What drives any great movie villain to do the terrible deeds that inevitably aid him/her in reaching the top of the economic food chain? Although every individual case is different, the motivating factor of achieving success as a villain is almost always greed.
While greed is at the core of so many great villains, the methods used to accumulate wealth and build a structurally-sound criminal empire or enterprise can be unique to each particular mastermind. In the case of Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) in Runner, Runner, for example, greed, an inflated ego and some questionable morals are what cause him to push the limits.
So who are the greediest villains in movie history? Everyone has their favorites and so do we. Here are our 5 Greediest Movie Villains.
Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his work as Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 drama There Will Be Blood – namely because his turn as the obsessive, savage, oil prospector taught us all about how greed can rob a man of his soul.
Like any greedy villain, Plainview will stop at nothing to get what he wants – which in this case is oil-rich land from a California family – and will step over anyone who stands in his way. He shows little or no empathy for others, including his own adoptive son, who is simply a “bastard in a basket” to Plainview by the end of the film.
Plainview’s greed becomes so blinding and destructive that it ultimately devours him, leaving him empty and alone with some murderous rage for good measure. At the end, we are left with a shell of a person, whose greed can be exemplified by perhaps the most quotable line of dialogue from the film: “I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!”
The principal character from Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol – who has been played by more than 50 actors on stage, on television and in film – may not resort to violence to get what he wants, but there’s no question that Ebenezer Scrooge’s greed turns him into a cold-hearted cynic who would rather see the poor and starving die off than use his wealth to aid them.
Of course, with the help of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Scrooge is able to see the negative effects of his greedy ways and how he transformed over the years. But considering the character’s name will forever be used to describe people with a similar appetite for wealth and disdain, there’s no way we couldn’t include Scrooge.
Like the previous entry on the list, Lex Luthor is an established and well-known character with plenty of money, power and influence. However, Luthor isn’t afraid to shell out some of that hard-earned cash to achieve certain goals. In fact, he’ll spare no expense if it means ridding the world of his nemesis and our hero, Superman. In the DC comics storyline “Blackest Night”, Luthor’s avarice is so insatiable that it qualifies him for the Orange Lantern Corps, whose power rings are actually fueled by greed. That pretty much says it all, no?
The character has been portrayed by several different actors over the years – including Gene Hackman (Superman, Superman II and IV) and Kevin Spacey (Superman Returns). With a new version likely coming in the Man of Steel sequel, the only question is: Who will land the coveted role? Check out our list of 5 Actors Who Could Play Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman to find out who we like.
Like many Cuban immigrants, Tony Montana viewed America as the land of opportunity where anything was possible. However, unlike most, his sense of entitlement and his criminal past put him on the path to becoming one of our most memorable onscreen villains.
Montana’s go-getter mentality and ambition could be viewed as admirable – but like any greedy character, he used those positive qualities in terrible ways as he climbed to the top of the Miami drug trade in the 1980s. Since Montana believed the world and everything in it was his, nothing was off limits and no one in his way was safe.
Of course, nothing lasts forever and it was only a matter of time before his perfect world and massive mountain of cocaine came crashing down. Like any greedy villain, Montana didn’t know when to quit, but his rise to power, superfluous lifestyle and Al Pacino’s over-the-top performance were sure fun to watch.
No list of greedy villains would be complete without the biggest proponent of the trait, Gordon Gekko – played by Michael Douglas in an Academy Award-winning performance in Wall Street (1987). Gekko’s personal motto, “Greed is good,” not only describes his approach to business, but to life in general.
Gekko’s capitalist sensibility made him a star in the stockbroking world, but unlike some of his counterparts, his lust for more forced him into illegal trading and eventually, prison. His story and the Wall Street films do a near-perfect job of outlining the moral conflict of accumulating wealth in honest ways and clearly demonstrate that it’s not hard to let greed grab hold and dictate one’s actions.
Greed may be an inherit part of our culture (and our nature?), but for these five characters, it’s an uncontrollable urge that drives them over to the darker side of humanity. And since greed will always be part of us, we’re sure to see plenty more greedy villains in film.
Are there any other villains you would have liked to see on this list? Let us know who you think deserved to make the cut and who your favorite money-grubbing characters are in the comments.
Runner, Runner is in theaters now. (Read our Review)