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A Salute to Foreign Action Movie Villains

Foreign action movie villains have given us a lot over the years. So when news came down the transom yesterday that Werner Herzog was joining the illustrious accented fraternity (opposite Tom Cruise, no less), we couldn’t resist a quick tour of the most memorable (and most accented) villains the movies have to offer. They seem to favor designer suits…

You know the pattern. From Die Hard to Casino Royale, action movies have favored villains from anonymous central European countries. The actors, strangely, tend to be British, and take the accent as an opportunity to pepper every line with ominous pauses—and not infrequently, walk away with the movie. It’s the surest way to punch up a dull cop movie—short of hiring Gary Oldman.

Hans Gruber’s still the gold standard here, but we’d trace it all the way back to Laurence Olivier’s turn as a fugitive Nazi in Marathon Man. Olivier was one of the great British hams of all time, and in just a handful of scenes, he wrote the playbook: reptilian, inexplicably violent and trust the unfamiliar vowel sounds to carry the lion’s share of the menace involved. It’s been paying dividends ever since.

Which brings us back to Werner “I See Only the Cold Indifference of Nature” Herzog. It’s his major role in front of the camera, but anyone who’s watched one of his narration-heavy docs can testify: his voice is pretty unsettling. And since he’s already got experience taking gunfire, we’d say that puts him ahead of most of Hollywood.