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The Fine Art of Being Doomed and Criminal as Perfected by Bacon, Keitel and Pacino


Some men are born to be bad. They may try walking the straight-and-narrow, but the devil on their shoulder always calls them back. And when that happens, there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching them get their comeuppance. Below are five actors who have made careers out of doing the wrong thing in such a righteous way. They may be playing criminals, but we’ve judged their performances as consistently above reproach.

1. Kevin Bacon
Kevin Bacon may have started his career getting paddled in Animal House (1978), but he’s even better at doling out the punishment. In both Sleepers (1996) and The Woodsman (2004) he portrays pedophiles who pay the ultimate penance for their sins. When he tries to kidnap Meryl Streep and her family on The River Wild (1994), he bites the bullet and drowns. And as a villainous scientist in Hollow Man (2000), he disproves the “you can’t hit what you can’t see” rule by getting beaned with a crowbar, electrocuted, then dropped down a fiery elevator shaft.

2. Harvey Keitel
Sure, Keitel’s played a handful of good guys — mostly when trying to rescue damsels in distress like in Thelma & Louise (1991). But the man’s at his best when he’s being a jerk. Starting with his first starring role in Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) as a small-time thug, Keitel has played a litany of malefactors — from Jodi Foster’s pimp in Taxi Driver (1976) to a killer cop in Bad Lieutenant (1992). Even when Keitel’s the “good” bad guy, like heister Mr. White in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), chances are he’s going to get blown away.

3. Ray Liotta
Odd that a man with the sweetest-looking baby blues is perpetually cast as a villian who bites the dust. In his breakout role in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild (1986), he’s a violent parolee out to win his ex-wife (Melanie Griffith) back from mild-mannered Jeff Daniels. As you might expect, not getting the girl proves to be the least of his worries. Years later, as a good-cop-gone bad in Unlawful Entry (1992), he proves no match for a husband protecting his turf. And as mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill in Goodfellas (1990), being sentenced to suburbia in the Witness Protection Program feels like a fate worse than death. Even when he gets lucky, he loses.

4. Al Pacino
Ever since his landmark turn as The Godfather‘s Michael Corleone, Pacino has made portraying bad guys destined for unhappy endings an art form. But what makes Pacino’s ruffians different is the inner conflict undermining the lawless behavior: From his turn as a bank robber who’s just trying to make a buck for his lover’s sex change operation in Dog Day Afternoon (1975) to his Puerto Rican gangster struggling to go straight in Carlito’s Way (1993), Pacino’s crazed crooks have a softer side. Even Tony Montana — his iconic Cuban drug lord in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) — feels betrayed by everyone, meeting his violent demise with the only “friend” he has left: An M16 assault rifle.

5. Joe Pesci
Need some one to play the the wise guy who gets whacked? Joe Pesci’s your go-to guy. His mob antics have gotten him shot in the head in Goodfellas (1990), buried alive in Casino (1995) and trapped in the Lethal Weapon franchise. When Pesci attempted to branch out into burglary in the Home Alone movies, he found himself repeatedly battered (and upstaged) by an 8-year-old (Macaulay Culkin). You think he’s funny? Like a clown? Does he amuse you? Oh, poor Pesci.

Have a favorite actor who repeatedly plays bad guys destined for bad ends? Let us know in the comments sections below.

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