The one constant of cinema is that if the antagonist of the piece isn't up to scratch, the whole film suffers. After all, if the hero isn't facing a worthy adversary there's no real point in watching - the audience would fall into a tedium-induced coma and countless £10 buckets of popcorn would fall from sleeping hands to the disgusting carpet below. That's why it's so exciting when you come across a film where, despite spending more time with the hero, the villains are actually crafted with more care, their layered motivation conveyed through stand-out performances.
It also helps that actors themselves seem to revel in being given a chance to dig into their latent inner evil which tends to make for more interesting viewing than a hero's tiresome race against the clock, boring romantic subplot and inevitable happy ending.
Get your red lightsabers, facial scars and nuclear launch codes at the ready as we delve into a truly wretched hive of scum and villainy.
15. Owen Davian - Mission: Impossible III
Philip Seymour Hoffman brought a certain prestige to every role he took on and his portrayal of sadistic arms merchant Owen Davian in Mission: Impossible III was no exception. Many villainous characters tend to lean towards the theatrical, especially in the series where Tom Cruise plays an all-American superman, but Hoffman managed to provide an engaging antagonistic performance without becoming a pile of ham. Davian's strength is in his pragmatism, he essentially sends the heroes on a globe spanning mission to get him what he wants.
The leverage he uses to do this is Ethan Hunt's (Cruise) new wife, who Davian tracks down using nothing more than the protagonist's first name. It's also worth noting that he's not above executing those that cross him, whether by firearm or via tiny explosives implanted into peoples brains (the latter which he describes as fun). Davian is the IMF's worst nightmare - a violent, egomaniacal despot with the means to back up his sadistic threats. Of course, in the end, our hero has to swoop in and save his damsel in distress, sending Davian to the big evil lair in the sky by throwing him through a window and under a speeding truck.
A flashy end for an understated villain to be sure, but even in death Davian has an advantage over Hunt: one of the aforementioned brain bombs is primed and ready to explode his pretty head. To claim victory over evil, Hunt has to be electrocuted to death and subsequently revived by his clearly traumatised wife. This is twisted stuff, but ultimately to be expected.
As Davian himself says, "You can tell a lot about a person's character by how they treat people they don't have to treat well."