wouldn't even use a stunt jerk. Now that's how a pro plays an prick.
8. Charles Dance
Source: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
There's something about a British accent that makes it perfect for villains. The most evil sentences in the world just sound more evil when they're delivered in an snooty, upperclass English accent. Maybe it's the hint of arrogance, maybe it's the perfect enunciation, or maybe it's our natural American hatred of anyone who thinks they're better than us. Whatever it is, seeing a sophisticated British man on screen just makes you want to see them get punched. Put a beard on that sophisticated British guy and forget it. Even your grandma will want to kick his teeth in then. That's why Hollywood loves its sophisticated, bearded, British villains. And nobody in the world does sophisticated, bearded, British villain quite like Charles Dance. He played the sophisticated, bearded, British villain who tried to rule the world in Eddie Murphy's The Golden Child, the totally different sophisticated, bearded, British villain who tried to kill Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero, and a yet another sophisticated, bearded, British villain who only tries to take over Britain in Ali G: In Da House.
Dance doesn't only play sophisticated, bearded, British villains. In his long career he's played all manner of sophisticated British characters...some of whom only had moustaches or no facial hair at all.
7. Clancy Brown
Source: Columbia Pictures
Not all great villains have to be sherry-swilling Noel Coward fans. We grow some pretty sweet bad guys on this side of the Atlantic, too. Case in point, Clancy Brown. Most well known as the sadistic prison guard who only stops tormenting Tim Robbins long enough to make him do his taxes in The Shawshank Redemption, Clancy Brown is really good at playing characters who bring the hurt to the hero, American-style. They're big, mean, and seem to get an almost religious satisfaction from being sadistic motherf***ers. Besides playing the sadistic guard captain in The Shawshank Redemption, Clancy also played the sadistic drill sergeant in Starship Troopers, and in his breakthrough role, the sadistic immortal warrior The Kurgan in Highlander. With his imposing 6'2'' frame, Brown makes a perfect movie bad guy. But even more than that, his deep, resonant voice and piercing stare are creepy as hell. Brown sounds so malevolent that for the last several years he's voiced one the ultimate bad guys, Lex Luthor, for Superman and other DC Comics cartoons. You know a guy plays a good villain when all he needs is his voice to be evil.
6. Mark Metcalf
Source: Universal Pictures
Playing a great jerk is an amazing skill, but it can also be a mixed blessing. Sure, you can always find work, but the better you do it, the more likely it is that that's all you be asked to do. Typecasting is the bane of any famous actor, but it hits the guys who play bad guys hardest. Most of the other actors on this list have faced this problem to a certain degree, but none perhaps as much as Mark Metcalf.
Stuck with the thankless job of playing the nemesis of the lovable slobs in Animal House, Metcalf rose to the occasion. Playing the hated leader of the ROTC Doug Neidermeyer, Metcalf imbued the character with such pure prickishness that it was almost impossible to see him as anything else. Some of the biggest laughs in the movie involve his character being horribly injured and humiliated. He did such a good job that he probably killed his chance of ever being a romantic leading man. Metcalf parodied the character in a couple of Twisted Sister videos, proving he had a sense of humor about his uncanny ability to convey evil and sanctimonious bulls***. Metcalf is still working in Hollywood and is by all accounts a great guy. But we prefer to remember him like this: