In Grand Piano, Elijah Wood plays a pianist returning to stage after a battle with stage fright, only to realize there's a sniper watching him from a box seat who will shoot him dead if he plays a single wrong note.
Yes, there's more going on than meets they eye, but there's no denying that it's one of the craziest villain plots of all time. It's in good company, too. The movies are filled with villainous schemes, but some are more intricate, more incomprehensible and just plain dumber than the rest. In any case, they're all memorable.
These are not the only absurd villain plots, but they are 10 of the absolute best. Well, "best" isn't always the right word. They're certainly 10 of the absolute craziest.
1. Goldfinger/The Spy Who Loved Me/Tomorrow Never Dies
You could fill this entire list with James Bond movies, but for the sake of brevity let's stick to the three that somehow manage to out-ludicrous the rest. The most famous wacky Bond-villain scheme is undoubtedly the title villain's scheme in Goldfinger, which involves a troupe of circus stunt pilots dropping knockout gas on Fort Knox and then using a laser to break in through the front door and detonate a nuke inside, making the United States' gold supply radioactive.
Things don't get any more normal in the Roger Moore era, where the big bad of The Spy Who Loved Me plans to instigate nuclear war so he and his chosen few can live out peaceful lives under the ocean. The silliness continued in Tomorrow Never Dies, where a news media mogul with a huge budget builds a "stealth boat" so he can secretly begin World War III and get the big scoops before the competition. Uh, huh.
In Speed, Dennis Hopper's Howard Payne cooks up an awesomely stupid plan that's as much fun to mock as it is to watch. He rigs a bus with a bomb that will go off as soon as it goes under 50 miles per hour, forcing a cop played by Keanu Reeves and a passenger played by Sandra Bullock to keep the the large vehicle speeding down the L.A. highway system no matter what. Of course, all Payne wants is money. A guy this smart should be able to think of an easier way to make some cash (and it's the absurd intricacies of the plan that causes its downfall), but you get the impression that he would get no joy in profiting off something safe.
3. Superman/Superman Returns
Lex Luthor is one of the great villains in popular culture, but there's no denying the absurdity of his cinematic schemes. In 1978's Superman, he uses nuclear weapons along the San Andreas fault in California to start a super earthquake, causing California to sink into the ocean so he could increase the value of the land he owns deeper inland.
Almost as nutty is his grand plan in 2006's Superman Returns, which involves "growing" a new island off the coast of Metropolis, creating new beachfront property. The film never mentions how Luthor plans to transform his hellish and deadly creation into something even remotely livable, though.
4. Batman Begins
Since the film is paced so well and performed with such conviction, you may not notice just how silly the evil plot in Batman Begins really is until you watch it a second time. Let's break it down: the clan of evil ninjas known as the League of Shadows steal a "microwave emitter" from a shipping boat. Then, they hire a psychotic psychiatrist to start pumping fear-inducing hallucinogens into Gotham City's water supply. Then they put the microwave emitter on board an elevated train and turn it on, evaporating water as they ride toward the center of the city, releasing the fear toxin into the air.
Bane may have had a silly plan in The Dark Knight Rises, but his scheme still came down to a nuke. You've got to hand it to Ra's Al Ghul for thinking a little more creatively.
5. The Rock
In many ways, General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) is the real hero of The Rock. All he wants is for the United States government to pay the families of troops who died on secret missions in foreign territory. Since their missions were confidential, they didn't even receive proper military burials. So far, so noble. However, Hummel decides that the best way to get what he wants is to steal an arsenal of missiles containing deadly gas from a military base, take control of the long-defunct Alcatraz prison and hold 81 tourists hostage while threatening to gas the citizens of San Francisco to death. This may be the best ever cinematic example of good intentions going awry.
6. The Entire Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
The Sith Lord known as Darth Sidious has a fairly simple goal during the events of Star Wars: Episodes I, II and III: to seize control of the republic and make it an empire where he pulls every string. But you've got to hand it to him: he rolls with every punch and crafts a conspiracy so complicated and convoluted that it's hard to see how everything fits together.
First, he orchestrates a trade crisis on the planet Naboo while still a lowly senator. Then he secretly builds a clone army and gets himself elected chancellor. Then he kills off rivals who had no idea of the larger picture. His scheming only becomes truly obvious when he sways Anakin Skywalker to his side and orders the death of every Jedi in the galaxy. In other words, before he was that old pale guy in The Return of the Jedi, Sidious/Palpatine was the slickest political operator the universe has ever seen.
7. Star Trek/Star Trek Into Darkness
In 2009's Star Trek, the Romulan Nero travels back in time from the distant future to get revenge on Spock, who failed to save his home planet from destruction. After arriving, he literally waits a few decades for Spock to grow up and for a time-traveling version of Old Spock to arrive and then destroys the planet Vulcan, but only after placing Old Spock on a nearby ice planet so he can watch.
It's a choppy and nonsensical plan, but it has nothing on Star Trek Into Darkness, which finds Admiral Marcus hiring a cryogenically frozen supersoldier to build weapons, secretly constructing a deadly starship and sending the crew of the Enterprise on an assassination mission to the Klingon home world, all while covertly covering up the truth of a mysterious terrorist attack. There's complicated and there's complicated for the sake of being complicated, and Star Trek Into Darkness falls squarely into the latter camp.
8. Phone Booth
The villain's motivation in Phone Booth ultimately doesn't make a lot of sense. A moral vigilante, he lures Colin Farrell's philandering publicist into a phone booth, calls him and tells him that he has a sniper rifle trained on him. Naturally, things escalate, an intrusive pimp ends up dead and the cops show up. Meanwhile, the unnamed sniper (speaking with the intense voice of Kiefer Sutherland) forces Farrell to patch things up with his wife and end his cheating ways.
If that seems like a really complicated and inefficient way to force someone into counseling, that's because it is. It makes you wonder how the sniper found out, how he put it all together, and, most importantly, why he even cares in the first place.
Revenge is always a common motivation in the movies and the more complicated and specific a revenge scheme is, the more likely it's going to fail miserably. Take Mason Verger in Hannibal, the utterly weird sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Years earlier, he visited the psychotic Dr. Hannibal Lecter while under the influence of drugs and was convinced to cut off his own face and feed it to a dog. Years later, he plots vengeance and decides that he'll only be satisfied if Lecter meets his end by being tossed into a pig pen full of boars that were only bred to eat Lecter.
Of course it goes wrong. If Verger hadn't pursued such a crazy plan, he could have exacted his revenge with a single bullet.
How can you make a list of movies with absurd villainous schemes and only feature one Jean-Claude Van Damme movie? However, there's one film that goes above and beyond the call of duty with its craziness and that movie is Knock-Off, which sees the Muscles from Brussels playing a blue jeans salesman who is recruited by the CIA to defuse a scheme involving a line of imitation "knockoff" jeans. Jeans, mind you, that have been laced with KGB-designed nanobombs that will be distributed around the world unless its biggest nations pay up.
And let's just leave it at that. You can't get much crazier than pants filled with tiny bombs.
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