VIDEO: Celebrate William Zabka's 50th Birthday with the Best Bullies in Movie History
Johnny from The Karate Kid and Biff from Back to the Future top our list of the meanest bullies in teen movies
On Oct. 20, actor William Zabka turns 50 years old. You probably know him as Billy Zabka, who portrayed the villainous Johnny in The Karate Kid. In the role, Zabka exemplified a staple of ’80s teen movies: the entitled, blond, affluent-seeming guy who refuses to cut our underdog hero a break.
Since Karate Kid, Zabka has continued in Hollywood, more recently appearing in Hot Tub Time Machine and in a recurring role on How I Met Your Mother, but also writing and co-producing the 2003 Czech film Most, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Film in 2004 and which transformed Zabka from “that guy from The Karate Kid” to “that guy from The Karate Kid who was nominated for an Oscar.”
Still, Zabka’s turn as Johnny will always be one of his best-remembered, and this week we’re celebrating Zabka’s birthday with a list of the all-time best bullies in movies. Congrats, Mr. Zabka.
(Heads up: Some of these clips contain NSFW language.)
1. Johnny (Zabka) in The Karate Kid (1984)
In addition to wanting to defeat Daniel (Ralph Maccio) in a karate tournament, Johnny also wants to destroy Daniel’s chances of winning the affection of Ali (Elisabeth Shue). A kinder person might note that Johnny is himself bullied – by his unyielding Cobra Kai sensei (Martin Kove), an anti-Miyagi who goads his disciples to win at any cost – but it nonetheless feels amazing when Daniel triumphs in the end.
In the series How I Met You Mother, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) reveals that as a child he idolized Johnny and viewed him as the story’s true hero. In 2015, a YouTuber created a video seriously examining how this viewpoint might just be correct.
It’s all a matter of perspective, right?
2. Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) in Back to the Future (1985)
A bully whose family celebrates a long history of making life tough for the McFly clan, Biff badly wants to date Lorraine (Lea Thompson) and torment George McFly (Crispin Glover). Getting manure dumped on him didn’t seem to shake the bully out of Biff, however. He’s as much of a jerk in the dystopian future of 2015, where he’s joined by his equally terrible grandson, Griff (also played by Wilson). And in Back to the Future Part III, Wilson plays Buford Tannen, who’s the worst of all Tannens so far: a bully who likes gunfights.
3. Regina George (Rachel McAdams) in Mean Girls (2004)
Bullies don’t need to throw punches to wield power. Mean Girls focuses on the awful things that even the pinkest among us inflict on each other, and McAdams’ George proves to be a master of manipulation, lying and perfectly-barbed put-downs – and she uses all of these to be the Big Girl on Campus.
Claws Out: The Meanest Looks of Mean Girls
4. Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck) in Dazed and Confused (1993)
Dazed and Confused was Affleck’s first major film role, and he’s lucky the character didn’t forever taint him in later roles. The movie very quickly teaches the audience to despise O’Bannion, a fifth-year senior who lives to haze incoming freshman, butt paddle in hand. The terror he inflicts on the film’s younger characters feels real, and it makes his comeuppance all the more glorious.
5. Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) in Stand By Me (1986)
Some bullies make you roll your eyes. Sutherland’s teen hoodlum character in Stand By Me, however, should make you feel legitimately terrified. Maybe it’s just Sutherland’s steely eyes contrasting against that pretty boy blond hair, but when he pops out that switchblade, he seems like he has every intention of using it.
6. Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) in A Christmas Story (1983)
With a mouth full of braces and evil, yellow eyes, Scut – yes, Scut, not Scott – seems to exist only to terrify Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), who eventually snaps and beats Scut up. No, it’s not the best lesson in overcoming a bully, but crude violence might well be the only language a guy like Farkus can speak, you know?
7. Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) in The Craft (1996)
You thought Regina George was bad? The head teen-witch in The Craft is no Sabrina – she’s insecure, jealous, petty and willing to use her powers to better herself, often at the expense of others. And that eye makeup really underscores her pop-eyed looniness.
8. Stab ("Paul Anthony" George) in House Party (1990)
All Kid ‘n Play want to do is throw a house party, but they’re deterred at every corner by Stab and his brothers (and fellow members of the real-life R&B group Full Force), who seem to exist only to spoil our heroes’ fun. It’s not the deepest motivation ever given to a movie villain, but what do you expect from a guy named “Stab”?
9. Buzz McCallister (Devin Ratray) in Home Alone (1990)
Ask Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin): The only thing worse than a bully at school is one who happens to live at your house. As the thick chunk of meatloaf known as Buzz, Ratray will remind you of every instance older, bigger siblings pushed you around, just because they could. An exhibit in favor of Buzz McCallister’s existence, however? His girlfriend, who inspires this famous line.
10. Courtney Shayne (Rose McGowan) in Jawbreaker (1999)
When the popular girl clique accidentally offs its queen bee, McGowan’s character takes it upon herself to reign supreme. Courtney is like if Rizzo from Grease crossed over to the dark side, and she uses swagger, lies and threats (idle and otherwise) to keep everyone at her high school under her thumb. Julie (Rebecca Gayheart) stands up, in the end, and takes Courtney down in the best prom disaster since Carrie.
11. Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes) in Easy A (2010)
Bynes’ Marianne likes to flaunt her status as a good Christian, but she’s actually just using her purported moral superiority to make others feel unwelcome and unwanted. She goes out of her way to try to drive Olive (Emma Stone) out of school for a reputation that, as it turns out, isn’t even deserved. She’s the worst.
12. Ricky and Seth (Seth Rogan and Alex Greenwald) in Donnie Darko (2001)
Before Rogan became a comedic leading man, he played one of two bullies in the Jake Gyllenhaal cult film Donnie Darko. (Phantom Planet frontman Alex Greenwald plays the other.) They’re abysmal jerks who taunt Gretchen (Jena Malone) about her mother’s death, though they ultimately prove important to the Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events that must happen so Donnie can save his family, they’re still jerks.
13. Ice and Jay (Larry Bagby and Tobias jelinek) in Hocus Pocus (1993)
You know that thing that especially un-clever bullies do where they invent a taunting nickname that doesn’t even make sense? Like when Ice and Jay dub Max (Omri Katz) as “Hollywood?” Argh. So annoying. They get theirs, of course, and Bagby would go on to redeem himself playing Larry the Bully on several episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
14. Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) in Carrie (1976)
Any adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie is inherently an allegory about the dangers of bullying, and Nancy Allen’s performance in the original movie version is probably the best bully of all. She looks like a ’70s dream girl, but acts like a monster, making demands and throwing fits when she can’t force everyone to do what she wants. Chris so torments Carrie (Sissy Spacek) that she ultimately provokes Carrie into destroying a good chunk of the town – and wiping out most of the senior class, too. The moral? Be nicer to the quiet girl.
15. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in Election (1999)
You might be surprised to see this list end with Tracy. Witherspoon’s character is neither popular nor scary in the conventional sense, but she’s ruthless in how she goes about getting what she wants, tearing down posters of her opponent in the class president race and threatening to sue for defamation when her teacher (Matthew Broderick) accuses her of having defaced the posters. She lies. She uses people. And she bends people to her will with the sheer force of her intimidating personality. Scariest of all? She gets away with it.