Corporate America has> long been a convenient movie bogeyman, but today such portrayals really hit a populist nerve. And no wonder: Wall Street's best and brightest have brought the world economic order to the precipice of collapse, all while doling out billions in bonuses to themselves.
Hollywood's latest assault on corporate evildoers opened Friday in the form of "The International," a film where Clive Owen and Naomi Watts team up to take down a bank that "will stop at nothing -- even murder -- to continue financing terror and war."
The debut of "The International" got us thinking about some of our own favorite Hollywood corporate villains and, boy, was it a hard list to narrow down. "Soylent Green" almost made the cut, but it's a film about a company that turns people into food. With so many millions of Americans out of work, we didn't want to give Kraft (KFT),
Coming too close to reality also led us to exclude any movie based on a true story. No doubt "Erin Brockovich" stands as a classic film about corporate malfeasance, but for our purposes we wanted to stick to fictional villains. It's what Hollywood does best, after all. And, hey, of course we haven't seen every single film. If you want to nominate your own pick for Hollywood's Greatest Corporate Villain, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line: Villains.
It's a Wonderful Life
1946, RKO Radio Pictures
Villain: A malevolent banker tries to take over a small town.
George Bailey and the wonderful old building and loan are the only things standing between predatory lender Mr. Potter and the good, chaste people of Bedford Falls. A capital crisis ensues after alcoholic Uncle Billy loses some of the thrift's deposits, but the town folk save the bank with a tiny version of the Troubled Assets Relief Program. No one is called before Congress.
1983, Paramount Pictures
Villain: Commodities brokers bet on whether a homeless man can become a gentleman.
The movie that put Eddie Murphy on the map finds fun in corporate espionage and insider information. Even better, a wager between rotten old misanthropes Randolph and Mortimer Duke shows that speculating in frozen concentrated orange juice can lead to ruin -- a full quarter century before our own commodity bubble burst. Which reminds us: Has anyone checked Citigroup (C)
2008, Walt Disney Pictures
Villain: A company that reminds us of Wal-Mart ruins the earth.
If the robots Wall-E and Eve seem more human than the people in this love story it's all because of Buy n Large. As the post-apocalyptic future's answer to Wal-Mart (WMT),
1979, 20th Century Fox
Villain: A military contractor sends people to their doom for profit.
An evil defense and mining company uses unwitting humans as bait to get its hands on the ultimate killing machine, but the plan is foiled by the independent fighting spirit of Ripley. Similarities between the horrific alien with acid for blood and former Vice President Dick Cheney are purely coincidental.
1960, United Artists
Villain: Bosses strong-arm an underling into a compromising position.
Jack Lemmon plays a schnook with an impossibly large, affordable Manhattan apartment, who climbs the corporate ladder by allowing his bosses (led by Fred MacMurray) to use the place for extramarital trysts. The stresses of brokering such assignations -- and a suicide attempt by love interest Shirley MacLaine -- force Lemmon into developing some scruples. Meanwhile, that rent-controlled apartment continues to distort the New York City housing market to this day.
The China Syndrome
1979, Columbia Pictures
Villain: A nuclear power company covers up a near meltdown.
It's Jack Lemmon again, this time playing a whistleblower schnook (again) trying to warn the city of Los Angeles that a nuclear power plant is ready to blow. The company hires goons to silence Lemmon and later a SWAT team shoots him down. His heroic sacrifice saves the city from a nuclear meltdown, but prices for electricity keep going up and soon the living come to envy the dead.
2005, Warner Bros.
Villain: Energy companies make the world a more dangerous, unjust place.
Evil American oil companies duking it out with Chinese counterparts over Middle East and Central Asian energy fields. High-powered D.C. lobbyists fomenting corruption at the highest levels of government. Failures and incompetence on the part of the C.I.A. Arms dealing. Counterterrorism. Dirty dealing. Of course, it's just a movie. We think.
1997, Paramount Pictures
Villain: An insurance company and its lawyers make a mockery of the health and legal systems.
Matt Damon plays a neophyte attorney who sues a powerful insurance company that has caused the death of a cancer patient by refusing to pay for a bone marrow transplant. Despite a high-powered defense team headed by Jon Voight, as well as some nefarious shenanigans, Damon prevails against Great Benefit insurance -- but the company declares bankruptcy, scotching its requirement to pay damages. Troubled insurer American International Group (AIG)
The Hudsucker Proxy
1994, Warner Bros.
Villain: A corporate chieftain manipulates a doofus to engineer a stock scam.
A na ve idiot is made company president in order to depress the firm's share price and enable a stock scam, but the scheme unravels when the dupe invents the hula hoop, making the share price soar. Stupid company executives accidentally returning value to shareholders? Clearly this is the greatest work of fiction on this list.
1987, 20th Century Fox
Villain: A criminal Master of the Universe ruins companies and lives for profit.
What can we say about this iconic film that hasn't been said before? (Other than unlike greed -- for lack of a better word -- it's really not very good.) Until the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Michael Douglas's performance as Gordon Gekko, the ultimate rapacious Wall Street bloodsucker, seemed definitive. Oh, those innocent '80s. These days Gekko would've been lucky to get work as Bernie Madoff's pool boy.