Worst Movie Emperors: Part One
From classical antiquity to galaxies far, far away, movie empires tend to be dominated by some of the worst rulers imaginable. This motley assortment of miscreants start wars, set fires, and even blow up whole planets. While the occasional orgy may seem to be an olive branch to their oppressed citizens, we all know that the only real solution is for some studly peasant with great hair to rise up and throw these blackguards down a reactor shaft.
We’ve collected ten of the worst movie Emperors of all time here for Our Ten’s List, just in time for our month-long look at ancient Rome (spoiler alert, the Roman Empire takes the cake with 3 separate Emperors crazy enough to make this list.) The mad, the bad, and the sex-crazed all duke it out to see who gets to be the evilest ruler of all time.
10. Tod Spengo
The Crimes: Diminutive dickhead Tod Spengo (Jon Lovitz) is the illegitimate Emperor of Spengo…the second best planet in the universe. The first best? Earth. This wacko has a giant inferiority complex which he complements with a tiny pea brain. While lining up the shot from his death ray that will wipe out Earth, he falls in love with an Earthling and abducts her (and her husband!) to Spengo.
So we have abduction, adultery, usurpation, and subjugation of the (incredibly stupid) people of Spengo, and attempted genocide. This guy would be way higher up on the list…if any of his ridiculous schemes ever worked. A frustrated genius, that Lovitz.
The Films: Mom and Dad Save the World
Ultimate Fate: Eaten alive by the murderous (and adorable) Lub-Lubs who he routinely feeds prisoners to.
The Crimes: Poor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) only wanted to be loved…by his sister. Ewww. He also wanted to be loved by his father (whom he strangles) and the people of Rome…who he subjugates. If only he were into self-love, he would have snuffed himself and we could have gotten on with our lives.
Commodus’ murderous rise to power is a pretty damning list of sins: Regicide, Patricide, and attempted Infanticide. The only -cide he can’t manage to pull off is Maximus-icide, and Russell Crowe puts the whiny would-be Emperor in his place. Oh, and let’s not forget the constant creepy attempts he makes to bed his sister. Once again, this all sounds completely awful and worthy of greater infamy…but poor Commodus can’t get the job done. WWE champs last longer than Commodus’ rule of Rome.
As an aside, the historical Commodus was actually a much better badass than his film counterparts. Commodus was made Emperor at age 18, put down a coup by his sister (and had her murdered), announced that he possessed god-like powers, and celebrated his own ascension by personally kicking ass in the arena as a gladiator.
The Films: Gladiator, The Fall of the Roman Empire
Ultimate Fate: In the films, Commodus is heroically struck down in a fight to the death in the arena by a general-turned-gladiator. In real life he was almost poisoned and then strangled to death in his bath by his favorite wrestling “partner.” Double ewww.
8. Shaddam Corrino IV
The Crimes: House Corrino had iron-fisted control over the greatest drug in human history: the spice. This dried worm poop (don’t fret, it’s giant sand worms’ poop, so totally legit) gives humanity super powers over space and time. House Corrino controls this commodity (and therefore all space travel) through political intrigue…and control of the deadliest fighting force in the Dune galaxy, the Sardaukar, who were emotionless space Spartans raised to murder. With these two techniques, the Corrino family held control of the Empire for 10,000 years (have we mentioned how damn long the history of Dune is?)
Shaddam ended all of this gravy train by indulging in one too many plots. House Atreides and House Harkonnen had become powerful and popular, eclipsing his own house in prestige. So good old Shaddam does the manly thing…and secretly tries to get them to murder each other over Dune, the source of the spice. So basically he let his two biggest rivals have control of the spice, goaded them into creating fierce fighting forces, and hoped this would all work out. Dunce. Paul Atreides becomes the galaxy spanning superman, and puts Shaddam’s family’s reign to an ignominious end.
The Films: Dune
Ultimate Fate: Dead…of old age, while in exile, surrounded by the nagging schemes of his 5 daughters. Ouch.
The Crimes: The product of an overambitious mother, Nero seems like he would have been perfectly content with the life of a carefree artist. Unfortunately, the peril to the Roman Empire caused by the ruinous rule of Caligula (more later) and a power-hungry matron Agrippa, led a young Nero to ascend to the throne at the age of 17. Once there, he mostly occupied himself drinking and singing, until one push too many from his mother created one of the greatest monsters of the ancient world.
Once intent upon ruling, Nero murdered his pushy mother, chased out most of his primary rivals, and set about burnishing his accolades. Like poor Commodus, Nero seems to mostly have wanted the love of his people. He set about numerous reforms that actually helped the poor and middle-class, and codified many of the powers of the senate, seeking to limit his own powers. Wait, what? Why the hell is this guy given such a bum rap? Christians, that’s why.
A calamitous fire in Rome led to all of the trouble for Nero. The rumor that Nero fiddled while Rome burned was spread by Christians (which, was totally false…fiddles didn’t exist yet, he merely played the lyre and sung a tragedy while it happened) but you can kind of understand their antipathy: Nero blamed the Christians for the fire (a convenient scapegoat) and went about murdering the shit out of them in some pretty inventive ways. He also brutally put down a rebellion in Judea, which further incited his legacy as the Anti-Christ. He was even said to have martyred St. Peter and St. Paul, so was only one St. Mary away from killing a whole folk music band. This unrest, added to some major upheavals in the Germanic provinces, led to Nero becoming public enemy number I.
The Films: Quo Vadis, The Sign of the Cross
Ultimate Fate: Cop-out suicide. Nero couldn’t pull the trigger (because he was a coward, not because guns didn’t exist, c’mon people, history) so he had his servant stab him. This guy just couldn’t get anything done without a shove, it seems.
*Can I just say what a shitty deal Nero got? He championed rights for the people against the government, and then killed a few mouthy Christians, and bam, biggest villain in history. That’s like crapping on Gandhi for that one time he punched a Jehovah’s Witness out. If you had the power, you’d totally have bitch-slapped a bunch of whiny moralizers waking you up early on a Saturday too. Just saying.*
6. Xerxes I
The Crimes: Too much jewelry. Actually, 300 actually got something right by having Xerxes decked out in so much bling: Xerxes was one vain motherfucker. Second scion of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, Xerxes spent the realm into ruin by building pompous shit, that did bespake to the heavens that yon Xerxes shite did not stinketh. He also possessed a bit of an inferiority complex, as he nearly destroyed his empire by attempting to spank the Greeks for having revolted against the rule of his father, Darius. As anyone who has seen 300 knows, that war did not go particularly well for Xerxes.
Once he was home from the abysmal campaign in Greece, life didn’t get much better. Xerxes tried to shore up his failure by building every damn monument to himself and his ancestors he could. This, on top of getting nearly 300,000 soldiers murdered in Greece, led to a bit a of a cash flow problem. So he cranked up the old tax machine, making everyone hate him. A series of affairs (with his son’s wife, whom he stole because he wanted to actually sleep with his son’s wife’s mother…) led to his prestige cratering.
The Films: 300, A Night with the King, The Book of Esther
Ultimate Fate: Murdered by the second most powerful politician in Persia. On the upside, after one of his sons mistakenly killed another son, the first son got his sources straight and murdered the family of the usurper. So, all’s well that ends well.
Who will be the top 5 worst movie Emperors? Join us next week as we close out Our Ten’s List with the best of the worst, celebrating august rulers whose style and flair for sex, murder and mayhem make them the greatest baddies of all time.