Say you’re putting together a syndicate. One of the first things that you are going to need is somebody to take care of your light work for you when words have run out. As a means of determining the appropriate skill set for this oh-so-important addition to your workforce, the Complex has assembled a ranking of some of the more legendary henchman ever to grace the screen. You know, as a way to gauge some of the qualities you might be looking for.
In ranking these heavies, extra points were earned for singularity of purpose, imperviousness to pain, and skill within the realm of hand-to-hand combat. Points were taken away for any actions tantamount to a betrayal of the henchman’s employer, or conspicuous behavior likely to cause more trouble than harm.
Here’s how they shook out.
10. Clarence Boddicker (Robocop, 1987)
Strengths: Professional henching is a tough, competitive business. If it was just a matter of sitting up on top of a far roof and looking through a scope at your prey, then picking them off with surgical precision, everybody would do it. You have to have a specialty, and Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) does. He is an excellent torturer of people, particularly with a firearm. A lot of lesser henchmen will take a knife to your ear or your cheek, or hook a car battery up to your nipples with big alligator clips, but how many are willing to carve you up with a shotgun or a pistol? That shit makes a lot of noise, you know.
Weaknesses: The main problem with that type of virtuosic commitment to craft is that sometimes you lose sight of the big picture. This Clarence Boddicker, well, he has something of a temper, and a bit of a mouth to boot. No point in making a bunch of enemies when you’re running around killing people. After all, word gets around.
9. Gogo Yubari (Kill Bill, 2003)
Strengths: This is the type of old ball and chain you want nothing to do with, as I assume Dan Dierdorf would say. Gogo (Chiaki Kuriyama) brings an array of sick moves and apparel that dazzle the eye while crushing the skull, and a delightfully sadistic sense of play for club nights.
Weaknesses: She’s a disgrace to whatever Catholic school it is that she attends. Also, Gogo is easily distracted by a few nails driven into the bridge of her foot.
8. Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)
Strengths: There is no doubting the relentlessness or the resourcefulness of Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) of the Third Reich. He is fluent in German, French, Italian, and English, and charming as all get-out when it comes to routine interrogations. Chosen for his ability to “think like a Jew,” Landa is a dogged pursuer of his prey, demonstrating singular focus.
Weaknesses: His abilities are limited to the hunting of a single creed. Also, for all of his linguistics and intuition, the Colonel is a bit of a blowhard, and subject to running off at the mouth. Also, (SPOILER ALERT) Landa is guilty of the cardinal sin of rolling over on his employer to further his own interests when the going gets tough.
7. Darth Vader (Star Wars, 1977)
Strengths: If these rankings were composed on ability alone, then Mr. Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) would no doubt rank near the very top of the list. Sure, he’ll chase you across the galaxy. Yeah, he’ll choke you from across the table in the middle of a board meeting. And swordplay? Forget about it.
Weaknesses: All well and good, but there comes a time when a little thing called loyalty has to be factored in, and if you’re going to let all of your personal family shit enter into the picture, it doesn’t matter a hell of a lot how many planets you blow up, now does it? Particularly when your crowning achievement as a heavy is grabbing your boss by the scruff of the neck and tossing him into a bottomless chasm.
6. Agent Smith (The Matrix Trilogy, 1999-2003)
Strengths: You can’t argue with a henchman who can turn himself into, like, a thousand henchmen at the speed of thought. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is calm and collected, and as a topper, dude’s got some excellent hand-to-hand chops as well. And if none of that works, he can always just bust a cap in you.
Weaknesses: Then again, none of it is real, so why worry? It’s hard to be too horribly scared of a digital abstraction, particularly one that gets routinely outfoxed by Keanu Reeves.
5. Oddjob (Goldfinger, 1964)
Strengths: Of the Bond heavies, Oddjob (Harold Sakata) is certainly the most likable. He doesn’t talk too much and he always has the most pleasant smile on his face. Also, he can decapitate you with his hat from about ten yards away. Oddjob is a prototypical henchman in that he is willing to fight to the very end for his employer.
Weaknesses: Not the most dextrous fighter out there, Oddjob’s hand-to-hand skills are suspect at best. Even against an opponent of inferior size, Oddjob’s go-to move is to grab a guy and throw him against a wall or across a floor. He is also a big proponent of the ages-old karate chop (for some reason, until the mid-sixties, it was possible to render your opponent instantaneously unconscious by issuing a stiff chop to the shoulder). Oddjob also demonstrates a limited understanding of the principles of electricity.
4. Al Neri (The Godfather, Part II, 1974)
Strengths: Much like the Klitchko brothers, he’s not flashy, but the guy gets the job done. Most people would quickly identify Luca Brasi as The Godfather trilogy’s signature henchman, but what did you ever see him do besides fumble through a canned salutation, and then get himself bumped off?
Of all the higher profile thugs in the series, only Al Neri (Richard Bright) bridged the gap between Parts II & III, including the assassination of a full-bird Cardinal in the final installment. Neri was also the trigger man on arguably the most famous assassination in movie history, the death of poor Fredo Corleone on Lake Tahoe.
Weaknesses: Bit of a drinker, Neri. Likely to put his head down on the bar off and nod off for a minute. And I don’t want to point any fingers, but the guy was asleep at the switch when they tried to gun Michael down in his home. You know, where his wife sleeps. Where his children come to play with their toys. In his home.
3. Leonard Smalls (Raising Arizona, 1987)
Strengths: The physical embodiment of evil, you do not want to have the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse (Randall Cobb) on the road that leads to your doorstep. He kills everything that crosses his path (particularly the little things), and not even his mother loved him. He carries twin pistol grip shotguns and rides a Harley through the desert without a map. He is tougher than you.
Weaknesses: The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, as you might expect, carries something of a big stick. Probably not going to blend in when a situation requires any type of subterfuge.
2. The Terminator (The Terminator, 1984; Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991)
Strengths: As an instrument of SkyNet, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) feels nothing in the way of pain, demonstrates singularity of purpose, possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms, and sports the sickest heads-up display this side of Robocop. He was single-handedly able to take out an entire police headquarters and later, in an impressive performance, the superior T-1000.
Weaknesses: The T-800 demonstrates limited scalability. Despite complete reprogramming at the hands of John Connor, the Terminator is unable to shake the Austrian accent and thick-headed glare.
1. Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men, 2007)
Strengths: Like the Terminator, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) demonstrates a singularity of purpose, and is a dogged pursuer of his prey. In fact, the only meaningful characteristic separating Chigurh from the Terminator is that Chigurh is a human being. Sorta. Like Leonard Smalls, Chigurh is a one-way ticket: There is no calling him off once he has been called on. So, you know, buyer beware.
Weaknesses: Chigurh likes to toy with his victims a little, but not excessively so. Also, he seems to operate according to a self-made set of rules separated entirely from reality. One seeking his services should think long and hard about the consequences of involvement with such a man. And do yourself a favor: use a buffer.
– og published 4/3/2012
+Josh Converse work has appeared in Crime Factory, Plots with Guns, Black Heart Magazine, Out Of the Gutter, and A Twist of Noir. He is the only person to have ever simultaneously held the WBO and WBC middleweight and welterweight titles without any witnesses. Josh can talk his way out of any situation, particularly when on the cusp of runaway success. In 2010, he was the recipient of Nick Tosches’ final apology. He lives and works and eats cereal in Chicago.