Cinematic Sickos: The Top 10 Movie Psychos

Cannibals, matricidal mother killers, Nazis—sometimes actors go creepily deep to play some of the worst people imaginable. Here are 10 movies in which they completely nailed their villainous roles—and completely freaked us out.

1. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers are responsible for many memorable killers, but none more than Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. Embodying an unstoppable force of evil and wielding—among other weapons—a compressed-air cattle stunner, Chigurh stalks the desert collecting souls. Bardem himself collected an Oscar for the role.

2. Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), Monster
Charlize Theron added freckles, fraying hair and 40 pounds to play real-life killer Aileen Wuornos. Body manipulation aside, her skillful alchemy of brutality, tearful pathos and paranoia was so mesmerizing and disturbing that audiences left the movie with feelings they did not want to feel. Another Oscar-winning, career-making role.

3. Colonel Hanz Landa (Christoph Waltz), Inglourious Basterds
Austrian movie star Christoph Waltz crashed Hollywood as cruel, calculating Colonel Hans Landa. “Nazi Jew-hunter” is never a label you’d want to “made for,” but try to imagine Inglourious Basterds flying without him. From the first scene’s sadistic interrogation to his final agonizing plea, Waltz was a revelation.

4. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), Blue Velvet
David Lynch was reluctant to cast the notorious Hopper as Frank Booth, an amyl nitrate-sucking psychopath who terrorizes the lives of everyone in the movie and the dreams of anybody in the audience. But nobody could have played this tweaked freak like Hopper.

5. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), Silence of the Lambs
Although Silence of the Lambs centers around catching the skin-caped, crotch-tucked ghoul Buffalo Bill, guess which killer steals this show: Anthony Hopkins’ cannibalizing, other-man’s-face wearing Hannibal Lecter. Thanks to Hopkins, Hannibal is a household name.

6. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), The Shining
Never dull, Nicholson has played all manner of nut jobs. Yet nothing spiked the psycho-meter like ax-wielding Jack Torrance. Blame it on a jinxed hotel. Blame it on the creepy ghost girls. Blame it on writer’s block. Whatever the cause, when Jack chases his son through the maze, you feel he’s you.

7. Kit/Holly (Martin Sheen/Sissy Spacek), Badlands
Before Mickey and Mallory raised Hell in Natural Born Killers, a young Terrence Malick directed Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek through a spree modeled after the real-life Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate. Sheen’s James Dean-worshipping Kit and Spacek’s childlike Holly blast their way through nowheresville (and one of the weirdest soundtracks ever), camping out in trees, kissing like sloppy teenagers, shooting strangers and inspiring arguably Bruce Springsteen’s best record.

8. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), Psycho
Corpse shrine in the basement? Check. A little bit nervous and peculiar? Check. Taxidermy? Yup. Multiple personalities? Gigantic steak knife wielded by cold, personality-less monster? Did somebody say “horror movie staples?” While credit for the Adam of film psychopaths may go to Peter Lorre or even Robert Mitchum, there can be no denying who its Abraham was. Sure, Anthony Perkins never found a role to match this one, but isn’t it because, well, he was so good as Norman Bates?

9. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) Taxi Driver
De Niro’s no slouch when it comes to acting crazy (Cape Fear for starters), and thanks to Taxi Driver, he gave millions of men something to say while staring sternly at themselves in the mirror. Less a cold-blooded killer than a wacky vigilante with a cause, Bickle shaved his head to a mohawk that couldn’t hide his loose screws.

10. Vega/Winnfield (John Travolta/Samuel L. Jackson), Pulp Fiction
Travolta’s Vincent Vega and Jackson’s Jules Winnfield are so charming, so likeable, so lushly-haired, that you might forget the characters are actually ruthless assassins. And—like it or not—this Oscar-nominated part returned Travolta to superstardom.

Want more psychos, gore and guts? Check out our Top 10 list of French horror movies.

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