What Makes a Great Movie Villain?

I love watching villains in film. It’s odd and most importantly, captivating. I don’t like when people do horrid things in real life, but in movies, they are the most interesting parts of the film. The adage goes, “a movie is only as good as its villains” and I have to believe that is true in most cases. What antagonists do for stories is bring an issue afoot or stop the good things from happening entirely. They’re complex and surprisingly relatable, though this doesn’t mean deep down we’re all Nazis or war mongering maniacs, but it does bring our deep seeded ideals into physical or metaphoric form.

Villains are the men, women, and anything in between that feel they are doing what is necessary. They are blinded by their own extreme ideals or sometimes ideals that we subconsciously relate to. Writing a great villain has always been a goal of mine as a young screenwriter. It’s far more exciting to write up flawed characters because it makes them that much more enthralling. Audiences need to relate to the characters on screen whether good or bad and what makes villains unique in that regard is that they are the manifestations of people themselves.

I look at someone John Doe from Se7en and just revel in the brilliance of his character. Here’s a villain that takes out people that personify the seven deadly sins. That doesn’t sound as bad at first, but it’s how he takes them out that makes him a true bad guy for the movie. Th ideals are there but his actions dilute any sensible reasoning we might have had.

Then villains get the best lines too. Oh yes, villains are always the people we quote from movies. We aren’t quoting Bruce Wayne from the Batman films, no, instead we are mimicking words that villains have said. How many times a day does someone say “Why so serious?” or “I find you lack of faith disturbing”? Probably a lot. It’s because they pack a punch unlike most of the things our good guys say. Villains produce the most insane, sometimes accurate monologues because they usually bring a harsh reality to the story that the hero is trying to fix.

Obviously there are villains that are impossible to love or enjoy and that includes rapists, child abusers, wife beaters of all kinds etc, but we love villains, the ones with ideals and morals and insane brilliance incorporated into their characters that creates a complex mystery we want to solve. Heroes are great and all, but as the quote goes “you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain” and boy does it ring true in stories between good and evil.


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