1. Ralphie Cifaretto (The Sopranos)
“Why was I born handsome instead of rich?”
Resident asshole of Seasons 3 and 4 of The Sopranos. In his spread on the series he snorted far too much cocaine, offended far too many made men and their wives, and impulsively murdered his twenty-year-old pregnant girlfriend. But despite being one of the most despicable characters on the show—on top of masking some disordered sexual compulsions—I found myself consistently drawn to little Ralphie. Perhaps it has to do with the brilliant and risky one-liners that made him the comedic presence in any tense situation. Perhaps it has to do with Joe Pantoliano’s natural charisma, the shit grin he shines in his mischievous dealings. Perhaps, too, it helped to see him temporarily domesticated when he lived with Ro and cooked fine Italian meals for family dinner. And no matter how terrible they are, we can always throw him some points for charm in the bad suit department. And let us not forget that mastery of the North Jersey accent (“She was a whoo-ah!”). In addition to the writing and Joey Pants’s character development, as with the rest of the Soprano crew I admittedly find his behavior terribly permissible because he is simply great at what he does—a top earner with the ability to hold his own in battle make Ralph the ultimate strange scumbag-hottie of this phenomenal series. While I was sad to see him go, this fine piece of Italian garbage even earned his exit by being one of the few to give Tony Soprano a fight for his life before finally being overpowered by the colossal boss—even the hairpiece reveal and his head rolling around in a bowling bag can’t break my affections.
2. Francis Underwood (House Of Cards)
“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.”
That smooth Carolina drawl. Those turns to the screen to raise an eyebrow, share a judgment on the weaknesses and annoyingness of everyone from children to senators to the POTUS. Dat. Smirk. Originally based on Shakespeare’s wicked Richard III, House of Cards’s Francis Underwood is a monstrous representation of how cutthroat things can be on Capitol Hill. He’s a manipulator, a liar, a blackmailer, and a murderer. But I am certainly not the only one drawn to the magic of Frank’s brilliance and charisma. (He is, after all, pretty much the only person on the show who gives us the occasional laugh.) While we may become angry or upset by some of his choices, we also secretly hope he gets away with it all so we can stay in his inner circle and watch him seduce everyone around him, including us. Don’t lie; you know you’d hop into that Frank and Claire threesome at the first invitation.
Frank Underwood put Kevin Spacey back on the map, especially for the Netflix-bingeing generation. But let’s not forget other times when Kevin has played a scumbag we wanted to make out with in his office…a garage…the back seat of a cop car:
Buddy Ackerman (Swimming With Sharks): A young Spacey plays a more hilarious horrible boss than Dave Harken in Horrible Bosses, though both are attractive, charismatic scumbags. Perhaps his best mean-funny role with enough wit and spunk to win your heart. If you haven’t seen this nineties classic, I recommend you pop it on Netflix, settle into a younger-but-equally-handsome Spacey love fest, and see that your boss isn’t so bad after all (hopefully).
Verbal Knit (The Usual Suspects): Kind of weak and lame until the final minute when we learn he is not just a useless scumbag, but rather a powerful, swaggering genius. And in that moment he went from lame-o to presumed sex god.
Lester Burnham (American Beauty): Bizarre, borderline-pedophiliac, kind of a dick. But a dick you root for and sort of adore. If only he could make those depressed doe eyes at me instead of at Mena Suvari.
John Doe (Se7en): Judge me.
3. Severus Snape (Harry Potter)
“I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”
Now, I know I will catch plenty of flak for even considering listing Snape in a list of scumbags. But let us all stop and be honest here; before JK Rowling educated us late in the series on the sacrifices Severus made in the name of his unfaltering love for Lily Evans, we must admit his poor treatment of Harry and other Griffindors was downright mean and, well, scumbag-like. (Let us not also forget the guy was a Death Eater at one time.) So while I, too, have a soft spot for Snape, for the sake of this piece I’ll explore what it is about Snivellus that is so right.
Is it the long….drawling….pauses in his….speech? The menacing deepness of his voice? The shiny locks? Perhaps it mostly has to do with that black humor Alan Rickman contributes to Rowling’s shade-throwing professor. A voice as deep and creaky as the pit of a haunted house weirdly makes him the frighteningly hot professor we adore through the mean.
Alan Rickman honorable mentions:
HARRY (Love Actually): He gets the scumbag award for almost cheating on Emma Thompson with a dark-haired she-demon, but we can still adore him because deep down we see he’s got a good heart (and a good face).
JUDGE TURPIN (Sweeney Todd): Essentially a sleazier, perverted Snape in better duds who can carry a tune. Oh, my confused heart.
4. Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad)
“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work. I once told a woman I was Kevin Costner, and it worked because I believed it.”
Bob Odenkirk’s Breaking Bad lawyer has an answer for everything. Saul Goodman is the quintessential sleaze ball. But somehow, that combination of horrible suits, comb-over, and a raspy voice dishing out perfectly witty commentary on the incompetence of his meth-making clients just…works. I know the jury was split on whether Saul was amazing or annoying, but any time I saw him step on the screen, I knew I was in for a laugh. Once again the charming smile and goofy charisma won me over. The sense of humor and intelligence—even if it was put to criminal use—finds him a comfortable seat on my list of scum I can’t help but find unexplainably attractive.
5. Hans Landa (Inglorious Basterds)
“Finding people is my specialty so naturally I work for the Nazis finding people, and yes some of them were Jews. But ‘Jew Hunter’? It’s just a name that stuck.”
Let me start with this statement: In no way do I condone Nazis. That being said, Christoph Waltz’s beast of an SS Officer in Inglourious Basterds oddly sparked a love affair with this Austrian actor the minute I left the theater. Unlike Ralph Cifaretto, we refuse to condone this piece of scheisse’s actions. But Nazi or not, Landa’s swagger as a man in power who is good at what he does (even if his skill is disgusting) causes us to gravitate to him. His steely glare, the chiseled features, and the charming yet horrifying smile make him both the ideal villain for QT’s vision and the subject of any sexual confusion we carry for the rest of our lives. Not to mention, we witness Waltz’s real-life multilingualism as he seamlessly flows from English to German to French and some Italian for good measure. Let’s be honest, Diane Kruger; were the accent and that fine Austrian face really the worst last things to see and hear? Thankfully, Quentin gave us a break in Django, allowing us to adore Waltz as the lovely Dr. Shultz who murders for good while maintaining an epic beard. But as far as I’m concerned in Basterds, Landa is a bingo.
Honorable mention: AUGUST (Water for Elephants): Essentially Hans Landa if you dial back a few decades and trade in the SS uniform and Nazi Germany for a ringmaster getup and circus murder. Just as calculating, just as viscous, just as devilishly handsome (emphasis on the devil). Basically, I hated Reese Witherspoon this entire movie.
6. Sonny Corleone (The Godfather)
“What do you think this is the Army, where you shoot ’em a mile away? You’ve gotta get up close like this and—bada-BING!–you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit.”
Yes, it was somewhat inevitable that The Godfather would show up on this list. I certainly could have selected Pacino’s Michael Corleone as the handsomest devil in this iconic crime family. But Michael is not exactly a scumbag. He always acts with intelligence, calculation, and control, and as an organized businessman he is much like his father in that many actions are for the family business or in response to a threat to himself or his family. (Note: I have never seen Part 3). If I must choose, and I must, Sonny would be the closest thing to a Corleone scumbag who also happened to be an Italian piece of ass.
James Caan’s role as the eldest brother in arguably the greatest film ever made is a total hothead. While he is certainly a better man than many on this list—no goomba we know of in the film, fiercely defends his family—his awful temper drives him right to his death. But I shamelessly admit that his loose-cannon tragic flaw is also the very thing that sends my heart aflutter. Try to tell me you didn’t wish that it was you, rather than bratty Connie, that Sonny throttled Carlo for in the middle of a busy street. And seeing his softer side certainly didn’t help, as he exclaimed “bada-bing!” and flashed that handsome grin in the company of his brothers as they talked business in the American underworld.
7. Dr. Oliver Thredson (American Horror Story)
“I realize you’re likely unfamiliar with the work of B.F. Skinner but positive reinforcement is proven to be far more effective. In lay terms, Sister, a little compassion would go a long way.”
Ahhhh. Zachary, Zachary, Zachary. My adoration for Mr. Quinto blossomed in Season 1 of FX’s brilliant American Horror Story. Unfortunately, he felt inaccessible as my dream man as his character was a dead, douche-y, baby-kidnapping gay man. While I forever support his sexual orientation, fictional and actual, his love interests and personal problems meant we could never be united (you know, on top of being a fictional ghost). So I watched, helplessly in love with the sass and heavy brow for an entire season, both amused by his biting wit and saddened by our incompatibility.
But when Murder House transitioned to Asylum in Season 2, my hopes skyrocketed with a reappearance of Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson. In returned the brow, the sassy banter with the flawless Jessica Lange, and—let’s be real—the most perfect of perfect hair. He also arrived with a sick pair of glasses, apparent compassion, and romantic interests in women. My dreams came true.
No. They did not. If you’ve seen all of Asylum, you know the moment my heart broke was when it was revealed that Thredson was, in fact, the horrific Leatherface who hunted women in a failure to cope with major mommy issues. As he declined rapidly to the ultimate scumbag status—heading straight to viscous animal—my affections plummeted to horror. But I’ve still got a warm place in my heart for early Oliver, before we knew about the basement torture chambers and skull dishes, when I thought this series would finally give me a chance to experience a Quinto character I could love. Curse you, Ryan Murphy. Curse you and your beautifully scummy men.
8. Frank Costello (The Departed)
“When I tell you… to dump a body in the marsh, you dump him IN the marsh. Not where some guy from John Hancock goes every Thursday, to get a fucking blowjob! Don’t laugh! This ain’t reality TV!”
Topping out at the oldest fella on the list is one of the wiliest mob bosses to grace a Scorsese screen. I wouldn’t ordinarily throw Ol’ Jack on a most-wanted list, but there’s just something frighteningly charming about what he brings to this role. While I was tempted to toss a De Niro or a Pesci in this slot—my goal was to avoid filling this list with attractive mob movie men—I landed on Frank because he seems to uphold a level of scummy with which many bosses can’t compete. Pesci’s roles in Casino or Goodfellas come close with his loose-cannon anger issues and drug abuse, but most of our Scorsese big wigs have a certain control and je ne sais quoi that comes with being a leader. But as Billy Costigan notes late in The Departed, Frank is losing his mind. His style is more vulgar, gritty, unpredictable, and covered in sweat and cocaine. We know when Frank starts to boil over but are never sure how and in what direction he will explode. That deep growl, the one-liners, a general lack of fucks to give, and a cocky charisma that’s as much Jack Nicholson as it is Frank Costello makes this guy a boss I’d admittedly work under any time (*wink, wink*).
9. Steff McKee (Pretty In Pink)
“Money really means nothing to me. Do you think I’d treat my parents’ house this way if it did?”
There are few villains more dastardly in classic 80s teen movies than James Spader’s antagonist to precious Andie in Pretty In Pink. While my love and allegiance will forever lie in the mismatched vests of darling Duckie, played by an unbelievably adorable Jon Cryer, and I will always maintain that he should have landed won the girl, Steff holds second place for good faces. Steff is the yuppie douche I despised myself for digging as I endlessly re-watched this John Hughes fave. In fact, I was so opposed to the idea of a Steff attraction that it took seeing Spader in other early roles, like his guest spot on Seinfeld, before I even realized how much of an understated and weird hottie he was back in the day. But I have finally grown comfortable with admitting that the odd smoothness of his voice, that smile that’s never quite actually a smile, and those condescending and slightly dead-looking blue eyes just pair so right with the sleaze, feathered blonde hair, and suit coats gently disguising button-downs with far too many buttons down. He’s a disease, but a disease with whom I’d make out in any of his 6 bedrooms.