By Philip Etemesi
April 1, 2020
Since the early 1900s, hundreds of Westerns have been made but not every villain has left a mark. Here are those who have.
Unlike other film genres that can sometimes function without a proper antagonist, Western movies completely rely on the "Good Guy vs Bad Guy" formula. After several gunfights, endless tough-talking and evil schemes, someone has to emerge the victor and someone has to go down.
But before that happens, the villains tend to put up a great fight. Some even win. Logically, the smartest and most evil villains usually end up being the most impressive ones. Since the early 1900s, hundreds of Westerns have been made but not every villain has left a mark. Here are those who have.
10. Liberty Valance: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
In the classic western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Lee Marvin plays the gangster Liberty Valance. Marvin's acting is a bit over the top in the movie but that's what makes his character so great. Valance always takes what he wants even if it means killing whoever stands in his way.
In Valance's very first scene, he brutally beats Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) when he arrives in the small town on the stagecoach. The poor senator has just come to bury his friend. The scene gives you an idea of what Valance will be like in the rest of the film and he sure does live up to it.
9. Calvera: The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Eli Wallach's most iconic role is that of Tuco Ramirez in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. But in as much as he was an entertaining villain in that film, he was slightly outshined by Lee Van Cleef who played Angel Eyes. The film in which Wallach really stood out was the original version of The Magnificent Seven.
We wonder why Antoine Fuqua remade this movie. Anyway, in the original version, Wallach plays a ruthless gang leader known as Calvera. Mr. Calvera is so evil that he goes on a mission to steal food from poor villagers so that he can keep it for himself and his 40-man gang. Why? Because winter is coming and food will be scarce.
9. Elliot Marston: Quigley Down Under (1990)
Marston is played by the phenomenal Alan Rickman and this is a big reason why the villain ends up being so memorable. In the movie, Marston is the wealthy man who doesn't want the poor to come close to him so he hires a sharpshooter named Matthew Quigley to murder all the people that are encroaching on his vast land.
Quigley—who is played by the original Magnum P.I.’s Tom Selleck—has a conscience so he doesn't do it. An angry Marston thus sends men to take Quigley out. Marston rarely gets his own hands dirty. He prefers to let other people do the work. Why do it yourself when you can hire people? Call him the ultimate creator of employment. What makes him more intimidating is that he always wears black and lays out his evil plans so eloquently.
7. Johnny Ringo: Tombstone (1993)
In Ringo, the hero Holliday (Van Kilmer) faced the best ever arch-nemesis in Johnny Ringo. He is a member of a gang called "The Cowboys" but he is not just an ordinary bandit. He is a well-educated multilingual man who can speak English, Spanish and the dead language of Latin.
Despite the gang being led by a man known as Curly Bill, it is Ringo who constantly stands out because of his class and wit. From the very first time he meets Holliday, the two develop a hatred for each other. This leads to a final battle that is a total joy to watch.
6. Jack Wilson: Shane (1953)
Jack Palance was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his role as the villain Jack Wilson. The film was widely praised for its high-color cinematography and unique film-editing techniques that were later copied by many other films.
In Shane, Wilson is a henchman for a cattle ranch tycoon named Rufus Ryker in Wyoming. When a smart gunslinger known as Shane comes to town, Rufus hires Wilson to make sure Shane is dealt with. Wilson is a do-it-with-ease kind of villain who always smiles and speaks calmly even when he is about to kill. In as much as you'd like to hate him, his smoothness keeps drawing you in.
5. Cicero Grimes: Hombre (1967)
Hombre sees Richard Boone playing gunslinger Cicero Grimes who robs a stagecoach in order to take the money that one of the occupants is carrying. Cicero is as tough as a villain can get. In one scene where he's thirsty and walking through the desert, he opts to drink whiskey instead of water.
Cicero also has a rather scary face that intimidates anyone he comes into contact with. The bandit doesn't do a single thing that can be considered "moral" in the movie. He eventually meets his death at the hands of the protagonist who was in the stagecoach he robbed.
4. Jessica Drummond: Forty Guns (1957)
Every man that Jessica meets ends up having a sad ending to his time on earth. That's until she meets her match courtesy of a reformed gunslinger named Griff. In the movie, Jessica is an evil landowner (plenty of villains in Westerns owned land, huh?) who has an army of forty hired guns.
She is basically Mrs. Evil. As the wealthiest person in the town, she is tyrannical and she allows her bandit brother to terrorize the residents. Luckily, for the residents, Griff is determined to stop the madness that's going on. Jessica's efforts to end Griff as well as her eventual clash with him make the movie an all-time classic.
3. Little Bill Daggett: Unforgiven (1992)
Gene Hackman won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Sheriff Little Bill Daggett. BIll is the weird sheriff you don't want in your town. When two bandits beat and disfigure a prostitute, his idea of punishment is for them to give the brothel owner a few horses as compensation.
Other prostitutes thus take it upon themselves to offer a $1000 reward to whoever will deliver proper punishment. The sheriff doesn't like this so he goes out of his way to hunt down, torture and even kill any man willing to do the job and take the reward money. And his deputies serve as willing accomplices.
2. Frank: Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
Henry Fonda had a habit of playing protagonists in movies but in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, he surprised many by playing a very compelling villain. In the movie, he plays Frank, the henchman to a crippled tycoon named Morton.
In one of the very first scenes, he brutally murders a frontier family because of a land dispute and frames another bandit. Frank goes on to terrorize more people in the film before finally dying at the hands of the iconic Charles Bronson's' character Harmonica.
1. Angel Eyes: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is considered by many to be the greatest spaghetti western of all time. It's also a pretty good civil war movie. While Clint Eastwood and Elli Wallach were outstanding in it, it was Lee Van Cleef who pumped up the levels of evil with his character Angel Eyes aka The Bad.
Angel Eyes is a mercenary who is after a cache of Confederate gold. In some of the movie's tense early scenes, he kills two people who both paid him to kill the other. Why? Because he always fulfills his contract. Soon, he finds himself in a gold rush with two men (The Good and The Ugly) that he doesn't particularly like. Interestingly, Eastwood was the one who coined the name Angel Eyes on the set due to Cleef's cat-like eyes and impressive marksmanship.