The Essentials: Villainous Groups
If you want to make a good action movie, it is absolutely crucial that you have a badass hero that is relatable in his morals but insanely over-the-top outrageous in his actions and awesomeness. Equally important is the decision as to whose ass will be getting kicked by our hero. With the last thirty years of action movies as my source, I will give you the villainous groups that I find are absolutely essential to any action movie franchise. A great man once said “if you wanna be the man, you gotta beat the man,” and I find that if you want to be a truly memorable action hero you have to have rinsed the blood of at least one of these groups from your swollen and busted up knuckles. Let’s get it!
- The Yakuza
Easily one of the most used bad guy groups for their exotic and totally badass look, any good action fan should be able to spout off at least three good movies where they torture and maim not only their enemy, but also sometimes themselves (you gotta love the finger chopping scenes). Covered in crazy Japanese tattoos and sometimes brandishing a Samurai sword, these banzai screaming maniacs have sliced their way into my heart as my favorite movie villains.
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Funekei Yoshida in Showdown in Little Tokyo
Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
Into the Sun (2005)
Outrage/Beyond Outrage (2010, 2012)
- Soviet Russia
This one was a close second for me as I grew up during the 80’s and as all American boys should be, I was taught to hate the Soviets more than anything. Thank God for Stallone, a man who almost single-handedly defeated the Soviet Union via knockout (Rocky 4) and belt-fed M60 machine gun (Rambo 3). Real talk, the man should be memorialized in some way for his contribution to the cause of freedom. Anyways, the Soviets, as a real world threat to the American people have always made for a great movie threat as well. Those Red bastards…
Richard Lynch as Soviet asshole Mikhail Rostov in Invasion U.S.A.
Red Dawn (1984)
Rambo III (1988)
- Latin American Drug Cartels
You’ll notice right away that I didn’t put “Mexican Cartels” and there is a good reason for that. With all of the news that makes its way north of the border about the Cartels in Mexico, in the 80’s and 90’s, there was much more emphasis on the Colombian drug lords ruining our hero’s lives. Plus, there are just too many good movies where we get Chuck Norris or William Dafoe creeping through the jungle ready to put a few bullets in the head and torso of some drug-peddling A-holes.
Billy Drago as Ramon Cota in Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Bad Boys 2 (2003)
- Latin American Dictators
When you need a hero to barge into a country and lower the population by about 1/3, there is no better bang for your buck than using the ‘ole Latin American Dictator as your generic foe. Even better, my favorite fictional country of all time, Val Verde, exists for the purpose of heroic genocide by our usually white, American hero. You may recognize Val Verde as the nation represented in classic films such as Predator, Commando, and Die Hard 2. One thing is certain about the plight of the Latin American Dictator, getting in office may be tough, but surviving while in office is even tougher.
Victor Argo as El Presidente in McBain doesn’t appreciate failure
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
The Expendables (2010)
- The Triads
Finding a good Chinese movie that depicts the Triads isn’t difficult. Just find pretty much any Chow Yun-Fat movie before he came to the states and made crap. His movies A Better Tomorrow, Rich and Famous, and both of the sequels to those movies give you a glimpse into the Triad world. One of my favorite action movies of all time, Hard Boiled, also deals with some Chinese gangsters and has enough gunfire and explosions that it’s probably Michael Bay’s wet dream. Hollywood has had less success using the Triad’s as villains. I think sometimes they can’t get actors’ nationalities wrong and that is why Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa has played Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Martian. But let’s face it; I would watch Tagawa play a coal miner from West Virginia.
Simon Yam looking every bit a Triad Boss in Exiled
Year of the Dragon (1985)
A Better Tomorrow (1986)
- Hate groups- White supremacists/KKK/Neo-Nazi’s
Some groups are just impossible to like. That is where these guys fall. You aren’t going to see many movies where members of these groups don’t play the most despicable villains imaginable. With the amount of hatred demonstrated by these jerks you would expect to see them as villains more but rarely is that the case. Some of the action movies they are most often found in are direct-to-video sequels of such beloved franchises as Best of the Best and The Substitute. I can’t get enough of watching these skinheads get their asses kicked over and over and we can only hope to see more of that soon. Maybe we can get Wesley Snipes and Michael Jai White to collaborate via fisticuffs on these punks!
These boys don’t seem too friendly
Dead Bang (1989)
The Substitute: Failure Is Not an Option (2001)
- Russian Mobsters
The Russians make it onto my list for a second time because they’re just so easy to hate. This time we specifically look at the gangster types. We’ve seen them in movies like Eastern Promises wearing their kickass tattoos and torturing people with knives, but they normally don’t get the amount of villain roles as the Italian or even the Irish mob. For my money, get Sven-Ole Thorsen and a couple of his juiced-up buddies and give them awesomely Russian names like IVAN or BORIS and dammit make sure you write it in all CAPS! A special shout-out should go to Best of the Best 4 for using another group from this list. I’d like to think that given enough sequels they could use every generic villainous group on this list. Die Hard is another series that is slowly making its way through the groups on this list but hopefully they stop squeezing out those turds before they do irreparable damage to my childhood.
Viggo Mortensen with some rad tattoos in Eastern Promises
Red Heat (1988)
Best of the Best 4: Without Warning (1998)
The Russian Specialist (2005)
Eastern Promises (2007)
One in the Chamber (2012)
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
- The Mafia
The Italian boys finally get a shot on my list. There are some amazing films about the lives of Made men and working your way into the family but most of them are more of the dramatic variety and don’t fall into the action genre. Movies like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Godfather are all-time classics but they just don’t have anyone being roundhouse kicked off of a 4 story building. It’s a shame too, because I would love to see Joe Pesci do that in a movie. No matter, the boys with the slicked back hair get a mention on my list because they’ve still managed to be featured as bad guys in quite a few cool-ass movies. You know you’re a worthy villain when Dolph Lundgren has fought you in at least three different movies. Not many other groups can say that. I’ll say it; the Dolph starring Punisher movie was my favorite of the three. The all out assault on the Mafia and later the Yakuza in that is brutal and he doesn’t waste any time with love interests or fat opera singers; just pure revenge.
Who doesn’t bring a baseball bat to a classy dinner?
Raw Deal (1986)
The Untouchables (1987)
The Punisher (1989)
Rapid Fire (1992)
Last Man Standing (1996)
- Biker Gangs
This group could have easily made it into the top five of my list. There is nothing more badass than seeing a cluster of grizzled bikers rolling into town ready to do some dirt. We’ve been able to see some real gems from these guys; Eye of the Tiger, Stone Cold, Streets of Fire, and of course Mad Max, to name a few. You can always count on them tying someone up and dragging them down the street with their Harley. Another thing that we see a lot is the undercover cop infiltrating the biker’s gimmick. It’s a little harder to infiltrate some of the other groups on this list so having the risk of having a cop in the gang always ups the tension in these movies.
The guys from Hell Ride
Mad Max (1979)
Streets of Fire (1984)
Eye of the Tiger (1986)
Stone Cold (1991)
Beyond the Law (1993)
Hell Ride (2008)
This one was a hard one to put down at number ten. The thing about terrorists is that we don’t see too many movies using them as the villain. I know many of the acts portrayed in action movies could be the results of terrorists, but I would tell you that most villains in the movies are looking for some sort of ransom and are not politically motivated. Check it; Hans Gruber from Die Hard, they are pretending to be terrorists with political motivations but are in reality just robbers. Ivan Korshunov from Air Force One, however, is a terrorist all the way. Back in the 80’s and 90’s the terror group of choice was the IRA, and we got stuff like The Devil’s Own, Patriot Games, and Blown Away. Not too many movies have used Middle Eastern terror groups in their movies, maybe it hits a little too close to home. True Lies and The Kingdom are a couple of good ones and The Delta Force can’t be forgotten for just how ridiculous and awesome it was. I truly believe that Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin might be the toughest team of guys they could have found for that role. Maybe a Charles Bronson/Charleton Heston combo could rival them. I guess we’ll never know.
I think Tia Carrere has that effect on a lot of men
The Delta Force (1986)
Patriot Games (1992)
Collateral Damage (2002)
The Kingdom (2007)
So that is my list of my 10 favorite villainous groups. I have to add a disclaimer here as the list feels almost incomplete. Anyone who has known me for a number of years knows that I have always loved Ninja movies. You will see after reading this list that Ninjas as a group has been left out. My reasoning for that is simple. I see Ninja movies as a completely different sub-genre. If you went to a Blockbuster (if they still existed, that is) and you saw a section titled Martial Arts/Ninja, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. But, if you saw something titled Drug Cartel movies you would be pretty damn surprised. That is why I didn’t add Ninjas to this list. They deserve their own list, by God, and I’m gonna give it to them.