Think of the worst boss you’ve ever had. Picture that person hassling, berating or annoying you for an issue related to copy machines, expense reports or something equally trivial and stupid. Now imagine punching that person square in the jaw. Felt good, didn’t it? Yes, in the world of fantasy it’s perfectly acceptable to inflict violence upon your pompous, rotten jerk of a boss because he wouldn’t let you use a sick day to go to a Def Leppard concert. That’s probably why “boss from hell” movies often strike a chord with general audiences: because we can relate, at least a little, to what the underlings inHorrible Bosses and The Devil Wears Prada have to deal with.
So with that in mind — and with a shameless plug for Scream Factory’s new release, Bloodsucking Bastards, which features a few rotten bosses of its own — here’s a collection of five truly horrific movie bosses.
5. Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole) fromOffice Space (1999)
Say what you will about the good and not-so-good components of Office Spacebut there’s no denying that writer/director Mike Judge and character actor extraordinaire Gary Cole conspired to create one of the most annoyingly realistic (and realistically annoying) movie bosses of all time. From his languid and meandering style of communication to his perpetual air of low-key passive-aggression, Bill Lumbergh isn’t a terrible boss because he’s powerful or intimidating; it’s because he’s just a mindless little drone who exhibits no human traits outside of walking, talking, and stammering. I’ve had bosses exactly like Lumbergh, and trust me on this: they’re not nearly as amusing as they are inOffice Space.
4. Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) fromRobocop (1987)
One of his executives is brutally gunned down in the middle of a board meeting, and all Dick Jones cares about is getting his damn ED-209 project back on track. Hey, Dick! That clunky-ass “urban pacification” robot is a piece of junk! But, like lots of rotten bosses, Dick doesn’t care if the final product actually works, so long as he keeps his seat at the corporate feeding trough. And not only does Dick actively ignore a subordinate’s gruesome demise, he actually hires a brutal assassin to demolish his competition! There are actually lots of evil bosses inRobocop — hat tip to Miguel Ferrer, Kurtwood Smith, and Dan O’Herlihy — but for our money Dick Jones is the worst of the bunch. Probably because Ronny Cox always looks so damn refined, classy, and authoritative — before he switches over to being a full-bore devious bastard.
3. Mason (Tilda Swinton) fromSnowpiercer (2013)
You think your boss is bad? Well, the last remaining humans who live on board a perpetual motion train because the world outside is a frozen wasteland would probably disagree. Their boss doesn’t ask for unpaid overtime or copies of expense reports from five years ago. No, their boss simply A) freezes peoples’ arms off, B) feeds them nutrition bars made out of concentrated insects, and C) abducts their children so they can be used as… well, let’s not spoil everything. Surely it’s evil enough that Mason steals her workers’ children. Let’s just leave it at that. As far as motivational strategies are concerned, Mason isn’t even a particularly intelligent boss. “Be a shoe!” she tells her workers. So they band together, become a shoe, and kick her ass.
2. Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman) from 9 to 5 (1980)
While some of the more cosmetic aspects of 9 to 5 are pretty outdated (check out those crazy typewriters and monstrous copy machines!), it still works as a scathing indictment of perpetually misgoynistic office politics, partially because the screenplay is clever and the three leads (Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda) are fantastic. But the big scene-stealer here has got to be Dabney Coleman as the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” who runs the office with a smug, sleazy fist. One would hate to come up against a boss like Franklin Hart in the real world, which is why it’s so much fun to watch the women exact their revenge on the stupid jerk, but Coleman’s performance is a brilliantly accurate amalgam of corporate rottenness that adds a lot of colorful energy to the film. Plus he’s just funny.
1. Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) from Swimming with Sharks (1994)
There’s really no other logical choice for the #1 pick, really, and the only people who’d argue this point are people who’ve never seen Kevin Spacey’s wonderfully mean-spirited performance as film producer Buddy Ackerman. Based on the personal “boss from Hell” experiences from writer/director George Huang’s past, Swimming with Sharks focuses on a vibrantly obnoxious movie producer who does everything he can to make his assistant’s life miserable. Of course the big “hook” of the movie is that the abused (Frank Whaley) manages to turn the tables on his abuser, but the real fun stuff is found in the first half of the film. Because that’s when Mr. Spacey is at his most outrageously, wildly, and entertainingly evil. It may be the guy’s funniest performance of his career — and it’s certainly good enough to qualify as our #1 Worst Movie Boss of All Time.
Scott Weinberg is a film writer of 15-plus years for FEARnet, Cinematical, Nerdist, The Horror Show, Geek Nation, Playboy and others. He tweets at@scottEweinberg.