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In the past, I’ve broken down the best fictional announcers from movies, television, and video games. These were the men and women who added life and color to movies that were otherwise preoccupied with the live action. But great movies also need an obstacle, a villain. This is often easy in sports movies where there is some rival team or opponent the hero must face in the final showdown. Some are better than others, more challenging, more devious, or more revealing about the hero’s innate character. The question is, which one is best of the bunch?
For this list, we will only be examining individual villains, and we’ll be limiting it to just movies (the nature of TV shows means there are few recurring rivals). That means we won’t consider cases when our hero faces an enemy team that has no standout individual leading them (e.g. the big-city school from Hoosiers, Dallas-Carter in Friday Night Lights, or the Soviet team from Miracle). We’ll also be ignoring movies where the “villain” is some intangible idea (like courage from Rudy or racism in Remember the Titans).
Honorable Mentions: Apollo Creed, the Beast, Jean Girard, Mr. Swackhammer, Kevin O’Shea
12. Heddo (Rookie of the Year)
Look, Heddo isn’t an incredibly dynamic character. We know little about him other than the fact that he can rake and he’s the last batter Henry
Runabagger Gardenhoser Rowengardner has to face before bringing the Cubs to the World Series. He is the classic “Goliath” final boss, pure strength, a hulking presence, and menace that runs throughout the Cubs bullpen. The only question I have, though, is how did he whiff on that floater? I mean, in reality, this is the more likely outcome:
11. Jack Parkman (Major League II)
Similar to Heddo, Parkman is a fairly one-dimensional final boss type. He’s the final out that Ricky Vaughn must defeat, full of swagger and talent. However, Parkman is ranked higher because he represents the duality of perception when it comes to players. Parkman is an asshole, an arrogant dick whose talent is only matched by his mouth. He’s the type of asshole that you hate whenever your team plays him, but immediately love his grit and heart when he comes to your team. The Indians begrudgingly accept Parkman when he plays for them, but when he comes back as a member of the White Sox, he’s evil incarnate.
10. Spike Hammersmith (Little Giants)
Another goliath-esque obstacle, Spike is the embodiment of the Giants’ enemy–the Cowboys. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s more talented, he’s just better. He’s also playing against kids, which allows the movie to properly elevate him to a borderline mythological figure for them to overcome. The kid is a freak of nature, the type of kid that you would see on the other team in Pop Warner and just know this day was going to end badly. Spike also gets elevated because he’s willing to play dirty, and because of his overbearing father. He’s basically Todd Marinovich mixed with Ndamukong Suh in a ten-year-old’s body. Well, maybe a 14-year-old’s body. Seriously someone should have demanded a birth certificate before that game. And administered him a “random” steroid test.
9. Ross “the Boss” Rhea (Goon)
Ross “the Boss” is perhaps my favorite example of the empathetic villain. In the movie, Dougie Glatt is framed to be the next Rhea, a premiere fighter coming up through the ranks. Ross made a name for himself with vicious and illegal hits in his career, which is now coming to an end, and is the fighter that Glatt learns the most from. And, while he is the final fight Doug has in the movie, there are two moments that perfectly show why Rhea is the best “sympathetic villain” in sports movies. First, during that final fight, when he gets a good lick on Glatt and the referee starts to skate over to call the fight, but Rhea waves him off. The second is the scene at the diner, where Rhea and Glatt talk. Rhea almost seems happy to pass the mantle on and offers Glatt some advice, noting “you have my respect, whatever that means to you you got it.” He’s not necessarily a bad guy, but he is the final obstacle that Glatt must overcome. Nothing sums up why Rhea is a classic villain like his final words to Glatt that night: “if ever there comes a time when it gets down to the marrow and it’s you and me, kid, I will lay you the fuck out.”
8. Jay Huffer (The Big Green)
Although Mr. Hammersmith is a prime example of the overbearing dad, much like Frankenstein, the creation is more the villain than he is. Jay Huffer, however, is the epitome of raging, entitled, overbearing little league dads. The coach of a team on which his son is the star, he constantly talks down to and mocks smaller players and girls on the other team. He runs the team with the discipline of the Chinese Olympic Gymnastics team and he gives inspirational halftime speeches like R. Lee Ermey. Oh, and he paces the sidelines wielding a megaphone like a Texas high-school football coach’s wet dream.
7. Johnny Lawrence (The Karate Kid)
There is no fear in this dojo! While Johnny “the Actual Karate Kid” Lawrence may not be responsible for the greatest quotes from this classic, there’s no question that he is the true villain. Not only is he the final battle for Daniel-san, but he also inspires Danny to begin karate training with his relentless harassment at the beginning of the film. Johnny is the classic high school bully, he has a charmed life and will do anything to preserve his status. Of course, when Kreese tells him to sweep the leg, this gutless wonder will have no problem doing it. After all, he’s been fighting a guy on basically one leg with no mercy. The only reason he falls in the rankings is that last moment. That last moment of compassion where he says “you’re alright LaRusso” and hands him the trophy. Screw you movie, Johnny Lawrence doesn’t get a redemptive arc at the end. Make him the supreme villain we all know he should be.
6. David Simms (Tin Cup)
Great villains are often the negative of the hero. This is usually made to highlight the heroic qualities of the protagonist and the evil qualities of the antagonist. However, in being that exact opposite great villains will often also expose the fatal flaws of our heroes. This is the case when it comes to David Simms, the polar opposite to the protagonist Roy McAvoy. Simms is the consummate professional, he’s calculated and suave both on and off the course. On the other hand, McAvoy is a brash, personable risk-taker, but he often gets in trouble because of his ego. While McAvoy’s personality is genuine, Simms’s is a mask for how big of a dick he is. This makes us root for Roy, as he starts from the bottom trying to get the fame and glory that Simms seems to have cheated his way to.
It seems to pay off, with Roy getting the girl and the glory at the end of the movie, but Simms exists as a constant reminder that, in reality, Roy didn’t win. On the last hole, Roy is tied with the leader and Simms is down one stroke. Both men are set up on a long second shot to reach the green over water on a par five. If Roy lays up, then chips onto the green, he’ll have an excellent chance to birdie and win outright. Simms, on the other hand, needs a birdie to just tie. Simms decides to lay-up, Roy, wanting to get an eagle and get a record for the lowest score goes for it. He hits into the water, then out of frustration and arrogance, he tries to repeatedly hit the same shot until he sinks it on his final chance. While it seems like a victory for Roy, making a legendary shot, it’s only afterward he realizes that his fatal flaw kept him from glory. If he had, once, kept his ego in check and played it safe, he probably would have won the US Open. So not only is Simms a great villain because he’s a petty dick, he’s a great villain because he exposes our hero’s greatest flaw.
5. Jack Rielly (Mighty Ducks)
The reason that the first two Mighty Ducks movies were so amazing (and the third was so disappointing) is that the first two installments were truly a hero’s journey. And that hero is Gordon Bombay. The first movie is essentially his origin story, and Coach Rielly is the open, festering wound that made Gordon who he is at the start of the franchise. Rielly was a surrogate father to Bombay after his dad died, a coach who taught him how to “go for the W.” And when Bombay fails on a penalty shot late in the championship game, he feels as though he’s let down his pseudo-father. Worse yet, Rielly makes it clear to Bombay that he did let him and the team down.
This failure spurs Gordon to not only quit hockey but also creates an insatiable desire to win. As a lawyer, he’s willing to win at any cost, likely to please his new father figure, Mr. Ducksworth. As Gordon rediscovers the simple love for the game by coaching the Ducks, he realizes that Rielly taught him some of the worst qualities in himself: selfishness, willingness to cheat, lack of morals, and callousness. It’s only after he witnesses his coach, a man he idolized and craved love from, order a hit on Adam “Cake Eater” Banks, that he is able to let go of these feelings and live a life free of this fear and regret.
4. Ivan Drago (Rocky IV)
“I must break you.” With those few words, Drago became the greatest hulking type final boss in movie history.
I mean, this is the guy who killed Apollo Creed in the ring and responds with “if he dies he dies.” Drago is, in his own words, a man who cannot be defeated. He is a pure physical specimen, bred and molded by Soviet scientists. Not only does he represent the Soviet menace opposing the United States in the Cold War, he also represents whether sheer will and heart can overcome technology and fortune. Drago is a man that Rocky must fight, not only for vengeance but for country and to prove something to himself.
Is Drago a particularly dynamic character, who provides a lot of nuance to Rocky’s character? No. But he is the ultimate challenge, a far superior specimen with access to all the advantages Rocky must overcome. His cold, unflinching demeanor only makes him that much more terrifying.
3. White Goodman (Dodgeball)
White Goodman is the funniest character on this list, hands down. He perfectly mixes the slapstick, sad-sack character of a comedy villain with actually having some menace. He also acts as that opposite to the protagonist, Peter LaFleur. White has all the money and success that Peter wants, but whereas Peter is lazy and carefree, White is completely focused and ruthless. These attitudes trickle down to their teams, as Average Joes is an uncoordinated, yet lovable, group of underdogs and the Purple Cobras are a well-oiled machine.
White is willing to cheat and bribe his way into the dodgeball tournament, and committed enough to acquire Fran the “ringer” for his team. His biggest problem is his ego, which eventually leads him to losing in the finals and underestimating Peter when he swoops in and buys a controlling share of his company. He and his plot may be cartoonish (like seriously, just offer Peter more money to sell the gym at the beginning if you need the property that badly), but he does a fantastic job at getting Peter to realize that you can’t go through life uncaring–but you also can’t care too much.
2. Wolf “the Dentist” Stansson (Mighty Ducks 2)
You know how I know Mighty Ducks is the best sports movie franchise? They had a fantastic villain in the original movie and still managed to outdo him in the sequel. Stansson is not just the coach of team Iceland in the Junior Goodwill games. He’s not just a ruthless former NHLer who will do whatever it takes to win. He’s a guy who allegedly punched out his own coach and was ran out of the country. Plus, he has the nickname “the Dentist,” which is maybe the dopest and most intimidating nickname for a hockey player. He may not be telling his team to cheat, but he’s willing to slash at Bombay’s weakened knee to win a three bar game and get his team to take runs at the Ducks. Stansson constantly pushes his players to goon it up in an attempt to prove to the world that his tough way of playing is the only way to win, and he is easily the most (in)famous Iceland native ever.
1. Shooter McGavin (Happy Gilmore)
He may not be as comedically joyful to watch fail as White Goodman, but Shooter McGavin is an institution, almost as synonymous with Happy Gilmore as the titular character. In my mind, he was born with some regular name like “Carl” or “Henry” and legally changed it to “Shooter” because he’s just that good. But when a wannabe hockey player comes onto the scene and takes all the notoriety, McGavin not only constantly takes shots at Happy, he pays someone to sabotage him at the Pro-Am tournament, then has him cripple Happy at the Tour Championship, and tries to buy off Happy when he purchases his grandmother’s house.
Like other villains listed, McGavin is the opposite of Happy. The latter is carefree and willing to eschew the norms of golf culture, which McGavin is very much entrenched in. The stubbornness and arrogance McGavin shows makes him the villain, sure, but yet there is also something empathetic about him. McGavin, by his own admission, is frustrated by the fact that he’s paid his dues, worked his whole life to get to the apex of his career, only to seemingly have it all stolen away by some guy who really couldn’t care about the sport. So it’s easy to identify with McGavin and understand his actions, as insane as they are. Shooter’s given us some great memorable moments and memes, from the single pistol on draining a putt, speaking in the third person, and classic lines like “damn you people…go back to your shanties” and “I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.” In sports movies, he’s the perfect guy you love to hate. .