Last year, I wrote one of my more popular columns, “Robin’s Top 10 Most Satisfying Movie Villain Death Scenes”, but while putting it together, I realized something: some of the most satisfying comeuppances I’ve ever seen a villain receive in a movie were not death scenes. Sure, it’s wonderful to see a villain you hate receive the epic death that they deserve, but sometimes, you just get the feeling they deserve much worse. After all, if a great villain has been built up well enough, it’s almost a shame to see them get killed off at the end. So I’ve decide to put together what I consider to be my “Top 10 Non-Lethal Comeuppance Scenes for Movie Villains”. In each case, the villain winds up surviving the movie, but you still feel that they got exactly what was coming to them.
Warning: The following article contains spoilers, but really, if you haven’t seen most of the films on this list, you owe it to yourself to remedy that right away!
10. Duke – Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989):
Okay, so maybe not all the movies on this list are masterpieces, but I do have to give credit where credit’s due. Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects is a typically stupid and ultra-violent 1980s collaboration between Charles Bronson and Cannon Films, telling the rather nasty story of Bronson breaking up a child prostitution ring run by a scumbag pimp named Duke. Virtually every other Charles Bronson action film ends with our hero saying “Legal system? What legal system?” and shooting the villain in the head, so it actually comes as a bit of a surprise when Kinjite ends with Bronson actually *gasp* arresting the main bad guy! In this hilarious and none-too-subtle scene, Duke is escorted down a prison hallway filled with horny inmates and stuffed into a cell with a big guy who’s going to make Duke walk funny pretty soon. The scene also gets bonus points for featuring a brief early role for Danny Trejo as a convict who tells Duke he’s got something “big and long” for him. Obviously, Kinjite is not a great movie, but I can’t think of any better comeuppance for a dirty child molesting pimp.
9. Judge Henry Fleming – And Justice for All (1979):
In spite of containing one of the most famous scenes of Al Pacino’s career, And Justice for All remains one of his more underrated movies, but anyone who’s seen it always feels compelled to cheer during the climax. Pacino plays Arthur Kirkland, a lawyer that’s been assigned to defend a person he despises, Judge Henry Fleming, who has been accused of rape and assault. Fleming is one of those tough, by-the-book judges who has no empathy at all for criminals and is willing to let innocent people rot inside jail for his own personal amusement. Of course, he also turns out to be the world’s worst hypocrite when it’s revealed that he is actually guilty of the crime he’s been accused of. Arthur knows the prosecution doesn’t have enough evidence for a conviction, so he shocks everyone while delivering his opening statement to jury when he yells: “My client, the Honourable Henry T. Fleming, should go right to fucking jail!”. Now, while this action would likely lead to a mistrial and Fleming would possibly be acquitted of the crime sometime down the road, the stigma of having his own lawyer proclaim he’s guilty in open court will probably ruin his career and his reputation forever. While Arthur may get disbarred for what he did, he has somehow found a way to give a corrupt judge the comeuppance he deserves.
8. R.J. Fletcher – UHF (1989):
I don’t care what the critics say, I’ve always been a fan of Weird Al Yankovic’s movie, UHF, and even devoted an entire “Robin’s Underrated Gems” column to it. The story’s villain is R.J. Fletcher (played by the late, great Kevin McCarthy), who runs the powerful network, Channel 8, and is the ultimate miserable curmudgeon who just loves being a dick for the sole purpose of being a dick. Fletcher is a very cartoonish character, so it’s only appropriate that he get the ultimate comeuppance where EVERYTHING goes wrong for him within a matter of minutes! Right after his evil plan to buy Weird Al’s TV network, Channel 62, fails, Fletcher is instantly informed that his own network, Channel 8, is getting its license revoked and will be taken off the air. After watching his wimpy son get tripped by a midget, Fletcher then discovers that his failure is entirely his own fault. Earlier on, he decided to be a massive cheapskate by giving a homeless bum a penny… but it turns out it was a rare penny that was worth a fortune and the bum wound up using it to give Channel 62 the money they needed to save their station! Oh, and he gets kneed in the groin by an old lady to boot! Rarely has it been more sweet to see a miserable old bastard get his.
7. Percy Wetmore – The Green Mile (1999):
If you asked a person whether they would rather be dead or a vegetable, I’m sure virtually everyone would choose death. Therefore, a truly despicable villain is probably much more deserving of the latter. It really says something when The Green Mile contains a child murderer and he isn’t even the most hateful character in the story! That honour goes to the sadistic prison guard, Percy Wetmore, who takes pleasure in tormenting the inmates and, in one incredibly harrowing scene, forgets to wet the sponge atop the head of a prisoner in the electric chair, so that his death will be very protracted and painful. Percy gets his comeuppance, however, when he is infected with an evil force by the supernatural death row inmate, John Coffey, which causes him to unknowingly commit a murder and become a catatonic. Percy is then forced to live out the rest of his days as a vegetable inside a mental institution, which is a fate much worse than death and one of the best examples of pure karma ever delivered in cinema.
6. Simon Skinner – Hot Fuzz (2007):
Edgar Wright’s brilliant satire, Hot Fuzz, completely subverts all the cliches of the action genre, so it’s only appropriate that it contains a terrific death scene for a villain that turns out not to be a death scene at all. It’s common for action films to deliver a dramatic, slow-motion scene of a bad guy being gruesomely impaled on something and Hot Fuzz does just that when one of its chief bad guys, Simon Skinner, falls onto a miniature cathedral, causing the spire to impale him right through his jaw! Just when you think he’s dead, Skinner suddenly starts moaning in pain and blurts out: “Ow! Ow! Thish really hurtsh… I’m gonna need shome ice-creeeem”. While Skinner winds up surviving and getting arrested at the end, you know that he’s going to living in a shitload of pain and that trying to eat solid foods for the rest of his life is going to be one very unpleasant experience!
5. Elle Driver – Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004):
The entire Kill Bill saga was based around The Bride getting revenge on all the people who attempted to kill her. By the end, all the names on her death list have been crossed out… except for one. Elle Driver winds up having a question mark next to her name instead, but dead or not, you cannot deny that the Bride got a nice form of revenge. For those of you who don’t know, Elle Driver is an assassin who wears a patch over her right eye and this major chip on her shoulder makes her the most bitter, sadistic character in the film. Elle and the Bride get into one of the most kickass fight scenes you’ve ever seen, which concludes with the Bride ripping Elle’s left eyeball out! While Elle screams and flails around in pain, the Bride drops the severed eyeball on the floor and steps on it before walking away. This was obviously done by Quentin Tarantino to keep the door open for Elle Driver to possibly return for another movie, but even if she is never seen again, she certainly got a worthy comeuppance.
4. Mr. Green – The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974):
I always thought that one of the failures of Tony Scott’s recent Taking of Pelham One Two Three remake is that it degenerated into an action film during the last act, and didn’t conclude with the very clever cat-and-mouse game of the underrated 1974 original. After the story’s subway hijacking has ended, three of the four perpetrators are dead and the only survivor is the motorman, Mr. Green, who has successfully escaped to his apartment with the ransom money. Transit Authority Lieutenant Garber soon tracks him down and questions him, but there’s nothing to indicate that he’s the hijacker. Mr. Green almost gets away with it… until he suddenly sneezes, which reveals to Garber that he is indeed the man he’s looking for. What’s awesome about this comeuppance is that Garber was almost out the door and Mr. Green was literally seconds away from getting away scot-free, but by angrily bitching about being accused of the crime and his rights being violated, he allowed Garber to stay in his apartment for a few extra moments, giving him the opportunity to hear the “sneeze of incrimination”. The look on Walter Matthau’s face as he peers back in through the door is one of the greatest closing shots in cinema history.
3. Stuntman Mike – Death Proof (2007):
Sometimes, it’s not enough to simply to defeat a villain. It’s also fun to completely humiliate them and expose them for the coward they really are. Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike, the villain of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, is a truly sadistic individual who loves to murder young women through a bizarre form of vehicular homicide. However, when he tries his latest scheme on three very tough chicks, they decide to fight back and Stuntman Mike suddenly doesn’t look like such a badass after all. When they turn the tables and come after him, he turns into a complete cowering pussy, especially after they shoot him in the shoulder. When the girls finally catch up with him, Mike is practically begging for his life and the girls respond by kicking the ever-loving shit out of him. The end credits roll immediately afterward and the audience breaks out into spontaneous applause because even though strong heroines have been fighting back against male villains for years, never have they been allowed to kick THIS much ass!
2. Colonel Hans Landa – Inglourious Basterds (2009):
Man, Quentin Tarantino sure has a gift for building up great villains and giving them a satisfying comeuppance without actually killing them. It goes without saying that, thanks to Christoph Waltz’s delightful Oscar-winning performance, Colonel Hans Landa is one of the greatest villains in screen history and is such a wonderful character that killing him off at the end of Inglourious Basterds might have felt like a huge letdown. In spite of being an evil Nazi, Landa is so much smarter than everyone else in the film that it’s impossible not to admire him. He pretty much orchestrates the heroes’ victory at the end by selling out Hitler and the Nazis, but he doesn’t do it because he feels noble or because it’s the right thing to do. He knows that the Nazis are going to lose the war eventually and just wants to take advantage of the opportunity to leave a sinking ship. Anyway, Landa makes an immunity deal with the American military that will allow him to escape prosecution for crimes and start a new successful life in the United States, but Lt. Aldo Raine decides not to let him get away unscathed. He carves a swastika symbol into Landa’s forehead, thereby ensuring that he will never be able to disappear into civilized society and that everyone will know he was a Nazi for the rest of his life. It must have been extremely difficult to dream up a worthy comeuppance for a once-in-a-lifetime villain like Hans Landa, but Tarantino somehow managed to do it.
1. Biff Tannen – Back to the Future (1985):
Oh come on, you knew there could be no other choice for #1 on this list besides this one. Quite simply, this scene contains what may be the most cheer-inducing moment in film history. There have been a lot of memorable bullies and assholes in the annals of cinema, but none of them have been more fun to hate than Biff Tannen. I’m sure everyone reading this has had to deal with a sadistic bully at some point in their life and this sequence represents the ultimate wish fulfillment for everyone who’s gone through that situation. At the beginning of Back to the Future, George McFly is one of the most sad and pathetic individuals you can imagine as he has been bullied and picked on by Biff for over 30 years and is still allowing it to continue into middle age. However, George winds up changing the course of his life forever by finally finding the self-confidence to stand up to Biff, and in doing so he shows himself to have more strength than he could ever have imagined when he knocks out Biff with one punch. I’m sure we’ve all fantasized that the bully who picked on us in high school would wind up being forced to wax our car thirty years down the road! All that’s left to say is if this scene doesn’t make you cheer, then I have no alternative but to knock on your head and say: “Hello? Hello? Anybody home?”.