There are some actors that audiences have a hard time imagining ever playing a villainous character, typically because they always play likable or heroic roles. When we’re so accustomed to seeing them in this light, it can be hard to accept them in the role of a villain. Nevertheless, some actors are so talented that they can do both, like Tom Hanks, who can play Mr. Rogers in one movie, and three separate villains in another! These are the most convincing villainous performances by unsuspecting actors.
Hugh Jackman – Chappie
Hugh Jackman is an Australian actor best known for playing the superhero Wolverine, a member of the X-Men, a role that he reprised for several different projects. He has also starred in films such as Kate & Leopold, Van Helsing and won Best Actor for his performance as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.
Being mostly identified as a superhero, it was shocking when he played the villain Vincent Moore in Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie. In the film, Moore is an engineer out to destroy the lovable robot and its creator because of his own jealousy.
Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan first came onto the scene playing Oscar Grant in the biographical film drama Fruitvale Station, about a young man killed by a police officer on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
He then showed his physical prowess in the boxing film Creed before becoming the villain of Wakanda in Black Panther. Jordan plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, a U.S. black-ops soldier that wants to overthrow his cousin, T’Challa, and rule Wakanda in his own vision. Jordan played the role almost too impressively.
Michael Keaton Spider-Man: Homecoming
Michael Keaton made a name for himself by first appearing in CBS sitcoms such as All’s Fair and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, before moving on to comedy films including Mr. Mom, and John Dangerously, among others.
Furthermore, he earned acclaim for his portrayal of Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. So, it’s ironic that he would eventually return to superhero films, but this time, the villain. Keaton plays Spider-Man’s opposite, Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first Spider-Man movie in the MCU.
Tom Hanks – Cloud Atlas
Undeniably, Tom Hanks is one of the most beloved actors in all of Hollywood. Both on and off the screen, he presents himself as a warm individual, capturing the hearts of his fans. For example, he pulled off the role of Mr. Rogers!
His characters further promote this image, such as Big, The Terminal, Cast Away, Captain Phillips, Sully, Toy Story, and others. Although he claims he’s afraid he can’t scare anyone, he certainly succeeded in Cloud Atlas. In the film, Hanks plays not one but three different villains, each as bad as the next! It’s both uncomfortable and impressive.
Tom Cruise – Collateral
Tom Cruise is arguably one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. Typically, he is known for his heroic performances in action films such as the Mission Impossible series, Top Gun, War of the Worlds, The Last Samurai, and more.
Yet, he has also demonstrated his talent in other films such as Jerry McGuire, Born on the Fourth of July, A Few Good Men, Rain Man; the list goes on. In Collateral, however, he plays a brutal hitman named Vincent, tasked with the job to off several witnesses that are supposed to testify against the man that hired him. Basically, he’s the character Cruise is normally supposed to stop.
Liam Neeson – Batman Begins
Hailing from Northern Ireland, Liam Neeson is currently one of the highest-grossing actors of all time, winning himself an Academy Award for Best Actor, three Golden Globes, among other accolades.
At this point, Liam Neeson action films should be a category of their own, with some of his most notable films being Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Les Miserables, Taken, The Grey, Silence, and numerous others. So, when he appeared as Ra’s Al Ghul in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, he appears to play the fitting role of a helpful mentor, but it turns out to be the opposite.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – The Terminator
Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American actor, bodybuilder, and was a former politician who served as the 38th Governor of California. Aside from his bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger became an international star after appearing in the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron and Conan in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian.
However, he was the title character and villain in The Terminator, which many people know him for. Nevertheless, this was one of the few villainous characters he played, as he’s typically the hero in other films such as Predator, Commando, Kindergarten Cops, among others.
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Today, Steve Carell is considered one of the funnier actors in the movie business, with timeless roles in films such as Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Furthermore, he established himself as a comedy icon as Michael Scott in The Office, taking home six Emmy Awards for his work on the show.
However, one of his first dramatic roles turns out to be his most twisted as John Eleuthère du Pont in the film Foxcatcher. Du Pont is mentally ill and an heir to his family fortune. A wrestling enthusiast, he establishes a questionable relationship with two Olympic wrestlers, which results in murder.
Matt Damon – The Talented Mr. Ripley
An actor of many talents, Matt Damon is known for his roles in films such as the Bourne series, Oceans Eleven, Saving Private Ryan, and the uplifting Good Will Hunting. However, in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Damon plays Tom Ripley, a seemingly innocent young man who eventually shows his true colors as a ruthless individual, willing to do anything that’s necessary to get what he wants, including murder, identity theft, and more.
Rotten Tomatoes’ review states, “With Matt Damon’s unsettling performance offering a darkly twisted counterpoint to Anthony Minghella’s glossy direction, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a suspense thriller that lingers.”
Harrison Ford – What Lies Beneath
A comedic spaceship pilot with a furry friend, a whip-wielding archaeologist, an innocent man on the run, Harrison Ford has played countless characters that the audience is always rooting for. Yet, that’s not the case in What Lies Beneath, in which Ford plays Norman Spencer, who appears to be an upstanding husband and gentleman.
However, he harbors a deep secret after murdering a female student that threatened to reveal that they were having an affair. Harrison’s character then proves the lengths he’s willing to go to save his reputation, even if it means killing his wife.
Denzel Washington – Training Day
Denzel Washington has an acting resume that includes real-life films about activism such as Cry Freedom, Malcolm X, Glory, and uplifting films such as Remember the Titans and Philadelphia. Of course, his characters are also known for cracking some skulls in movies like The Book of Eli and Man on Fire.
On the other hand, in Training Day, Washington plays Alonzo Harris, a crooked cop that takes advantage of his position of authority and a rookie officer to help him pay off a debt that he owes to Russian gangsters.
Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained
A heartthrob ever since he stepped in front of the camera, Leonardo DiCaprio has established himself as one of the biggest names in Hollywood. With films such as The Titanic, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Catch Me if You Can, Gangs of New York, and more, his characters are usually complicated yet never necessarily villainous. However, that’s not the case for his role of Calvin Candy in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
The sadistic Candy is a racist plantation owner that spends his free time watching slaves fight to the death, releasing his dogs on runaway slaves. It’s a far cry from his usual performances.
Henry Fonda – Once Upon A Time In The West
With an acting career that spanned more than five decades, Henry Fonda was a staple in Hollywood for films such as Grapes of Wrath, Jezebel, The Lady Eve, on top of several notable appearances in Western films. Later in his career, Fonda began acting in darker films, including taking on the villain Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West.
Frank is a cold-hearted hired gunman with a bleak outlook on life. Fonda does a surprisingly well job playing an unredeemable character.
Kevin Costner – Mr. Brooks
An Academy Award-winning actor, Kevin Costner is known for his heroic roles in movies such as Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Field of Dreams, The Untouchables, Waterworld, The Guardian, and more. Yet, the tables turn in Mr. Brooks, in which Costner portrays a serial killer with split personalities.
On one side, he’s a respectable husband and father, but on the other, he’s taking the lives of innocent people. With his better half being disgusted with his actions, his addiction tends to get the better of him.
Paul Rudd – Mute
Paul Rudd is one of Hollywood’s funny-men, making unforgettable appearances in films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This is 40, Anchorman, and even as the superhero Ant-Man.
He’s a lovable actor but showed a different side of himself in Mute as Cactus Bill, an alcoholic surgeon that begins working for Germans after deserting his position as an Army doctor in Afganistan. Although he is set on bringing his daughter back to the United States, he uses murder as justification. Of course, Rudd still manages to crack a few jokes along the way.
Angela Lansbury – The Manchurian Candidate
A British-American actress, Angela Lansbury has a career that involves theater, television, and film, spanning more than eight decades. During her television career, she became an internationally famous actress as Jessica Fletcher in the American series Murder She Wrote, which became one of the most popular crime dramas in history.
Although she may come off as sweet and innocent, she wasn’t so as the manipulative Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate. In 2007, the character was named one of the top 25 greatest villains in Hollywood history, and one of Lansbury’s best performances.
Gregory Peck –The Boys From Brazil
Gregory Peck was one of the most popular film stars from the 1940s to the 1960s. In most of his films, he plays characters that follow a strong moral compass in movies with powerful messages, such as in To Kill a Mockingbird or Twelve O’Clock High.
Yet, the tables turn in The Boys From Brazil, in which Peck plays Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor infamous for his experiments on human subjects at Auschwitz during World War II. Furthermore, the character is dead-set on creating a new Hitler by whatever means necessary.
Chris Evans – The Iceman
Chris Evan’s career began appearing in teen movies such as Not Another Teen Movie, although he made a name for himself in Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. However, he is best known as the superhero Captain America in many Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
Although most people might not have recognized him, Evans has a supporting role in the hitman movie The Iceman. He plays the heartless Robert ‘Mr. Freezy’ Pronge, a fellow assassin that teams up with the film’s protagonist to take out a number of individuals and isn’t afraid to kill his own family to save himself.
Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
Rachel Weisz is a successful British-American actress, earning an Academy Award, Golden Globe, British Academy Film Award, and a Lawrence Olivier Award for her work. Her breakthrough came from her role as Evelyn Carnahan in The Mummy and starred in numerous films in the 2000s as several likable characters.
However, in The Favourite, she plays Lady Sarah Churchill, a woman set on establishing her place in power and the lengths that she’s willing to go to become Queen Anne’s “favorite.” For her performance, she received a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and an Academy Award nomination.
Keira Knightly –The Nutcracker And The Four Realms
Becoming a household name after starring in The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Keira Knightley is also known for her period dramas such as Pride & Prejudice that have garnered her the nickname as the “Queen of Period Pieces.” Typically, she plays well-mannered, independent women, but that’s not necessarily true in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Knightley plays the Sugar Plum Fairy brought to life by a young girl, and after feeling abandoned, she plots revenge on the girl. She turns out to be incredibly devious and manipulative; something audiences don’t often see out of the actress.
Kevin Bacon – Sleepers
Kevin Bacon may be known for his dancing skills in Footloose, an astronaut in Apollo 13, or a stuck-up fraternity brother in National Lampoon’s Animal House, but he can get mean when he wants to.
This is the case in his performance as Sean Nokes, a sadistic and sexually abusive warden at a youth detention center in the overlooked 1996 film Sleepers. Watching Bacon in such a twisted light makes it hard to believe he’s the same actor blowing up giant worms with dynamite in the Tremors franchise.
Robin Williams – Insomnia
Robin Williams is remembered as one of his generation’s best comedians with his own unique style and flair that made him internationally famous. After becoming a television star, Williams became one of the funniest people in Hollywood, making countless iconic films throughout the 1990s and 2000s. He was also able to demonstrate his acting range in films such as Good Will Hunting.
Regardless, he also shows a different side in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia. Williams plays Walter Finch, a crime novelist that murdered a young woman who rejected him, using his knowledge of crime to stay ahead of the authorities.
Frank Sinatra – Suddenly
Ol’ Blue Eyes had quite the career as a singer, becoming one of the best-selling artists of all time. However, he was also a successful actor, winning both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance in From Here to Eternity, and starred in several other noteworthy productions.
While Sinatra may have had a clean look, his character John Baron in Suddenly, did not. Baron was a psychopathic killer with plans to kill the president. Yet, when JFK was actually assassinated in 1963, Sinatra had the film pulled from circulation.
Ronald Reagan – The Killers
Before becoming the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan was a successful actor in his own right. After some time as a radio announcer, Reagan signed a contract with Warner Bros. and launched a lengthy film career., playing in numerous films. In 1941, he was even voted the fifth most popular star from the younger generation in Hollywood.
Despite his clean-cut roles earlier in his career, toward the end, he played a gangster pretending to be a businessman in the 1964 film adaptation of The Killers. Apparently, Reagan hated the movie and feared it would affect his career in politics.
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
An Australian actor, Heath Ledger, got his start during the 1990s in Australia before becoming an international sensation for his roles in 10 Things I Hate About You, A Knight’s Tale, The Patriot, Lords of Dogtown, Brokeback Mountain, among others. As if his good looks weren’t enough, his characters were also very likable, which added to his appeal.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, of course, was much different. Ledger played the chaos-invoking and evil Joker, in which Ledger’s rendition is considered one of the best villains in film history. Unfortunately, during post-production, Ledger died of an accidental overdose of medications.
Zac Efron – Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile
From Zac Efron’s track record as a film star, it seems like he doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. As a teenager, he exploded in popularity after starring in the Disney High School Musical trilogy, and from there films such as Hairspray, 17 Again, Neighbors, The Greatest Showman, Baywatch, and other lighthearted roles.
Things took a drastic turn, however, when he starred as Ted Bundy in Netflix’s 2019 original Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. The film is based on the memoir of Bundy’s former girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy.
Orlando Bloom – The Good Doctor
Since Orlando Bloom has first stepped in front of the camera, he has been hanging on the walls of girls’ bedrooms. He’s best known for his hit roles as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Franchise, William Turner in The Pirates of the Caribbean, and other heroic characters.
In 2001’s The Good Doctor, Bloom’s character couldn’t be more different from the roles audiences are used to seeing him. He plays Martin E. Blake, a narcissistic medical student whose personal issues get the better of him.
Allison Williams – Get Out
Allison Williams got her start starring as Marnie Michaels in the HBO series Girls, for which she was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award. This brought her to the attention of filmmakers, and not long after was picked for the role of Rose Armitage in Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
Williams plays a seemingly loving and understanding girlfriend, but it turns out that her intentions prove otherwise. She is a member of a racist family, with her job being to lure black men into her family so they can use their bodies to live forever.
Parick Stewart – Green Room
Patrick Stewart has a career that exceeds six decades, with his acting earning him nominations for an Oliver, Tony, Golden Globe, Emmy, Screen Actor Guild, and Saturn Awards. Some of his most prominent roles include Captain Picard in Star Trek and Professor Xavier in the X-Men superhero movies.
With characters under his belt that are usually fighting against evil, it was surprising to see him in Green Room. In the film, Stewart plays Darcy Banker, the leader of a Neo-Nazi skinhead gang, set on killing a group of band members at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jude Law – Road To Perdition
Jude Law is an English actor that started playing small roles in feature films before becoming a sensation after his performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. The actor is also known for his work in Enemy at the Gates, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Cold Mountain, and other films that make him an appealing character.
Nevertheless, his character in Road to Perdition is certainly different from his previous films. Law plays Maguire, the central antagonist of the film, a violent hitman that takes postmortem pictures of those he’s killed.