What Makes A Good Villain?

What Makes A Good Villain?

They may be bad guys, but they can still be well-written.
487
views

It’s a bit of a cliche that villains are more fun than their stuffier, rigidly heroic counterparts. Not only do audiences obsess over iconic villains like Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter, countless actors have described how much fun it is to play the villain. But if you mostly stick to Hollywood blockbusters, you’d hardly know it.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is arguably the dominant force at the box office today, yet despite its popularity, it’s often criticized for its lackluster villains, with the notable exception of Loki. While this problem may be especially obvious in the MCU, it’s a pretty widespread issue in today’s films. The recently released "Suicide Squad," which cast a team of super-villains as its protagonists, showed that villains can be fun, multi-layered characters, but the actual antagonists proved to be underwhelming in comparison. Today's cinematic landscape may be packed wall-to-wall with larger-than-life heroes, but there are hardly enough decent villains to go around.

To see what the film industry is doing wrong, let’s take a look at how villains are being done right on television. "Game of Thrones," for instance, has probably produced more well-written villains than every superhero movie combined since its debut in 2010 (spoilers ahead). While most of the characters are morally ambiguous, some are evil enough to be considered villains, even by the show’s standards.The show has far too many great villains to discuss thoroughly, so I’ll focus on my favorite, Tywin Lannister (although scoundrels like his daughter Cersei, Roose Bolton, and Littlefinger deserve at least honorable mentions).

Tywin shows absolutely no remorse for his crimes, which range from organizing the wholesale slaughter at the Red Wedding, to ordering the murders of the Mad King’s children simply to prove his loyalty. To top it all off, he’s endlessly abusive to his son Tyrion, simply for being a dwarf. Unquestionably evil he may be, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to him. In his mind, simply allowing Tyrion to live was a great mercy, after Tywin’s wife died giving birth to him. He’s far from a kind father, but he genuinely believes that everything he does is for the good of his family. Considering that his death leaves them in a self-destructive tailspin, it seems the Lannisters can barely keep it together without his help. He was easily one of the smartest characters the show ever had, and his wit produced some of the show’s best dialogue. Tywin’s flaws are inexcusable, but they’re countered by his admirable qualities, his logical motivations, and the entertainment factor he brings to the table (end spoilers).

Television may be doing well with villains, but there are some standout villains at the movies, few and far between though they are. The "Star Wars" series had a pretty solid track record for villains until the prequels starting throwing around underdeveloped antagonists and killing them in rapid succession. Last year’s "The Force Awakens" marked a return to form with Kylo Ren, easily one of best parts of the movie. Yes, he murdered my favorite character, and therefore I hate him. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s a great villain. From the moment he throws a lightsaber tantrum on a computer, we know he’s a totally different character from Darth Vader. From his deep-seated insecurities to his conflicted conscience, he receives a level of development typically reserved for heroes. None of that does anything to lessen his villainy: this is a character that actively tries to be evil and fears the vestiges of decency that still reside in his corrupted soul.

While heroes are usually given some semblance of backstory, motivation, or personality, too many villains exist solely to serve the narrative rather than developing as a compelling character in their own right. Tywin Lannister and Kylo Ren couldn’t be more different, but I think they’re both perfect examples of the qualities that villains should have. They need to be evil enough that we want to see them lose, but sympathetic or likable enough that we wish it didn’t have to be that way. Their plans have to be genuinely threatening and consistent with their motivations and personality. If the audience isn’t clear on what the villain stands for or what they want, it makes it much harder to care about their conflict with the hero.

Ultimately, the greatest villains have an element of tragedy about them (this happens to be why Magneto is my favorite supervillain). They’re not soulless monsters, they’re simply fallible human beings who have allowed life to warp them into something terrible. Even if their actions are repulsive, there’s something logical about their motives. Pure evil may be boring, but that doesn’t mean villains have to be.

Cover Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Popular Right Now

8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.
57507
views

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.


7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.

715
views

Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.


I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.


I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.


As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

Related Content

Facebook Comments