1 : a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia)
2 : such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility
3 a : extreme folly or unreasonableness b : something utterly foolish or unreasonable
4 : compiling lists of insane movie characters
If there's anything that film does better than any other medium, it's to showcase utter insanity. Actors love letting loose and putting it all out there. There are many performances and characters to consider, making this a tough list to narrow down (the nominations were the largest I've compiled). Insanity comes in many forms, not merely a killer or someone wielding an axe with no understanding of reality. It could be a philosophy or view of things, some wear a friendly smile, others beckon you into their world and their experiences, some don't even realize they're insane at all.
Before we begin, know the only rule I decided to make for myself was to exclude the slashers from the dozens of horror movies (save one, which is the original). By definition, the likes of Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers and Angela Baker are naturally insane. Maybe we'll do a Top 25 Slashers some other time. In the meantime...let's lose our minds a bit.
As Kurt Vonnegut said "The insane, on occasion, are not without their charms."
25: Catherine Trammel
"You Know I don't like to wear any underwear, don't you, Nick?"
From the very first scene, you know Trammel is just a bit off from normalcy. More importantly, though, she is fully in control of every single thing and knows exactly what she's doing. Uncaring and completely in charge, she is a schemer, a manipulator, and has everyone in the palm of her hand.
Craziest Moment: Only one of the most iconic scenes in film history. While her "flashing the goods" makes the headlines, the entire interrogation scene is intense, her cold and calculated dialogue, manipulative and provocative looks and sense of detached emotion shows a woman more in common with a fashion mannequin than an actual human being.
24: Orin Scrivello DDS
Little Shop of Horrors
"I find a little giggle-gas before I begin increases my pleasure enormously."
Is it really surprising that a dentist has a fondness for masochism? If you've been to the dentist, you can sometimes feel their love of what they're doing. They sit there, judge, say things like "you're not flossing" even when you are, and overall have a lovely god complex. That's Orin Scrivello in a nutshell.
Craziest Moment: The only time Orin shows frustration is when he finds his match, someone who loves to receive pain as much as Orin loves to give it...Bill Murray. Orin sure loves taunting him, trying all sorts of drills and techniques...and finally frustrated kicks him out of his offices.
23: Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb
The Silence of the Lambs
"Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me...I'd fuck me hard."
I don't know how or why Ted Levine wasn't at least nominated for his very daring portrayal of Bill, but in a film dominated by great performances, it's easy to get lost. Sexually confused Buffalo Bill enjoys finding women and skinning them to add to his collection and help in his quest to become a woman - by wearing their various parts as a suit. Demme's thriller masterpiece doesn't shun away from it.
Craziest Moment: You know it, you love it, and you wish you could forget it. The infamous "tuck" scene of Bill trying his best to be a woman. Combine that with Q Lazarus and the catchy tune "Goodbye Horses" and you've got sexually frustrated insanity goldmine.
22: Martin Riggs
The Lethal Weapon films (but mainly the first one)
"Everybody thinks I'm suicidal, in which case, I'm fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I'm faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I'm fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I'm fucked."
Known for his off-the-wall behavior and a death wish, Martin Riggs is a cop you simply don't want to cross. There's a lot of those, from Charles Bronson to Clint Eastwood, but none are utterly as maniacal as Mel Gibson in the performance that made his career...and strangely is a perfect fit for the Mel we know and love today.
Craziest Moment: Taking a cue from Dirty Harry, Riggs attempts to approach a potential suicide jumper on the edge of a building and get him down. Unlike Dirty Harry, though, instead of just punching him and dragging him down, which is pretty nuts in its own right, Riggs snaps on some handcuffs and jumps off the side with the guy attached. Hey, whatever works, right?
The Lord of the Rings
"We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious."
Throughout three films, Gollum is a character that is always relevant even when he's not seen. He hides in the shadows and obsesses over the One Ring, which is more like a drug to him than anything. He doesn't care about friends, right and wrong or even his own well-being, just a little pice of metal that, as a result, split his personality in two where he argues and punishes himself constantly.
Craziest Moment: Gollum's craziest moment is more of a look than a deed. Finally having the ring in his possession, Gollum smiles and holds it tight...as he falls to his doom to be burned alive in molten lava. He doesn't take his eye off it once and feels happiness for at least a few moments as he disintegrates.
20: Dr. Henry Frankenstein
"Now I know what it feels like to be God!"
I had to be specific because the various interpretations of the good doctor vary. Most people, though, seem to think back to the original film version where the good doctor (who's name is actually Viktor in the book and most other film versions) is about as bat-shit nuts as any grave-robbing, reanimating doctor can be. Colin Clive's screaming and yelling and overall exuberance is about as far away from Mary Shelly's novel as you can get.
Craziest Moment: The very moment he says the quote from above. He has discovered how to create life, and his pure joy in doing so comes across more as a kid figuring out a cheat in a videogame than an intellectual finding conclusive evidence to his theory. The film turned Frankenstein from an genius doctor in the book to something more akin to a mad scientist as a result. But that's a thin line to begin with.
19: Willy Wonka
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men."
A man wearing a purple suit and top hat invites some children into his factory with promises of candy and treats. He hires midgets to work for him, likely to keep costs down as they probably spend their time in cages when they aren't forced to make candy. He also enjoys putting children in harms way, allowing them to bring harm to themselves only to be carried off by those midgets for god knows why to god knows where. In many states, Willy Wonka would have to go door to door if he moved into a new neighborhood to announce himself. It's required by law.
Craziest Moment: Wonka's complete lack of concern for the children he entices is present throughout the film. He knows their weaknesses and that they'll likely succumb to them, and he merely sits buy, bites down on a teacup that's made of candy and was once a flower for some reason and waits for them to befall his traps all while shrugging, prancing along and saying "darn...sorry that had to happen...let's go to our next set of traps, shall we?" Gleefully insane.
18: Tony Montana
"I always tell the truth, even when I lie."
The 1980s cultural icon that is Tony Montana is one of the great scene sociopaths. Fueled by drugs, greed and money, Tony blazed a path of self-destruction, not giving a damn who got hurt along the way. If someone was in the way, he killed them with no second thoughts or remorse. It made him money, that's all he cared about, and with money and power comes paranoia, which leads to even more desire for drugs.
Craziest Moment: Let's face it, there's about a couple dozen iconic moments of drug-fueled insanity here. Al Pacino knows how to play crazy, that's for sure. The best is the complete unleashing of his giant machine gun into what is best described as a small army invading his home. He just walks out, coked up, and lets loose. "You fuck with me, you're fucking with the best."
17: Norma Desmond
"All right, Mr. DeMille...I'm ready for my close up."
A former star of the silver screen, Norma Desmond is now a bitter old woman living in reclusion from the world. We are introduced to her strange home through the eyes of Joe Gills, whom Norma sucks into her hazy world where she dreams of reclaiming her star at any cost. So far removed from society, Norma's dream becomes an obsession and eventual self-destruction. Only until the final scene does the rest of the world finally see how utterly crazy she had become.Craziest Moment: Her love and affection for her monkey is just uncomfortable and weird, the scene of its funeral even moreso. Monkey funeral...it doesn't get much worse than that.
16: John Doe
"I visited your home this morning after you left. I tried to play husband. I tried to taste the life of a simple man. It didn't work out, so I took a souvenir...."
Serial killers are insane, that much is for certain and quite a few appear on this list, but John Doe is one that reaches that level between being incredibly smart and incredibly crazy. He plans, sets up and gets everyone to follow him like the pied piper. Everything that does happen is meant to happen as the detectives try to capture him. Technically, they never do, he just shows up and says "hi."
Craziest Moment: For much of the film, John is actually not even seen and barely heard. His craziest moment has to be his final reveal to the detectives along the dusty outskirts of the city, and when they finally find out what's in the box. "Become wrath" he says and wills his pawns into place.
Ichi the Killer
"Listen, when you're giving pain to someone, don't think about the pain that person is feeling. Just concentrate on how good it feels to be causing someone pain."
Sadomasochism and insanity go hand in hand. You have to be a little crazy to find joy in others' pain. While some might do it to a degree, usually sexually, Kakihara does it for the sake of doing it. It's in the action he finds pleasure, not for it as a means to something else. Sharing pain, receiving and inflicting, is true pleasure.
Craziest Moment: You get a taste of Kakihara's pleasures early on. It involves him torturing a rival gang member, from suspended by hooks to pouring hot grease on him. He's thoroughly enjoying it and can't quite understand why the man does not. Kakihara considers it at honor.
14: The Joker
Various Batman films
"You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All you need is a little push."
One of the greatest villians to be conceived across every conceivable medium, The Joker is exactly what insanity is meant to look like. He plays off the fear of clowns many people has, as makeup and masks indicate something hidden just below the surface. He is Batman's arch nemesis and across all the films puts the hero through hell and back.Craziest Moment: From the first Batman movie with Adam West to the Dark Knight, the Joker has a list longer than anyone of complete crazy schemes and ideas all while reveling in the fact they are completely crazy schemes and ideas. From the comical to the extremely dark, you can choose about any of them, but his purely craziest moment, for me, is his interrogation with Batsy in The Dark Knight. Great performances and dialogue, and Ledger gets the laugh down perfect. A close second is Batman and the Joker atop the bell tower in Batman from 1989 where the Joker is attempting to get you laughing to the very end. Pick your poison...he'd probably like it if you did.
"God I love you."
Annie lives on a nice secluded farm in Colorado. Annie has a beautiful, quaint home and a pet pig. Annie enjoys reading the "Misery" book series by her favorite author, Paul Sheldon. Annie has Paul tied to a bed, his feet broken, his mind drugged and threatening him at every given moment until he does what she wants: write the book of her dreams.
Craziest Moment: If I said anything other than the hobbling scene, it would be a disgrace. A classic moment that many people often have to turn their heads when seeing.
12: Tyler Durden
"First you have to know, not fear, know that someday you're going to die."
Fight Club, a look at the failures of our society by paralleling it to the failures of a man trying to find an identity. Fight Club is a detailed look into the life of a man who can't quite decide what kind of man he wants to be. As a result, he creates another version of himself - not necessarily the ideal version but a version that lets him be unleashed. Sadly, he doesn't even realize he's doing it in one of the best split-personality stories of all time.
Craziest Moment: Only until the great reveal do you realize just how insane Tyler Durden is. That's when you start thinking back to all the times Tyler shared drinks with himself, beat himself up, and had long involving conversations with nobody. Once those pieces are in place, you think back to the very first time Tyler and "Tyler" first fought and how it escalates from there. Hindsight is 20/20, and once we see clearly can we appreciate insanity of a character who didn't even know he was insane.
11: Alex de Large
A Clockwork Orange
"Initiative comes to thems that wait."
In a dystopian future, all is right with the world. Murder, rape...Alex fits right in to it all. Unlike a lot of his droogs that share in his sadism, though, Alex is intelligent, smart and a natural leader. He's calm when need be, vicious the next. Even when they incarcerate him, his "sanity" is only temporary. It's only a matter of time before he's "cured" and enjoying Ludwig Von once more.
Craziest Moment: On what I have to assume is a typical night for Alex and his crew, they drive to a random house and force themselves in. They cripple the man and rape the woman forcing him to watch, all while Alex sings the lovely "Singin' in the Rain."
10: Harry Powell
Night of the Hunter
"Don't you touch that, little lamb. Don't touch my knife. That makes me mad. That makes me very very mad."
As if having "love" and "hate" tattooed across his fingers won't give you a clue that something is slightly off with this so-called preacher, his complete emotionless face and souless eyes should. He travels the country, has casual conversations with God, and kills widows to get money because God demands he uses that money to continue to preach. One widow he marries in hopes of finding some stolen money, the preacher stalks his prey - the widow's children. Night and day, he's always there, even when they run, he's right behind them. He is unrelenting in this classic, extremely influential German-expressionism-inspired thriller.
Craziest Moment: The catalyst and haunting killing of his new wife, Willa, all because he overheard him questioning her children about the stolen money. She's brainwashed by him and does nothing to prevent him slitting her throat, fully awake and aware. This leaves him the chance to stalk her children for the remainder of the film with impunity.
9: Colonel Kurtz
"Horror has a face...and you must make friend of horror."
The entire premise of the movie and of Kurtz is that he is insane. It's what the story if based around. It doesn't hide from it: an officer went crazy in 'nam, go and find him and kill him. Good to see the Army taking care of its own.
Craziest Moment: Kurtz is actually barely in the film, but Brando owns the scene that he's so synonymous with. It's really the mystique of Kurtz that is the real "moment." You hear so much about him, wondering if he is who he says he is. Then you meet him, and yes...yes he is that insane. He's an example of an unseen antagonist yet an always relevant one. His six minute monologue detailing the horrors of war and his admiration for it is unmatched on this list.
8: Mr. Blonde
"Listen kid, I'm not gonna bullshit you, all right? I don't give a good fuck what you know or don't know, but I'm gonna torture you anyway, regardless. Not to get information. It's amusing to me..."
When it comes to being depraved, it's hard to find a match with Mr. Blonde. He's casual, calm, but gets a kick out of causing harm to others. We're told he screwed up the bank heist by killing a few people, but he's so matter-of-fact and uncaring about any of it you'd think he just got back from picking up his dry-cleaning. Which leads us to...
Craziest Moment: The single most famous scene in the entire film has Mr. Blonde cutting off the ear of a hostage, playing around with it, pouring gasoline and nearly setting him on fire. Why? It seems Mr. Blonde was just bored.
7: Alex Forrest
"I had a wonderful time last night. I'd like to see you again. Is that so terrible?"
Playing off the fears of men and their sexual machismo, Alex Forrest is a nightmare. Overly emotional, she takes the infatuated and obsessive nature of Evelyn Draper from Play Misty For Me and throws it into a pot with the Wicked Witch of the West. The idea that she can't have Dan destroys her, especially after Dan is pretty much leading her on and is more or less the cause of it all in the first place. I would say "he has it coming" but Alex doesn't merely cross that line, she leaps right over it by a mile.
Craziest Moment: Alex decides to play a little game with Dan and his family. While they are away, she sneaks in and takes their daughter's pet rabbit, kills it, then puts it in a boiling pot for them to find when they get home. Not the nicest of welcome back presents.
6: Frank Booth
"Let's fuck! I'll fuck anything that moves!"
5: Norman Bates
"A boy's best friend is his mother."
The list is going to be pretty predictable from here on out, but let's at least celebrate utter insanity starting with, what many consider, the very first slasher. Norman doesn't enjoy killing, his mother does, and that's why we love it so much. Norman himself is repulsed by blood and is rather passive, but his dear mother seems to see murder as a rather efficient way to product her child...oh, and they're the same person.
Craziest Moment: Norman's insanity is subtle, far from flashy looking to kill because he can. Similar to Tyler Durden's entry, only once the reveal is shown do we think back to all the moments. For me, it was when he comes across the body of Marion in the bathroom. He looks as though he's about to throw up over what his 'mother' did.
4: Hannibal Lecter
The Silence of the Lambs
"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."
Intellectual and hungry, Hannibal the Cannibal is as disturbing by his mere speech as much as he is eating the face off of someone (he even gets another inmate to kill himself just by speaking to him). No other actor could have marked his territory like Hopkins did, and there's a certain amount of affection he has to Hannibal that you see seeping through in every scene.
Craziest Moment: While many might say the scene of him attacking and butchering up some guards, stripping one's flesh and using the other's face as a mask, I would have to take the less gory route. The craziest moment is when he plays a little game called Quid Pro Quo just for laughs and to manipulate the young Clarice Starling. No real reason than to have her re-experience her traumatic childhood and to enjoy watching her relive her bad memories. He would strip away your own dignity just as soon as he would your flesh.
3: Jack Torrence
In Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, Jack starts out as a normal guy, normal job with a normal, at times, family. He loves them, but Jack's stay at the Overlook Hotel eventually is a dive into madness. Arguably the defining role of Jack Nicholson's career. Jack is probably one of the more tragic crazies on this list. Unlike many, we seem him normal at first, which is rare for an insane character, then he slowly succumbs to madness.
Craziest Moment: When his wife, Wendy, finally finds out what Jack had been writing this whole time, she realizes exactly what her husband had become. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" is spread across hundreds upon hundreds of typed pages. "How do you like it?" he says. The look in his eyes, as well as the hatred in him when he says " I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in...gonna bash 'em right he fuck in!" is insanity, and Jack Nicholson, at his best.
2: Patrick Bateman
"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable..I simply am not there."
In this brilliant adaptation of the novel, Christian Bale, who worked diligently to get the role, encompasses everything we love and hate about psychopaths. He's cold, moreso than most on this list, and seemingly inhuman. He lives the lifestyle of a yuppie in the 1980s, misogynistic, egotistical, but for him he uses that all for a mask to hide the real monster underneath. In an instant, he'll snap, and does he ever.
Craziest Moment: When an ATM says "Feed me a cat" and Patrick plans to, there's some serious problems. Luckily a nice lady came by and ate the bullet instead. We know Patrick is insane and delusional, but he always at least seemed in control. That moment says otherwise...he's officially lost it.
1: Travis Bickle
"You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin'...you talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you're talkin' to?"
Bickle is a young man looking for a purpose. We really know little of his backstory, only that he has no sense of direction. Everyone has to find a purpose in life, and for Bickle it's an obsession over mental and physical health, guns and morality. He looks for way to make the best and worst of all those elements, when he's not staring into a fizzling glass of alka- seltzer or trying to find the best ways to hide guns on his body.
Craziest Moment: Bickle's insanity is more a slow brew than something that boils over. His various monologues and narrations are what give you the best insight of someone who is insane and completely detached from society, what's most frightening is that it's a realistic insanity as though he could actually exist. It's in this that I feel Bickle is the most frightening: he's believable and that believable insanity, a slow seething hatred of his world and disillusion of purpose and life all shared with a blank expression and monotone voice, is more frightening than anything.
Honorable Mention: Every citizen of Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland (various interpretations)
Alice in Wonderland made the list of Top 25 Trippiest and Weird Movies and its primary reason are its utterly insane casts of characters. Every single one is just bizarre, weird and seem just a bit outside reality both literally and figuratively. They relish in it and love to just act crazy for the sake of acting crazy. To merely name one will lead to another and it's simply a never-ending chain of names of crazy people/animals/things.
Still Crazy: William Foster (Falling Down), Hal 9000 (2001 A Space Odyssey), Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas), Walter Shobtak (The Big Lebwoski), Peyton Flanders (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle), Bob Wiley (What About Bob?), Hunter S Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Kahn (Star Trek II), Don Logan (Sexy Beast), Henry (Henry), Jeffrey Goines (12 Monkeys), Elwood P Dowd (Harvey), Yamazaki Asami (Audition), Bluto (Animal House), Reinfeld (Dracula - various), Frank Costello (The Departed), Ichi (Ichi the Killer), Stansfield (The Professional), Lil Ze (City of God), Bruno Anthony (Strangers on a Train), Doc Brown (Back to the Future), Mark Lewis (Peeping Tom), Tom Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley), John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), Chuck Barris (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Evelyn Draper (Play Misty for Me), Mickey and Mallory Knox (Natural Born Killers), Julianna Gianni (Vanilla Sky), Fred Dobbs (Treasure of the Sierra Madre), John Rambo (First Blood), Seymour Parrish (One Hour Photo), The Cable Guy (The Cable Guy), Sgt. Barnes (Platoon), Walter Kovacs (Watchmen), Pee Wee Herman (Pee Wee's Big Adventure), Roy Batty (Blade Runner), Jim Morrison (The Doors), Max Cady (Cape Fear -both versions), Leonard Smalls (Raising Arizona), Frank (Once Upon a Time in the West), Quint (Jaws), Arthur Jarrett (White Heat), Raymond Lamorne (The Vanishing), McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest), Col. Nicholson (The Bridge on the River Kwai), Mrs. Caromody (The MIst), Frank Zito (Maniac)