What is your favorite Nemesis character?

January 12th, 2012 by

Received this tweet from @khanb1:

Whats your fav nemesis archetype of all time? I want to know, what makes for a memorable nemesis? Someone we love to hate?

I thought that would make an excellent question for the GITS community. What is your favorite movie Nemesis?

To get this party started, here is the Top 50 Villains as selected by the American Film Institute.

1 Dr. Hannibal Lecter
(in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS)

2 Norman Bates
(in PSYCHO)

3 Darth Vader
(in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK)

4 The Wicked Witch of the West
(in THE WIZARD OF OZ)

5 Nurse Ratched
(in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST)

6 Mr. Potter
(in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE)

7 Alex Forrest
(in FATAL ATTRACTION)

8 Phyllis Dietrichson
(in DOUBLE INDEMNITY)

9 Regan MacNeil
(in THE EXORCIST)

10 The Queen
(in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS)

11 Michael Corleone
(in THE GODFATHER: PART II)

12 Alex De Large
(in CLOCKWORK ORANGE)

13 HAL 9000
(in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY)

14 The Alien
(in ALIEN)

15 Amon Goeth
(in SCHINDLER’S LIST)

16 Noah Cross
(in CHINATOWN)

17 Annie Wilkes
(in MISERY)

18 The Shark
(in JAWS)

19 Captain Bligh
(in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY)

20 Man
(in BAMBI)

21 Mrs. John Iselin
(in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE)

22 Terminator
(in THE TERMINATOR)

23 Eve Harrington
(in ALL ABOUT EVE)

24 Gordon Gekko
(in WALL STREET)

25 Jack Torrance
(in THE SHINING)

26 Cody Jarrett
(in WHITE HEAT)

27 Martians
(in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS)

28 Max Cady
(in CAPE FEAR)

29 Reverend Harry Powell
(in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER)

30 Travis Bickle
(in TAXI DRIVER)

31 Mrs. Danvers
(in REBECCA)

32 Clyde Barrow & Bonnie Parker
(in BONNIE AND CLYDE)

33 Count Dracula
(in DRACULA)

34 Dr. Szell
(in MARATHON MAN)

35 J.J. Hunsecker
(in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS)

36 Frank Booth
(in BLUE VELVET)

37 Harry Lime
(in THE THIRD MAN)

38 Caesar Enrico Bandello
(in LITTLE CAESAR)

39 Cruella De Vil
(in ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIONS)

40 Freddy Krueger
(in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET)

41 Joan Crawford
(in MOMMIE DEAREST)

42 Tom Powers
(in THE PUBLIC ENEMY)

43 Regina Giddens
(in THE LITTLE FOXES)

44 Baby Jane Hudson
(in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE)

45 The Joker
(in BATMAN)

46 Hans Gruber
(in DIE HARD)

47 Tony Camonte
(in SCARFACE)

48 Verbal Kint
(in THE USUAL SUSPECTS)

49 Auric Goldfinger
(in GOLDFINGER)

50 Alonzo Harris
(in TRAINING DAY)

Obviously a lot of old white guys voted for this list. What about Agent Smith in The Matrix? Or T-1000 in Terminator 2? Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas? Jigsaw in Saw?

Besides several of the characters in the list above have other narrative functions in their respective movies. Verbal Kint is a Trickster. Travis Bickle is a Protagonist. Hannibal Lecter is a Mentor.

So perhaps we need a new list specifically tied to characters who actively oppose the movie’s Protagonists. What are your favorite Nemesis characters in movies?

13 thoughts on “What is your favorite Nemesis character?

  1. The Joker (THE DARK KNIGHT)

    Professor James G. Moriarty (SHERLOCK HOLMES 2: A GAME OF SHADOWS)

  2. Earl says:

    The Joker (The Dark Knight)

    The Dinosaurs (Jurassic Park)

    The Burglars (Home Alone)

    Bob Sugar (No Country For Old Men)

  3. D.B. Norton (Meet John Doe))

    Apollo Creed (Rocky)

    Lex Luthor (Superman 1978)

    “The Stasi” East German Secret Police (The Lives of Others)

    The Velociraptors (Jurassic Park)

  4. Nurse Ratched – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

    Bishop Edvard Vergerus – Fanny & Alexander

    Hamidou (The Prison Guard) & Rifki (The Snitch) – Midnight Express

    Bytes & Night Porter – The Elephant Man

    Mountain Man & Toothless Man – Deliverance

    Dr. Szell – Marathon Man

    The Penguin – Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers

    Frank Booth – Blue Velvet

    “The System” – Franz Kafka’s The Trial

  5. Atlanta says:

    Alan Rickman in anything brings awesome nemesry (nemesishood?) to life. Die Hard, Robin Hood, Closet Land, Galaxy Quest (in which he got to externalize his always-cast-as-nemesis frustration), Harry Potter. Characters packed with personality.

    In the Harry Potter Lego game, generic grunts replace dialogue, works for all the characters except Rickman’s Snape, for whom grunts laden with disdain and discontent were wisely swapped in.

  6. Ben O'Rourke says:

    Lecter crackles off the page in the Silence of the Lambs script. The first encounter with Starling is a model of dialogue and subtext, and something I refer to often.

    Alonzo Harris is also a great one… I guess a common theme with me is the ins and outs of the mentor villain — there really is an ebb and flow here that goes beyond a villain as simply an obstacle. There’s a deep psychological element with the mentor villain that really appeals to me.

    I’d also like to mention what I call the “mirror protagonist”… like American Gangster… two protags in direct opposition to each other, and the film moves between each’s point of view so we sympathize with both.

  7. Kevin Spacey as John Doe in Se7en immediately springs to mind.

    As a child, the alien in the film Alien terrified me (my dad made us watch the film thinking it was only a sci-fi. Not sure why we carried on watching when it gradually dawned on us that it was a horror).

    Later, in my early teens, this was replaced by The Thing (John Carpenter). Man, space was a scary place for me in my youth.

    But in my youth, a good nemesis seemed to be one that scared the crap out of me.

    Nowadays, a good nemesis for me is one that that pushes the protag to his/her/its limits.

    I’m sure it’s pretty widely acknowledged that a hero can only be as good as their nemesis.

  8. jwebb66 says:

    Poor Regan MacNeil listed at No. 9, shouldn’t that be Pazuzu?

    I like the triangular nemesis relationship in the good the bad and the ugly, the constant one upmanship and double crossing

  9. Belal Khan says:

    Cool, so for “what makes a memorable nemesis?” I’ve got:

    complexity in personality

    smart psycho-or-sociopath. (Hannibal/joker)

    relationship with protag that goes beyond simply being an obstacle.

    Something that scares the crap out of you

    I never thought about the whole mirror progtag like American gangster. This sort of reminds me of the nemesis from the TV series “Chicago Code” and even “Rise of Plane of the Apes”

  10. Daniel Smith says:

    I think the best nemeses (is that right?) strike a balance between viscerally showing how bad and driven they are … and leaving their future actions up to the imagination of the viewers (which requires lots of possible directions the action could take). “What are they plotting?” “What are they capable of?” The less this requires a build-up period the stronger the emotional response will be.

    * Joker – The Dark Knight
    * Cruella De Vil – 101 Dalmations
    * The Penguin – Wallace and Grommit
    * Hans Gruber – Die Hard

    There is another requirement: There must be a logical motivation for a Nemesis character’s actions that is anchored in their personality or past. I love the Hans Gruber line in Die Hard:

    “When they touch down, we’ll blow the roof, they’ll spend a month sifting through rubble, and by the time they figure out what went wrong, we’ll be sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent.”

    It’s the plan, it’s the motivation, and it underscores Gruber’s cold personality in a single line. No monologue needed.

  11. Cjevy says:

    Where is Col. Hans Landa of the SS on this list…

  12. Scott, what are some of yours?

    1. Scott says:

      Oh, from my youth, I’ve never shaken this moment from To Kill A Mockingbird: A drunk Bob Ewell stalking Scout while she’s stuck in her father’s car. My father had been transferred to the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963, and it was my first experience with racism [the state was segregated at the time], so that probably had something to do with my reaction to Ewell… and why TKAM is one of my top 5 favorite movies.

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