Comfortable and Furious

The 20 Most Ruthless Movie Performances of All Time

The Dark Gospel According to Matt Cale: The 20 Most Ruthless Movie Performances of All Time

Perhaps the most ruthless ever

This Guy? He was in a class of his own.

Men who kill without conscience. Hired guns who slaughter children and see no contradiction in loving their own. Women who suck cock one minute, and coldly arrange a hit the next. Who are these people? For the Ruthlessly inclined, they are not, in the words of Colonel Kurtz, “men to be feared,” but rather — and in all cases — the most appealing characters in any given scene. They command attention with their unfeeling inhumanity; they send us into a dizzying spin of blood lust and misanthropic glee with their repudiation of all decency and their absolute contempt for society’s norms; and above all, they never, ever apologize.

They may in fact be selfish and rotten to the marrow, but you’re unlikely to catch them in a third act reversal. As the final scenes tick away, we know with absolute confidence that it will not be the redemption and approval they seek, but rather an additional sneer from a disapproving audience. Your affection for them is incidental; something they can toss off without a moment’s pause. They don’t give a fuck, but I sure as hell do.

Paul Kersey

The Death Wish series

Paul kersey

Here’s a man responsible for hundreds of bloody, painful deaths, only a few of which actually have any connection to his personal tragedy. In a sense, these punks and thugs are paying for the fact that the people responsible for the murder of his wife were never caught. Kersey is humorless, robotic, and calculated, in addition to being the most efficient killing machine ever produced by the mind of a screenwriter. And while he tries to enjoy other pleasures (mechanical sex with women who die soon afterwards), his mind is always on how he intends to put a bullet into a creep’s brain or chest. Kersey made murder fun again.

Read Matt Cale’s full review of Death Wish
Read Matt Cale’s full review of Death Wish II
Read Matt Cale’s full review of Death Wish III
Read Matt Cale’s full review of Death Wish IV
Read Matt Cale’s full review of Death Wish V


Once Upon a Time in the West

No list is complete without at least one unrepentant child killer, and ole blue-eyed Henry Fonda fits the bill better than anyone else. Fine, he’s a bastard in that he serves railroad interests and the slaughter of innocents, but he doesn’t make any effort to rationalize what he’s doing. Frank wants money, businessmen are willing to part with it for a service, and the transaction is nothing more than a friendly gentleman’s agreement. Frank sleeps well at night, thank you very much, and he’s not above dreaming up new excuses to butcher the young.

Read Matt Cale’s full review of Once Upon A Time In The West

George S. Patton


Granted, the man actually existed, but as played by George C. Scott, few characters in screen history have been as commanding and full of unyielding intensity. I’m as anti-war as the next guy, but I’d suit up and kill, kill, kill! if this man so much as glared in my direction. He’s mean, heartless, and uncompromising, but all of that is tempered by the fact that he was also a military genius and the one guy that made Nazis shit their pants with fear. He slaps whimpering soldiers, stands up to aircraft with a pistol, and would have led a charge to the very gates of Moscow had he been given the chance. And that speech in front of the giant flag? Sheer fucking brilliance; arguably the best opening scene in the long annals of film.

Read Matt Cale’s full review of Patton

The Marquis de Sade


He’s willing to stand naked before us, mocking religion, ripping God limb from limb, and arguing passionately for the virtues of perversion and blood lust; hes as Ruthless as they come. Played by Geoffrey Rush in the role of his life, the Marquis champions the individual human conscience as the lone sacred element of life, and manages to reveal the self-righteous hypocrisies of us all in just two hours time. That, and he spits in the Bible. And the lengths to which he will go in order to defend artistic freedom? The stuff of heroism, dear readers. While we waste away in apathy, complacency, and superstitious fear, the fearless de Sade lives on through the power of cinema.

Read Matt Cale’s full review of Quills

Andy the Gun Salesman

Taxi Driver

Perhaps you were expecting the more obvious choice of DeNiro’s Travis Bickle, but I would argue that cool, dispassionate Andy is the most frightening character in the film. With a boyish face and classy suit, Andy could pass for any young executive in the big city, but instead of insurance he peddles guns, drugs, and stolen merchandise (“Do you want a Cadillac?”) with an unapologetic glee. He discusses instruments of death as if he’s chatting about the weather, and he’d be the first one to claim exemption from responsibility for the explosion of urban violence. As such, he’s the true lunatic because, like people in corporations and government, he can detach from the consequences of his behavior and rationalize the whole thing as just business. Bickle’s rage I can understand; Andy is just a cold opportunist.

The Stranger

High Plains Drifter

What can be said about a man who, within the first twenty minutes, utters only ten words (two of which are “beer” and “room”), brutally rapes a sassy whore (who had the audacity to call him “whiskey breath”), and, while getting a shave, murders three men in cold blood? Fucking Ruthless, by any measure, definition or point of view. With his unmatched squint, disregard of human life, and the ability to emerge unscathed after facing down at least five point-blank shots while taking a bath, Clint Eastwood has never been better. It takes guts to play a character this mean, selfish, and detached, and he does it effortlessly. Plus he appoints a midget as mayor and sheriff, paints the whole town red (especially the church) and renames said town Hell.

Read Erich’s full review of High Plains Drifter


In the Company of Men

For all the men who have been beaten down by manipulative women, or been forced to endure petty, selfish, unnerving cunts year after year, Aaron Eckhart’s Chad is an unmatched hero. But lest you think he is mean and selfish because he got hurt, he eventually reveals his true malevolence: he displays cruelty for no other reason than the chestnut, “because he can.” Women across the country hated the film, I’m guessing because at one time they have all loved a man like Chad. And perhaps still do.

Read Matt’s full review here.

General Buck Turgidson

Dr. Strangelove

No character I can remember ever loved war more than George C. Scott’s Buck–even Scott’s own General Patton. Turgidson is a womanizing, macho, ridiculous ham of a man who salivates at the mere thought of nuclear annihilation. Uttering one of the greatest lines in film history — “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed” — regarding the “acceptable” loss of 10-20 million Americans in a war against the Soviets, Buck is like a cigar-chomping football coach, motivational speaker, and murderous madman all rolled into one. He’s a true original who also wouldn’t mind an extended nuclear winter, so long as he could spend his time in the mine shaft with a few dozen fertile, nubile females.

Read Matt Cale’s full review of Dr. Strangelove

Bridget Gregory

The Last Seduction

Why not a Ruthless woman? And why not the best? Linda Fiorentino is a sexy seductress who manages to play men for fools at every turn, and yet I would have thrown it all away for a night in Bridget’s sheets. She’s cunning, greedy, vicious, and a dynamo in bed, and what’s more, she wouldn’t think of apologizing for it. The best part of her character is that she never changes; She fails to find redemption and never seeks it to begin with. She fools ’em all, gets away with murder, and laughs all the way to the bank. Thank Christ.

Popeye Doyle

The French Connection

We all know about the famous car chase, but Gene Hackman’s performance as obsessed NYC cop Popeye Doyle is the true centerpiece of this wonderfully downbeat film. Not only does the bad guy get away, but Doyle also guns down a fellow officer in his maniacal pursuit of a drug kingpin and doesn’t seem to give a shit. Given Doyle’s cynicism, world-weariness, racism, and ultra-hard edge, it is easy to believe that he’d kill a dozen men in blue in order to break the case. And then there’s a scene few people remember because it passes without much fanfare. We see Doyle drive alongside a sexy bicycle rider, then we cut to Doyle asleep in a messy bed, and as we pull out, we notice that same bicycle leaning against the wall and the unseen female off screen, presumably taking a shower. Any man who would use his badge to get laid is one helluva Ruthless cop.

Sanjuro Kuwabatake


Japanese legend Toshiro Mifune was flawless in everything he touched, but his most Ruthless performance is here, where he expressed the most disdain for his fellow man. Working as a hired gun with little but contempt for his employers (and he’s just fine setting rivals against each other to benefit himself), he slashes off arms with precision, works out a persistent shoulder pain with a twitch and a glare, and, in the end, would rather be left alone to enjoy his rice balls and Sake. Sanjuro is so full of bitterness that it can’t help but be endearing. And is there a better start to a film than watching a dog run off with a human hand in its mouth?


Glengarry Glen Ross

Alec Baldwin might have received an Oscar nomination for his recent turn in The Cooler, but it is here, as the biggest S.O.B. you’re ever likely to meet, where he makes his most lasting impression. In a cruel, humiliating speech written exclusively for the film, Blake uses the sheer force of his words to reduce desperate salesman to piles of emasculated jelly. He is self-righteous, arrogant, callous, and spits with a fire hot enough to keep any man from ever coming to work again. When a character says, “‘Cause only one thing counts in this world — get them to sign on the line which is dotted,” and believes it body and soul, we have truly entered the realm of the Ruthless.

Michael Corleone

The Godfather Part II

Where do we begin? Transformed from a mild-mannered ex-soldier wanting to help out his beloved papa, to a brutal, murderous crime boss, Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is certainly Ruthless, and just as forcefully one of the most memorable characters in all of cinema. Here is a man who smacks his wife for having an abortion, has his own brother murdered, ridicules the only man who remains loyal, and insists on assassinating a dying Hyman Roth out of sheer bloodlust. Having left his once proud family in tatters, he remains unloved, alone, and rotting away in self-loathing and paranoia. And that’s just the way he wants it.

Read Matt Cale’s full review of The Godfather 2


The Rapture

An odd choice to be sure, but few actresses have been as brave as Mimi Rogers in this film. And I’m talking about more than the wild swinging, the loveless sex, and the suicidal urges. Sharon achieves true Ruthlessness when she murders her own child to “send her to God,” but her most radical act, one that stands as one of the bravest I have yet seen, occurs in the final scenes. Faced with undeniable evidence that God does indeed exist and told that accepting him will ensure an eternity in heaven with her daughter, she chooses instead to reject the Almighty. Pretty much tells the cocksucker to fuck off. By accepting her fate — alone for all time without love or companionship — she has demonstrated more courage than a million idiotic saps who live and die for Jesus.

Dr. Herbert Bock

The Hospital

I’ve mentioned George C. Scott’s fiery performance before (read the review), but it bears repeating: few have expressed their absolute disgust for life and humanity with such an intense, articulate passion. He’s suicidal, hateful, contemptuous, self-deprecating, and even rapes a hippy chick (three times!!!) to put icing on the cake. There isn’t a false note or untruth in anything we hear from Bock, which is why we sit there dumbfounded as to how someone got it all so right.

Read Matt Cale’s full review of The Hospital

Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney

The Ruling Class

Peter O’Toole’s mad-as-a-hatter Earl (who believes he is Jesus Christ) says the following in response to the question, “How do you know you’re God?” — “Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.” Regarding religion, it is perhaps the most logical thing anyone has ever said. The movie itself is a silly and outrageous satire of, well, just about everything we hold dear, which means it is just the sort of thing that would never be made today. O’Toole is brilliantly daffy; hanging out on a massive cross for relaxation, breaking into song, and blasting away our ideas about madness, concluding (quite simply) that if he must be classified as insane, what does make the rest of us?

Harold Bissonette

It’s a Gift

No list of Ruthless bastards is complete without the incomparable W.C. Fields, easily the most misanthropic man to ever hit the silver screen. The film itself hasn’t aged well in some respects, but Harold lives on, threatening young children with ice picks, mumbling hateful remarks about his wife, and in general, visibly displaying his contempt for his fellow man at every turn. And he’s an unapologetic drunk to boot, using the sweet sauce to dull the pain of his rotten life. He’s our everyman, suffering the tortures of the damned and only barely mustering up the strength to fight back.

Jesus Christ

L’Age d’Or

You heard me. Luis Bunuel’s surrealist masterpiece gives us a Jesus who not only looks half-stoned, but proceeds to rape a woman he takes into his confidence. And for some reason, he appears, post-assault, without any facial hair. Now that’s a Messiah.



In the spirit of the previous nominee, let me also bring you the God of Bill Paxton’s Frailty, a deity who demands that his followers butcher the various sinners of the world. Not only that, he asks that the kiddies join in the axe-wielding fun! The film is a daring vision of religious fanaticism, made complete by the fact that the characters are not insane, but are actually hearing the voice of God commanding them to kill. It’s a Ruthless conception of God, sure, but the only one that makes any sense.

Read Erich’s full review of Frailty

Jennifer Hill

I Spit on Your Grave

Hey, who can blame the woman for a little violent revenge? She’s raped repeatedly by scumbags (including a retarded fella) and it’s only natural that she commit a murder or two to cleanse the soul. I especially liked it when she castrated one of the rapists while he bathed. Having no mercy whatsoever, she also massacres the ‘tard, proving herself to be one efficient killing machine. She’s a chick for the ages, even if the movie is one of filmdom’s all-time worst.

There are even more  Ruthless Villains here.



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