Anthony Hopkins, evil priest! We're already trembling in fear for the horror film 'The Rite,' which opens Friday. Hopkins joins a long list of priests, preachers and pastors who've gone to the dark side out of lust for power, a beautiful woman or something far more sinister.
Once upon a time, thanks to the strict Production Code, Hollywood wasn't allowed to portray the clergy in a negative light, so that when Alfred Hitchcock brought 'Jamaica Inn' to the screen in 1939, the evil preacher in the book had to be turned into an evil squire. But once the code was lifted, all hell was allowed to break loose, and corrupt men of the cloth became a cinema staple. Not to mention an all-too-true reality, as shown in the 2006 documentary 'Deliver Us From Evil,' which profiles an infamous self-admitted pedophile priest.
Of course, priests aren't the only religious leaders who've committed abuses of all kinds in movies; there have been calculating cardinals, bad bishops and wicked reverends, as well. Rutger Hauer, Hopkins' co-star in 'The Rite,' makes our list twice, as a heroic knight cursed by an evil bishop and a priest who puts the sin in 'Sin City.'
Warning: SPOILERS galore for 'Angels & Demons' and 'The Last Exorcism.'
John Wood as Bishop of Aquila
Star-crossed medieval lovers Navarre (Hauer) and Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) can never be together because of a curse placed on them by the evil bishop: By day, she is a hawk; by night, he is a wolf. In the clip below of the film's final showdown, Navarre goes to confront the cowardly Bishop, believing Isabeau is dead. She's not -- and the curse is broken -- but the Bishop would rather kill her than let her be with Navarre.
'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' (1991)
Harold Innocent as Bishop of Hereford
Alan Rickman's wicked Sheriff of Notthingham was the best thing about this version of Robin Hood. Among his many morally bankrupt allies (and far less interesting background heavies) is the Bishop of Hereford, who does anything the Sheriff asks, including (in the clip below) pronouncing him and a very reluctant Maid Marian, who's fighting him tooth and nail, man and wife.
Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Daniel Houseman
Quick note to exorcists: Strangling the person who's supposedly possessed is not in the rule book nor is covering up sacred revelations that might ruin the church. Not unless you're thoroughly corrupt, like our friend Cardinal Houseman, who decides it's easier to silence stigmatized Frankie (Patricia Arquette) than let the truth that she's been chosen to reveal get out.
'Sin City' (2005)Rutger Hauer as Cardinal Patrick Roark
Twenty years after 'Ladyhawke,' Hauer is no longer the hero but the corrupt church official deserving of death at a hero's hands. In this NSFW clip, Roark must answer to Marv (Mickey Rourke) for allowing his cannibalistic relative Kevin (Elijah Wood) to roam free. If Roark thinks he and Kevin are headed to heaven, he's sadly mistaken.
'Bad Education' (2004)
Daniel Giménez Cacho as Father Manolo
Pedro Almodovar takes on the Catholic Church in this multilayered film within a film, starring Gael Garcia Bernal as Ignacio, who was molested by a trusted priest at a young age. The movie unfolds twists and turns of identity and the truth, as if the shattering impact of abuse can't be conveyed in one simple, straightforward retelling.
'V for Vendetta' (2006)
John Standing as Bishop Anthony Lilliman
Lilliman is one of the corrupt government officials targeted for extermination by the vigilante V. First V sends him his friend, Evey (Natalie Portman) as a "present," even though she's older than the girls his underlings usually procure for him. In this clip, first the Bishop is delighted by the game that Evey proposes, but her warning that a man is coming to kill him is the truth. Lilliman must have expected things to go sour at some point -- inside a hollowed-out Bible, he keeps a gun, one that proves useless against the righteous anger of V.
'Deliver Us From Evil' (2006)
Documentary about Father Oliver O'Grady
We're not just talking about one man's wrongdoing, but the entire Catholic Church, which not only knew that O'Grady was a serial molester but helped him avoid any punishment for decades. The priest, who admits to his crimes in the film, was repeatedly relocated to various parishes in California in an ongoing, despicable cover-up. His victims, many of whom reveal their stories in this film, possibly number in the hundreds.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan Flynn
Whether or not Flynn is guilty of molesting a young student is never definitively settled in this ambiguous character study. Either his interest in a neglected schoolboy is as depraved as Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) fervently believes, or Flynn is simply the victim of unfair gossip and accusations, and targeted by the rigorously traditional sister for his attempts at modernization. The boy's own mother thinks that the Father has done more good than harm. What was your take?
In League With Satan
'To the Devil a Daughter' (1976)
Christopher Lee as Father Michael Rayner
Horror icon Lee has played nearly every supernatural baddie in the book. Here, he plays an ex-communicated priest who decides it's time to throw his allegiance to Satan. He just needs an 18-year-old nun, played by a very young Natassja Kinski, to seal his demonic pact.
'The Last Exorcism' (2010)
Tony Bentley as Pastor Joseph Manley
The evil man of the cloth here is not our protagonist, Pastor Marcus, who's called in to do an exorcism on teenage Nell, but -- in the film's controversial and widely denounced twist -- [SPOILER] her local pastor, a Satan worshiper who impregnated her with something not human. On the trail of Nell, Marcus goes to Manley's home, where he finds demonic images scrawled on the wall. The shocking ending is hinted at in the fiery end of the film's trailer, when Marcus goes -- cross in hand -- to confront the evil Manley and his murderous followers.
Power-Mad Men of God
'Poltergeist II: The Other Side' (1986)
Julian Beck as Reverend Henry Kane
Those poor Freelings, they just can't get free of the supernatural juju that haunts them. This time, a spirit in the form of a 19th-century reverend who led a crazed cult has locked onto Carole Anne and her family. As played by the gaunt, nearly skeletal Beck, Kane is one of the creepiest clergymen ever to darken a cinematic doorway.
'The Three Musketeers' (1993)
Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu
Several notable actors have portrayed the corrupt enemy of the stalwart Musketeers, but few so colorfully as the red-robed and wickedly goateed Tim Curry in the rollicking 1993 version (the one with Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt). The role was filled by Charlton Heston in a rare villainous turn in the 1970s version and will be played by 'Inglourious Basterds' baddie Christoph Waltz in one of two upcoming remakes.
'Angels & Demons' (2009)
Ewan McGregor as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna
The mysterious Illuminati are the supposed villains in this 'Da Vinci Code' sequel, but they're simply a convenient scapegoat for the real villain: a priest who has the audacity to murder the pope. (All the Hail Marys in the world won't make up for that!) The secret conspirator? Not the always sinister Armin Mueller-Stahl, but the charming and handsome McGregor. Say it ain't so, Obi-Wan! In the clip below, McKenna declares, "The war is on," but probably only those who've read the book (where his character was known as Carlo Ventresca) know what kind of war he's really planning. ("Camerlengo," by the way, is Italian for "chamberlain.")
Just Plain Evil
'The Night of the Hunter' (1955)
Robert Mitchum as Reverend Harry Powell
Mitchum is unforgettable as the quintessential Southern preacher, one with a fine singing voice, a secret switchblade and, most memorably, tattooed knuckles, which he uses to demonstrate the violent struggle between love and hate. The film unfolds like a film noir fairy tale, told from the point of view of the two children on the run from the monstrous reverend. In the scene below, Harry prepares to murder their mother (Shelley Winters), whom he's married just to find her bank-robbing husband's stash.