Most people can relate to the idea of an obnoxious, mean-spirited boss, which is why bad bosses have been a popular subject in movies almost as long as there have been movies. The following 10 figures stand as the worst, most odious employers in movie history:
1. Buddy Ackerman ('Swimming with Sharks')
Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) is perhaps the most overtly abusive boss in movie history, as he pummels his meek assistant (Frank Whaley’s Rex) with one insult after another. (At one point, for example, Buddy slowly tells Rex, “You. Have. No. Brain.”) The antagonistic relationship between the two men seems to get worse and worse, until Rex finally snaps and kidnaps Buddy – with the final half hour detailing Buddy’s comeuppance as Rex tortures his mean-spirited employer both physically and emotionally. It’s an enjoyable bit of wish-fulfillment for anyone that’s ever wanted to turn the tables on their boss.
Best Line: “You are nothing! If you were in my toilet, I wouldn't bother flushing it. My bathmat means more to me than you!”
Throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, Darth Vader participates in a number of almost outrageously evil acts – including the complete and utter destruction of Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) home planet Alderaan. And though he remains loyal to Emperor Palpatine almost to the bitter end, Vader is repeatedly shown to be an impatient and downright ruthless boss – as the black-clad cyborg mercilessly chokes any and all underlings that fail to meet his meticulous standards. (What makes this even worse is that Vader doesn’t actually make any physical contact with his doomed employees, choosing instead to use the Force as a means of cutting off his victims’ air supply.)
Best Line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
3. John Milton ('The Devil’s Advocate')
This one’s a no-brainer. Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a hotshot attorney who jumps at the chance to join a prestigious New York law firm, where his new boss, John Milton (Al Pacino), at first presents himself as a father figure who showers Kevin with praise, advice, and perks. But as we learn, John is revealed to be no less than Satan himself – with the character employing his power to memorably drive Kevin’s loving wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), completely and utterly insane. The next time you’re complaining about your boss, remember that it could be worse: He or she could be the Devil.
Best Line: “Free will. It's like butterfly wings: once touched, they never get off the ground. No, I only set the stage. You pull your own strings.”
4. Bernie Lomax ('Weekend at Bernie’s')
Long before he becomes a corpse, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser) establishes himself as a truly reprehensible boss who is embezzling from his own company. The film’s heroes, Larry Wilson (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard Parker (Jonathan Silverman), discover the discrepancies and present their findings to Bernie, unaware that the man himself is the one behind the fraud. Bernie arranges for a mob hitman to kill both Larry and Richard, although, under orders from his boss, the assassin instead murders Bernie – which sets the film’s legendary storyline into motion as Larry and Richard go to increasingly elaborate lengths to pretend that Bernie is still alive.
Best Line: “You have to kill them, Vito.”
Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) isn’t a bad boss as much as she’s a fearsome boss, as the character spends much of The Devil Wears Prada terrorizing and insulting the majority of her employees – although Miranda reserves the brunt of her scorn for her new assistant, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway). More than being just verbally abusive, however, Miranda attempts to test Andy’s loyalty by sending her on a variety of near impossible missions. (For example, Miranda asks Andy to book her a flight during a hurricane.) Miranda and Andy do come to respect one another, and it seems fairly obvious that the pattern of relentless abuse will eventually continue with Miranda’s next assistant.
Best Line: “Details of your incompetence do not interest me.”
6. Blake ('Glengarry Glen Ross')
Though he really only appears in one scene, Blake (Alec Baldwin) remains the most memorable character to appear in Glengarry Glen Ross. He’s been sent to “motivate” four real estate salesmen (Ed Harris’ Dave, Alan Arkin’s George, Jack Lemmon’s Shelley, and Al Pacino’s Ricky) working in a dumpy office, which he attempts to accomplish by launching a torrent of foul-mouthed insults at the men. (Coming a close second in the bad boss category is Kevin Spacey’s Williamson, who memorably ruins a deal for Pacino’s Ricky.)
Best Line: “We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.”
7. Dick Jones ('RoboCop')
Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) is a ruthless executive at Omni Consumer Products, which owns Detroit’s entire police force and is attempting to replace its officers with robots. When we first meet him, Dick is in a competition with a younger executive, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), over the creation of a new robotic officer. The rivalry escalates to the point where Dick hires an assassin to take out his competition, which forces the title character (Peter Weller) to step in - although, as he learns, Dick has made it impossible for RoboCop to arrest any senior OCP executive. Pretty crafty.
Best Line: “What did you think? That you were an ordinary police officer? You're our product, and we can't very well have our products turning against us, can we?”
8. Bill Lumbergh ('Office Space')
Is there a more smug, obnoxious cinematic boss than Bill Lumbergh? Lumbergh (Gary Cole) has come to represent a very specific type of supervisor, one that doesn’t seem to do any real work himself yet manages to pile on task after task for his long-suffering subordinates. And while protagonist Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) receives the brunt of Lumbergh’s unwanted attention, Bill also manages to make life a living hell for meek employee Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) – as the character's work space is moved to the basement.
Best Line: “I'm gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around 9 that would be great, okay? Oh, and I almost forgot, I'm also going to need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, okay?”
9. Avery Tolar ('The Firm')
While he may not be as bad as The Devil’s Advocate’s John Milton – he’s not, after all, Satan – Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) is certainly an odious figure in his own right. As the top dog at a law firm with deep ties to the Mafia, Avery has gotten used to bending the rules to ensure the continuing freedom of his felonious clients. Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) is an up-and-coming attorney who gladly takes a job under the respected Tolar, but it’s not long before Cruise’s character discovers the truth about his firm. (Avery goes to incredible lengths to secure Mitch’s silence, including hiring a woman to sleep with him and then blackmailing him with the evidence.)
Best Line: “You know, I have a very bad reputation.”
10. Franklin Hart Jr ('9 to 5')
When office workers Judy (Jane Fonda), Violet (Lily Tomlin), and Doralee (Dolly Parton) are continually harassed by a sexist executive named Franklin Hart Jr (Dabney Coleman), the ladies eventually take matters into their own hands and kidnap the man and hold him hostage in his own home. Hart’s absence means that the three women are able to run the office far more efficiently, which is just about the best revenge one could get on an incompetent superior.
Best Line: “If you think I am going to be intimidated or stopped by you three dim-witted broads you're mistaken! No woman takes me on and gets away with it! I'm gonna get loose. I'm gonna get loose even if I have to kill one of you to do it! I will not hesitate to kill a woman!”