It is sometimes said that, “What makes the hero, a hero is the presence of a villain.” They remain important parts of all movies and escalate the film to greatness. There have been so many iconic villains that have given us nightmares for decades. The greatest of villains are polished to perfection but they all come from the same set of moulds. Here are the various types of villains in movies:
1. Just-doing-his-job villain
This mainly comprises of the various kinds of characters who were just doing their jobs, even though their job isn’t a good one. This kind of villain doesn’t have any personal beef against the hero and most probably doesn’t know a lot about his target. This kind includes hit men like Anton Chigurh from ‘No country for old men’ and Donald Pierce from ‘Logan’ and T-800 in ‘The Terminator’. They were paid to kill a person who just happened to be the protagonist. Javert in ‘Les Miserables’ was just chasing a criminal in the eyes of the law. Even the Dean of students in ‘Ferris Bueller’s day off’ was just trying to put an end to his students bunking school.
2. Circumstantial villain
There are some villains that were just dealt the wrong deck. They do commit crimes but it isn’t their intention to harm people or damage the city. Just because of factors, out of their control, they become villains. This includes three of Spider-man’s villains; Dr Octopus, Sandman and Electro. They were all misunderstood in addition to suffering tragic accidents. Another classic example comes from ‘Blade Runner’. The replicants’ leader, Roy Batty had just come to the realization that their days were numbered and he was just trying to survive longer. This category also encapsulates a large number of villains in animal movies like the hyenas in ‘The Lion King’ who just want to feed themselves.
3. Authoritarian power
These are the immensely powerful corporations, governments or kings. Their villainy comes from their societal power. They stand tall and tower over the heroes like Goliath over David. This includes most instances of evil rulers like in ‘V for Vendetta’ or ‘Gladiator’. An iconic example is Forest Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin in ‘The last king of Scotland’. The protagonist doesn’t stand a chance but through perseverance and sheer heroism achieves victory.
Some movies do not justify grand villains so villains of this type have been used very frequently. They can be villainous in quite a personal way or they can just be stupid jerks who can’t do more than trouble inferiors. The hero in this kind of story starts out as a victim of bullying but faces his fears and redeems himself. This creates a story arc in and of itself without the need of external factors making it a glory story for the hero without having to achieve unrealistic goals. The classic bully is probably the cocky Biff Tannen from ‘Back to the Future’ but also Johnny Lawrence, the Cobra Kai student in ‘The Karate Kid’.
5. Vengeful and/or Envious villain
Revenge is one of the truest emotions so it serves as a conflict among the hero and villain but it also sort-of justifies the villains goal. Baron Zemo in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is just trying to find justice for the people who were killed in Sokovia. While the villains ends are justified the means to their end are criticized in the movie. What also becomes an issue is that the villain over-reacts to the hero’s actions, negatively. Even the righteous Harvey Dent goes overboard while seeking revenge for what he thinks is Batman’s fault in ‘The Dark Knight’.
Another related part of this type is the villain that rises out of envy of the protagonists powers or opportunities. The iconic Lex Luthor envies the Superman’s unmatched power and all his actions are to level the playing field. Syndrome from ‘The Incredibles’ also does the same in a very literal way by becoming a “super” himself to become more similar to his idol. Elijah/Mr. Glass from ‘Unbreakable’ is an extreme example of envy of the impenetrable David Dunn. In both cases their actions aren’t justified but they do have an internal purpose to fulfill.
6. Potential-good-guy-from-another-perspective villain
There are some movies that have a character who is portrayed as the villain because of a conflict of ideas with the character portrayed as they hero. The actions of the villain are justified if portrayed in the right light or from a different perspective. This is a technique that a lot of great films make use of. Some movies that follow a criminal of some sort as the protagonist like ‘Catch me if you can’ or ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ have to focus on him so police officers become to villains in the movies despite being the good guys in real life. This is better used in movies that make you question your own belief of what is right and what is wrong. One of the best examples is Ozymandias from ‘Watchmen’. His plan does entail killing millions but it would unite two enemies with nuclear arsenals, saving billions. His plan seems logical even to the god-like hero, Dr. Manhattan. Another super-villain who doesn’t seem like such a bad guy is Magneto. He just wants his kind to be safe from the danger he thinks that humans pose to them. His belief that humans cannot coexist with mutants is proven right in the events of ‘X-men: Day of future past’. He was right all along.
7. Anti-hero/ Antagonist
The antagonist or the anti-hero is very different from traditional villains in the fact that antagonists are usually not evil. They are just on the opposite side of an issue or a battle. This could be seen in any of the ‘Rocky’ movies. Rocky Balboa’s opponents are just other boxers and they compete for a living which leads to the conflict with the hero. Most war movies also subtly use this kind of characters. The individual soldiers fighting on the front lines aren’t bad. They are just patriotic about different countries. When portrayed well, it can lead to masterpieces like ‘The pianist’. We do know that their leader is an evil man but every soldier is just serving his motherland and fulfilling his duty.
This is a term used in psychology to refer to a person who does not feel remorse. Psychopaths lack empathy making them cold hearted ruthless killers. They have an inner urge to do evil things and they have no pity for their victims. This type includes masterminds like John Doe in ‘Seven’ and Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the lambs’ but also agents of chaos like The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ and others like the titular Norman Bates from ‘Psycho’ and Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho’.
These are the formulaic villains with the deep desire to rule the world. Their sole motivation is money and power beyond match. They just want to be the best. This is the formula that most Bond villains fit into, from Blofeld to Goldfinger and Elliot Carver. They are egotistical maniacs who destroy everything in their path to their goal. Another example would be Megatron from the ‘Transformers’ movies who even derives the first half of his name from the type of villain he is.
10. Pure evil
This is the least justified or clarified type of villain in movies. They are just personifications of evil. They have no other intent but to cause harm to everyone and destroy everything. They are often associated with darkness and usually shown in black for the sake of symbolism and redundancy. This includes Snow White’s and Cinderella’s evil stepmothers whose only purpose is to be evil. Sometimes they can manifest as just wicked humans like Nurse Ratched in ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’. All-in-all some of the biggest and baddest movie villains of all time have been agents of evil. Three of the largest franchises in movies have a purely evil villain at their core; Lord Voldemort, Sauron and Darth Vader.
Read More: The 10 Smartest Movie Villains of All Time