Darth Vader. Agent Smith. The Xenomorph. One would be hard pressed to find a film genre that has birthed as many iconic villains as science fiction. Be it the interplanetary reach of their wrath, their extra-terrestrial origin stories or simply a spooky, futuristic outfit, the genre lends itself to birthing bad guys that take up a place in our hearts, minds and nightmares.
In certain cases, however, the villain of the piece is about the only positive element of so many disappointing sci-fi films. And where the scope to create all-powerful, funky-looking space meanies can often result in lazy cop-out characters, when a science fiction picture does get these nefarious figures right it doesn't mean that they necessarily get anything else in that movie right.
Forget being taken down by some classic hero. Instead, these villains' intergalactic potential was sadly truly crushed by the films that they found themselves stuck in.
10. Count Zarth Arn - Starcrash (1978)
Director Luigi Cozzi claims to have never seen Star Wars. My porky-pie detector suggests otherwise. From literally the very first scene, it is abundantly clear that Starcrash is the first in a long line of infamously inferior knockoffs of George Lucas' venture to a galaxy far, far away.
Starcrash follows a space bandit, an alien wizard and a comical robot as they are enlisted by the emperor of the galaxy to destroy a weapon of mass destruction. Sound familiar? The ragtag bunch jump from planet to planet, getting into seemingly pointless trouble only to be saved by a sudden stroke of deus ex machina, each more ludicrous than the next. Phoney-Wan Kenobi could see into the future the whole time? Sure! There’s a whole floating city somewhere in the galaxy that they can send crashing down to play space conkers with the villain’s off-brand Death Star? Of course there is!
If there’s anything which stands out as a positive - besides John Barry’s great soundtrack - it is Joe Spinell’s campy Count Zarth Arn. This space megalomaniac is an obvious Vader impersonator, but with an added vampire swag which is captivatingly ridiculous. The man is out his mind, flouncing around the battlefield in his cape pointing and screaming “Kill! Kill!” like he’s laser beam-proof. Count Zarth Arn is hellbent on victory till the very end, going down with his ship like a champ… or an idiot. Either way he looked great doing it.