Sometimes no matter how hard they try, actors just can’t seem to break away from the public perception they’ve built up over their careers. For the performers of this list, that career has been spent playing some of the biggest bads of the screen. From the cerebral manipulator to the most psychotic killers imaginable, they’ve provided some of the most memorable antagonists in cinematic history, though they’ve rarely gotten the credit they deserve.
Although most of the actors mentioned are capable of portraying a diverse set of characters, somewhere along the way they stumbled onto that special role that inevitably haunted them for the rest of their lives. From that moment on, the connection between the performer and the bad guy became automatic.
It isn’t always easy being typecast as the villain . For those unfortunate enough to spend their lives looked at as diabolical evil-doers, it means living in a constant state of preparation. It may not have been what they intended when they entered the business, but along the way to stardom, these antagonists found a way to be good at being bad.
Join us as we take a look at the 15 Unlucky Actors Who Destroyed Their Careers by Playing Villains.
15 Jason Isaacs - Lucius Malfoy (Harry Potter)
While most casual fans remember Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise, he’s enjoyed playing evil parts for much longer. According to Isaacs, it’s a decision he’s grown to love, particularly because the bad guy is the driving force of the narrative.
From the sinister Dr. Heinrich Volmer in A Cure for Wellness to the voice behind multiple comic books bads, including Ra’s al Ghul and Lex Luthor, he has his finger on the pulse of the biggest villains in the game.
Although Isaacs has most recently been seen as Captain Gabriel Lorca in Star Trek: Discovery, he isn’t giving up his nefarious ways. In 2016, he played “Hap” Percy, the mad scientist in the Netflix series The OA.
For the 54 year old Brit, the antagonistic roles are still pouring in, meaning we’ll only see more of the ill-tempered Isaacs in the near future.
14 Hugo Weaving - Agent Smith (The Matrix)
Whether he’s hiding behind a pair of shades or a Guy Fawkes mask, Hugo Weaving is one of the most identifiable actors of the silver screen. With his unsettling high-arched eyebrows and ominous smooth-talking ways, his sophisticated features have kept him away from leading man status, but with franchises like The Matrix and Lord of the Rings films under his belt, he’s become an unmistakable supporting talent.
Despite playing everything from a comedic drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to Elrond in Lord of the Rings, Weaving cemented his legacy when he took on the role of Mr. Smith in the Matrix films.
Since then, he’s had bad guy parts in films like Cloud Atlas and Captain America: The First Avenger. Despite trying to overcome his bad guy persona, he forever remains one of the most intelligent mad men in film today.
13 Jack Gleeson - Joffrey (Game of Thrones)
A bastard prince and son to Cersei and Jamie Lannister, Joffrey made a lasting impression as the King of Westeros everyone loved to hate. Since then, the whiny mamma’s boy with the sneer of a serial killer and heart of a coward has made everyone’s list as one of the most insufferable characters to ever grace the screen.
It’s all thanks to Jack Gleeson’s wonderfully terrible portrayal.
Since exiting the show in one of the most pleasant episodes of Game of Thrones, Gleeson has stepped away from acting, saying he has no intentions of returning. An actor since age eight, Gleeson has said he simply grew tired of the idea of acting professionally.
Perhaps we’ll take his word for it, but if we had to guess, we’d say he likely knew how hard it would be to work after playing one of the most despicable roles ever written.
12 Jeremy Irons - Scar (The Lion King)
From a terrorist in Die Hard with a Vengeance to the nefarious voice of Scar in The Lion King, Jeremy Irons has always found an allure in playing the hated characters of the screen, though he isn’t letting it define him as an actor.
Most recently, he switched sides to aid Batman as Alfred Pennyworth in the much-maligned Justice League. Still, he’s keeping his options open for more villainous roles in the future.
According to Irons, it’s isn’t the distinction between good and bad that decides whether he chooses a part, but rather how enigmatic the character appears on the page. His interests have pulled his career more in the direction of the bad guy, with recent parts in projects like Assassin’s Creed.
While he may be occasionally tempted by the chance to join the good side, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Irons completely walk away from his old ways.
11 Helena Bonham Carter - Bellatrix (Harry Potter)
The former partner and muse of eccentric, gothic director Tim Burton for more than a decade, 51 year old actress Helena Bonham Carter has starred as serial killers and sadists for the past several years, a fact which she attributes to her distinct witch-like features.
Although she’s perhaps most recognizable as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter franchise, she’s portrayed a host of wacky evil-doers in recent memory.
Not afraid to be the odd one of the group, Carter has stepped into roles such as the big-headed Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland and Madame Thenardier in Les Misérables. While she first made a name for herself for playing pre-20th century women in non-villain roles, she’s since been typecast as the unconventional antagonist. It’s a reality she’s seemed to accept.
10 Christopher Lee - Dooku (Star Wars)
Most people would look at a career of 275 plus films and think the credentials were befitting of one of the screen’s most accomplished actors, but in actuality the late Christopher Lee rarely branched out from the evil characters he played so well.
Getting his name to fame in the 1950s with Hammer Films, Lee began playing monsters in gothic horror movies, including Count Dracula, a part he would take on ten different times.
A classically trainer actor, he found fame through his niche as terribly cruel masters of horror. Though his filmography is far from a failure, the English performer will always be a villain in his fans' eyes.
9 Robert Patrick - T-1000 (Terminator 2)
In 1991, Robert Patrick shot to new levels of stardom when he left an indelible impression as the T-1000, a time-traveling, shape-shifting cyborg sent to the past in a relentless pursuit to kill John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
According to the blue-eyed, rough-and-tumble performer, he was the only actor who left an impression on director James Cameron during the auditions for the sequel, a fact he attributes to his piercing stare that puts all viewers in an uneasy state.
Since his days of fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrick has typically been cast as the unlikable villain, playing bad guys in films such as The Faculty and even the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. Although his most memorable role since T2 is likely Special Agent John Doggett in The X-Files, Patrick still remains one of the great heavies of the industry.
8 Charles Dance - Tywin Lannister (Game of Thrones)
A 40 year vet with a knack for playing assertive bureaucrats and menacing villains, Charles Dance has built up an eclectic filmography over the years.
Most known for his Game of Thrones character Tywin Lannister, father to the creepy Jamie and Cersei and dwarf Tyrion, he made a name for himself in recent years for being a cunning and contemptible bad guy with a manipulative charm.
Despite being a contestant for one of the leash likable characters in GoT history, Dance has long been a fan of playing the diabolical big bad. With roles like the demon Sardo Numpsa in the fantasy comedy The Golden Child and Mr. Benedict in the action-comedy The Last Action Hero, the experienced actor has shown time and time again that he’s one person you never want to cross.
7 Rutger Hauer - Roy Batty (Blade Runner)
Blonde and blue-eyed, Dutch actor Rutger Hauer got his start in the acting world in films like Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange, but it wasn’t until his famous "Tears in the Rain" speech as the misunderstood replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner that he permanently seared his image into the minds of moviegoers everywhere.
Although he’s internationally recognized as a wide-ranging performer who covers everything from romance to action, he remains a stereotyped villain remembered for his intimating looks.
After being hunted down by Harrison Ford, Hauer found work elsewhere in the world of villainous psychopaths with roles in films like The Hitcher, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sin City. While he’s most recently played in heroic efforts like the B-movie Hobo with a Shotgun, he’s still kept up his bad guy persona and remains a compelling actor who’s continually typecast for his tough exterior.
6 Brad Dourif - Wormtongue (Lord of the Rings)
The gaunt and volatile Brad Dourif has unnerved audiences with his devilish smile since he first graced the screen as the stuttering Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Although his five foot four frame would suggest a calmer demeanor, the actor believes his nasal West Virginia voice and attention-deficit personality may be responsible for his typecasting as eerily depraved villains.
Although he’s since embraced his sociopathic portrayals, Dourif blames director David Lynch for casting him as the melange-addicted Piter de Vries in the sci-if fantasy Dune. Having already played an aimless Bible-thumping preacher in Wise Blood, there was no turning back from the onslaught of bad guy roles that came rolling in.
Soon, Dourif took on his most iconic part as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise, solidifying him as a villain for the rest of his acting career.
5 Mark Strong - Sinestro (Green Lantern)
With his bald head, grimacing stare, and baritone voice, Mark Strong is pleased to be the stone-cold gangster or comic book villain almost everyone has recognized in one movie or another.
More than 25 years into his career, he credits the four part BBC mini-series The Long Firm, in which he played the fictional '60s London gangster Harry Starks, for all the criminal roles that came afterwards.
In the States, he first made a name for himself by starring in films like Sunshine, Stardust and Body of Lies, but it was roles like Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes and Frank D’Amico in Kick-Ass that put him on the map as a bad guy.
Most recently, Strong has made headlines again after being cast as the villain Doctor Sivana in DC’s upcoming Shazam! movie, continuing his trend of taking on iconic heroes on the big screen.
4 Terence Stamp - General Zod (Superman)
As a veteran of the screen, Terence Stamp has had a topsy-turvy career. Before hitting it big in the 1960s with classics like Billy Budd and Theorem, the British star was running around with his once best friend Michael Caine, partying it up in London.
Although Stamp has occasionally broken away from his villainous ways with roles in movies like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, he’s built a reputation for playing the stone-faced bad guy in movies like The Limey and Valkyrie.
He’s since admitted that he’s generally typecast in roles, but at least he has the comfort of knowing he’s responsible for one of the most dastardly cool antagonists in superhero movie history.
3 Malcolm McDowell - Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange)
As the punk icon Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s ultra-violent 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell inspired a generation’s worth of movie villains that followed. McDowell’s magnetic, flashy mad man performance can be detected in characters ranging from Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lecter to Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker, but it’s a role that ultimately kept the British actor from breaking out.
With villainous roles that range from Dr. Tolian Soran in Star Trek Generations to Ari Gold’s boss Terrance McQuewick in the HBO series Entourage, McDowell has stated that he never views his characters as inherently bad, but rather as wonderfully strange people worth spending a few hours with. His unique perspective has kept things interesting for the actor throughout his fifty year career, despite the fact that his most memorable role has severely limited him for the majority of his projects.
2 Anthony Perkins - Norman Bates (Psycho)
The tall and lanky Anthony Perkins wasn’t always the sinister motel keeper who peeped through the walls as his overnight guests showered next door. Before Alfred Hitchcock exploited the actor’s boyish good looks, the up-an-coming star was impressing audiences with dramatic turns in films like Fear Strikes Out and The Lonely Man. His second feature, Friendly Persuasion, would ultimately net him an Academy Award nomination, but it was Psycho that would determine the rest of his career.
Although Perkins was once a comparable performer to James Stewart thanks to his down-to-earth appearance, casting agencies weren’t able to look past his portrayal of Norman Bates. Unfortunately, he would be subjected to typecasting for the rest of his short life. He would sadly pass away at the age of sixty from AIDS-related pneumonia after keeping his diagnosis a secret from the public for two years.
1 Tim Curry - Pennywise (It)
Long before he gave children nightmares of red helium balloons, Tim Curry had ingrained an image of himself into the public consciousnes as the sweet transvestite Frank-N-Furter in the The Rocky Horror Picture Show. With his fiendish Cheshire Cat grin, the English actor had already unnerved audiences, but after playing parts as the con-artist Rooster Hannigan in Annie and the Lord of Darkness in Legend, Curry sealed the deal on his lifetime of bad guys with his role as Pennywise.
Curry’s performance as Stephen King’s shape-shifting clown in It brought a new level of terror to the horror movie world and ensured that he would continue to be cast as the antagonist. Unfortunately, Curry has stayed away from the screen since suffering a stroke in 2012, though he recently showed actor Bill Skarsgard some love for adding a new dimension to his most memorable character.
What other actors are typecast as villains? Let us know in the comments!
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