There’s nothing like a fine piece of ham. Not the meat variety, though that’s good too, but ham of the acting kind. Here critic Vafa Motamedi gives his top ten hammy villains…

Written by Vafa Motamedi
Published

There’s a certain kind of beauty in seeing a good actor letting loose and ripping the scenery apart with their teeth. No matter how bad the rest of the movie, a hammy performance can always brighten one’s day. The great tradition lives on in the performance of Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. May it forever continue. As legendary Doctor Who (over)actor Anthony Ainley once said, ‘I’m not a ham. A ham can be cured!’


10. NICHOLAS CAGE – FACE/OFF (1997)

From the beginning Nicholas Cage had two life options ahead of him: Become an actor or go insane. Being the entrepreneurial sort, he decided to do both. We all know of his hammy turns in The Wicker Man and Ghost Rider but let’s take a moment to appreciate the pork-pie goodness of his villainous turn in Face/Off as the worlds most dangerous terrorist Castor Troy.
He isn’t on-screen long but by god does he make an impact.


9. DANIEL DAY LEWIS – GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)

Daniel Day Lewis is a serious contender for the crown of Greatest Actor Ever and is following in the footsteps of his forbears, Olivier and Brando by being a gigantic ham sandwich. Nowhere is that more obvious than in his portrayal of Bill the Butcher where he wields an accent so thick you could use it as a duvet. It’s so broad you almost expect him to start asking for some ‘Cawfee.’ He never quite gets into milkshake schlurping territory but it’s awfully close.


8. JEREMY IRONS – DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (2000)

A case of a man realising he’s in an awful film and saying ‘sod it, I’m having some fun.’ Thank god he did because his turn as the snarling Profion is ham for the ages.


7. GARY OLDMAN – LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994)

Oldman has built a reputation for playing villains, but none are so hammy as the corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield, whose love of Beethoven comes second only to his love of shouting very loud. A lot. What was that Norman? You wanted everyone?


6. TERENCE STAMP – SUPERMAN II (1980)

Playing a fascist space general who wears a costume made for a goth ABBA tribute band is harder than you’d think. But thankfully Terrence Stamp rises to the challenge as he tears both Metropolis and the scenery to shreds with all the gusto of Brian Blessed having just woken from a coma. Many point to ‘Kneel Before Zod’ but for me, the epitome Zod-ham comes just below. Never has a potential murderer sounded so bored.


5. KENNETH BRANAGH – WILD WILD WEST (1999)

Being a Shakespearean actor, hamming is all too easy for Kenneth Branagh. His performance as Dr Loveless here is like watching a kind of beautiful train wreck. Seemingly playing the part as Blanche Dubois in drag, he’s the best thing in a very poor movie.


4. ALAN RICKMAN – ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)

Rickman is an actor who is usually quite understated with his deep and slow timbre. When playing the Sherrif of Nottingham he decided to throw in all that and start on gnawing at the scenery. It’s quite moving really, like watching a man break free from captivity after so many years of underplaying. Which contrasts strongly with Kevin Costner, who once again gives us his finest impersonation of a plank of wood.


3. WILLEM DEFOE – SPIDER-MAN (2002)

There have been many hammy comic book movie villains- it comes with the territory: Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, Hugo Weaving – the list is endless. Yet one rises above them all. As the Green Goblin, Willem Defoe delivers a performance so hammy that not even a giant plastic mask can hide it. Defoe is particularly adept at going from understated to insane in a matter of seconds, as shown in this clip.


2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN – VIEW TO A KILL (1985)

Walken is one of those rare actors who has the ability to overact and underact at the exact same time. His Bond villian, Max Zorin is a perfect example. As a performance, it’s too quiet to be strictly hammy yet too bonkers to be anything but.


1. IAN MCDIARMID – STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH 

This is it. The Bacon Sarnie. The grand-ham of them all, by which all overacting is measured by. In his portrayal of Emperor Palpatine, Mcidiarmid not only chews the scenery, he gobbles up the script, the lighting, even his fellow actors. Lines that have no right to be shouted are shouted, lines that are whispered are said with a patronising sneer and in between is that cackle that sounds like your 90-year-old grandma having a hiccup fit. Palpatine is pure evil and he’s loving every minute of it. And so are the audience.

Vafa Motamedi 

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