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Flashback Five – Evil Corporate Overlords


As tough times get even tougher, at least there’s still entertainment value in stories of CEOs and corporate executives behaving badly, whether they’re taking private jets to Washington to request a federally funded bailout of their industry or looking for year-end bonuses of up to $10 million. Inspired by the headlines, we though we’d share five of our favorite so-bad-they’re-good corporate figureheads in the movies.

1. Ronny Cox, Robocop (1987)
As Dick Jones, the head of Omni Consumer Products, Cox isn’t just a bully and a bad businessman — he’s a murderer and a thug, and not above working with criminals to further OCP’s agenda of taking over Detroit. Nor is he above messing with the mind of (or, rather programming) OCP’s hot new law-enforcement project, Robocop (Peter Weller), going so far as to insert a line of code that makes Robocop unable to arrest OCP executives. (We’ve all had bosses mess with our heads, but this is taking it way too far.) Cox gets his comeuppance, as well as a lead-jacketed severance package, but while he’s onscreen, he’s awesome.

2. Steve Martin, Baby Mama (2008)
As Barry, the genius behind an organic grocery conglomerate in Baby Mama, Martin gets to mock the modern “ethical” bad CEO — the sensitive, ponytailed titan of business who’s still a horrible jerk; when underling Tina Fey scores a victory, he recognizes her achievement in an unconventional (not to mention uncomfortable) way. “Congratulations, Kate,” he says. “I want to reward you with five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact.” Distracted, self-absorbed, self-righteous and annoyingly awesome, Martin’s performance should seem familiar to anyone who’s ever bought a product from Apple.

3. Roger Allam, Speed Racer

As the man in charge of the megacorporation that controls racing in Speed Racer‘s future, Roger Allam’s E.P. Arnold Royalton is a bully, a cheat and a murderer — plus, he treats that cute, likable Speed (Emile Hirsch) so badly! Speed Racer may be a kids’ movie, but it doesn’t feel like anyone told Allam that; as he spits venomous threats and pours out poisonous rationalizations, he’s both scary and majestic.

4. Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Swinton’s corporate fixer in Michael Clayton, Karen Crowder, isn’t quite at the top of the food chain, but she has the authority to make big decisions … namely, OK’ing assassination orders so she can protect the secrets and stock value of agribusiness giant U-North. What makes Swinton’s performance so good is that she’s not an ice queen; she shows us a woman who’s wracked by worry and fully aware she’s doing the wrong thing … and then does it anyhow.

5. Tim Robbins, Antitrust (2001)

As computer corporate overlord Gary Winston, Tim Robbins is pretty much playing Bill Gates in Antitrust, complete with nerd glasses, unstyled hair and Cosby-style sweaters … but with an additional level of paranoia, murder and evil tacked on. Robbins gets to play up all our fears about high-tech CEOs — when exactly did we give these nerds so much power over our lives? — and has some nice, wormy, freak-out moments.

Five Honorable Mentions:

Sean Bean, The Island (2005). He raises clones from infancy to adulthood … so he can chop them up into spare parts for a nice profit.

Paul Sorvino, Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008)
. Not only does he run an organ-harvesting business, he also sings opera arias detailing his plans for corporate control of the world. Evil and hamminess are a devastating combination.

Alec Baldwin, Fun With Dick and Jane (2005). He can’t save this Jim Carrey-Tea Leoni retread … but his bullying corporate scam artist is easily the best thing in it.

Fred Ward, WALL-E (2008). The Buy ‘n’ Large CEO (previously videotaped before a live planet) is a phony huckster, a bad manager and a horrible long-term planner.

Ned Beatty, Network (1976). He’s a clammy, cold, scary monster of a communications exec who gives a great — and prescient — speech about how there are no nations anymore, no countries or people … just dollars and cents.

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