We all have an off day at work now and then. Computers crash without prior warning, sending hours of unsaved effort tumbling into the ether. Traffic jams make us late. Customers say rude things.
On days like these, we all need a vent for our pent-up frustration. This can take many forms, from smashing keyboards with fists, kicking over bins, heading for the nearest pub, or simply hiding in a darkened bedroom with a Depeche Mode album on an endless loop.
For the sociopathic action movie villain, gunning down or otherwise maiming a slack-jawed henchman is the equivalent of smashing a keyboard during a hard day at the office. Usually accompanied by the immortal words, “You’ve failed me for the last time”, the death of said henchman serves two purposes: it warns the villain’s remaining employees to redouble their efforts, and sends an important message to the audience – this guy means business.
The following entries are therefore devoted to a common and understandable action movie staple: villains who kill their own henchmen in a fit of rage. It’s neither a big nor clever thing to do, but when you have people like Luke Skywalker, Batman and scary Mel Gibson running around, ruining your nefarious plans, you’re bound to lose your temper sooner or later. Especially if you’re Joss Ackland…
Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland)Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Poor Arjen Rudd. All he wanted to do was fund his retirement by doing a bit of drug smuggling, but his plans were repeatedly foiled by loose cannon cop Martin Riggs and his longsuffering partner Roger Murtaugh.
In a scene designed to illustrate the vicious streak lurking beneath Rudd’s avuncular demeanour (Joss Ackland looks like the kind of villain who enjoys eating shortbread and boiled sweets), a henchman partly responsible for the loss of a million Krugerands – shiny Apartheid South African coins illegal in the US at the time – is called into the villain’s dimly-lit office.
“Mind the plastic,” Rudd says between mouthfuls of dinner, “I’m having some painting done.” As the conversation shifts to the subject of the missing gold coins, Rudd’s cheery façade evaporates, and it becomes obvious that the plastic on the floor has a more sinister purpose. “Sometimes these things don’t go as planned,” Rudd says in his wobbly South African accent. “As you say, these things ’appen.”
Because Rudd’s a gentleman villain who wouldn’t get his hands dirty unless he absolutely had to, he leaves it up to his blonde attack dog Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor) to fire a bullet into the henchman’s forehead, thus establishing both Rudd and Vorstedt as unspeakably callous monsters. I mean, having someone killed is one thing, but while eating? Disgraceful manners.
Hernan ReyesFast Five (2011)
There are so many stunts, explosions and scenes of chummy banter in the 130 minute Fast Five that its antagonist barely gets a look-in. Nevertheless, ruthless drug lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) is at least given his own henchman murder scene for us to enjoy. Here, Reyes is so frustrated at the loss of a microchip containing vital criminal information (stored, for some reason, in a Ford GT40) that he beats one of his goons to death with a small bronze sculpture sitting on his desk.
It’s not the most memorable scene on this list, but it does represent one of the few times a bad guy’s killed a henchman with an objet d’art. Reyes may be impulsive, but he sure has class.
On a side note, it’s remarkable how many villains kill people in their own offices. It begs the question, what do the cleaners make of the blood stains they occasionally find on the carpet, or the bullet holes in the wall? Don’t people like Fast Five’s Reyes or Lethal Weapon 2‘s Rudd get sick of saying things like, “That? Oh, it’s only red wine,” or, “Yeah, it is a bullet ‘ole, actually. I was cleaning it and it went off. You can’t prove a thing. Diplomatic immunity!”?
The JokerBatman (1989)
Few scenes sum up the frustration of being a movie villain better than this one from Tim Burton’s Batman. As the Caped Crusader swoops in and steals The Joker’s poison gas-filled balloons with his swooping Batwing, the Clown Prince of Crime can only look on in horror as his plans to kill the population of Gotham disappear into the upper atmosphere.
“He Stole my Balloons! Why didn’t someone tell me he had one of those… things?” Jack Nicholson’s Joker wails, in typically understated fashion. In a moment of rage, The Joker then does what any unhinged villain would do; he politely asks his henchman Bob (Tracey Walter) for his gun, and then shoots him with it.
Sometimes, kicking a bin in a fit of pique just isn’t enough.
Bernie Rose Drive (2011)
Even this classy effort from Nicolas Winding Refn has a henchman/villain death scene, this time featuring Albert Brooks’ shady crook Bernie Rose and his grumpy business partner Nino, played by Ron Perlman.
When the Driver (Ryan Gosling) ends up with a huge sum of stolen mafia cash, Rose realises that the only way to prevent reprisals from the mob is to kill everyone who knows about the money’s disappearance – starting with the Albanian gangster, Cook. This killing, then, is more strategic than impulsive, though Roger’s methods are hideously violent: a fork in the eye serves as his starter, followed by a knife to the throat for a main course.
All of this occurs in Nino’s low-rent Italian restaurant. No wonder the poor chap looks so grumpy all the time. As the famous song goes, “When a fork hits your eye like a big pizza pie…”
Al CaponeThe Untouchables (1987)
Acting heavyweight Robert De Niro became a true criminal heavyweight as the rotund, short-tempered Al Capone in Brian De Palma’s 80s take on the prohibition TV series. Having been let down by one of his henchmen, Capone makes a memorable dinner table speech (“I get nowhere unless the team wins”) before battering the poor chap to death with a baseball bat. That’s more than enough to put the guests off their dinner before the fish course has been served.
Although The Untouchables takes numerous liberties with historical fact, the real Al Capone really did have a habit of hitting people with a baseball bat – the scene in De Palma’s movie appears to be modelled on an oft-told tale that Capone beat three suspected traitors to death at a dinner party. For once, the truth – if it did indeed happen as recorded – was even nastier than the fiction.
Largo/Ernst BlofeldFrom Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967)
It’s not at all uncommon for Bond villains to kill their henchmen, and the tendency for bad guys such as Ernst Blofeld to send goons to their doom with a touch of a button is an oft-parodied element of the 007 movies – not least in the Austin Powers films. In From Russia With Love, Kronsteen is reminded that “SPECTRE does not tolerate failure” before being assassinated with a poisoned blade hidden in a shoe.
In 1965’s Thunderball, the embezzling Number Nine is electrocuted during a board meeting at the press of a button, his frazzled body then disappearing through the floor. Later in the same film, Blofeld’s number two, Largo, disposes of another incompetent goon by feeding him to a pool full of sharks.
In You Only Live Twice, it’s Helga Brandt’s turn to be warned, “This organisation does not tolerate failure” for not killing Bond. As Helga attempts to leave the villain’s lair, Blofeld presses a footswitch, causing the hapless woman to plunge into a pool of hungry piranha.
What’s worth noting about Blofeld and other Bond villains is that they all prefer to spend their money on installing elaborate traps with which to kill their employees – if only they’d invested the cash on a better human resources department, then they’d have ended up with more competent henchpeople, and a happier working environment.
Han/BoloEnter The Dragon (1973)
There are numerous similarities to Bruce Lee’s hit swansong and the Bond movies – not least in its villain’s habit of sitting around with a cat on his lap. The evil Mr Han (Shih Kien) also has a tendency to slaughter his less competent staff – though this being a martial arts movie, they’re killed by the hulking Bolo (Bolo Yeung) rather than sharks or electrocution.
In a scene that establishes both Han’s villainy and Bolo’s physical threat, four useless guards are variously struck, crushed and snapped in two by the brawny right-hand man. In the most eye-watering moment, Bolo essentially hugs a man to death, before throwing his broken body on the floor like so much litter.
What a shame, then, that this imposing monster of a man is so easily disposed of – not by Bruce Lee, but by comb-over co-star John Saxon. Han, it seems, simply can’t get the staff.
Darth VaderStar Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Although Darth Vader walks around with the air of a coolly determined man in a sci-fi fetish outfit, he is, in fact, one of the most impulsive and violent bad guys you’ll find in genre cinema.
Throughout the Star Wars movies, from his previous life as a young Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, to wheezing cloaked overlord in the original trilogy, Lord Vader’s repeatedly vented his anger on British character actors in grey hats.
His grand introduction in A New Hope was immediately followed by a scene in which he chokes a luckless goon to death with one hand. Later, he uses his dark powers to choke General Motti (killer line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing”), forcing Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) to step in before the poor chap gasps his last.
The henchmen in The Empire Strikes Back were less lucky, and this 1980 film is a veritable festival of strangulation. In perhaps the most famous instance of a villain killing a useless henchman in film history, Vader chokes Admiral Ozzel (over an intercom, no less) while uttering the now classic, “You have failed me for the last time”.
Later in the film, it’s Captain Needa’s turn to feel the wrath of the Sith, as his failure to keep tabs on the Millennium Falcon results in him gurgling his last at Vader’s feet. “Apology accepted, Captain Needa” the dark lord says, before stomping off to plan his next evil move.
The Empire, it seems, had an extremely high turnover of staff while Darth Vader was around.
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