Villains: When they’re done wrong, they’re the thematic representation a trash can full of used Band-Aids. Done right, they’re the best part of a movie, pulling you into the story with a scarred/six-fingered/robotic hand and maybe convincing you that the good guys should lose this time around. The real cream-of-the-crop antagonists can even make you forget that you’re watching a movie, instilling genuine pants-wetting fear into your popcorn butter-clogged arteries.
Don’t be scared though, kiddo. Even the most terrifying cinematic personifications of evil are, at the end of the day, just regular people with half a pound of latex glued to their heads or Magic Eye puzzles of motion capture dots covering their unitards. If you don’t believe us, or even if you do, check out these behind-the-scenes set photos of some of history’s best baddies in their full candid backstage glory. Fair warning: You’ll never see Darth Maul the same way again after these set photos.
Pennywise the Dancing Guy Who Sells Weed in the High School Parking Lot
Stephen King’s It is a bonafide cultural phenomenon, beloved by casual fans of clown fear and people whose attention spans allow them to finish a 1,200-page book alike. The OG miniseries from 1990, while definitely a cult classic, left a lot to be desired in terms of portraying Pennywise the Dancing Clown as an embodiment of fear and destruction. Frankly, all the nostalgia in the world can’t make up for the Ray-Harryhausen-on-Quaaludes claymation spider they used to close out the series. Tim Curry chewed up his share of scenery and saved the day, but overall, the series wound up feeling like more of a schlocky camp festival than genuine horror.
But then, 27 years later, It came back, as is It’s wont. This time, the multi-dimensional beast was played bone chillingly through a collaboration between Bill Skarsgard, plenty of CGI, and Bill Skarsgard’s creepy eyes. A quarter century of hibernation leaves a demon clown with a lot of down time, though, and from this photo behind the scenes of the new It, we can deduce that Pennywise spent his time off working part time scalping Insane Clown Posse tickets in the parking lot of a Denny’s.
Maybe you should put some darth pants on
The Star Wars prequels have gotten more than their fair share of guff over the last 20 years for being cartoonish, stilted, and totally devoid of Han Solo, but if you were a kid when Episode I came out, you probably remember being equal parts stoked and terrified the first time you saw Darth Maul. Originally played by human gyroscope Ray Park and voiced by The Tick’s Peter Serafinowicz, Maul was the double-sided lightsaber-wielding tattoo-faced dance fighter whose fight scenes were one of the few parts of Phantom Menace that nobody seemed to mind so much.
In this set photo, however, we see a different side of Maul; a side that looks like it probably likes to shotgun a beer or two when it gets home and would probably be wearing a trucker hat if it could find one with holes for its horns. While it might not be the Sith Lord’s most intimidating outfit, we can at least agree that it’s prophetic that his legs are in cutoffs. Bonus points for Liam Neeson on the left, rocking the first recorded sighting of a Jedi man bun.
The Matrix movies: Were they perfect? That’s for historians to decide, but no. They weren’t. Still, there’s no denying that Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith was pretty outstanding. His sneering personification of the evils of conformity was chilling, and it didn’t hurt that he was one of the only characters in the series that ever showed emotion. Two decades later, it’s still difficult to say the words "Mister Anderson" without accidentally doing his voice.
At the end of Matrix: Revolutions, Smith has assimilated thousands of programs and humans within the Matrix, turning them into replicas of himself. In the series’ final fight, Neo and Smith face off on a street lined with dozens and dozens of Smiths.
Considering that the Matrix series was lauded as a special effects revolution, you’d think that this scene would’ve been achieved with pure CGI. As it turns out, this wasn’t the case. The special effects team built over a hundred Smith replicas for the shoot. Some were actors in masks, and a lot were photorealistic animatronic puppets. It kind of takes the wind out of that last battle when you realize it was pulled off using the same level of technology as the Hall of Presidents or the Rock-afire Explosion.
If you were to ask your grandparents what gave them nightmares when they were kids, the first thing they’d probably say would be "the war." Then they’d go silent for a while and get a sad, far-off look in their eyes. But like, 20 minutes later, if you asked them what else used to scare them, they’d almost certainly bring up the flying monkeys from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.
The Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys are still synonymous with "evil henchman" 80 years after the film’s release. Their movements were ooky. Their uniforms, unsettling. They swarmed and they jabbered and they were mean to the Scarecrow, which was frankly unforgivable.
The good news is, they were also just a bunch of tiny guys in ape costumes with funny hats and vests, strapped with battery-powered wing packs and held in the air by piano wire. Also, apparently, they were relatively cordial. (The Munchkins, however, reportedly were not; hopefully they were different people.)
What did Thanos eat?
Ten years, three cameos, and nearly 20 movies led up to the proper introduction of Thanos, the lead antagonist of 2017’s Avengers: Infinity War. That’s a giant commitment of time and resources to a character who, at the end of the first Avengers movie, had your average moviegoer asking "who was the purple dude?"
As hard as it is to remember now, Thanos was a relatively obscure villain back in 2012, but Marvel didn’t have the rights to a lot of their signature bad guys back then. Spider-Man’s rogues gallery was still owned by Sony. Magneto and Doctor Doom were still under the Fox umbrella. Disney didn’t even own the movie rights to one of Marvel’s most recognizable antagonists, Galactus, the bucket-headed space guy who eats entire planets.
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have at least one hungry character, since according to this set photo, Thanos apparently prepped for the final battle in Infinity War by eating a whole Josh Brolin.
Puppeteering is a crowded field
Jim Henson and his eponymous Creature Shop built some of the most stand-out monsters of the collective millennial childhood. Sure, there were the Muppets, but there were also the goblins from Labyrinth, the ’90s live-action Ninja Turtles, and the barnyard animals that turned a generation vegan in Babe. Through all that, their greatest trick was making characters that were immersive enough to make the audience forget that just out of frame there were a dozen sweaty puppeteers with their arms in the air making these chunks of foam rubber come to life.
Shattering that illusion is this set photo of one of the Skeksis, the villains from 1982’s The Dark Crystal, crowd surfing on a sea of puppet artists like it just did a stage dive at Frank Ozfest. You can’t tell for sure from this angle, but an educated guess tells us that under the hot lights of a sound stage, the real villain of this production was pit stank.
Tears your heart out
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is, thanks to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, still in the top 75 percent of Indiana Jones movies, quality-wise. While it has its problems, Temple is also responsible for some of the most iconic imagery in the series. It gave us the mine cart chase, chilled monkey brains, and most importantly, the oft-parodied scene where the bad guy pulls the still-beating heart out of the chest of a human sacrifice.
High Priest Mola Ram, played in the film by Amrish Puri, may have been one of Indy’s most nefarious foes, but according to this photo, he also understood that the real enemy is the Sun and its unforgiving UV rays. We can’t speak to the character of the actor himself, but based on the insidious grin he’s sporting, it’s easy to imagine that he was whispering "put Jar Jar in the prequels" right before the photographer shouted "say cheese!"
Not a leg to stand on
Jurassic Park was a pivotal moment in filmmaking. It was the first time that a lifelike computer-generated creature was featured in a motion picture. Still, for all the credit the digital effects get, the practical effects were every bit as cool. Stan Winston Studios aided in the creation of life-sized animatronic dinosaurs that blew audiences away, from the sick triceratops to the frilled dilophosaurus to the show stopping T. rex. Or at least, most of it.
Thanks to clever cinematography and editing techniques, you’d never know from watching that the tyrannosaurus puppet was built sans legs. Instead, it was propped up on a mechanical rig with wires running out of the base, connecting it to the puppeteers who were controlling it offscreen. Don’t tell the lawyer, but running really was probably the best option.
So the next time one of your know-it-all friends tries to impress you by saying there were only 14 minutes of actual dinosaur footage in Jurassic Park, you can get delightfully punny and tell them there was even less dinosaur foot-age than they think. They’ll probably stop hanging out with you after that.
I want a good, clean fight
Look, we’re not trying to blow anyone’s mind with the fact that the creatures from Japanese Kaiju monster movies were actually just guys in rubber suits. If that does rock your whole perspective on life, we’ve got more bad news about the realities of professional wrestling and what really happens when you put a tooth under your pillow.
What makes this photo cool is how casual everybody looks. King Kong is hanging out thoughtfully in the background, looking like he’s trying to remember whether he fed his cats this morning. Godzilla is having a word with director Ishiro Honda, who in this picture looks more like Godzilla’s manager, the kind of guy film executives would describe as "the real monster."
"Zill, babe, you let me worry about the money. You just focus on what you do best: shooting mouth plasma at giant gorillas and enjoying the spotlight. Now, who’s my favorite client? That’s right. Let me see that smile. You’re the best in the business, kid, and don’t let anyone tell you different. Hold on, Mothra’s calling me."
Michael Keaton is Batman. Don’t believe it? Just ask Michael Keaton. His too-short reign as the caped crusader was definitive, but whether he’s your favorite iteration of the character or not, you have to admit he was a far cry from the kill-free version of the Dark Knight that’s become more prevalent in recent years.
In Tim Burton’s Batman, Keaton blows up a chemical plant. Later, he fires missiles at one of Joker’s manned parade floats and shoots a machine gun at the clown prince of crime from the cockpit of the Batwing. Maybe his most horrifying move comes in Batman Returns, when he drops a member of Penguin’s Red Triangle Gang down a manhole with an armed bomb and then smiles after the guy explodes. That’s not the sort of action from which most relationships could recover.
From the looks of this photo, though, everyone made up in the end.
The space ship! The space ship!
Ricardo Montalban had a long and illustrious career. Younger readers knew him as the grandpa from Spy Kids. Fans of Chryslers from the ’80s recall that he had strong feelings when it came to Corinthian leather. The more nerdily inclined among us remember him as the dastardly Khan Noonien Singh, antagonist of The Wrath of Khan, the second Star Trek movie and the first watchable Star Trek movie. He was vengeful and intense, and his taste in clothing really let his chest breathe. He was a great bad guy.
Before that, though, Montalban starred in the TV series Fantasy Island as the enigmatic Mister Roarke alongside Hervé Villechaize, who played his diminutive assistant Tattoo. From the looks of this set photo, someone on the set of Wrath of Khan glued a picture of Villechaize’s face to the front of an inflatable toy dude, and Montalban thought that was just the best.
No word yet on whether or not anyone pulled the same prank on Benedict Cumberbatch with a Martin Freeman photo, but stay tuned for updates.