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The Screening Room's Top 10 British Villains

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  • CNN's "The Screening Room" picks the top 10 on-screen British villains
  • Laurence Olivier, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee head the list
  • Think we've missed one? Post your comments to the Screening Room blog
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(CNN) -- According to Hollywood, nothing says "I'm an evil mastermind" like a cut-glass British accent and a lip-curling sneer. Why? We're not sure. But as one of the movie world's favorite stereotypes, this month we celebrate the London Film Festival by picking our top 10 British villains.

Laurence Olivier as Richard III: The archetypal bad Brit

The criteria? Both the actor and their character(s) must be British. So, sadly, no Cruella de Vil, no Snow White's stepmother and no Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. Plus, scroll down for the worst on-screen British accents...

Don't agree? Think we've missed a villain? Sound off and read others' thoughts in the Screening Room blog.

1. Laurence Olivier as Richard III
Richard III (Laurence Olivier, 1955)
Britain's greatest actor plays Shakespeare's misshapen Machiavellian who watches as his plots and schemes fall apart. Olivier brings humanity to history's favorite hunchback, lifting him beyond caricature to become the definitive wicked uncle.

2. Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin
Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
Cushing is synonymous with Hammer horror where, as Dr Frankenstein, his perfect vowels, gaunt profile and twisted genius made him the ultimate evil mastermind. But it was as Princess Leia's tormentor, Grand Moff Tarkin, in Star Wars that he'll be best-remembered -- and where he was toppled, as the best British villains are, by his own arrogance.

3. Christopher Lee as Dracula
Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958)
Cushing's tall and imposing partner in crime, Christopher Lee was best known as Hammer Horrors' in-house Dracula. His chilling, sonorous tones were later brought to Hollywood, most notably as treacherous and overreaching power-seeker Saruman in "Lord of the Rings."

4. Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine
Return of the Jedi (Richard Marguand, 1983)
All the really evil ones in Star Wars speak like British toffs, but it was sadistic, cowled Emperor Palpatine, McDiarmid, with his darkly seductive voice, who stole the show. (Admittedly, the electric blue lightning helped.) A masterclass in ruling through fear and manipulation.

5= Alan Rickman as The Sheriff of Nottingham
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Kevin Reynolds, 1991)
"Locksley! I'm going to cut your heart out with a spoon!"
The only redeeming feature in Kevin Reynolds' stocking-stuffed turkey, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham rages in the mire, surrounded, like all the best baddies, by imbeciles. Sorry Al, sometimes life's just not fair.

5= Basil Rathbone as The Sheriff of Nottingham
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, 1938)
Rathbone shone as the nemesis to Errol Flynn's swashbucklingly superior Robin Hood. His menacing Gisbourne is a snarling, degenerate, luxuriously garbed coward who's a dab hand with a sword: the epitome of an overprivileged upbringing?

7. Malcolm McDowell as Alex de Large
A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
McDowell's unsettling turn as Alex in Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" shows that even psychopaths can be alluring. The mascara-loving head Droog is the concentrated essence of the British villain -- precociously intelligent, emotionally frozen, sadistic and perverse.

8. Carl Boehm as Mark Lewis
Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
This voyeuristic fear-fest sees Boehm play softly-spoken photographer-cum-murderer Lewis in Michael Powell's claustrophobic thriller, "Peeping Tom." Shy, retiring and perverse, was this Freudian portrait hinting at what could lie beneath the famous British stiff upper lip?

9. Ian McKellen as Magneto
X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000)
McKellen and fellow RSC alumnus, Patrick Stewart, lent gravitas to the entertaining yet ultimately silly X-Men franchise. Only an actor of McKellen's caliber could utter his lines convincingly while wearing a dorky-looking bowling-ball on his head.

10. Terry-Thomas as Raymond Delauney
School for Scoundrels (Robert Hamer, 1960)
Not a classic villain so much as a cad, Thomas was the template for the lily-livered upper class bounder. Generally found twirling his cigarette holder while charming the ladies -- at least, when not swindling, cheating or behaving like an absolute rotter...

Don't agree? Think we've missed a villain? Sound off and read others' thoughts in the Screening Room blog.

And the worst British accents...

Dick Van Dyke as Bert
Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964)
"'Ello, Merri Pawpins!" Dick Van Dyke's faux Cockney created a whole new accent, which he passed on to Bart Simpson et al. Thanks. No, really.

Kevin Costner as Robin Hood
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Kevin Reynolds, 1991)
His vowels were as mangled as the plot. At least Christian Slater had the grace not to try.

Sean Astin as Sam Gamgee
Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
Astin's faux-bucolic bumpkin starts out cute but swiftly becomes irritating. Consistent, yes -- and also slappable.

Mike Myers as Shrek
Shrek (Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, 2001)
Why is Shrek Scottish? We haven't a clue -- but Myers' strangled tones make even the most forgiving Glaswegian wince.

Tony Curtis as Antoninus
Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960)
The good guys speak American, the bad guys speak plum British. Fine -- but Curtis's Bronx drawl is truly jarring.

Don't agree? Think we've missed one? Sound off and read others' thoughts in the Screening Room blog. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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