Friday, November 22, 2013

Top 10 Evil Magic Users of the Movies

Hot on the heels of the Good Magic Users, are a pack of Evil Magic Users, as it should be.

Here I present my pick for the 10 best Evil Magic Users of the Movies.

Like the list for the Good, to be considered, the magic slinger has to have been in a movie, not just TV show, they have to wield actual power of a metaphysical nature: not science, not sawing a woman in two in a box, and I have to have seen the movie: maybe there are others worthy of the list, but if I haven't seen them, I can't judge it.

What makes a 'good' evil magic user? Not only the amount of raw power they control, despite what many of these power-hungry folks might believe.  I'm evaluating the entire character: their power, nature of their power, how it affects them, how they use it, and the nature of their character.  An evil character's role is to be the villain. That's a tough role since writers refuse to let them win in the end, so their success is based on how well they fill their role, how believable they are and how interesting they are both in the challenge they present to the hero and as an individual.

Disclaimer before I begin:
This was tough.  There are a lot more worthy candidates for Evil magic user than Good.

On we go (insert maniacal laughter here)!

#10: Nancy Downs

The Craft was one of the better movies in the Satan/Vampire/Evil Curse walks-the-high school-halls genre. And the witch who stole the show from the hero was Fairuza Balk.  Take some power from a dark god, crank it up on speed and set her loose. Of all the girls who get the power she's the one who really seems to enjoy it and embrace it the most... a little too much. Every villain needs a fatal flaw but hers was too compelling, I found myself rooting for her, maybe because of her flaw.  She's a villain who should have been an anti-hero, and that keeps her from rising too high on the list.  But she had to be here: cool character, just gorgeous (though even more so as a cat-girl in Island of Dr. Moreau) though the aforementioned chaotic overdrive causes her to look disturbingly a bit too much like Danny Elfman at times:
But still. 

#9: Tia Dalma

The Queen of the Voodoo Queens.  If Pirates was at risk of getting predictable, and I'm not sure it was, she'd be an easy cure.  There is just something entrancing about Voodoo and she does Voodoo well. 
You know a character is a good one if you find yourself thinking 'no, go back to that character' when the movie moves on.  She carves out a respectable power base given the limits and prejudices of the century she's in.  Even today... I saw Colbert interview Rick Santorum this week, and Santorum made a comment about lighting a miracle candle and praying and the wish coming true but said 'but it's not like Voodoo' .. oh man, no.. no similarities at all. In fact, if it wasn't for the prevalence of such ideas Tia might have made it to the Good Magic Users list, but as long as Western Society makes such distinctions she's going to have to work from the brush she's painted with.  But she's doing a great job of blurring that line, a mark of an interesting character. 

#8: Morgana

The nemesis of Merlin, Morgana is an impressive Magic User.  Far younger and less experienced with magic than Merlin, she manages to get the best of him and win.  Granted, she doesn't get everything she wants, and she does lose a lot in the process, but she helps bring Camelot to ruins, and what more could a villain ask for?  Freud would spill a lot of ink with her on the couch, but those issues just add to the complexity and interest of her character.  I think the only thing holding her from raising higher is her inability to think beyond the expectations of her time.  Just like Merlin, she's stuck in the idea that she can only be the power behind the throne, and keeps trying to promote her inept son to power.  If she'd only have made a try for it for herself, she might have made it, and certainly would have made it higher on the list.  

#7: White Witch

Talk about being adept at propaganda.  'White Witch' has got to be good.. right?
Unlike Morgana, the White Witch has no qualms about taking power for herself.  She sets about to take and rule Narnia and will lie, manipulate, lead armies and crush all in uncompromising winter to do it.  She is also the first to really make use of style.  OK, I do like the swampy vibe Tia has, but this Magic User remakes Narnia in her image: cool and icy that says "Winter has already come darling".  This just adds to the perception of power: everything is under her control, everything is a reflection of her.  That isn't strictly true, but then, propaganda isn't about truth, it's about impression.  She can also turn anyone to stone, and it's hard to argue with that kind of power.

#6: Grand High Witch

Angelica Huston.  She played someone using magic?  Then she's on the list.  And you know it was going to be the Evil list. With the mask or without, she was the commanding presence. I'm not sure how a powerful she-troll like this could be afraid of mice, but every villain needs a weakness as we've said.  She just oozes creepy.  And the idea of a secret society with this kind of power under our noses is tempting to believe.

#5: Queen Ravenna

If there is a limit to the character of Queen Ravenna, it is that it is very hard to imagine Snow White offering any danger to her, even if she had her sparkly vamp boytoy, which she didn't.  Two things made Snow White and the Huntsman worth watching: the special effects and Charlize Theron's Queen Ravenna.  She doesn't have the degree of control that the White Witch enjoys in Narnia, but she is more interesting because of it.  We get to see her rise to power, what she sacrifices to get there, how it affects her and her process to be just at the point of having it all, before she loses it all.  That's quite a journey.  She's limited by the nature of her story however. The tale of Snow White at it's essence is trapped in the notion that what matters more to women is their physical appearance.  If she could have got past that she'd have succeeded.  A male wouldn't likely let that get in his way.  Attractiveness is nice, but it isn't central.  As Inka says, the saying in Belarus is "Men need to be a bit more attractive than a monkey." Lucky for us men.  Granted, she's a villain, so she needs a weakness, but as weaknesses go, that isn't a very interesting one.

#4: Darth Vader

Only coming in at #4?  I'm sure he'd find my lack of faith in him disturbing.
Vader is awesome though, don't get me wrong... assuming we start with Episode 4, which I am.  This is for Darth Vader, not Anakin. Darth Vader may be second to the Emperor, but he's the top villain in the empire without a doubt.  He is the face and the raspy voice of the ever-present evil. He's got style for days, with all the troops in white and he's in "yeah, that's right, I'm right here" black. Poster child for Lawful Evil, Darth Vader is simply iconic. He has plans for an orderly galaxy and he plans on achieving it if he has to force-choke it out of it. And how many villains get to be the bad guy for the whole series only to deathbed recant and be a good guy at the end?  That's having your cake and eating it too. Brilliant!

#3: Wicked Witch of the West

When the villain not only has it out for you, but for your little dog too, you know you're dealing with a bad customer.  Opting for the long & pointy classic black outfit, she's got style too, and that's before you're introduced to the flying monkeys: anyone who employs flying monkeys is worth noting!  This introduces a villain who has a motivation that you can readily relate to.  In the original Wizard of Oz, Dorothy invades her country and kills her sister before taking her first step! Dorothy is lucky she landed in Oz instead of Texas or it could have been far worse.  The newest film though adds to the character.  I might have thought it would be hard to improve on the character, but they did, by a long margin.  Mila Kunis' Wicked Witch is an improvement on the original.  Yeah, I said it; release your flying monkeys to get me if you must.  In Oz the Great and Powerful the witch has an in-depth and believable back-story, so much so that she vies for the title of Main Character.   In the original, the West Witch is already an evil witch, her focus is turned to Dorothy because of revenge, but it isn't like she'd be any different if Dorothy never arrived, but in the new film she begins as a sweet woman who is mistreated and spurned and so becomes the villain.  The 'hero' creates his nemesis because of his own faults, which is high classic storycraft. This makes the West Witch a sympathetic character, even when she is evil, which propels her high up the list.

#2: Saruman

Saruman of Many Colors.  Being an immortal being, watching Middle Earth decay and degenerate through the ages from brilliance to dingy... the glory of the elves replaced by the quality of the dwarves replaced by the ever-less inspiring weak efforts by men...he saw the writing on the wall, he knew the direction this was headed: cut to the chase and bring on the orcs! And if it's going to happen better he is in control of it than sitting in his tower watching his property values go down. Hard to fault his logic, even if it's not the most noble choice.  Saruman is a very interesting villain.  He is not simply evil.  He is disillusioned.  He's the wounded idealist that has become a cynic.  He may be a second-rate power compared to Sauron, but Sauron is a faceless force, he is the fear of the dark, where Saruman is a villain we can understand, who we can fear more, because we can recognize the threat of becoming like Saruman ourselves.

#1: Magneto

Magneto is the ideal blend of Villain and Anti-Hero.  He's the real deal.  A fully fleshed out back story: who could not sympathize with a child who survived the Holocaust? He finds himself having great power but because of it, facing a new holocaust in a world where mutants will be labeled non-human, second class citizens, hunted, rounded up, experimented on and even exterminated.  Not again. And who could blame him? He is a villain because his methods are labeled villainous. But Magneto provides an excellent challenge to the justification of that label.  Are not oppressed people justified in fighting back or must they abstain and hope to change the minds of their oppressors?  This is the age old  debate you find through the history of such struggles.  Malcom X,  Marek Edelman, Du Boise, Geronimo, Sparticus.  Not everyone has believed that equality will be granted to the oppressed out of the kindness of the changed hearts of the oppressors.  Magneto champions this position in a fantastical fictional setting, but the proposition is very real. The fact that this character is painted as a villain likely says more about our society than the character himself, which is interesting.  Magneto holds up a mirror to our society and forces us to ask some uncomfortable questions.
There is probably no greater victory for a villain than that.

It should also be noted that Ian McKellen got top spot in both lists: Good & Evil, and in my opinion, well deserved.  Very impressive to excel so well on both sides of the coin.


So that is my list of Top 10 Evil Magic Users. 
Do you agree, disagree, have others in mind? I'd love to know.

Before I sign off, I also thought it worth pointing out something significant about the lists.  Did you notice it? 
I find it glaring.  

The Good magic users have but 2 women while the Evil magic users dominated with 7.  
Almost exact opposite statistics:

Good Women Magic Users: 2/10
Evil Women Magic Users: 7/10

Are women just inherently more evil than men?  
Jokes of mothers-in-law aside, it can't be so.  So what if anything does it say about our society?
Because I think it does indeed say something about our society and shared culture. 

There just are not many characters of female good magic users. There are a few more than I thought worthy of making the top 10... but they're either uninteresting or unimportant.  Glenda the good witch? What was her power besides being the patron saint of Lawrence Welk? It would appear that people are reluctant to see women having power, but if they do have power, then chances are the are evil. There seem to have been more female evil power wielders to chose from than men, and most of them were better at it than most of the male choices. And the top spot, a male, is so good at being bad he's nearly gone full circle to being labeled 'good' so take that for more to mentally chew on.  

It would seem that our society is still very scared of women with power and has an underlying assumption that if a woman does have or seeks power, she's most likely a threat.  

I'd guess we have to work on that.  

If you read all this, thanks for slogging through it!

Edit: Looks like next year will have a new contender for the list: 


Warlord Paul said...

Only real whinge I have is no Tetsuo Shima. If it's because you haven't seen Akira, please rectify as soon as possible! :)

TamsinP said...

Well, as you had Akiro from the Arnie Conan the Barbarian, why not Thulsa Doom from the same movie? Or the priestess/queen from Red Sonja.

Other options for both this list and the "Good" list could be found in the Watch series of books and films

Laughing Ferret said...

Warlord Paul: I have seen Akira, though it's been nearly 25 years. but I did try to give preference to live action if possible, I may do an animated list at some point..

Tamsin: Yes, competition for the evil list was fierce, a lot more worthy options than the good list had. Thulsa would have made my top 20, but competition was too strong to get in the top 10. Could have some to do with his haircut... maybe a lot to do with it ;) 'watch', do you mean Night Watch? I haven't seen the next after that, that was a fun movie with a great concept for magic, but none of the characters really stood out and grabbed me.

Sean said...

Another good list, I enjoyed your discussion of each character and your summation at the end. I think that women being evil is definitely a cultural thing, Adam and Eve spring to mind, and I think speak to the pervasive thread of women being a corrupting influence. The Greeks and Trojans could have gotten along as best of friends if it wasn't for that horrible woman seducing everybody. ;) I know that's not magic, but women causing trouble or being the source of trouble seems to be a well that will never run dry.

Fiendil said...

Dude, you can't mention the White Witch (aka Jadis) without mentioning Tilda Swinton, who's utterly bonkers and was perfect to play the character.

Dan Vincent said...

Nice list, but Saruman over Sauron is an interesting choice.

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks Sean! Yeah there is a lot of odd & stupid cultural notions that go way back. That Adam & Eve myth has done all kinds of damage as a source for excuses ;)

Fiendil: She was absolutely perfect for the role, no doubt about it.

Dan: Thanks, yeah it surprised me too. I wouldn't want Sauron any other way than how he is, but he's more of an atmospheric threat than a character in how he is presented, so he just didn't seem to fit for how I defined it. If I ever made a list of mythological sources of power or something like that I'm sure he'd be scrambling up the list.

Scott said...

Another interesting list... I guess if you had posed this in the new year we would have seen what PJ does with the Necromancer AKA Sauron in the The Hobbit2... I wonder if he'd make your list then?

Another bad guy I recall is Xusia (had to look that up on IMDB), from the Sword and the Sorcerer... he makes for a rather good magic using villain... I was rather impressed by the heart pulled from chest, as a teenage viewer! Classic fantasy romp, check it out if you haven't seen it...

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