From Mr. Potter to Gordon Gekko: The greediest movie characters ever
As Wall Street II makes its way into production, it seems like a good time to take a look back at America's cinematic depictions of greed. While Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko might be the flashiest and most charismatic of the silver screen's money-hungry monsters, he hardly stands alone. After all, many people would argue that greed is just another word for ambition, which makes it both a deadly sin and the basis of a strong economy.
In fact, greed is so common in American cinema that we had a hard time narrowing our focus. For the purposes of this piece, we tried to look at characters whose actions were solely motivated by the quest for lucre, although we made exceptions for villains who were attempting to take over the world. On the other hand, characters who were searching for love or trying to gain eternal life were definitely off the island.
Even with these restrictions, we undoubtely missed a few major money monsters. If we forgot your favorite, let us know -- as the new Gordon Gekko flick shows, there's always room for Part II!
Mr. Potter: In the annals of American greed, It's a Wonderful Life's Henry F. Potter may just be the worst of the worst. Sure, Biff in the Back to the Future series stole his shtick, but the thick-necked bully couldn't begin to copy Mr. Potter's incredible sociopathy. Unlike the more famous Gordon Gekko, who destroyed his opponents from afar, Mr Potter knew his victims intimately, yet never seemed to pause in his evil quest to gain control of Bedford Falls. Whether you think his worst crime was hiding the $8,000 from Uncle Billy or turning his home town into a depraved parody of middle America, there's little doubt that his evil borders on the demonic.
Gordon Gekko: While American Psycho's Patrick Bateman brought his own literal twist to the idea of cutthroat business practices, Gordon Gekko still reigns supreme as the ultimate Wall Street baddie. Among the thousands of slick-haired, Armani-clad sharks populating New York's financial district, only one had the eloquence or the amazing self-awareness to blandly state the maxim "Greed tis good." What's more, Gekko had enough charisma to almost win us over.Scrooge McDuck: Don't let the cute glasses or lilting brogue fool you: Uncle Scrooge is a cutthroat. Sure, he's nice now, dispensing gifts and love to Huey, Dewie, and Louie, but it's pretty clear that he's trying to buy back the affection that he so brutally squandered in his youth. After all, nobody gets a vault full of treasure for free. While we're at it, have you ever wondered how much upper-body strength it takes to do the backstroke in a huge pile of gold coins?
The Bond villains: Although each of James Bond's nemeses has his own distinctive weird physical trait and a completely personalized psychosis, their goals and methods are disturbingly similar. Some, like Dr. No and Hugo Drax, couch their aims in terms of world domination or the creation of a master race, but most are pretty clear about the fact that they're just after the Benjamins. What's more, their diabolical, world-destroying schemes show that they're not willing to let anything get in their way, whether it be ethics, mass murder, or the difficulties involved in irradiating Fort Knox.
Trina McTeague: There comes a moment in every film list where the author has to throw out a completely unknown choice from left field; this one is mine. Trina, the female lead in Erich Von Stroheim's Greed, wins the lottery, which leads her to become an almost psychotic miser. Her quest for money drives her husband to the brink of insanity, inspires his best friend to try to destroy him, and ultimately causes her own downfall. Basically a prototype for every subsequent femme fatale, she can't even claim Norma Desmond's all-too-human need to be loved or Lady Macbeth's slavering quest for power. No, Trina's just plain greedy.
Disney Villainesses: When it comes to female greed, it would be silly to forget Disney's take on the matter. Whether we're talking about Lady Tremaine's relentless ambition, Cruella DeVil's quest for a Dalmatian coat, or Madame Medusa's quest for treasure, it's pretty clear that Walt Disney had a few unresolved female issues. And don't even get me started on Maleficent ...
Daniel Plainview: Of course, there's also the evil take on big business, the ultimate version of which is probably Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Most villains at least could make some claim to a higher goal, Plainview is motivated solely by the quest for money. His self-serving evil brings to mind Chinatown's Noah Cross; however, Huston's vile paterfamilias was inspired by human desires, no matter how twisted, while Plainview painfully mirrors 2007's mindless quest for immeasurable riches.
Frank Lucas: On the dark side of the law, there are always the gangsters. The Godfather's Don Barzini perfectly captures the evil mastermind side of crime, but even his seduction of Sal Tessio and attempts on Don Vito's life pale beside the real-lfe exploits of American Gangster's Frank Lucas. Some people could probably imagine selling heroin, and most could probably imagine packaging it, but it takes a truly greedy genius to come up with the idea of shipping it to America in the caskets of fallen Vietnam soldiers. With amazing eloquence, Lucas demonstrates that, at least when it comes to greed, movies pale beside the brutal creativity of real life.