Henchmen are one of the unsung heroes of cinema. They do the dirty jobs that no one else wants to do, and they keep the good guy from resting on his laurels by challenging him to some sort of entertaining action sequence. Sure, they may not be the smartest or the best-looking, but they serve a purpose and make movies more entertaining. Here is our list that honors the best henchmen of all time.
If there’s a big-time baddie in a movie, you can almost be certain that he didn’t rise up to prominence by himself. He had to have help, and that help usually came from henchmen. Not only do they make the bad guy better, they also make the good guy look good by getting beaten up and/or dying easily. Therefore, although it is a job with unique perks, it’s still a tough job. Maybe that’s why henchmen are frequently the toughest characters in a movie.
What makes a good henchman? It’s difficult to say exactly because there are such a wide variety of interpretations of this archetypical character. For instance, there are many characters who are technically henchmen, but they also can be counted as a major character or primary antagonist themselves (Darth Vader). Therefore, for the purposes of this list, I wanted to focus on those characters that fit the role in a more traditional manner. Here are the guidelines used in constructing this list;
**SPOILER ALERT! SOME DETAILS IN THIS ARTICLE REFERENCE KEY PLOT MOMENTS IN THE MOVIES LISTED HERE!**
Henchmen should be simple characters. If they change sides, have a substantial back-story, or betray their boss, they are too important a character.
(Example elimination: Mini Me from Austin Powers, Mystique from X-Men films)
A henchman should not be the main antagonist of a film. If the movie they appear in is part of a franchise, what happens in those other movies must also be taken into account.
(Example elimination: Darth Vader from Star Wars, Agent Smith from The Matrix)
Minions are not included. Our henchmen must be unique and distinguishable in some ways from their peers.
(Example elimination: Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, Minions from Despicable Me)
Using these guidelines, here’s what I came up with. Who would you add or remove from the list?
First up, a few favorites that didn’t quite make the top ten:
- “Nick Nack”
Movie: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Played By: Hervé Villechaize
Best Moment: While trying to kill James Bond, he gets locked in a suitcase.
Why is he on this list? James Bond gave us so many great henchmen, and Nick Nack continued that trend. Nick Nack stands out and is very memorable, not only for his diminutive stature but because he actually did a lot in his film. He only missed making the top ten because two other spots are occupied by even better James Bond henchmen.
Movie: Die Hard (1988)
Played By: Alexander Godunov
Best Moment: Escapes from an explosion (while dangling from the roof by a chain wrapped around his neck) to pop up and almost kill John McClain, just when everyone thinks they are safe.
Why is he on this list? Die Hard gave birth to the modern action film, and as such it had to be represented on this list. The film actually features a large collection of good henchmen. Karl is simply the biggest, baddest and lives the longest. He didn’t make the top ten because he’s not as memorable as some of these other henchmen.
Movie: Enter the Dragon (1973)
Played By: Bolo Yeung
Best Moment: As a demonstration, he takes on four guards at once, killing them all in horrific fashion, including folding the last one in half.
Why are they on this list? 70’s Kung-Fu movies are full of henchmen and Bolo is the best one in the most legendary movie of the sub-genre. He’s one of the best examples of a henchman that exists for his brawn over his brains and his combat scenes don’t disappoint. The type of character played here by Bolo laid the groundwork for henchmen in all our favorite martial-arts action flicks ever since.
Without further delay, here are the top ten!
Movie: Frankenstein (1931)
Played By: Dwight Frye
Best Moment: Enjoys taunting the monster, which angers it and so it kills him.
Why is he on this list? Like Bolo, Fritz is important as a henchman because he was instrumental in establishing what we movie-viewers expect from henchmen. Fritz might not be the most well-known or memorable, but he left a lasting impact on movies ever since. This character introduced the stupid, slightly funny, crazy, hunch-backed assistant to the main antagonist. Future henchmen like Igor in Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and even Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show owe it all to Fritz.
Movie: Blazing Saddles (1974)
Played By: Alex Karras
Best Moment: “Candygram for Mongo!” Do I need to say anything else?
Why is he on this list? Mel Brook’s films are ripe with henchmen, and Mongo is arguably the most memorable. He’s big, brutish and incredibly dumb. Mongo parodied similar characters in western films while also playing off of the henchman stereotype at the same time. Furthermore, the fact that he isn’t in the film for very long says a lot about not only the impact this character makes, but also the effectiveness at which Brooks is able to make his point.
Movie: Kill Bill Vol. I (2003)
Played By: Chiaki Kuriyama
Best Moment: She uses her gravity hammer to strangle Beatrix by the chain, almost finishing her off, only to get stabbed in the head by a table leg with nails sticking out of it.
Why is she on this list? Female henchmen are few and far between. Not only is Gogo special in that regard, the character in general is a very creative one and features all the elements of a good henchman(woman). She’s unexpected, ruthless, acts tough, and is very talented. Tarantino is another film-maker whose movies are full of great henchmen. Gogo is simply the best example of his creativity and unique approach to entertainment.
Movie: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Played By: Patrick Warburton
Best Moment: “Executes” a covert mission while making his own theme music.
Why is he on this list? Besides the James Bond films, Disney films are the best and most consistent producer of henchmen characters. While The Emperor’s New Groove is one of Disney’s newer animated features, its main henchman is the best they’ve come up with so far. Kronk is funny on multiple levels, and isn’t just relegated to slapstick comedy and obnoxious antics like previous Disney henchmen. Furthermore, it’s not very often where a henchman is the best part of a movie. Kronk is the best part of this film, and that fact, plus the way he represents the entire history of Disney henchmen, is the reason he is on this list.
Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Played By: Ronald Lacey
Best Moment: Reaches into the fire to reclaim the pendant, burning an imprint of the artifact on his hand.
Why is he on this list? While there are plenty of other henchmen in the Indiana Jones universe, Toht earns a special place because he is more than just a thug. Toht is ruthless in his endeavors to get what he wants and complete his job for his Nazi bosses. Additionally, he’s an evil psychopath. All of these traits make for one very entertaining character. His prominence in the film and the fact that he is nearly successful in his endeavors to defeat Indiana Jones make him more than just a typical henchman.
5. “Luca Brasi”
Movie: The Godfather (1972)
Played By: Lenny Montana
Best Moment: A ruthless killer, Brasi shows humility and honor towards the Don when he is seen practicing a speech and then fumbles his line while thanking his boss for inviting him to his daughter’s wedding.
Why is he on this list? It’s simple. The Godfather is the best crime movie ever made, and Luca Brasi is the best henchman in the film. His exploits are legendary, but that’s not what makes him so great. He’s loyal, good at what he does, and not afraid to do whatever it takes. Brasi is portrayed as both a ruthless killer and a human being. This makes for a character that is much more complete than your typical henchman, yet that character is never elevated beyond the traditional henchman role. This is movie-making artistry at its finest, and consistent with the greatness that The Godfather exudes.
Movie: The Road Warrior (1981)
Played By: Vernon Wells
Best Moment: Gets shot through the arm with an arrow, pulls it out and adds it to his collection.
Why is he on this list? Wez doesn’t have much historical importance, he’s not widely known by name, and the actor portraying him didn’t get vaulted to stardom. So why is Wez on this list? Audacity! Wez is the craziest, most intimidating and completely berserk henchman you will ever find. He is completely committed to the job and makes quite an impression because of the reckless abandon with which he bounces around the screen. Wez is one of those bad guys that you like because he is so badass. All other henchmen are tame by comparison.
Movie: Goldfinger (1964)
Played By: Harold Sakata
Best Moment: Demonstrates his talent by cutting off the head of a statue with his razor-brimmed hat.
Why is he on this list? Oddjob is perhaps the most famous of all the James Bond henchmen, and the fact that he was featured in the best James Bond film only boosts his position. Although he doesn’t say a word, he is always very intimidating. He was truly a ground-breaking character when first introduced. Since then, there have been countless rip-offs, so the silent brute is now an action movie stereotype. Oddjob is also featured in some of the most memorable scenes in James Bond’s history.
2. “Boba Fett”
Movie: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Played By: Jeremy Bolloch (body), Jason Wingreen (original voice)
Best Moment: Tracks down Han and Leia to Bespin, and stages a trap by alerting the Empire.
Why is he on this list? I understand that Boba Fett might not be a henchman in the traditional sense, but he’s just about the closest you’ll get in the original Star Wars trilogy. His popularity comes not just from the fact that he’s really cool, but also because he’s really effective at what he does. He single-handedly tracks down and helps to capture Luke, Leia, and Han when both the Empire and Jabba the Hutt have failed to do so. Boba Fett is also a perfect representation of Lucas’ highly original “dirty-space” theme and in many ways, he defines it. Star Wars owes a lot to Boba Fett.
Movie: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Played By: Richard Kiel
Best Moment: Gets run off a cliff by James Bond, crashing into a hut. The car explodes but Jaws exits the front door, dusting himself off before continuing on.
Why is he on this list? Although there are plenty of great James Bond henchmen, Jaws is the best. Not only is he in more than one Bond film, but he is more famous and recognizable than most of the series’ main villains. It’s not very often when a henchman outshines his boss, but that’s what Jaws does. Furthermore, Jaws seems like he is nearly unstoppable, and although he puts James Bond in some perilous situations, you can’t help but love him. That’s the mark of a good character. It’s easy to make a character hated by the audience; it’s hard to make them love a character, especially when he’s trying to kill the protagonist. As such, while Jaws fit in perfectly with the lighter, slightly aloof tone of the 70’s era James Bond, in many ways, he was a primary reason the series persevered.