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15 Famous Movie Bullies

From the schoolyard to the psych ward, the bully was a cinematic staple well before becoming a hot-button news topic.

Photo: The Weinstein Company

Serving as the latest bit of evidence that a camera, a cause, and a whole lot of headline-friendly promotion can net unwarranted prestige, the Harvey Weinstein-backed Bully begins its nationwide rollout this weekend, its demand to be liked carrying an ironic whiff of oppression. From the schoolyard to the psych ward, the bully was a cinematic staple well before becoming a hot-button news topic, and we’ve got examples to prove it. The meanies in Lee Hirsch’s new doc may commit acts of school-bus terrorism, but they’d cower to these soul-crushing jerks.

Thomas F. Wilson

Thomas F. Wilson in Back to the Future (1985). A bully in two time periods, Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff Tannen gets to torment two generations of the McFly family, emasculating George (Crispin Glover) from high school into adulthood, and picking on Marty (Michael J. Fox) when the DeLorean-driving teen treks back to the days of his parents’ adolescence. A cloud of depression hangs over the first two Back to the Future installments, and that cloud has a name that sounds like a punch: Biff.

Rachel McAdams

Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls (2004). The bitch-tastic peak of Rachel McAdams’s career, Plastics queen Regina George is effortlessly monstrous, the tearing down of others as natural an action as drawing breath. So complete is Regina’s meanness that many of her victims, like an innocent passerby who gets a backhanded compliment about her mother’s vintage skirt, don’t even know they’re having their hearts ripped out. No one is safe in Regina’s den, and it’s only right that she’s the lioness who turns the whole school into a jungle of femme revenge.

Zack Ward

Zack Ward in A Christmas Story (1983). Just look at that boy. From his freckled face to his scarlet locks to his Daniel Boone hat, Zack Ward’s Scut Farkus looks like he’s made of fire, and for extra terror, his braces give his teeth the appearance of gnarly fangs. It’s telling that director Bob Clark opted to pair Scut’s scenes with the Wolf theme from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. This is one vicious bully, making palpable the horror Ralphie and his brother faced when traveling to school.

Brendan Sexton III

Brendan Sexton III in Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995). In Todd Solondz’s breakout black comedy, nothing goes right for cursed pariah Dawn (Heather Matarazzo), but perhaps there’s no greater stressor than Brandon (Brendan Sexton III), a similarly alienated bully who threatens to rape Dawn before becoming an offbeat love interest. Both formidable and pathetic, Brandon is the embodiment of the pititful existence Dawn suffers through.

Mercedes McCambridge

Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar (1954). Playing the leader of gang that makes hell for stouthearted Vienna (Joan Crawford) and burns down her saloon, feisty Mercedes McCambridge had plenty of performance fuel. Disliked by her co-star for her relative youth, McCambridge clashed with Crawford on set, eventually making her animosity public when production wrapped. The bad blood shows on screen: McCambridge’s Emma Small fiendishly tries to hang Vienna, and finally challenges her to a hilltop duel before taking one last fatal bullet.

William Zabka

William Zabka in The Karate Kid (1984). The poster boy for ‘80s villainy, William Zabka is your ultimate Aryan asshole, a blonde tormenter so corrupt that he still elicits boos when popping up for cameos in stuff like Hot Tub Time Machine. Akin to James Spader’s Blaine from Sixteen Candles, Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence is the evil epitome of haughty white privilege, and he’s easy to hate when making misery for lovable Dan LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). Like Zack Ward, he’s got a mug that’s purely merciless.

Fairuza Balk

Fairuza Balk in The Craft (1996). Christine Taylor’s Laura Lizzie is, at first, the chief antagonist of The Craft, but once Fairuza Balk’s conjurer fills her soul with black magic, there’s no mistaking which witch is running the show. Balk is seen scaring the plaid off of fellow schoolgirl Robin Tunney, whose late mother proves a particularly sore spot. Gnashing her teeth and making the most of her ultra-‘90s goth wardrobe, Balk is a scream, so twisted and off her broom that her evil deeds finally land her in an asylum.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck in Dazed and Confused (1993). Before he was famous, Ben Affleck was Fred O’Bannion, the oafish oldhead unnaturally obsessed with using his wooden paddle to give terrified freshmen their rite-of-passage hiney smacks. Though protrayed as the film’s most odious villain, who gets his just desserts in satisfying, humiliating fashion, there’s something sad about O’Bannion, whose homoerotic tendencies point to a hidden, tortured queen.

Tom Chapin

Tom Chapin in Lord of the Flies (1963). All innocence is lost in Peter Brooks’s take on William Golding’s bleak classic, but no boy falls futher from grace than Tom Chapin’s Jack, who creates a rebellious counter-posse to the one run by Ralph (James Aubrey). Obsessed with the metaphoric “beast,” Jack operates with a mad zeal that leads to the deaths of two castaways. A man with a plan on an island of misfit boys, Jack is pre-teen rebel and Survivor baddie balled into one.

Nancy Allen

Nancy Allen in Carrie (1976). A ruthless villainess from a time before so many movie mean girls went soft, Nancy Allen’s Chris Hargensen is voraciously awful to Sissy Spacek’s Carrie White, a nightmare come alive for plenty of female outcasts. Allen proves especially ghastly, seeing as her treachery influences what seems to be most of the student body. What results is brutal karma, as few comeuppances are as perversely rewarding as hers.

Nick Stahl

Nick Stahl in Bully (2001). Based on the real-life murder of Bobby Kent, Larry Clark’s most popular Kids follow-up makes a unique bully of Nick Stahl, whose Bobby isn’t a torturer who gets it in the end, but one whose death prompts the rest of the film’s plot. Before his friends whack him, Bobby is verbally, physically, and sexually abusive, a predator to both the girls and his best friend, Marty, a homoeroticized pawn. The twist of this film is that bullying is contagious, with the victims becoming the villains.

Ann Blyth

Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce (1945). Joan Crawford just can’t get a break. The spoiled catalyst for all of mother Mildred’s epic troubles, Ann Blyth’s abusive Veda Pierce wrings everything she can out of Crawford’s suffering heroine, even pushing Mildred to murder. A maneater, a gold-digger, and a master manipulator, Veda is every mother’s walking horror—endlessly corrupt, but impossible to turn away from. Evan Rachel Wood was aptly cast in Todd Haynes’s remake, but Blyth takes the cake for unbridled deviousness.

Danny Glover

Danny Glover in The Color Purple (1985). A wife-beater for the ages, Danny Glover’s Mister in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple is the kind of guy who could launch a thousand support groups. After inheriting Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) from a dad who fathered two of her children, Glover’s cad treats her like a slave and beats her into a hush. What’s more, he forces himself on Celie’s sister when she comes to live at casa del hell. Going from horrific to pitiful, his atrocities make Celie’s eventual independence all the more gratifying.

R. Lee Ermey

R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket (1987). Initially funny and eventually quite damaging, R. Lee Ermey’s iconic Sgt. Hartman dishes out verbal abuse like a vendor of poison, breaking down his cadets with harsh cracks about race, upbringing, golf balls and garden hoses. His words finally break the fragile Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio), whose terrifying transformation results in murder. It’s a chilling depiction of how the military can be as effective at making monsters as it can at making heroes.

Louise Fletcher

Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). A spine-tingling, infuriating embodiment of bureacratic evil, Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched is one of cinema’s harshest villains, icy right down to her orthopedic shoes. Not even an patient’s death can steer her off her by-the-book path of workaday brainwashing, which affects the morale and humanity of every resident and staff member. When her wicked ways finally become too much for Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), and he lunges for her throat, it’s a moment nearly unrivaled in drawing anticipation for a villain’s death.

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