In 2013’s Now You See Me, audiences showed up in droves to see this original mid-budget heist movie about magicians as master thieves. Now a sequel, directed by Jon M. Chu, reunites the cast of the first film for another grand heist. Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, and Sanaa Lathan have joined them, and from what I hear, this new caper will be better than their last. Now You See Me 2 opens on June 10.
And that’s lovely. But I like my movie magicians to be a bit weirder than Jesse Eisenberg in a suit. So with that in mind, here are the five weirdest magicians in movie history!
The Magician from Terror Train
In this schlocky Halloween cash-in, a group of college kids rent a train for their New Year’s Eve costume party. As you might expect, their party gets more than a little stabby. The only truly unique aspect of Terror Train is the casting of magician David Copperfield, who plays (you guessed it) a magician. I’m not sure why this movie needed a magician. I mean, if you were a frat boy planning to throw a bitchin’ New Year’s Eve party, would you put it on a train and hire a magician? I don’t think so.
Copperfield’s creepy magician character is all goggle-eyes, jawline, and helmet hair. His frilly collar is so wide it threatens to catch the faintest breeze and send him whizzing away like a kite. Hey, that’d be a hell of a trick. Anyway, the magician wasn’t present in earlier drafts of the screenplay. During preproduction, Copperfield was approached by producer Sandy Howard, who just liked magic and wanted to put a magician in the movie. So the script was re-written to accommodate Copperfield and his helmet hair. Ah, movies.
Robert Angier from The Prestige
It’d be easy to argue that Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier, a.k.a. The Great Danton, is not the weird magician in The Prestige. But I’d claim that his obsession with competitor Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale) twists Angier into a strange guy indeed, even if we don’t realize that until the final sequence of the film.
The Prestige is a high point in Chris Nolan’s filmography, and my clear favorite of his. If you’ve never seen it, all you need to know is that it’s about two London magicians (Jackman and Bale) whose rivalry is so deep that it drives them to horrific and heartbreaking extremes.
SPOILERS FOR THE PRESTIGE FOLLOW!
Desperate to replicate Borden’s “Transported Man” illusion, Angier finds a stroke of luck in Gerald Root (also Hugh Jackman), a lewd drunk who just so happens to look enough like Angier from a distance that he can construct a better version of Borden’s trick. But when Angier has to disappear below the stage every night and Root soaks up all the applause, Angier resents the drunken buffoon more and more. Then, disaster strikes when Borden sabotages the trick and exposes Root as Angiers’ double. That’s what drives Angier to seek help from the film’s real magician: Nikola Tesla.
Tesla builds the machine that will finally make The Great Danton’s “Transported Man” better than Borden’s… by duplicating Angier every night, and sending his newly formed duplicate plummeting below the stage and into a waiting tank of water, where he drowns. Every night, over and over, until Borden shoots him. It’s great, wicked, horrible stuff.
Corky and Fats from Magic
Hey, did you know Richard Attenborough (the guy who played John Hammond) once directed a horror movie about a failed magician (Anthony Hopkins) who buys a dummy to improve his act, only to go nuts and let the dummy become a manifestation of his id?
Well, now you know. And if you ever wanted to see Anthony Hopkins elbow deep in a wooden caricature of himself, saying horribly profane things in a high-pitched dummy voice, Magic is the film for you. Hopkins plays Corky Withers and his dummy, Fats, and it’s an excellent dual performance. In fact, you won’t have to look hard to see wisps of Hannibal Lecter in Corky and Fats.
Now don’t get me wrong — Magic isn’t some oddity to be watched ironically. Yes, Anthony Hopkins plays a huge weirdo with a creepy dummy, but it’s a damn good movie, and beautifully shot. Give it a watch.
Albert Vogler from The Magician
Max von Sydow, the guy who showed up as Lor San Tekka in The Force Awakens and played the world’s most famous exorcist, gives his creepiest performance in this 1958 classic from Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.
As traveling magician and mentalist Albert Vogler (von Sydow) makes his way to Stockholm, his reputation precedes him. Stories of bizarre supernatural happenings at his shows have made their way to the ears of skeptics, and Royal medical adviser Dr. Vergérus wants to put Vogler’s powers to the test.
What follows, as Vogler messes with the medical adviser’s mind, is as carefully constructed as any Vegas magic act. Sydow’s performance at times recalls Béla Lugosi, as he glares menacingly behind his mustache and slowly unravels Vergérus’ mind. The Magician may be a lesser-known film from Bergman’s terrific filmography, and yeah, you should see Persona first, but The Magician absolutely deserves your time.
Samuel from The Babadook
Ugh, this little jerk. His poor mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), has to put up with Samuel’s antics after the death of her husband. Unsure of how to cope, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is acting out, clinging to Amelia like a leech and draining her of her sanity and agency. Just as we think she’s at the end of her rope, a mysterious monster known as Mr. Babadook shows up to invade her home and torment her family.
Okay, okay. Maybe I’m a little harsh on Samuel. The kid is only six, after all. And he’s a smart little devil, too. Samuel’s obsessed with magicians and magic tricks, and handy enough engineer homemade weapons that’d make Kevin from Home Alone jealous. But the image of him dressed in his magician’s costume, complete with little top hat and glittering cape, is creepy enough to be the inspiration for The Babadook’s appearance.
This film is, in many ways, about delusion and illusion. It’s about the fragility of the illusion of a healthy family — how keeping up appearances is a magician’s act. The Babadook is a tough and shredding story. It’s not one designed to be enjoyed, necessarily, but it’s one you should experience if you’re a fan of psychological horror.