Everyone loves a good villain. They help define the hero, they look cool, they usually get the best lines, etc., etc. Moreover, everyone loves a memorable villain – and one of the better ways to tell whether or not such a villain is on the menu is to examine how they make their entrance. A bad, or clichéd, entrance will probably mean a bad or clichéd villain – a good (or perhaps I should say ‘effective’) villain will get a real humdinger of an entrance that will stick in your mind for good. Here, in no particular order, are ten of my personal favorites.
Mind you, by narrowing it down to ‘entrances’, we’re dealing with something specific here. It’s not simply the villain’s introductory scene; every villain gets that. To qualify for entry on this list, a villain must, well, enter, or arrive, or what have you. And it has to be his or her first entrance – there are plenty of movie villains who have multiple great entrances during the course of a movie, but the initial ones tend to be the most memorable, and otherwise this could just get confusing. First no villain, then in comes the villain for the first time. Got it? OK. On with the list.
(Oh, and, uh, spoiler warnings. I mean, none of these really encompass any huge plot points or anything, but still…)
10: Jareth the Goblin King from ‘Labyrinth’
What happens: “I wish the goblins would come and take you away. Right now.”
With those spiteful words, our protagonist, Sarah, turns away from the crib of her crying baby brother, Toby, and stalks off – only to stop abruptly.
The crying has stopped, immediately, like someone threw a switch.
“Toby?” she says hesitantly, stepping back into the darkened room.
As she nears the crib, something rustles briefly underneath the covers, chuckling nastily. Really afraid now, she pulls them back – only to find no one underneath. Gone!
At that moment, a huge white owl flies up against the windows, beating its wings against the glass. Goblins cackle and chuckle in the background, never seen directly, burrowing under the carpets, leaping around in the corners. As Sarah tries to process all this, the windows open and the owl flies in, flapping madly around the room. As she watches, a shadow rises out of the middle of the storm of wings – a tall, dark shadow of a man, a cloaked man, the very man who’s now standing before her. There he is – Jareth, the Goblin King.
Why it’s cool: This one has a genuine air of suspense about it – most of ‘Labyrinth’ is pretty light-hearted, but this bit genuinely scared me as a kid (up to Jareth’s actual appearance, that is – he’s a bit too sparkly to be scary). If they’d chosen to develop the rest of the movie into a horror flick, this would be a pretty good start.
9: The Terminator from ‘Terminator’.
What happens: It’s late at night, somewhere in LA. In a desolate construction site, the wind picks up. Electricity crackles. There is a searing blue flash, and then there he is – Ah-nuld. Stark naked and here to kick some ass.
Why it’s cool: Dude, a naked cyborg bodybuilder from the future shows up out of nowhere. Do I really have to explain why this is memorable?
8: Professor Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective.
What happens: As the captive Flaversham works glumly away in his cell/workshop, a puff of cigarette smoke wafts toward him from behind. He turns. There stands Professor Ratigan, cigarette holder between his fingers, standing in the shadows and chuckling.
Why it’s cool: I suppose this one falls into a grey area, since we never actually see the villain enter, but to my mind it qualifies. And really, it’s the understated quality of it that makes this memorable to me – our first impression of Ratigan is not him in person, but the things he’s forcing his captive to do, and his pleasure at the sight of it. An ominous chuckle from the shadows – I’d say that makes for a good entrance.
7: The Shredder from ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’.
What happens: Into the chaos of the kid hideout, the Foot Clan enters, and clears a path. All fall silent. Then the door opens, and a loooooong shadow stretches through it, stretching on forever, as a dark figure enters.
His head henchman walks up to him and bows.
“Master Shredder”, he says respectfully.
Why it’s cool: The shadow. Holy crap, the shadow. Simple, but very effective. It’s just awesome. (Would have been nice if I could’ve found a shot of it - stupid internet.)
What happens: Following the chaos of the opening attack, the spaceship is secured. Storm troopers stand to either side of the entrance as, out of a cloud of smoke, a cloaked and helmeted figure steps through – and breathes. ‘AHH… HOO… AHH…HOO…’
Why it’s cool: One of the all-time most iconic villains in Hollywood has just entered the building, baby. You can keep all this ‘Anakin Skywalker’ crap – for me, Vader has always been, and will always be, a damn cool villain. Period. And this is his first appearance. And it’s nifty.
What happens: As the rock singer Ellen Aim belts out a tune to an adoring audience, a group of bikers rumble through the streets. The door to the hall opens, and in they come, walking silently through the crowd, backlit, faces obscured in the darkness and smoky haze. As the song continues, they stand there silently, watching the stage, the only ones in the crowd not clapping along to the music. As it ends, and the light comes up, we see the face of the man standing in front of them, gazing at Ellen with an acquisitive look on his face – Raven Shaddock, leader of the Bombers.
Why it’s cool: As my dad commented when he saw it, ‘Here come the heavies’. That’s a pretty good way to put it. These guys are not here to have fun – they’re here to cause some trouble. And the guy leading them is more trouble than all the rest.
4: The Joker from Batman.
What happens: Jack Napier has had a bad day. He’s been betrayed by his boss, chased by the cops, dropped into a vat of chemicals – and now he’s someone else. Entering his treacherous boss’s lavish apartment, he threatens him with a gun from the deep shadows.
The boss tries to reason with him. “Jack, listen – Maybe we can cut a deal…”
“Jack?” the figure says. “Jack is dead, my friend.”
He walks into the light and reveals his new face.
“You can call me… Joker! And as you can see, I’m a lot happier.”
Why it’s cool: Well, first off, Jack Nicholson is awesome, so he totally nails this scene with his performance. Second, the entering-from-the-shadows bit is masterfully pulled off – we all know what the Joker’s supposed to look like, but when he’s semi-obscured like that, it blurs the details just enough to make things creepy. He looks wrong somehow, but you can’t quite make it… oh, crap! (And, of course, this comes just after the classic smashing-the-mirror sequence, which prepares us for the worst.)
3: Daryl Van Horn from ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.
What happens: Our three female protagonists have had enough. They’re tired of single life in the sleepy town of Eastwick, with the sole bright spots in their lives being their weekly gal-pal get-togethers. They need a man in their lives – all three of them do. And so, as a storm rages outside, they start talking about what sort of a man they’d like.
As they do so, unbeknownst to them, the plot begins to thicken. A black car roars through the pouring rain. Intercut with their fantasies of a perfect man, it makes its way through the storm, headlights cutting through the gloom like a pair of glaring eyes. Finally, it pulls up outside a darkened mansion, and a huge man gets out – and opens an umbrella for a much smaller one.
Daryl Van Horn has entered the scene, and things are about to get much more complicated in Eastwick.
Why it’s cool: While this is a nicely composed and orchestrated scene – it’s a good ‘be careful what you wish for’ sequence – what really makes it for me is the music. ‘WoE’ has an infernally (I know, ha ha) catchy theme that runs through it, and the combination of it and the dramatic visuals just cements the scene in your head like nobody’s business. Seriously, I challenge anyone watching this not to get that tune stuck in your brain – it’s a good thing I like it, or I’d probably have gone insane by now. Da-da dun da da-dun, da-da da-da da-dun… da-da-dun da dun, da-da-dun da dun, da-da da da-da da dun…
(Incidentally, I’m sorry I couldn’t find a screencap of the actual entrance to show here. I looked everywhere, but I guess a shot of a car in the rain just isn’t dramatic enough to show up on the ‘net. So I got one of just after it instead. Lookit the purty women. Ain’t they purty?)
2: Robert G. Durant from Darkman.
What happens: A gangland face-off is in process. The reigning boss is being challenged by a rival – Durant. He and his boys arrive at the boss’s warehouse, and are stripped of their weapons by his gang before they confront him in a stand-off. He’s not interested in making a deal, and things don’t look good for Durant and Co.
Fortunately, one of his boys is secretly packing – or should I say standing on – heat, and the tables rapidly turn. After a brief battle involving concealed cars (no, I won’t explain – look, I’m not giving away everything, OK?), the boss’s forces have been defeated, and he’s pinned down by Durant’s men. Durant himself has casually lit a cigar, and walks towards him, brandishing his cigar cutter….
Why it’s cool: OK, so this stretches the definition a little, as it’s a whole action sequence rather than a simple entrance – but it does basically serve as a villainous entrance, so I’ll just go with it. Anyway, this is a good establishing scene for the character – he goes from what looks like a thoroughly hopeless position to being the winner inside of about a minute, never losing his icy cool, and ultimately proving himself to be a very scary person. It doesn’t really have much to do with the subsequent storyline, but who cares? It’s nifty, and gives Durant that little extra punch when he and his boys show up again later to confront the hero.
1: The Joker from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
What happens: Ailing, elderly gangster Sal Valestra shows up at the abandoned ruins of the Gotham World’s Fair. It’s a spooky damn place, and as he stands there, uncertain of where to go, the singing robots at the entrance to one exhibit suddenly break into halting song, their movements sporadic as their rusty mechanisms judder into use after years of standing silent.
Out of nowhere, a burst of automatic gunfire rings out, causing Valestra to dive to the ground. It’s not aiming for him, however – it’s instead directed at the robots. Their heads are ripped off by the hail of bullets, and they slump into silence as quickly as they’d come out of it.
From the deep shadows, a purple-clad figure emerges, tossing aside a gun. “I hate that song!” he says sardonically, tossing the gun aside. Yep, it’s the Joker, all right.
Why it’s cool: Yes, yes, this is the Joker’s second appearance on this list. What can I say, he gets around.
Anyway, this is both a nicely atmospheric sequence and a good illustration of the Joker’s flair for the dramatic. It’s never explained just what the deal is with the robots – we don’t know if they’re some sort of proximity alert, switched on by him for the occasion, or what – but then, who cares? The point is that he’s obviously set this whole thing up in advance, presumably locating his hideout in that precise exhibit specifically so he could make that particular entrance. Now that’s what I call setting up a punch-line – I mean, damn. ‘Crazy prepared’, indeed.