There’s something about a bad boy. Whether he’s wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorcycle or trying to compel you to commit murder it’s hard to resist some devilish charm. The Dames recently devoted an entire episode to Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale. More specifically, we spent a lot of time talking about Chris Hemsworth’s low-rise pants wearing, swaggering cult leader Billy Lee. So, in his honor, we’re devoting the Top 5 this week to honoring the boys who make us go bad.
You know me, bad boys are kinda my thing. When I told my mom the theme of this week’s list was bad boys her response was “How many guys on your list have played murderers?” Okay, nearly all of my boys have played horrible people in some way. I’ll admit it. The list here, though, was hard to cobble together. Who’s a bad boy and who’s just a douchebag? (Sorry, Justin Theroux, you fell into the latter category.) The boys on this list are all bad in their own way, and yet I’d go on a spree with all of them.
Blue (Oscar Isaac) – Sucker Punch (2011)
I mentioned Sucker Punch in our first ever Citizen Dame five, and though Oscar Isaac has lost a bit of his luster with me of late we’ll always have this movie. As a character Blue is a garbage person in every sense of the word, but Oscar Isaac plays the character with such panache. The guyliner, the song and dance number (that’s only in the extended sequence), the suits. It all works for me when it really shouldn’t. This was the movie that proved to us all he should be Gomez Addams, so it’s doing something right.
Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) – Cape Fear (1962)
I know a ton of people who love what Martin Scorsese did with Cape Fear, but it’s a pale shadow of its original, predominately in what makes Max Cady such a compelling character. For Scorsese, he made Cady frightening, with Robert De Niro’s grandiose, tattooed murderer. But the original makes Max Cady less of a murderer and more of a sexual deviant. Robert Mitchum oozes sex, and nearly every line he says in this movie is inundated with double entendre (though it’s unwarranted, of course). Let’s just say I took his threat about giving Gregory Peck’s wife and daughter “something they ain’t ever gonna forget” a different way. Who’d have thunk a man rocking a Panama hat would be so frightening and hot at the same time?
Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) – Black Panther (2018)
Like Oscar Isaac in Sucker Punch, I’ve talked about Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger a lot too. He’s the purest encapsulation of a bad boy to me. He goes on a tear, spreading chaos and destruction wherever he goes, but with a smile and a “hi, auntie” you just decide to roll with it. There’s been a lot written about how his character mistreats his girlfriend – killing her because she’s expendable – and that’s a valid criticism….but come on!
Miles (Rafael Casal) – Blindspotting (2018)
This was an 11th hour choice and I’m so glad I made it. Lauren and I have talked about our mutual love for all things Rafael Casal in Blindspotting. His Miles is a modern-day Elmer Gantry, who can spit out flowery dialogue that sounds great in the moment, but really acts as a facade to cover for his eventual screw-ups. He’s hot-headed and makes you question how cultural appropriation works in the era of gentrification, but he’s so damn gorgeous.
Goff (John Garfield) – Out of the Fog (1941)
Can’t have a list of cinematic bad boys without talking about John freaking Garfield. I’ve shown everyone Out of the Fog because John Garfield’s Goff is fantastic. The man is gorgeous, for starters, but he also just enjoys screwing with people. His character isn’t just extorting a man, but he’s also dating the man’s daughter (played by Ida Lupino) and continually bringing it up in conversation just to piss her dad off. He also has to remind her boyfriend, played by the affable Eddie Albert, how much he sucks as a boyfriend because he’s poor. Who can blame Ida?! She just wants to see the world and here’s a fine ass man in a good coat offering to take her to Cuba. Let Ida go to Cuba with John Garfield! I’d be on that boat with him if I could.
I’m one of those girls who usually prefers the good guys. Although, thirteen months of Citizen Dame has taught me there’s really no such thing. But here are a few of the bad boys I loved before I knew there was no difference.
Lestat (Tom Cruise), Interview with the Vampire (1994)
I remember the hubbub when this movie was in the works. It was pretty big news that novelist Anne Rice was adamantly opposed to the casting of Tom Cruise as her big literary bad guy. After all, Cruise was the hotshot hero and this character was definitely not that. And then the movie hit theaters and it turned out Tom Cruise could play a VERY good bad guy, and even Anne Rice admitted that she underestimated him and that he was perfect. Yeah, I’d totally let him turn me into an immortal being. Or kill me, probably.
Vincent (Tom Cruise), Collateral (2004)
And then after playing the vampire Lestat, Cruise went back to playing heroes for a long time. Until he turned into a silver fox of a hitman. We don’t get to know anything about Vincent, or much about the case for which he’s taking out witnesses, but he is so charming and menacing and makes every deadly move look oh so good.
JD (Christian Slater), Heathers (1988)
JD is the most terrifying kind of guy. He knows how to play on Veronica’s insecurities and issues to gently encourage her to, ya know, murder people. And to do it all in such a way that she’s not always sure what’s her idea and what is his. And, gotta be honest, ’80s Christian Slater was sexy af.
Stanley (Marlon Brando), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Oh, Stanley. The ultimate mansplainer. Super frustrating and terrible and abusive and why does he have to be so brutally hot? I think he wouldn’t be able to get to me, but I kind of get where Blanche is coming from. Mostly.
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), American Psycho (2000)
I have never listened to Huey Lewis quite the same way. And kind of like Brando’s Stanley, I don’t think I would put up with the mansplaining. But I would consider it. And then I would definitely end up murdered, and that might or might not be okay.
Ben Quick (Paul Newman) – The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
Ben is not a total villain, though it isn’t easy to figure that out. He’s a mysterious con-man, barn burner, thief, and seducer, and he also happens to be Paul Newman in his prime. Newman is sexy, yes, and walks the line between bad boy and misunderstood boy; one minute mocking Joanne Woodward’s “cold” young virgin, the next minute begging her to love him. It’s quite a performance, with Newman using those blue eyes and rock-hard abs to spectacular effect. Poor Joanne never stood a chance.
Jack (Peter O’Toole) – The Ruling Class (1972)
This one is deeply troubling for the change that occurs in Jack about halfway through The Ruling Class. A deluded young earl, Jack isn’t dangerous or troublesome while he thinks he’s Jesus Christ, but then he undergoes a shift and…things change. What’s most disturbing is how much more attractive Jack becomes when he ceases to be the “God of love” and becomes the God of death. As with Newman, O’Toole uses his sharp features and steely blue eyes to the utmost, moving from a sweet, good-natured young madman to an utterly immoral one, one with whom every woman onscreen is immediately infatuated. Damn, son.
Devlin (Cary Grant) – Notorious (1946)
I’ve never been convinced by the argument that Claude Rains’s Alex “truly” loves Alicia more than Devlin – I mean, Devlin just gets a bit pissy when Alicia gets married, and Alex tries to, y’know, murder her. But Devlin is probably the closest that Grant came to playing a true villain (Suspicion notwithstanding). He’s colder and darker than in any other performance, twisted by his desire for Alicia, his need to do his job, and his anger at himself, her, and the world that he can’t reconcile both. Hitchcock always used Grant better than any other director, and here he exploits those dark good looks by filtering much of Devlin’s attractiveness through Alicia’s eyes. If anyone can reduce Ingrid Bergman to begging for love, it’s Cary Grant, and dear God, you absolutely know why she’ll do anything for him.
Leon (Oliver Reed) – Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
This is mostly my excuse to put Oliver Reed on this list, because I just hate/love/hate him so much. Reed made a long career out of playing not-very-nice men who just exude that bestial dynamism that make you want to sleep with him/punch him in the face. Even though he’s the villain in this one, he’s the villain in the way of all werewolves: he doesn’t really have much control over becoming lycanthropic. This is Reed when he was young and beautiful, before he got that scar (which is also sexy) and while he was cutting his fangs on Hammer horror. It’s a great film and he gives a great performance, made better by the open shirts and sweaty sheets.
Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price) – Dragonwyck (1946)
We do not talk enough about how young Vincent Price was a stone-cold fox. Price started his villainous career with Dragonwyck, playing the Rochester-esque Nicholas Van Ryn, who marries his cousin Miranda (Gene Tierney) and carries her off to his crumbling Gothic mansion. As with all the other men on this list, Van Ryn is so good because he’s so evil, as becomes abundantly clear the longer Price is on the screen. Not that that matters to Miranda, who has a choice between sticking it out with her insane husband or running off with dull good guy Jeff (Glenn Langan). Pfft. No contest.
As I sit here writing this list I’m realizing I have a strange attraction to men who are afraid of their feelings and don’t like to talk about their baggage…and then there’s Tommy Udo.
Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox)- Daredevil (2015-)
I’m going to start out with my cheat. Yes, he’s a TV character. Yes, he’s a superhero. However, in the capable (and gorgeous) hands of Charlie Cox he’s also a brooding Catholic orphan who takes out his baggage on the criminals of Hell’s Kitchen. He can’t talk about his feelings and likes to live in a world of shadows. If that doesn’t make him a bad boy, I don’t know what does.
Jim Stark (James Dean)- Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
I have my own complex thoughts on if Stark actually qualifies as a bad boy; however, this just seems to work here. Jim Stark is all about feelings; however, the repression of the 1950s gets in the way. His inability to connect with his parents leads him to fall in with some bad kids.
Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford)- Gilda (1946)
Damn. Just damn. This movie is responsible for me falling head-over-heels in lust with Glenn Ford. Trust me, there’s more to him than Pa Kent implies. I actually wrote an entire honors thesis about his work because I found myself so enamored. Johnny and Gilda’s relationship is hot. The two performers find an electric chemistry and it carries the classic noir through to its fascinating conclusion. You could almost forgive Johnny for being…a not so stand-up guy.
Tim Donahue (Donald O’Connor)- There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)
Okay, Donald O’Connor doesn’t spring to mind when you think of bad boys. With that adorable smile, he’ll always be Cosmo Brown from Singing in the Rain. In this relative blip on Marilyn Monroe’s filmography, O’Connor plays Tim, the entitled, alcoholic, womanizing, youngest son of a showbusiness family led by Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey. He brings all the adorableness of Donald O’Connor in a slightly seedier (but equally lovable) shell.
Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark)- Kiss of Death (1947)
The other ladies above me each have a psychotic killer…and here’s mine. Film noir = sexy, 1940’s clothes = really sexy, Richard Widmark = super duper sexy. The role was Widmark’s first, and his colorful performance stuck with him for years. Widmark himself said he was slapped a number of times in restaurants because of this part. He’s vicious, but I can’t help myself. The part was an early introduction for yours truly into Richard Widmark’s career, and I had a crush on the actor for a number of my formative years.