Forget your Shakespeares, your merchant ivory performances, your biopics of Nelson Mandela every great actor should aspire to play the role of one truly great asshole in their career.
There is no role that movie audiences will remember with such fondness and clarity as that of an obnoxious asshole. They get to chew up the screen, always have the best lines and they are always the characters that audiences love to hate.
The role of the movie asshole reached its peak in the 80's where pretty much every film had some prick causing mischief. I fear in such politically correct times, the days of the asshole are numbered.
I've picked out a few performances that have stayed with me for their sheer asshole quotient. Feel free to add your own
Film: Die Hard
Character: Harry Ellis
Actor: Hart Bochner
If you have not seen Die Hard you must either be blind or have never owned a TV such is the film's dirty vested ubiquity. It is rare to have a film stuffed full of so many memorable characters, from Alan Rickman's fabulously preening piece of "Eurotrash" (Hans Gruber) to Alexander Gudunov's cold eyed killer Karl, the casting director Jackie Birch should be given a medal.
Despite the stellar cast one man rises above it all. That man is Harry Ellis, the coked-up slimeball who attempts to smirk his way out of trouble by betraying John McClane who is causing the terrorists untold trouble with his Yippeekayaying and what not. He is the distillation of everything that was bad/good about the 80's condensed into one bearded, Rolex-wearing, suit-with-the-sleeves-rolled-up yuppie asshole. He calls people "babe" and says "capisci". He is truly brilliant. Along with Gordon Gecko he is probably the pin-up par-excellence that most City bankers still jerk off to.
"Hey, I read the papers, I watch 60 minutes, I say to myself, these guys are professionals, they’re motivated, they’re happening. They want something. Now, personally, I don’t care about your politics. Maybe you’re pissed at the camel Jockeys, maybe it’s the Hebes, Northern Ireland, that’s none of my business. I figure, you’re here to negotiate, am I right?"
Asshole Rating (Out of 10) 9
Film: The Karate Kid
Character: Terry Silver
Actor: Thomas Ian Griffith
A stone cold classic, the Karate Kid series is awash with assholes (I refuse to include The Next Karate Kid in the this as the Hilary Swank vehicle was a complete abomination and a celluloid travesty). Daniel Larusso had to battle past a succession of the finest assholes in cinematic history from Martin Kove's sadistic John "Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it!" Kreese, to preppy Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka), nutcase "Bad Boy" Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), psychopathic Chozen (Yuji Okumoto,) and author of the immortal line "Put him in a body bag Johnny, yeah! " Cobra Kai weasel Tommy (Rob Garrison).
However leader of the pack is Terry Silver the corrupt ponytailed millionaire of Dynatox industries(he dumps nuclear waste, what an asshole right?) and martial arts expert who appears in Karate Kid 3 to help out his old army buddy Kreese when he goes bankrupt. To get revenge on Larusso he puts him through a series of sadistic training regimes with the aim to put him out of commission before the All Valley Tournament. He takes particular delight in making Larusso's knuckles bleed.
Thomas Ian Griffith does a great line in arrogant smirks and over the top evil laughs. You want your assholes to be OTT and boy does Griffith deliver.
"All right, all right, I've heard enough. I've made up my mind. This slope, what's his name - Miyagi - and that punk kid - I'm gonna get them for what they did to you. They made you suffer, so I'm gonna make them suffer... and suffer and suffer and when I think they've suffered enough, then I start with the pain."
Asshole rating: 8
Character: Walter Peck
Actor: William Atherton
If there's something strange in your neighbourhood its probably because this asshole as turned off the power grid to the containment unit. Peck is a pen pushing EPA agent who does things by the book and doesn't believe in the supernatural. He is directly responsible for the paranormal catastrophe that engulfs New York after throwing his toys out of the pram when refused a tour of Ghostbusters HQ by Peter Venkman.
Actor William Atherton was born to play the asshole as he also portrays shitbag reporter Richard Thornburg in Die Hard and slimy Professor Hathaway in Real Genius.
As is the rule with assholes in 80's films he gets his comeuppance in the end
Dr Ray Stantz: Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.
Walter Peck: They caused an explosion!
Mayor: Is this true?
Dr. Peter Venkman: Yes it's true.
Dr. Peter Venkman: This man has no dick.
Asshole Rating: 6
Film: Back To Future
Character: Biff Tannen
Actor: Thomas F Wilson
Nemesis of Marty McFly and stereotypical bully, Tannen is the archetypal meat-headed prick with a coterie of hangers-on, who is just as much an asshole in the first film as his great grandfather "Mad Dog" Tannen is in the last.
He routinely picks on George McFly and abuses Marty's mum Lorraine during their sham of a marriage and to be honest he is more of a pest than a serious asshole as he lacks both the charisma and the verbal dexterity to move him to the highest echelons of the asshole world.
A bit of an idiot Tannen pretty much relies on his size to compensate for his inadequacies in the brain department. Even when it all goes his way and he makes millions through the Sports Almanac he still can't satisfy Marty's mother who only gets with him because she needs the money.
Of course he gets a traditional covering of manure in all three films to bring him back down to earth.
Biff: Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Huh? Think, McFly! Think! Your old man, Mr. Loser?
Marty McFly: What?
Biff: That's right. Loser with a capital "L".
Marty McFly: Look, I happen to know that George McFly is not a loser...
Biff: [interrupts] I'm not talkin' about George McFly. I'm talkin' about his kid! Your old man, Marty McFly Sr.? The man who took his life and flushed it completely down the toilet.
Asshole rating: 4
Film: Dawn of the Dead
Actor: Ty Burrell
Ty Burrell does a bang on job making Steve as obnoxious as possible as one of the rag-tag group of survivors hunkering down in a faceless mall from the zombie hoards desperate for their flesh in Zack Snyder's superior remake.
Steve is the sort of guy who ties his jumper round his neck and wears sunglasses indoors. He does as little as possible to help his fellow survivors and has a sarcastic remark for everything. When it comes down to it he is a stone cold coward and only out for himself. Perfect. I have come to the conclusion that the best assholes are Yuppie assholes. Their nihilism, smugness and sense of self-worth make you want to punch them in the face and pat them on the back at the same time.
To top it off Steve is seen cavorting with some nubile blondes on his yacht on some old camcorder footage seen at the end of the film but you know the rules, he quickly comes a cropper and is bitten by zombies as the gang make their escape. Shame.
Still its nice to see assholes are not just confined to the 80's
Michael: Look, there's no point in arguing about this, all right? We need a solution. We need... we need to get some food over there.
Steve: Yeah, OK, I have an idea. We draw straws and the loser runs across the lot with a ham sandwich.
Ana: Could you be a bigger prick?
Steve: You know, I think I could, but that's irrelevant. My question to you is, what's your plan?
Asshole Rating: 7
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