The 25 Greatest Sports Movie Villains
From The Jesus to The Judge
What’s a sports movie without an incorrigible villain? It’s two hours of feel-good shlock, that’s what. As viewers, we may want to feel warm and fuzzy at the end of our sports flicks, but along the way we want to feel bad. That’s just the way it works. With that in mind, here are the 25 ne’er-do-wells who were most effective at bringing us down before their protagonist counterparts could bring us back up.
Close, but not quite evil enough:
- Chas Osborn, Back to School
- Warden Hazen, The Longest Yard
- Carl Racki, Youngblood
- Clu Haywood, Major League
- Teddy KGB, Rounders
- Kevin O’Shea, Little Giants
- Bob Sugar, Jerry Maguire
25. Dallas Carter High School, Friday Night Lights (2004)
“They’re fast, they’re big, they’re dirty … plus they’re fast.”
Such is Permian High School defensive end Ivory Christian’s assessment of Dallas Carter’s football team before the two meet in the state championship game. (Worth noting: In real life, the teams actually faced off in the 1988 state semi-finals). Though I’ve never encountered a football fan who didn’t enjoy this movie, I find that it’s rarely mentioned during discussions of the greatest-ever sports movies. This could be because it’s only a decade old, or possibly because the excellent TV show of the same name overshadowed the film. Of course, the argument could be made that the real villain is Tim McGraw’s character or, to a larger extent, the cultural obsession with high school football in Odessa. But Dallas Carter’s sheer dominance and helmet-kicking tendencies earn them the nod.
24. Jesus Quintana, The Big Lebowski (1998)
Is this a sports movie? Not really, no. Is Jesus Quintana really the villain? Briefly, maybe, but in actuality, no. Does the scene above, however tangentially connected it may be to the plot of the film, relate to sports and consistently make me laugh every time I watch it?
And so, Jesus makes the cut.
23. The Beast, The Sandlot (1993)
In truth, the Beast is just a proxy for the fear of the unknown, which is arguably the most terrifying villain of all (and one which is difficult to adequately cast). But also, the Beast is a really big dog, and that’s kind of scary too.
Sandlot writer/director David Mickey Evans recently posted a few pictures of the Beast’s costume, in case you were looking for a practical joke idea that will terrify everyone in your neighborhood:
22. The Self-Destructive Nature of Man, Raging Bull (1980)
While his nemesis in the ring was Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta’s biggest enemy in Raging Bull was himself. The tragedy of LaMotta’s character is that it was the qualities that made him a successful boxer that led to his failings as a human. He’s entirely responsible for the ascension of his career and destruction of his personal life, which makes Jake LaMotta both the hero and villain in this film.
Also: If only Bull were the last boxing movie Robert DeNiro appeared in. If only.
21. Ogie Ogilthorpe, Slap Shot (1977)
Slap Shot was such a beautiful mess that it was almost poetic in nature. While Ogilthorpe was repeatedly referenced throughout the film — often with regard to various arrests for on-ice transgressions — viewers don’t actually see him until the final scene. Interestingly, Ogilthorpe was based on a real person: Longtime minor league goon Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe. According to a profile on the enforcer, “While incarcerated in Syracuse during the American Hockey League season, coaching staff from his team would escort Goldthorpe back and forth from prison between games.”
Sure sounds like Ogie.
20. Rachel Phelps, Major League (1989)
Major League is arguably (mind the “arguably”) the greatest sports comedy of all time, so it would be unforgivable not to include Rachel Phelps, the sabotaging owner of the movie’s fictitious Indians. Phelps served as a more glamorous (and entertaining) version of The Judge from The Natural, and was consistent in always making life harder for her players with a big smile on her face. That’s solid villainy right there.
19. Chong Li, Bloodsport (1988)
Filmmakers in the ’80s had to go to great lengths to make Jean-Claude Van Damme appear to be the underdog in any sort of fight, case in point: Chong Li in Bloodsport.
It seems like half the movie was Chong Li beating people up and then killing them at the end of the fight for no apparent reason. But according to Buzzfeed, Bolo Yeung, the actor who played Chong Li, was a big ol’ softy in real life.
18. Maggie Fitzgerald’s family, Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Million Dollar Baby (or its alternate title, Boy, That Escalated Quickly) is widely considered one of the finest sports films ever. But its real villain wasn’t the rival boxer, Billie “The Blue Bear,” who paralyzed Maggie, but rather Fitzgerald’s greedy, loathsome family. The scene in which Maggie’s mother asks her to sign over her assets while berating her for losing her final fight displays a particularly profound sort of evil that has a way of sticking with the viewer.
17. David Simms, Tin Cup (1996)
An underrated character in an underrated movie. The movie successfully portrays the two factions of the golf world that are eternally at odds: The passionate player with modest means vs. the country club snob. Kevin Costner’s Roy McAvoy gave the movie legs, but he was well-countered by Don Johnson’s performance as David Simms, a well-heeled overachiever who is all too easy to hate.
16. Max Baer/The Great Depression, Cinderella Man (2005)
You can’t really have a movie called “Cinderella Man” unless it’s going to involve some pretty compelling obstacles. In this case, Max Baer teamed up with the Max Baer of economic crises—the Great Depression—to ensure that Jim Braddock faced seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve greatness. Craig Bierko did a solid job portraying the hard-hitting, wise-cracking, womanizing Baer, while the depressing music and smokey visual aesthetic served to create a vivid representation of dreary early-1930s America.
15. John Kreese, The Karate Kid (1984) and The Karate Kid, Part III (1989)
Sweep the leg.
14. Team Iceland, D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
As a kid, I assumed that half of the players in the NHL must be from Iceland on account of this movie. (Worth noting: Not the case.) Props to the Disney writer who decided that Iceland would be the most believable home for a top-ranked youth hockey team. Team Iceland oozes the inoffensive evilness that is the hallmark of any good Disney movie. Just look how generically evil their coach is:
Like, really generically evil.
13. Ben Chapman, 42 (2013)
A newcomer to the pantheon of bad guys, Steve the Pirate had a solid performance as Ben Chapman, the racist manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in the Jackie Robinson biopic. According to an interview with The Atlantic, the performance wasn’t too far off from what Chapman was actually like in 1947:
“Is it true,” I wanted to know, “that you said those things to Jackie Robinson? You know, the names, the words, that everyone said you used?”
“Heck, yeah,” Chapman said with a loud guffaw. “Sure I did. Everyone used those kind of words back then. Heck, we said the same things to Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg.”
Chapman’s abuse of Robinson is recreated with chilling effect. What hit me like a fastball to the side of the head, though, was the next scene where reporters grill Chapman (played by Alan Tudyk): The movie Chapman defends his behavior in almost exactly the same way the real Ben Chapman did to me.
12. Clubber Lang, Rocky III (1982)
More than anything, Clubber Lang is just a jerk. He made a pass at Adrian, gave Mickey a heart attack, and then screamed at a near-unconscious Rocky after beating the hell out of him. The man had issues that needed to be addressed outside of the confines of a boxing ring. But yeah, Rocky knocked him out and then everyone was happy, so … yay?
11. White Goodman, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Yes, Goodman was pretty much the same character Ben Stiller played in Heavyweights, but it’s tough to complain considering how well the shtick worked in Dodgeball. Without Stiller and Rip Torn as Patches O’Houlihan, this movie probably gets buried into the depths of cinema hell along with hundreds of other long-forgotten sports movies. But White Goodman and his perfectly-feathered hair make Dodgeball required viewing whenever I see it on TBS.
10*. Ross “The Boss” Rhea, Goon (2011)
Liev Schrieber—who is the narrator of HBO’s excellent NHL 24/7—was fantastic in Goon as retiring enforcer Ross “The Boss” Rhea. What makes him a particularly memorable bad guy is that he wasn’t really even a bad guy: He wasn’t necessarily evil nor did he feel any ill-will towards any other character. Hockey is a game that is ultimately grounded in respect—specifically, the respect that the players have for the game and, on a deeper level, each other. This is exactly what is portrayed above, when Rhea meets up with Doug Glatt (played by Seann William Scott) at a diner and exchanges something resembling pleasantries before calmly explaining that “If ever there comes a time when it gets down to the marrow, and it’s you and me: Kid, I will lay you the fuck out.”
[*Editor's note: Treadway is Canadian, so: Hockey.]
9. Bud Kilmer, Varsity Blues (1999)
Jon Voight amplified the “win at all costs” aspect of the West Canaan football coach to an almost cartoonish extent, and in the process he set the standard for all victory-obsessed silver screen skippers.
On an important related note, here’s James Van Der Beek saying “I don’t want [beat] yo life”:
8. Roy Turner, Bad News Bears (1976 and 2005)
Vic Morrow and Greg Kinnear each injected their own flavor into the role of Roy Turner. While it’s difficult to top the original, Kinnear may have the edge comically. Still, it was Morrow who managed to, in one scene, paint a dark picture of the strained relationships that are caused by overbearing sports parents. Despite the movie’s somewhat whimsical tone—one that was masterfully set to the music of George Bizet’s “Carmen”—it was Turner’s silent walk back to the dugout after striking his son that stands out as the most memorable scene.
7. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid (1984)
Man, I hate this guy. You do too. The motorcycle, the shameless arrogance, that … face. Johnny Lawrence was such a great bad guy because he was a stand-in for every high school bully. He wasn’t actually a bad person; he was merely a product of an environment that encouraged him to be a bad person.
When asked during an interview how to play a good bully, William Zabka responded, “A lot of people, when they approach a bully role, they think, ‘I’m the bad guy,’ but I think the key to being a good bad guy is to look at yourself as the hero. So where, if the movie was told from your point of view, you’d actually be the good guy.” There’s no question that his character did have a lot of depth, and could possibly even be forgiven for his actions, given the poor tutoring he received from No. 15 on our list.
Even so, that face.
6. The Judge, The Natural (1984)
I’ll admit: It was a bit heavy-handed with the whole “always sitting in the dark thing,” but the Judge still earns a spot for simply being all-around bad, seemingly just for the sake of being bad. The amount of money he could have made from fixing games to ensure his team lost likely paled in comparison to what he would have made if he just bet on his team winning and properly marketed around Roy Hobbs. But the Judge placed being evil ahead of a sensible long-term investment, and that earns him high marks on this list.
5. Judge Elihu Smails, Caddyshack (1980)
And, we’re halfway through the list’s Judge run. Judge Smails in Caddyshack was a beautiful array of contradictions: A rich (but cheap) judge (with no respect for rules) who was addicted to golf (but had no patience). In Smails, Ted Knight created an archetype that other sports movies have tried to replicate but never quite nailed. This is because Knight was clearly born to play this role—and, perhaps moreso than any other character on this list, he was able to convincingly depict a villain of absolutely no redeeming qualities.
4. Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken, Kingpin (1996)
McCracken was the rare villain who, in his own way, was more likeable than the protagonist. Serial scene-stealer Bill Murray was in top form while playing the insufferable but oddly alluring McCracken. Big Ern managed to combine the brashness of Terrell Owens, the confidence of Muhammad Ali and the body of Steve Zissou.
And I don’t care what kind of list we’re making: Best sports movie scenes, or best comedy movie scenes, or best fashion movie scenes. The final bowling showdown makes all the lists.
3. Shooter McGavin, Happy Gilmore (1996)
What makes Shooter a truly great sports villain is that he’s also a buffoon, and that makes him easy target for Happy—many of the movie’s most memorable lines (such as the exchange above) are set up by a dumb McGavin comment. In that regard, McGavin is one of the more sympathetic villains on the list. The guy spent his whole life playing golf, and when he finally reaches the pinnacle of his career, he finds all the attention being consumed by a rival who doesn’t even know how to properly hold a club. Granted, buying Grandma Gilmore’s house was a low blow. But on the other hand, real estate was a prime investment in the mid-90s.
Speaking of Grandma Gilmore, there’s an argument to be made that the real bad guy in the movie is Ben Stiller as the Nursing Home director. That guy.
2. Cancer, Brian’s Song (1971)
There are two types of people in this world: Those who cry when they watch Brian’s Song, and those who haven’t seen Brian’s Song.
1. Ivan Drago, Rocky IV (1985)
He killed Apollo Creed. THE MAN KILLED APOLLO CREED. History books might tell you that the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union collapsed, but that’s myth. The Cold War ended when Rocky Balboa defeated Ivan Drago and then delivered an incoherent speech that prompted all nuclear aggression between the Soviet Union and the United States to diffuse.
But that part is just a footnote. The man killed Apollo Creed.