There's nothing more fun than watching an older movie and spotting someone you had forgotten was in it - someone who wasn't particularly famous then but has become much more well-known since. It's not uncommon to discover actors you forgot played bad guys in A-list movies, sometimes years before becoming A-listers themselves. Other times, there might be actors you forgot were in comic book movies, back in the days before everyone was in a comic book movie, or folks crossing over from television to the big screen in unexpected places.
Playing villains is a great way for character actors to jump from the wings to the limelight, and many actors who now headline blockbusters once played the bad guys in them. Here are a few big box-office draws who once tried to take over the world, blow stuff up, or otherwise foil the plans of the good guys in big-budget Hollywood flicks of yesteryear.
- 11,112 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
Veteran character actor Sam Rockwell is no stranger to playing villains and antiheroes. He played Justin Hammer in Marvel's Iron Man 2 and a prejudiced police officer in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, not to mention the President of the Galaxy in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a generic crew member in Galaxy Quest, sadistic prisoner "Wild Bill" Wharton in The Green Mile, real-life game show personality and (maybe) CIA assassin Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and lots more.
It would be easy enough to point out an early-career turn like his villainous role in the 2000 Charlie's Angels movie, but Rockwell was actually playing bad guys well before even that. In the first live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie all the way back in 1990, Rockwell plays the "Head Thug."
- Age: 53
- Birthplace: Daly City, California, United States of America
- 21,155 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
Long before he starred in flicks like Mad Max: Fury Road and Venom, and fully a decade before his controversial turn as the villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises or even his breakout performance in the 2008 biopic Bronson, Tom Hardy played one of his first roles opposite no less than the crew of the starship Enterprise.
In 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis, the last of the Next Generation films before J.J. Abrams's reboot of the series kicked off in 2009, Hardy plays the extremely bald Reman rebel leader Shinzon, who also happens to be a clone of Jean-Luc Picard with a plan to irradiate pretty much the entire universe. As Shinzon, Hardy gets to skulk around a lot in a long, weird Cenobite coat and creep on Counselor Troi, among other nefarious deeds.
- Age: 44
- Birthplace: Hammersmith, London, England, UK
- 3921 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
Christian Bale was a child actor who had parts in films like Empire of the Sun, Mio in the Land of Faraway, and Newsies, but his breakout role as a grown-up actor came in 2000 when he played the lead in Mary Harron's extremely controversial adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel American Psycho. That same year, Bale also played a forgotten villain role, starring opposite Samuel L. Jackson in John Singleton's remake/sequel to Shaft.
Creating a foil for Jackson's John Shaft II, a relative of the original Shaft, Bale plays Walter Wade Jr., a wealthy and racist trust fund jerk who skips bail after Shaft punches him. Following on the heels of American Psycho and Shaft, Bale started headlining bigger action movies, beginning with things like Reign of Fire and Equilibrium before moving on to his biggest role to date, playing Batman/Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.
- Age: 48
- Birthplace: Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
- Photo: In Dreams/Paramount Pictures
Today, we know him as Iron Man, but in 1998, Robert Downey Jr. was known primarily for his substance use problems and the "bad boy" image he earned as a result. He was arrested in 1996, and again in 1997 and 1999, when he was ultimately sentenced to three years at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. That made casting him as the villain in U.S. Marshals, the big-budget flick following Tommy Lee Jones's character from The Fugitive, a gamble, in spite of the fact that Downey had a breakout performance a decade earlier in Less Than Zero.
In between arrests and stints behind bars, Downey managed to film a couple of high-profile thrillers around the same time, including a gig as the long-haired serial killer Vivian Thompson in Neil Jordan's In Dreams, opposite Annette Bening the same year she essayed a central role in American Beauty. Fortunately for Downey, he would eventually shed his "bad boy" persona - even poking fun at it in Tropic Thunder - and make a major career comeback with his turn as Tony Stark.
- Age: 57
- Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States of America