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14 Times Great Villains Were Played By Comedians

March 17, 2021 3.1k votes 601 voters 108.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the most sinister villains played by comedians.

Actors like Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, and John Malkovich can't always play the villain. These times great villains were played by comedians prove that sometimes casting against type can reap great rewards.

Robin Williams and Jim Carrey were both hilarious stand-up comedians with impressive filmographies filled with hilarious movies. However, both actors wanted to expand their resumes with dramatic roles that cast them in a completely different light. Sometimes it's hard to imagine our comedic heroes playing the bad guy. But, sometimes when the script and performances are just right, those normally funny protagonists make terrifying villains.

Make your voice heard. Vote up the most sinister villains played by comedians.

  • By the time Insomnia hit the big screen in 2002, Robin Williams had already proven he was an excellent dramatic actor. He won an Academy Award in 1997 for his performance in Good Will Hunting. However, Williams was still mostly known for his family-friendly comedies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Jumanji.

    Then 2002 happened. Williams turned heel in three films: Insomnia, One Hour Photo, and Death to Smoochy. Of the three movies, his most successful play against type happened in Christopher Nolan's underrated psychological thriller Insomnia.

    Williams's Walter Finch, a successful novelist, is a scheming, blackmailing killer who plays a game of cat-and-mouse with Detective Dormer (Al Pacino). The film takes place in a small town in Alaska during the summer months when there are 24 hours of sunlight. The role in many ways is anti-Williams. He doesn't play Finch in that over-the-top, larger-than-life, rubber-faced Robin Williams style. In fact, Finch is dangerous because of his quietness.

    Nolan was impressed with the actor's ability to play a villain:

    What I thought of Robin, was, well he is an extraordinary guy to work with and he really gave what I consider to be a flawless performance. I wound up watching the film hundreds of times as we cut it, and I never hit that point with the performance where you start to see the acting. Most performances, at a point, bits start to peel off and away, but with Robin's he was very much in that character. Not that he's a very dark person to work with - he's very lively and friendly and amusing to work with. He really found something within himself. I think it's a very underrated bit of work on his part.

    Memorable heel-turn?
  • Danny DeVito starred on the sitcom Taxi, but Louie De Palma was certainly not the sweetest guy in town. Tim Burton cast the actor as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin 1992's Batman Returns. Perhaps DeVito's small, roundish stature helped him land the role of the Penguin? 

    In between sarcastic put-downs and general grumpiness, Louie could sometimes be a sweetheart. The Penguin, on the other hand, does not have that nice streak in him. The psychopathic supervillain is ruthless. He kills at will, and hate drives his every rageful action. His tragic backstory affects his entire life, even his deformed body.

    DeVito made an extremely memorable Batman nemesis, playing the role with the perfect amount of comic flair and grandiosity, while still remaining a worthy adversary to Batman (Michael Keaton).

    Memorable heel-turn?
  • Leave it to Oliver Stone to helm a satire about serial killers and the media. There was an abundance of controversy surrounding Natural Born Killers when it hit theaters in 1994. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play a psychopathic modern-day version of Bonnie and Clyde. They go on a shocking, bloody rampage that is practically celebrated by the media.

    Despite the body count, perhaps the biggest shock of Natural Born Killers was seeing a beloved comedian like Rodney Dangerfield play Lewis's disgusting, abusive father. The King of One-Liners, who shot to fame late in life based on his "I get no respect" routine, stunned in his first dramatic film role as the "father from hell."

    Dangerfield wrote most of his part in the movie, which depicts Mallory's (Lewis) old home life. Dangerfield's scene is presented as a TV sitcom called I Love Mallory. A laugh track in the background juxtaposes Dangerfield's verbal and sexual abuse toward his daughter. 

    The Back to School actor talked about how the film uses comedy:

    It's funny to have this vicious guy and put him in a sitcom. I don't know whether to laugh at me or take me seriously. People are taking me seriously, aren't they? The acting we're doing is to try and make it seem believable. But the movie brings out a good point how parents can ruin children. Of course, not every parent is as bad as me in the movie but in general, parents can hurt their kids without even knowing it.

    Memorable heel-turn?
  • Steve Carell was largely still known as Michael Scott from The Office and his comedy movies Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin when he took on the role of John du Pont in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. Armed with prosthetics and unleashing a quiet, simmering rage, Carell plays the creepy millionaire with shocking dexterity considering his sitcom background.

    The 2014 biographical drama tells the story of du Pont's obsession with Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). It also addresses the crippling mommy issues du Pont carried inside himself well into middle age. 

    Carell's homicidal delusion is chilling. The actor earned a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for his performance.

    Memorable heel-turn?