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18 Times Movies Cast 'Nice Guy' Actors As Not-So-Nice Characters

Updated November 23, 2020 2.7k votes 589 voters 93.5k views18 items

List RulesVote up the best performances that subverted "nice guy" reputations.

Engaging storytelling is all about subverting expectations, and one of the most efficient ways for a director to do this is to cast an actor playing against type. If an actor is known for playing a villain, put them in your story early on, have them appear menacing, and then flip the switch on the audience like Alan Rickman in the Harry Potter films. Or take an actor known for their "nice guy" persona and use it against the audience in a big way.

Cinema history has given us plenty of great casting against type examples, from Anthony Perkins back in Psycho to Dick Van Dyke in Night at the Museum. It's always who you least expect, and these actors played roles that audiences never saw coming. Vote up your favorite "nice guy" characters who turned out to be not so nice after all.

  • Chris Evans In 'Knives Out'
    Photo: Lionsgate

    While Evans is no stranger to playing a bad boy, as he did so in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and even to a degree in Fantastic Four, Knives Out was his most mainstream return to his old character archetype since playing Captain America. And to be honest, there's no bigger nice guy than Steve Rogers. 

    Chris Evans on the role said, "It's nice to play someone a little more vile [sic]," and commented on how "[he] doesn't always get the opportunity to play someone who is so despicable" but it's "fun." While at no point is his Ransom Drysdale "nice" in the movie, when he tries to get Marta Cabrera on his side in the film we naturally want to believe he's actually the good guy. A different actor, without the fan goodwill Evans has earned, might not have been able to pull that off.

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  • Dick Van Dyke is one of Hollywood's greatest stars. Possibly best known on the silver screen for portraying the charming chimney sweep, Bert, in Marry Poppins, he's enjoyed a long and storied career. 

    The family hit Night at the Museum gave Van Dyke a chance to stretch his acting muscles in a new way. He plays Cecil, an elderly security guard who's retiring and passing on his role to Ben Stiller's Larry Daley. Audiences are given no reason to believe any foul play is happening beneath the surface, and how could they? Dick Van Dyke is just so gosh darn friendly. That's why it's so genuinely shocking when it's revealed that Cecil and his fellow ex-security guards have been planning to steal from the museum and frame Daley to get revenge for losing their jobs.

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  • Jason Bateman is an incredibly likable, charming man. He uses the natural goodwill audiences have for him to great effect in the movie Juno. The film follows Ellen Page as the eponymous Juno as she tries to decide the best course of action for her life following an unexpected pregnancy. 

    When Juno first meets potential adoptive parents Mark and Vanessa Loring, played by Bateman and Jennifer Garner, the audience naturally warms to Bateman's Mark. Garner's uptight Vanessa makes her appear cold, while Bateman's smile and love of pop culture make him seem relatable, cool, and fun. As the film progresses, it turns out Mark is less of a fun and charming adult and more of a manchild in need of growing up. When he reveals to Juno while slow dancing that he plans on moving out - while sort of making a pass at her - his heel turn is solidified. 

    Luckily, at the same time, Juno (and the audience along with her) is coming to loathe Mark, they're beginning to love Vanessa. In the end, Juno gives her the baby, whom she plans to raise on her own.

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  • Matt Damon came onto the acting scene as the lovable kid with a bright future and a dark past in Good Will Hunting. From there, he kept audiences rooting for him in Ocean's Eleven and The Bourne Identity. Damon has a face and a certain charm that makes him a hard person to dislike, which is exactly what makes his casting in Interstellar so brilliant.

    In the film, 12 astronauts are sent to various possibly inhabitable planets to scope them out for future colonization. Of the explorers, only three report back with positive results. The film's protagonist, Coop (Matthew McConaughey), leads a team to seek out these three remaining astronauts and inspect their progress. When they find Damon's character, Dr. Mann, audiences instantly trust the very likable Damon. As he describes the planet he's on, the audience believes what he says and grows hopeful that his planet may become humanity's new home. 

    It's a genuine shock when Dr. Mann reveals he was lying and only sent positive test results back to Earth because he knew it was the only way he'd ever be rescued.

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