From Green Goblin to Bobby Peru

Willem Dafoe is at its best when playing villains. Over the years, directors and producers have harnessed Dafoe’s nefarious acting skills to create memorable cinematic works. Whether he’s playing a criminal, a cop, or a more outlandish person, casting Dafoe as the antagonist always feels like it ups the ante a little. Here are some of Dafoe’s most notable roles as an enemy.

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Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart (1990)

Wild at heart through David Lynch is a film that shows the dark and violent side of American life. Dafoe plays a terrifying robber named Bobby Peru, who leads the main characters Sailor (Nicholas cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) join in while you’re on the run. Unfortunately, this deranged criminal is not friendly. All of his scenes are memorably repulsive, thanks in large part to Dafoe’s performance. Though most of his actions are horrifying, namely attempted rape and murder, Dafoe’s performance undoubtedly made those actions even more terrifying. He also sports a sleazy pencil-thin mustache and rotten teeth that make him look like a hideous amalgamation of Steve Buscemi and John water, a match made in heaven for the Peruvian counterpart. Wonderful performances bring this Lynch road trip film to life.


Paul Smecker in Boondock Saints (1999)

Despite being more of an anti-hero than a true villain, this role deserves a mention as Dafoe does a great job as an antagonist to the protagonists, who are anti-heroes themselves. Boondock Saints is a hilarious, action-packed film about brothers Connor and Murphy MacManus taking the law into their own hands, portrayed by Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus. Dafoe plays FBI Special Agent Paul Smecker, who is tasked with finding the vigilante responsible for a series of murders. Some fantastic moments are his visit to a priest at the confessional, internalized homophobia towards his lovers or patrons at his favorite gay bar, and his field research which consists of listening to classical music while trying to recreate crime scenes in his head. He struggles with one of the film’s major themes, the blurring of lines between good and evil. He’s a fantastic choice for a villain, which at times gives you hope that he will succeed and put an end to the Saints’ angelic crime spree of the same name. The payoff that comes with developing his character, which will not be spoiled here, is also very satisfying.

gasoline clean existZ (1999)

In this sci-fi horror about simulation and virtual reality, Dafoe plays a little villain who agrees to help the film’s main characters, a player-played Jew law and a game designer played by Jennifer Jason Leighbefore turning on her to claim a bounty placed on the designer’s head by anti-virtual reality realists. existZ is a David Kronenberg film, but the practical effect of casting harsh shadows on Willem Dafoe’s face stands out among all the fantastic Cronenberg inventions on set. While Gas only plays a minor role in this sci-fi horror epic, Dafoe’s half-covered menacing face is unforgettable. Gas also fits into the film’s themes that reality is not what it seems, albeit in the very simple sense of a personal betrayal. The rest of the film explores the blurred lines between virtual reality and… what’s the word for real reality?

Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalized account of what happened on the set of Nosferatu. Dafoe is playing Max frightwho is the actor in which Count Orlok plays Nosferatu. His portrayal as a character actor drinking blood and attacking fellow actors is so frightening that one wonders if Dafoe was just as frightening on the set of this film. His portrayal of Max Schreck is uncanny, both as a standalone performance and in how perfectly Dafoe recreates and conveys the character of Count Orlok. This performance as a character actor also earned Dafoe his second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, although, like Schreck as Count Orlok, he clearly steals the show and is remembered as the film’s star.

Detective Donald Kimball in American Psycho (2002)

How with Boondock Saints, american psycho finds Dafoe as NYPD Detective Donald Kimball confronted with a criminal. Again, he plays the foil for the much more nefarious protagonist, but he feels like a villain as the story progresses through Patrick Batemans (Christian Bale) Eyes. not how Boondock SaintsHowever, audiences will not find Bateman’s crime streak likable, save for the discomfort he experiences as a successful American feeling senseless. However, it’s almost impossible to tell how close Bateman Kimball is to catching. This is partly due to a creative choice by the director MaryHarron‘s part, which was beautifully executed by Dafoe: she had him do three separate takes for each scene, one where he knew Bateman was guilty, one where he had no idea, and one where he did something was suspicious but unsure. Then, as she edited, she stitched all the takes together to create the erratic and unpredictable feel that characterizes Donald Kimball’s interviews with Patrick Bateman.

The Green Goblin in Spider-Man (2002)

This Sam Raimi Classic is the first thing that springs to mind for many when they think of Dafoe villain roles. He’s nightmare fuel, whether he’s putting on his mask or playing his alter ego Norman Osborne and descending into insanity. Raimi loves the insane villain archetype and has chosen to bring a touch of madness to all of the villains in his trilogy. Dafoe is a great choice for this role as you’ll scream “out” inside when Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) visits the Osborne residence to meet with Harry (James Franco).

Thomas Wake in The Lighthouse (2019)

In this role, Dafoe plays a creepy lighthouse keeper. Whether he is a victim or a purveyor of the evil that haunts him and Thomas (Robert Pattinson), his compelling portrayal of madness adds a certain chill factor to this Robert Eggers classic. Even as an alcoholic with megalomania, he is highly entertaining. He speaks with a seaman’s accent and occasionally tirades about the myth of the deep. He also seems to be in love with the lighthouse of the same name. This film is disturbing, yet one you’ll want to watch again and again.

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