Baddie hair days: the haircut that grew and grew

Javier Bardem's villainous bob has made even more headlines than the Oscar-sweeping film in which he and it starred. Tim Walker considers the strange cinematic potency of the really unpleasant hairdo

Javier Bardem ought to be basking in Oscar glory this week. The Spaniard was a worthy winner of the best supporting actor award for his turn as Anton Chigurh, the cool, calculating, psychopathic killer in the Coen Brothers' Oscar-winning drama No Country for Old Men. But instead of the finer details of Bardem's performance – his dead-eyed stare or deep, unearthly growl – the endless column inches are devoted to what he described, in his own Oscar acceptance speech, as "one of the most horrible haircuts in history".

This was a haircut so bad that it sent Bardem spiralling into a depression. Fellow performers claim he was often too ashamed to leave the house. Yet latest reports suggest that he may have to endure the sight of it for some time to come – the young hipsters of Hollywood are said to have taken to the Bardem bob, and some claim that it is set to become the gentleman's hairstyle du jour.

Bardem is just the latest in cinema's long list of very bad men with even worse hairdos. Murderous instincts, it seems, do not go hand-in-hand with good hairdressing. "The sense of a ludicrous haircut juxtaposed with the character of a cold-hearted killer added up to a really memorable screen villain," says Ian Freer, assistant editor of Empire magazine. "It gave him the aura of a psychotic schoolboy. It was in sharp relief to every other character in the movie. Nobody in Texas would ever have a haircut like that and it singled Chigurh out as almost otherworldly. It also recalled the haircut for Laurence Olivier's Richard III, another great big screen monster."

Indeed, the stylist responsible for this particular follicular felony admits that he based it on paintings of medieval knights. Paul LeBlanc, who won an Oscar himself in 1985 for his make-up work on Amadeus, is a long-time collaborator with the Coens and says that, on-set, Bardem would tell him the dodgy hairstyle was crucial to helping him get into character. It may even have been crucial to the actor's Oscar glory.

As far as the Academy is concerned, says Freer: "A silly hair-do spells commitment to the part and a lack of vanity that often equates with 'Good Acting': if he is prepared to go that far for the role, [the academicians think], he must be serious, courageous and good."

Experts seem less shocked by the haircut than the press pack. Mark Nimki, a barber at the upmarket Mayfair barbershop Gentlemen's Tonic, explains that Chigurh's style is, in fact, a fairly straightforward 1970s layered bob. No Country for Old Men is set in 1980, so it's no anachronism. "We haven't had many requests for it recently," says Nimki, "but it's very versatile – you can put gel or wax in it and sleek it back. It can be quite stylish." John Hoad, of the Spitalfields salon Pimps and Pinups, says the cut reminds him of Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. "It's the kind of haircut that fits in well with the current music scene. There are a lot of music bars round here in the East End," he explains. "I've seen plenty of indie kids with haircuts like that. I expect we'll get more requests for it now the film's out."

When he first saw the offending cut, Bardem is said to have complained that he wouldn't get laid for two months. His co-star, Josh Brolin, his face furnished with a less offensive floppy-hair-and-goatee combo, concurred. But the last laugh belongs to Bardem. Not only did he scoop the Oscar, but he's started dating Penelope Cruz.

No Country for Old Men is a film that lives with its audience long after they leave the cinema, and Bardem's Chigurh is a villain to rank among the classics. His hairdo will also be hard to forget. "It made a very attractive man look faintly ridiculous," says Ian Freer, "and that always sticks in the mind."

Head cases: other popular styles for the bad guys of film

Bald as a bullet

The default 'do for a dastardly villain – specifically those with ambitions to take over the world – is the cue ball. Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond's arch-nemesis, is the original bald baddie, appearing in person or in spirit in an impressive seven of the 23 Bond films. The look has been copied by countless criminal minds in the meantime, including Dennis Hopper in Waterworld and Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. As the dark-hearted Colonel Kurtz, Brando only appeared on screen for a few minutes before being seen off by Martin Sheen, but the way his pate glistened in the firelight is legendary.

Bobs à la Bardem

Javier Bardem is not the first film villain to sport what you might call a girly hairdo. The accepted wisdom is that Stanley Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from cinemas because of copycat attacks and death threats made against his family. But there's an alternative theory – he didn't want British audiences to see Malcolm McDowell's ridiculous haircut. Luckily for McDowell, his Bardem bob is hidden for most of the film beneath a bowler hat. Jack Nicholson had no such luck. In Kubrick's The Shining, Nicholson's character was required to go round the twist while his long hair became increasingly lank and sweaty. And for once, it didn't win him an Oscar.

Slick knives

Slicked-back hair generally means a man is not to be trusted. Patrick Bateman, as played by Christian Bale in American Psycho, is, as the title suggests, a vicious mass-murderer – at least in his head. Like Colonel Stuart in Die Hard 2, he takes just a little too much pride in his own body, another symptom of being a nasty piece of work. Michael Douglas in Wall Street is another 1980s stockbroker with a lifetime's supply of ShockWaves, while Agent Smith of The Matrix and Ralph Fiennes' SS officer in Schindler's List both represent officialdom at its most detestable. Both use an excess of hair gel.

Lethally blond

Another celebrated evil hairstyle is the bleached-blond look; so blond, in fact, that many offenders appear positively albino. Witness Rutger Hauer, the rebel replicant of Blade Runner, who warbles on about galaxies exploding while the neon lights of Los Angeles reflect off his blindingly white hair; or Christopher Walken's aryan scarecrow Max Zorin, in Bond flick A View to a Kill, or the lethally blond Malfoy family from J K Rowling's Harry Potter series. The Coen Brothers themselves have employed the bleached look to denote badness: in the 1996 film Fargo, the assassin, played by Peter Stormare (who ends up disposing of his partner in a wood chipper) is a decidedly unnatural blond.

Best supporting haircuts

There are some haircuts simply too distinctive to categorise, and a great number of them belong to movie villains. Jack Nicholson's Joker in the first Batman film, sees the character's classic green hair become wilder and wilder in the course of the action. In Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro's unhinged anti-hero Travis Bickle, shaves his hair into a mohawk as preparation for the violence he plans to inflict on his victims. John Travolta's mountainous dreadlocks in Battlefield Earth deserve special mention not only for their monumental silliness, but for the fact that most people have seen the hair, yet almost no-one has seen the film. But if there were an award reserved for services to stupid hair, it might have to go to British actor Gary Oldman. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, the director Francis Ford Coppola persuaded Oldman, playing the titular Count, to adorn his bonce with two snow-white hillocks. And in Luc Besson's daft sci-fi epic The Fifth Element, Oldman played deep-southern dandy Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg with a floppy fringe to one side of his head, and a transparent plastic dome to the other.

Wrecking crew

A crew cut and a military bearing have often been cinematic shorthand for "hard-ass". These visual clues suggest that the characters know how to handle themselves and probably have weapons training of some kind, which they are planning to use in the very near future. The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature creation, was a prime example, as was Die Hard 2's Colonel Stuart. Grace Jones, as May Day, Zorin's henchperson-turned-Bond-girl in A View to a Kill, also boasted a variation on the crew cut. What these characters also had in common was nudity. The Terminator travelled through time naked, Bond inevitably lured May Day into bed, and Colonel Stuart had a penchant for doing press-ups in the buff.