Quite simply, comedy is all about subverting expectations. For instance, audiences often can’t help but chuckle when a film’s antagonist is even more over-the-top and ridiculous than the rest of the film. Case in point, here are five excellent examples of comedic villains that manage to not only make a memorable impression but, in fact, stole every frame they appeared in. We’re disqualifying releases that aren’t aimed solely at eliciting laughter and focusing on screen baddies who contribute the most to a film’s sense of humor. So don’t expect unforgettable characters like Back to the Future‘s Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) to appear here.
1. Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), Spaceballs (1987)
As a parody of the iconic Darth Vader, the bar was already set high for Moranis to deliver a comic take on the Star Wars villain. Luckily, the actor rose to the occasion, turning in one of his best (and most quotable) performances as the bespectacled dark user of the Schwartz. Whether he’s playing with action figures of the film’s character, deepening his voice for dramatic effect or demanding that his ship ramp up to “ludicrous speed,” Dark Helmet anchors the film from the moment he sets foot onscreen, just like the Sith Lord that inspired his creation. Classic.
2. Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald), Happy Gilmore (1996)
Nowadays, many moviegoers would likely consider Adam Sandler his own biggest adversary, considering how few of his films manage to gain positive recognition. Still, of all his onscreen nemeses, few compare with the arrogant golf champion so brilliantly played by McDonald. A buffoon blissfully ignorant of his own idiocy, Shooter is so unabashedly evil that he’s a joy to watch and even more fun to see fail miserably by the film’s end. Happy Gilmore is one of very few Sandler films that is largely beloved, and Shooter McGavin is a big reason why.
3. Dr. Evil (Mike Myers), Austin Powers trilogy (1997-2002)
The Austin Powers series may be named after the groovy international man of mystery, but it was Myers’s other lead character that was the real breakout star of the films. Initially a parody of James Bond villain Blofeld, Dr. Evil — with or without Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) by his side — brightened every scene he was in, leading to an endless number of catchphrases. Sure, the character’s shtick started getting a bit stale by the third film, but Dr. Evil still has plenty of fans, as evidenced by Myers’s brief but hilarious reprisal of the role on Saturday Night Live in 2014.
4. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space (1999)
Anyone who has ever worked in an office can relate to Cole’s turn as the sleazy middle management type who wreaks havoc on the caged workers of fictional software company Initech. Coffee mug in hand, Lumbergh loves to passive-aggressively exercise his authority over his subordinates, even snagging away poor Milton’s (Stephen Root) beloved red stapler out of spite. Cole plays it so straight that Lumbergh is among the most recognizable figures in this now-classic comedy, serving as the definitive big-screen version of a boss from hell. Now about those TPS reports…
5. White Goodman (Ben Stiller), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Vince Vaughn may be the hero of this sports comedy, but it is Stiller’s against-type turn as the unhinged owner of the monstrous Globogym that is the highlight. From his insane behind-the-scenes antics (see above) to his shaggy mane and his pompous attitude, Goodman is the kind of villain that viewers love to hate, giving Stiller a much-needed break from his usual everyman persona. The fact that the actor gets to play off of real-life wife Christine Taylor in the film only cements this performance as one of his strongest to date.
- Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), Blazing Saddles (1974)
- Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight), Caddyshack (1980)
- Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
- Pat Healy (Matt Dillon), There’s Something about Mary (1998)
- Mugatu (Will Ferrell), Zoolander (2001)
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