9 Big Western Villains We Love To Hate

Every hero needs a villain, and audiences love movies that give them a villain to hate, someone they can shake their fist at. The wicked are to be feared and fought until they are put six feet under, setting the world right. The best villains, like die hardby Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), become cultural icons.

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Traditional westerns always come with a big bad guy, usually someone equipped with scars, snickers, and a six-gunner. If they aren’t comfortable with a gun themselves, they know where to find plenty of guns to rent. Revisionist westerns also have their villains, usually with white hats and marshal badges, proving that evil is like evil.

Jack Wilson from ‘Shane’ (1953)

With echoes of Kurosawait is Seven Samurai, is the story of warriors writing their own epitaphs. In 1953 Shanethough the frontier gives way to civilization as farmers and traders turn open fields into towns, brutal cattle baron Rufus Ryker is determined to stop it in any way possible by evicting the farmers from Wyoming Territory .

One of Ryker’s weapons is the shooter Jack Wilson, played with lean, terse, deadly perfection by Jack Palance. Wilson’s sting of an angry Frank Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr.) in a fight the Farmer cannot win ends up setting up his own death at the hands of the eponymous Shane (Alan Ladd) at the film’s climax. At the end, a wounded Shane sends himself into exile, a fitting signal that the gunslinger’s day is over.

Liberty Valance in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)

In another movie about cattle barons fighting civilization, Lee Marvin plays the brutal Liberty Valance, an outlaw used by the cattle barons to do their dirty work. New Lawyer Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) is determined to see men like Valance brought to justice, even if it means putting his own life on the line. Luckily for Stoddard, he has the secret backing of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).

In this 1962 film, Stoddard’s campaign for justice seems nearly impossible in the face of the threat posed by Liberty Valance. What chance does the law have against someone who disrespects it so blatantly? Valance is the epitome of bullying villainy, and audiences can’t wait to see him knocked down.

Frank in “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968)

1968 Once upon a Time in the Westrealized by Sergio Leone and marked by Ennio Morricone, represents the line of sight of the spaghetti western. In a convoluted plot centered on the land grabbing of an enterprising railroad magnate, Henry Fonda plays against type as his gun, known only as Frank.

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Frank’s indifference as he murders four innocent people at a farm called ‘Sweetwater’ at the start of the film, including three children, turns the audience against him, only willing to let him live long enough for a final, satisfying showdown with Harmonica. (Charles Bronson) on the same farm. It’s a neat circle and a fitting ending for a truly despicable villain.

Calvera in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960)

This 1960 remake of Seven Samurai is more about the journey made by a mixed bag of heroes recruited to fight for a battered farming village than the conflict between hero and villain. In fact, Calvera, the leader of the bandits who were attacking the village and playing with a supernatural threat by Eli Wallachis confused that someone like hero leader Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) would like to defend the village… after all, Calvera and Adams are two sides of the same coin.

It’s this lack of basic human empathy in Calvera that makes him so hateful, that he sees no harm in being a parasite. Even as he lies dying, shot by Adams, he can only ask his killer why a man like him would fight on behalf of the farmers.

Angel Eyes in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966)

The most famous of spaghetti westerns, 1966 The good the bad and the ugly gives us three bad guys, but only one who is bad through and through. While the man with no name (Clint Eastwood) and Tuco (Eli Wallach, again) are not saints, nor cold enough to be hated. Ruthless Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), on the other hand, is someone the public doesn’t instantly like.

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Van Cleef built a career being a villain that audiences loved to hate, but he also played much more likable characters: for example, in this film’s prequel, For a few dollars moreVan Cleef plays one of the good guys.

Bill Daggett in “Unforgiven” (1992)

Often referred to as a revisionist western, 1992 unforgiven is a western devoid of any heroes, but stuffed to the brim with villains. The character we sympathize with the most, Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny, is an aging ex-outlaw who’s just trying to make ends meet, but who in the past was a brutal and dastardly killer.

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The villain the public hates, however, is Sheriff “Little” Bill Daggett (Hackman Gene), which uses violence and intimidation to keep everyone in line, including the law-abiding, a betrayal of what a good sheriff is supposed to be. No one has the guts to stand up to him until he kills Munny’s best friend, Ned (Morgan FREEMAN), and Munny resurrects his dark side in revenge. In the end, audiences might applaud Daggett’s end but will struggle to applaud his killer.

Vinnie Harold in “The Fastest Gun in the World” (1956)

Glenn Ford made great Westerns in his day, and like Jimmy Stewart, when he was called, he had a knack for portraying a hero and an Everyman at the same time. In The fastest weapon in the world (1956), he played George Kelby Jr., the son of a famous lawman, and although he’s never been in a shootout, he’s almost supernaturally quick at the draw. A mild-mannered general store owner, he is despised by the townspeople until the day it becomes too much for him: he retrieves his father’s gun and shows the townspeople what he is capable of.

Enter Vinnie Harold, who kills other gunslingers to prove he’s the fastest gun. Played by Broderick Crawford with wondrous, bossy malice, he calls Kelby and learns what it means to be the second-fastest gun in the West. Willing to kill just to prove a point and feed his own pride, Vinnie Harold is an easy villain to hate.

Captain Harrison Love in “The Mask of Zorro” (1998)

Zorro is one of Hollywood’s eternal heroes, representing a time when Spain and then Mexico still ruled California and the weapon of choice was the rapier, not the pistol. The films taking place at this time bridge two major genres: the swordsman and the western. In 1998 The Mask of Zorro, Antonio Banderas plays the masked vigilante with a lot of momentum, while Stuart Wilson like Don Rafael makes a suave villain.

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But the villain audiences really want to see skewered is Don Rafael’s hired thug, Captain Harrison Love (based on a real historical figure), played relishingly by Matt Letcher. It’s Love’s flippant cruelty and sly veneer of superiority that makes him so detestable. His ending, when it comes, not only impaled by Zorro’s rapier but then flattened by a cartload of plummeting gold bars, is both fitting and hugely satisfying.

Joe Lefors in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)

Best of Western Buddy Movies, 1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid won William Goldman an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The film is based on the true story of two train robbers, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), who flee the United States for Bolivia where they end up falling into the hands of Bolivian soldiers.

The duo flees the United States to escape the pursuit of Joe Lefors, a famous (and historic) lawman. Lefors is a villain in the public eye not because he’s evil, but because he’s relentless. All viewers see of him is a distant figure chasing after our heroes relentlessly, identified only by the white skimmer he carries. Lefors is not so much hated as feared; he represents fate, justice, and death, and is thus transformed into the most ominous of all villains.

NEXT: 10 Most Iconic Western Protagonists, From ‘True Grit’ to ‘Dollars Trilogy’

9 Big Western Villains We Love To Hate – GameSpot