When you think of a villain, you might conjure up an image of a grinning, scheming evildoer concocting some sort of devious plan to take out the “good guy.” And sure, black and white villains such as this certainly exist in pop culture, but they aren’t always so conspicuous. There are anti-heroes, for one, who walk a fine line between good and evil and spur debate on whether their actions are justifiable. Perhaps said anti-hero is a believer in the school of utilitarianism, which is a belief grounded in maximizing total benefit for the greatest number of people. So if that needs to be obtained by harming a small amount of people, can it be justified?
This is the complex nature of analyzing individual characters and what qualifies someone as a “good person.” Hollywood tends to simplify the matter more often than not, disposing of moral ambiguities, but every now and then there’s a villain that, well, kind of warrants our support. Maybe their actions have some semblance of reason, or maybe they’re just really charismatic and able to woo us with their slick demeanor. After all, not everything has to be about what’s right or wrong. This is entertainment. And sometimes we value character over actions. I mean, sure, maybe the villain is threatening the well-being of the entire world, but maybe he’s also a badass. Why fret over ethics and morality when we can marvel at what a cool dude a particular villain is?
So with that in mind, wipe that angelic smile off your face and get your best evil grin on. This feature piece will examine the top 15 most likeable villains, whether it’s by way of their actions or badass demeanor.
The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming’s most iconic titles. There’s something special about the characters in this series. Ganondorf doesn’t exactly exude charisma, especially with the lack of a voice actor, unless you count grunts and evil laughs, but he’s badass in every sense of the word. He’s a towering beast of a specimen that stands as Link’s greatest enemy. He’s a powerful, egotistical villain, hell-bent on conquering the world—the quintessential bad guy.
He’s a recurring character in video game series Super Smash Bros.—and one of this writer’s favorite selections—for his status as one of Nintendo’s most popular villains. And who doesn’t want to wield his dark magic and super strength?
“Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you mother[expletive], say what one more Goddamn time!”
In his own words, Jules Winnfield is “the tyranny of evil men,” but he is “trying to be a Sheppard.” The iconic character, famously played by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, oozes charisma and a stoic demeanor to match his deadly skill-set. He’s a cold and ruthless hit-man who will kill for a job, but he’s just so likeable as he does it. Whether it’s reciting Bible verses before killing someone or uttering an expletive-filled rant on filthy animals, you can’t help but root for Jules.
Agent Smith is literally the incarnation of unfiltered evil. He unceasingly hunts down and eradicates any humans in the Matrix threatening to bring it down. Because he and other agents are essentially the gatekeepers of the virtual reality, they have the innate ability to take control of any human wired into the Matrix and possess super strength and agility. They are regarded as ruthless, unstoppable killing machines. Agent Smith is the series’ main antagonist and nemesis of Neo, and the two do battle on several occasions. He can wear the hell out of a suit and never leaves without his shades. Seeing the demise of his character in Matrix Revolutions was actually a sad scene in this writer’s opinion.
Albert Wesker is Resident Evil’s best-known villain, and he’s pure evil. He’s briefly introduced as an ally in the first video game in the series, way back in 1996, but that guise is quickly lifted as one of the best villains in media solidifies his role as the series’ most iconic character. He’s also easy to root for in video game Resident Evil 5, in which protagonist Chris Redfield apparently abuses steroids and becomes an unlikeable meathead.
Resident Evil’s story is convoluted and campy to such an extent that it’s charming, and Wesker fits the bill as a truly ridiculous character. He injects himself with numerous viruses to transform into a supervillain and basically demigod. But one thing is constant: Wesker can seriously rock a pair of shades.
Liquid is an angry dude. He was created as part of the Les Enfants Terribles project and is the twin brother of hero Solid Snake. He’s angry at Snake for having, he believes, superior genes and is fed up of living in his shadow.
Liquid goes so far as to have Snake’s former mentor murdered in his home and then masquerades as the character to manipulate Snake’s mission—pretty messed up. The smooth talking, English-accented villain vowed to create a world that reveres soldiers and their way of life on the battlefield. He’s a hard-nosed, formidable opponent of Snake, and the culmination is a final battle for the ages that involves a cyborg ninja. What else do you want?
All he wants to do is rule the world. Can’t we just let him? Loki is Thor’s charismatic and silver-tongued adopted brother. He’s a mischievous, backstabbing, scheming liar, but boy is he a loveable villain. Just when you think he might have turned a corner and learned the error of his ways, he strikes back with a complex plan with several moving parts. And he succeeds at this time and time again. Why? Because he’s charismatic.
As far as villains go, at least he never tried to destroy the world. Just, you know, rule it. At one point in the comics he fights alongside his brother and father to defend Asgard from destruction. So hey, he’s not all bad.
Vergil is the twin brother of Dante in video game series Devil May Cry. He is best represented in Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening as the main antagonist. While his intentions are unequivocally evil, his sleek attire, professional-looking haircut and signature katana named Yamato make him one cool customer. He’s a serious, driven individual that opposites his cocky brother and makes for some epic battles.
Fans liked Vergil so much that developer Capcom made a special edition of Devil May Cry 3 in which he was a playable character. If you’ve ever played the game, you know how memorable the final battle is—hell, you’re probably scurrying to your last-gen console right now.
Viewers were groomed to care for Anakin Skywalker as an innocent boy-turned-supervillain. He’s the victim of tragedy and love, and the moment he officially loses his mind is perhaps best represented when he murders a group of Jedi Initiates, or younglings.
I know what you’re thinking, “how is a character who murdered children likeable?” Well, it’s complicated. What pulls us to Darth Vader is his tragic backstory. A young boy with all the potential in the world who let his emotions dictate his actions. There’s good in Luke Skywalker’s father that inevitably frees him from the dark side. And how could you deny that smooth, slow, commanding cyborg voice?
Tyler Durden is a figment of the main character’s imagination in Fight Club. He’s not real. But he represents the darker, unhinged side of the human psyche. He’s the part of the mind that wants to punch people in the face and commit whatever acts he feels are right, whether it’s morally devoid or not. It’s a frightening concept to imagine how people would behave without the socially constructed borders of consumerism and class warfare. Tyler Durden is the representation of that concept, and boy do they make him likeable. His slick demeanor and care-free attitude slowly transforms the narrator of the film, played by Edward Norton, and sways the viewer in a false sense of security right up until the film’s dramatic ending.
“This is your fault. I’m going to kill you. And all the cake is gone. You don’t even care, do you?”
GlaDOS, or Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System, doesn’t need facial features to be a loveable antagonist. She remains one of the crowning achievements of video game series Portal for her passive-aggressive behaviour and memorable quotes.
GlaDOS is a unique character in that the player interacts with her on a consistent basis while she manipulates and hilariously insults the game’s protagonist. She exemplifies the importance of great writing. Sure, Portal is a fun game, but it’s the characters that make it memorable, not so much the gameplay.
The Symbiote has had many hosts, but its time with Eddie Brock is the most well-known in Marvel Comics’ iconic Spider-Man comic book series. Venom is obsessed with destroying Spider-Man and his endless quips, and the two form one of the best rivalries in comics. But Venom’s history is ambiguous as a villain, as he teams with his archenemy Spider-Man on several occasions. The most notable of which is when the two work together to defeat Carnage, the symbiote incarnation of serial killer Cletus Kasady.
Venom is so well-liked by comic fans that Marvel gave him his own ongoing series throughout the years.
What makes the Joker so special is that he’s a scene-stealer and the center of attention no matter how he’s represented in media. He’s absolutely insane in every meaning of the word. In the recent Death of the Family comic book story arc, Joker had Batman believe he skinned the faces of his closest allies, and served them to him on a platter before his friends with bloody bandages concealing their faces.
And who could forget Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as Joker in The Dark Knight? The makeup-wearing supervillain is pure evil, but he commands awareness through his actions and character. You’re a stinking liar if you claim you wouldn’t want to sit down and have a beer with the guy. Imagine the conversations.
What’s killing your friend by carbon monoxide poisoning or pushing your secret lover in front of moving train if it means attaining your dreams?
For Frank Underwood, these are worthwhile actions he doesn’t think twice about. He’s a calculated, intelligent politician who is willing to scheme and manipulate his way to the top. He’s dangerous and a poses a threat to anyone close to him. And yet, he is the likeable protagonist of the Netflix series House of Cards. We know his actions are despicable, but by god do we want to see him prevail. He woos the viewers with his sarcastic and witty monologues and makes you feel like a villain for supporting him. That requires a heckuva lot of charm.
Magneto is one of the greats. He’s a Jewish Holocaust survivor who harbors considerable hate for humans due to the Nazis’ attempted decimation of the Jewish population. It’s ironic that he holds a similar mindset toward the human race, thinking mutants to be superior and the next step in evolution. Still, he fights for his people and is adamant that mutants will never face the discrimination he experienced as a child in Germany.
Magneto’s history varies from supervillain to anti-hero. His intentions are never shallow or selfish either, as he claims to be fighting for a better world for mutants to live in. He’s likeable enough, in fact, for Marvel to start his own comic book series, which is still ongoing.
From timid high school chemistry teacher to ruthless drug lord “Heisenberg”, Walter White is not to be messed with. He will instinctively kill or ruin a friend’s life if it means covering his tracks to avoid becoming entangled in his web of lies. Yet through it all, you can’t help but root for the bastard—even as he systematically destroys the lives of those around him in his pursuit of his developing and conflicted goal.
He is the embodiment of moral ambiguity. Even though his actions are progressively immoral, he is human in the truest sense of the word. It’s why we love him, but also kind of hate him. It’s a complicated relationship, which is exactly how we want it.