Out of all of the various villain archetypes out there, one of my absolute favorites is that of the evil businessman. It can be argued that this type of character has been a staple of villainy since civilization began. Power, greed, pride, ambition and elitism are all common attributes of these characters. And it seems that these same characteristics have often been considered "evil" by the lowly masses since the beginning of recorded history. It's no wonder why businessmen often make such great villains.
One of the most iconic businessman characters in history is undoubtedly Gordon Gekko from the 1987 film "Wall Street". Gordon Gekko is a highly successful and unscrupulous corporate raider, who lives a life of luxury and who acts with ruthless ambition as he conducts his various business dealings. In his infamous speech, he states "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit." And so it does. I have heard that director Oliver Stone included that speech in the film as an opportunity for the character to justify his actions. The "Greed is good" speech accomplishes this task very nicely. It is one of the best examples of movie dialog which presents the audience with a villain's point of view (a concept discussed in the Villain Speak rant). It is because of this speech that Gekko has become a poster boy for Greed itself. I'd say that's a pretty sizable accomplishment for any character and part of what makes him one of the greatest villainous businessmen of all time.
Another ruthless nineteen eighties businessman character is Patrick Bateman from "American Psycho" (2000). American Psycho is arguably my favorite film of all time, and its main character is a wealthy, 1980s yuppie who works on Wall Street by day and by night, is a serial killer. At one point in the film he states, in an internal monologue, "I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust." Although it's easiest to focus on his homicidal acts, one of the things that I find most interesting about Patrick Bateman, is his extreme materialism and narcissistic concern for his own appearance. Plus the fact that he's both a businessman and a serial killer, makes him a delightfully rare character in cinema indeed.
In the same vein, we have Jim Profit from the short-lived, but ground breaking TV series "Profit" (1996). This is a very entertaining show and is often considered ahead of its time. Profit is an ambitious businessman who is willing to do just about anything to get what he wants (including embezzlement, blackmail and murder). He is also very manipulative and is very good at messing with people's heads. And the best part is that he is the star of the show, thus making Profit a very Villainesque series.
Super villains and comic books go together like trap doors and piranha tanks. And one of the most well known super villains in the history of comics is Lex Luthor. Though beginning his evil career as a mad scientist, he soon joined the ranks of evil businessmen when in the nineteen eighties he was remade into a Machiavellian industrialist. It seems to have been a good fit and this remains a part of his identity to this day; as he continues to pit his superior intellect against the man of steel.
Another type of super villain is the Bond villain, and many of the adversaries of 007 can be rightfully placed in the villainous businessman category. Two of the better examples are Auric Goldfinger from "Goldfinger" (1964) and Max Zorin from "A View To A Kill" (1985). However, my favorite bond villain has to be Elliot Carver from "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997). The reason that I find Carver so appealing is that he's a villainous media mogul who is obsessed with information and technology. Plus, he has a very dark sense of humor. Gee, I wonder why I would enjoy a character like that? On a side note, my favorite Bond villainess is probably Xenia Zaragevna Onatopp from "Goldeneye" (1995). She's extremely hot, in that utterly psychotic kind of way.
One of the most underappreciated types of business villains is also one of the closest to my black heart; as these are the ones that I grew up with. Business villains were a staple of movies, specially horror and sci-fi, in the 80s and early 90s. In the case of horror and sci-fi films, these villain's ambitions would often result in some type of accident or experimentation which would cause something unpleasant to happen to the hero or anti hero in the film. Quite often the protagonist in the film would seem more physically monstrous than the villain.
One of the best examples of this is the 1982 movie "Swamp Thing", directed by Wes Craven. In it our villain, Dr. Anton Arcane, is seeking a formula developed by a scientist who might be even more brilliant than he is. Unfortunately, this scientist doesn't seem to want to give it up and after some violent persuasion courtesy of Arcane's henchmen, ends up becoming a part of its own experiment. He mutates into some type of half man, half plant creature. Some kind of thing that lives in a swamp; a "swamp thing", if you will. You would think that the now deformed scientist would just go live in the swamp and stop bothering people. But no, he continues to use his now super strength to foil Arcane at every turn. What an ass!
A film with a similar premise is "Darkman" (1990), directed by Sam Raimi, who I would later learn to despise for shortchanging Venom in Spiderman 3; but that's another story. Although when most people think of the villain in Darkman, they often think of Durant; I much prefer his boss, the corrupt billionaire developer who dreams of building the "City of the Future", Louis Strack Jr. While Durant is just a henchman, Strack is the mastermind. I like this character because he is ambitious, charismatic and intelligent. But most of all, he seems to be genuinely happy. He enjoys himself while he's carrying out his evil schemes and this makes him fun to watch. In my opinion, Strack is one of the more underrated villains in movie history.
There are many others that can fit into this category as well. There's Anton Bartok, owner of Bartok Industries, who is the villain in "The Fly II" (1989) and who attempts to use the mutant offspring of the ill fated scientist from the first film (Seth Brundle), for his own selfish ends. And let us not forget Richard "Dick" Jones. He's the ruthless and somewhat jealous OCP Vice President and chief villain in the film "RoboCop" (1987). This is the character who was in charge of the project that created the ED-209, which, despite a slight tendency to malfunction, is one of the coolest and most iconic evil robots in movie history. Then we have Conal Cochran, the owner of the Silver Shamrock Co. in "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" (1982). He has an evil plan to gruesomely kill all of the children on earth using his company's Halloween masks, for some reason which is never properly explained (I guess he's just kooky like that).
One other notable mention that I would like to include in this category is Brian J. Mason, a character in the cyberpunk anime franchise "Bubblegum Crisis". He is a ruthless executive in the GENOM Corporation, which is responsible for creating boomers; cyborgs used for manual labor and military purposes, and who occasionally become self aware and/or go on killings sprees, much to the dismay of The Knight Sabers, our lovely team of heroines.
You may notice that many of the villains that we've discussed in this rant are products of eighties and nineties culture. But we must also remember that this basic villain archetype has always been around. Bad guy businessmen and malicious merchants were featured in Biblical stories and have appeared in the works of authors such as Charles Dickens. They've also been seen as animated adversaries in countless cartoons and as illustrated antagonists in numerous comics.
Though it may be tempting to assume that these villains had their heyday in the decade of decadence and have been on the decline since then, I doubt we've seen the last of the great evil businessmen. I'm sure that they will be around to subjugate, infuriate and inspire envy in the masses for years to come. In fact, I think we're going to be witnessing another wave of villainous business characters in popular entertainment very soon.