Villains are the scum of the Earth. They are the baddest, most evil, and most diabolical, right? Villains have monstrous plans that usually involve but are not limited to: world domination, destruction of mankind, and kidnapped kittens. By definition of the word “villain,” we know such characters to be cruelly malicious evil-doers who are involved with, or devoted to, wickedness or crime. In terms of story, the villain is also the major antagonist, generally speaking.
Sometimes, the characters we call villains are just… misunderstood. They aren’t necessarily evil or deliberately out there doing bad deeds just for kicks, but rather, because something caused them to be that way. The lines of victim and villain then become blurred, and everybody continues to assume they are the “big bad” simply because their ideas and goals might not mesh with general societal norms or widely accepted personal beliefs in the real world.
This is important to note because films, comics, novels, and television worlds are distinctly different than our own and, needless to say, concentrate on the fictional aspects of characters and storylines. For example, take Walter White. Walter’s character is built on an extravagant example of pride, and because of this, his actions follow suit. Everyone knows that putting your own life and family in danger is wrong, but if compelled by pride in a fictional setting, what exactly would be stopping the character from living his truest life? Nothing. Never judge a book by its cover, they say, but bad guys are most often misunderstood because of their appearance. If it looks like a monster, it surely must be.
In a similar sense, there are also plenty of character devices that create an overall negative misunderstanding of their true motivations, like Beast from Beauty and The Beast. With the emergence of anti-heroes in comedic superhero flicks, we are also seeing more and more anti-villains – a villain with heroic goals, personality traits, and/or virtues – who makes our understanding of a typical villain somewhat blurred. Most often the aforementioned “good” guys who are mistaken for villains fall into the broad category of a tragic character, and sometimes, a version of the fallen hero who is a foil to the protagonist’s overall goal in his or her journey. Let’s take a look at the most misunderstood baddies in fiction.
17. Hannibal Lecter, Silence of The Lambs
It’s clear from Clarice’s first meeting with Dr. Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins, that he isn’t going for doctor of the year, and that he is, in fact, some deep, dark, shade of sadist or sociopath. But is he the true villain of Silence of the Lambs? We think not. Let’s take a look at the overall story of Silence of the Lambs. Clarice is a novice FBI agent on the hunt for a serial killer who has kidnapped the senator’s daughter, Buffalo Bill, to be precise. Along the way, she is referred to the infamous cannibal Hannibal Lecter who may be able to help her track down the bigger, badder psycho – well, at least in this story. Buffalo Bill is the central antagonist and villain of Silence of the Lambs because as the events play out, he has not only killed and begun manufacturing a meat suit Lady Gaga would be envious of, he’s also still keeping live victims hostage in his basement hole.
Why he isn’t a villain: Dr. Lecter, despite his crude words and psychopathic behavior, is actually a character that helps Clarice, the protagonist, solve the FBI case that brings down Buffalo Bill. Additionally, Lecter is already behind bars. Even though he talks a big game, Hannibal the cannibal is for the most part, uninvolved with the bigger problem at hand and instead, lends a helping hand to Clarice which helps her solve the case.
16. Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada
Let’s cut to the chase. Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, isn’t exactly known for being nice or even remotely sympathetic. She’s known for her cold quips and boss attitude that’ll put any insecure intern in their place without even batting an eyelash. Throughout the first half of The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly is seen as an unswerving, disciplinarian, and downright mean, which is why so many people love her character. At the same time, this makes her seem like a villain, which she is not. The closest thing to a true villain, or central antagonist, of The Devil Wears Prada is not Miranda at all, but rather, Nigel. While he appears to be playing the good guy, he seems more fitting to the dynamic, as his efforts are often in vain for the purpose of playing politics in favor of team Miranda.
Why she isn’t a villain: Miranda isn’t exactly a villain, but she isn’t much of a hero, either. Miranda is selfish, yes. Career-driven, most definitely. But her character is misunderstood, and more so, flawed. Her actions are the result of unfortunate events which have led to her callousness, and in the end, she helps Andy (Anne Hathaway) reach the next level of her own success.
15. Gaston, Beauty and the Beast
A tale as old as time that exemplifies inner beauty, and the very vain concept of whether or not a person can be loved based on their exterior appearance. Mentioned in the introduction, Beast from Beauty in the Beast is often seen as bad guy. He gets a bad rap. Why? Because he looks monstrous and acts accordingly, but much like Miranda, Beast’s bark is a lot louder than his bite and he has been forced into the likeness that he carries in the animated 90s, and 2017 live-action (starring Emma Watson) versions of the film. Even more often conceived is that Gaston is, in fact, the villain, but there has been speculation on who the true villain of Beauty and the Beast really is. Fans and critics of the classic have debated over whether the enchantress is the villain, and that perhaps the mature woman left in charge of opening the doors in the first place is to blame, or is it the fumbling, bumbling LeFou? LeFou is the prime example of why you should never judge a book by it’s cover.
Why he isn’t a villain: Gaston isn’t the villain of this story simply because he isn’t the biggest or the baddest, he is simply the character who carries out the evil ideas thought up by LeFou who is most likely the true villain of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. On the same token, Beast is not a villain either, just a victim of circumstance.
14. V from V for Vendetta
This example comes from the film and book, not the comics. Much like the other “monsters” we’ve covered so far, Evey Hammond, protagonist of V For Vendetta, starts out as a victim of horrible circumstance: the government. In the book, Evey is rescued by V who is an infamous anarchist whose depiction has been used by the “hacktivist” group Anonymous. But does “V” stand for villain? Not in this case. While he does have a mysterious past, is borderline-sociopathically eloquent, and most of all, defiant of the authority that has wronged him, he is not a villain. Though, at the same time, he is driven by vengeance and will do anything to carry that out, he actually has some redeeming qualities.
Why he isn’t a villain: While this one tends to come down to perspective, in light of the story’s world, we see a man up against great odds. In any other journey or action film, this character might most likely be considered a hero figure. But in this case, since this film deals with the government and comes with the preconceived ideas from the audience going in, many people see him as the bad guy, but in terms of this story, the bad guy is actually the government and V is the one who explains why. He offers the citizens a chance to overcome their fear albeit in rebellious anarchistic fashion, eventually to set them free as a hero.
13. Elsa, Frozen
At the top of the first act, it’s pretty evident that Elsa’s quite distant from everyone around her, including her own sister Anna, and what this comes down to is fear that she might accidentally (or purposely) hurt or kill someone with her ability to morph snow and ice. Furthermore, her classic “Let It Go” song from the movie Frozen is basically an ode to the fine philosophy of existentialism, or in other words, letting go of conventions that society has placed upon her (and all of us). But that doesn’t make her a villain, does it? It does not. Elsa is what we call an outsider, a lone wolf. She has all of the makings of a villainous stereotype, but under her icy gaze, she is actually a softie with the best of intentions. This movie is so complex, it’s hard to actually pin down who the true villain is. Is it the innocent and bumbly snowman Olaf? Is it Elsa versus the world? Is Queen Elsa vetting against herself? Actually, the answer is none of those, despite popular belief. Albeit a literal ice queen, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is actually some form of badass in distress, and moreover, a classic anti-hero with cracks and flaws that make her quite human despite her supernatural abilities.
Why she isn’t a villain: Though Elsa has a dark and troubled past and powers that can be used for good or evil, she is not the primary villain of Frozen. Disney movies are known the world over for the innocent romantic storylines in their films, but as we look closer at Disney films, it’s pretty obvious that they don’t necessarily always follow the knight in shining armor suit. Have you figured it out yet? The villain of Frozen is exactly the guy who comes to save her – Hans. Hans is either an airheaded imbecile who defeats his own plans intentionally time and again, or, is a complete sociopath. We’re going with the latter.
12. The Grinch
The Grinch, a beloved Dr. Seuss Christmas classic. The Whos have all gathered ’round to decorate the town and light the Christmas tree when no-good Mr. Grinch comes to ruin the party for everyone. The Grinch is so selfish that if he even hears anyone else having fun he’s sure to go out of his way to ruin it, right? What a jerk. He’s so mean, we’ve come to recognize anyone who loathes holidays as much as he does as “a grinch” and the term has become synonymous with people who are misanthropic in general. Typical villain, isn’t he? No. He’s not. Even though most sources claim the Grinch is a card-carrying villain, and let’s face it, the guy LOVES stealing things and ruining people’s days, but we believe he is actually more of an anti-hero or tragic sort of character.
Why he isn’t a villain: Despite his efforts to appear as a cruel insensitive bastard, the Grinch has a heart that hurts deep down inside. Sure he’s an oddball recluse who yells at his dog, but what makes the Grinch different from cookie-cutter villains is that he redeems himself and in the end, goes back to fix all of the wrong, messed up things that he did to come to the moral realization that Christmas isn’t so bad after all.
11. King Kong
King Kong is one of the first monsters to ever appear on film and is considered one of the most well-known monsters of all time. But is he truly a monster? The giant Kong is the main antagonist of Kong (1933), the 1976 remake, its 1986 sequel, and the 2017 reboot, Kong: Skull Island, which would typically automatically assign him the role as primary villain, but he is actually also an anti-hero and sometimes, and even an anti-villain. People believe he is a villain due to his appearance, size, and overall intimidating behavior, but what makes Kong less of a villain and more of a hero is that somewhere underneath his scary facade, he has emotions, feelings, and a general sense of justice for humanity.
Why he isn’t a villain: Much like any creature in its natural habitat, Kong is simply servicing his home island from intruders. While King Kong is often referred to both a hero and a villain, we’re here to clear things up. He’s neither. Villains of the King Kong universe are more likely to be crueler monsters such as Skullcrawlers, Kumonga, or Gorrosaurus, who despite also being creatures, are less capable of having emotions or compassion towards humankind.
10. Frankenstein’s Monster
Like Kong, Beast, and Gaston, Frankenstein’s Monster is most often perceived as evil because he is a victim of circumstance. Frankenstein did not ask to be created, he simply was created, and in turn, frightened everyone he came in contact with. Because of his inability to form coherent sentences, the emotionally inept Frankenstein became disgruntled and the rest is history. More than just a villain, Frankenstein’s monster is actually also more of a traditional tragic villain, meaning, even though he is technically the primary bad guy in the film, there is good reasoning for why.
Why he isn’t a villain: The real villain of Frankenstein isn’t actually Frankenstein at all, but rather, the mad scientist Victor who created him. Frankenstein’s monster is a mute robotic character manifested by Victor who is the independent, rational human who is responsible for creating, then abandoning his monster. Needless to say, anyone who is trying to play god is most likely going to become the villain.
9. Professor Severus Snape, Harry Potter
It’s very easy to imagine Snape (Alan Rickman) as the bad guy of the Harry Potter-verse due to his sarcastic personality and overall ambiguity of which side he’s truly on. However, once the things he’s been through in life become known, it’s clear to see that Snape isn’t an evil character after all. Actually, it’s the main reason why he’s one of the most well-liked characters in the whole Harry Potter franchise. Born into poverty, Snape developed a passion for the Dark Arts as a lad, which developed as his longing for revenge grew stronger over the years. Look, we’re not saying he isn’t a major jerkass who took pleasure in picking on an 11-year-old boy, but just because he isn’t always good doesn’t mean he’s not a nice guy sometimes either.
Why he isn’t a villain: Even in the Harry Potter fan world, the motivations of Snape’s character are hardly ever discussed. The truth of the matter is that Snape had to do some evil things so that everyone else who is actually bad would see that Snape is still on team Voldemort. Thus, because of Snape’s dark past, Dumbledore was able to utilize him for a greater purpose. What it boils down to is: Professor Severus Snape is a good guy because he’s a bad guy.
8. Samara, The Ring
Ah yes, that creepy crawly dead chick who crawled out of the TV and gave you nightmares for years to come all the while scaring you away from wells for the rest of your life. Samara Morgan, also known as the little girl from The Ring, played by Daveigh Chase in the 2002 film by Gore Verbinski, is pretty damn frightening – although perhaps not as frightening as the box office earning from Rings earlier this year. As the films reveal, the evil-doing girl known as Samara returns to the world in vengeful ghost form after creating a cursed videotape that will kill anyone who watched it after seven days. She’s known as Sadako in the Japanese version, and is equally as scary, but Samara wasn’t born a villain. You may have guessed it by now. She’s a tragic villain, which in short means it’s really not her fault. So if that’s true, who is the real villain? Our best guess is both her birth and adopted mothers who not only abandoned her, but neglected and eventually killed her. Now that’s dark.
Why she isn’t a villain: She’s freaky, gross, and her origin is straight out of a campfire horror story, but she isn’t actually all that bad. While she isn’t a hero of any sort, she is the central antagonist of the story that drives the protagonist to discover the meaning behind the cautionary tale. Even though it seems her main intention is to inflict pain upon humanity through the infamous tape, she ultimately seeks for a mother who won’t kill her. Awww?
7. Darth Vader
For anyone who doesn’t already know this, Darth Vader is a major central character of the beloved George Lucas Star Wars franchise. He’s a top-ranking Jedi Knight who becomes a powerful Sith Lord, and remains one of the greatest and best-known fictional villains in history. But is he really a villain? Throughout the Star Wars films, Darth Vader is considerably the biggest, baddest, meanie in the universe, but at the finale of the original series, Darth turns out to be something of a tragic monster. In prequels, we see him as an anti-villain who has noble ideals but has manipulated them for his own evil purposes. Eventually, he is consumed by self-loathing, a symptom of his success (or lack of) as a dark lord. The character born as Anakin Skywalker, whose actions therein form the entire foundation of Star Wars as a whole, father of Luke and Leia, and legendary Jedi thought to bring balance to the Force, Darth Vader, who eventually becomes one of the most feared powers in the galaxy, is not evil? No, he is evil. Very evil, in fact. He’s just not the worst.
Why he isn’t a villain: Darth Vader, the darkest force in the universe, not a villain you say? That’s right. He’s dark, but he isn’t the darkest. Darth Sidious is actually the villain-y-est villain. At least in the Star Wars franchise, anyway.
6. Loki, Thor
Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston), aka the God of Mischief, Magic, and Evil, is a Marvel deity and supervillain as well as the half-brother and mortal enemy of Thor. Loki is the primary antagonist in Thor, and actually, to many of the Avengers in the cinematic universe. He is most often seen as the main (or secondary) antagonist which makes him seem like the biggest menace of all, but is he really a villain? Well, yes. He is. Loki is a traditional villain, but does share the flaws that many of our other monsters and villains encounter such as hopelessness and despair, great expectations, and an overall desire to impress despite being a total jerk through and through.
Why he isn’t a villain: Despite his inherent evilness, Loki continuously does the wrong things for what seems like the right reasons. One might even say he’s just a guy who’s hopelessly trying to win his father’s approval, an emo kid of sorts, who carries out what he believes are his father’s best wishes in the worst way possible.
5. Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, Boardwalk Empire
Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition: what a time to be alive. No doubt he’s a corrupt and sleazy politician, nobody really likes those guys anyway, right? This is a man who started doing his research on becoming a kingpin the very second Prohibition started, but that being said, he is also often a genuinely kind man with well-mannered intentions. Nucky (Steve Buscemi) has highly-tuned, sophisticated views on women and minorities in comparison to his peers for the time period. While this evil-seeming character has some pretty real psychological issues to deal with, he certainly seems like a nice fella when contrasted to the likes of much more sadistic gangsters of his time. The fact of the matter is, in the world of Boardwalk Empire, there’s no such thing as “good guys” or “bad guys” just like life.
Why he isn’t a villain: Sure he’s lied, cheated, and even killed, but much like Don Draper, Walter White, and Tony Soprano, we’re rooting for Nucky to win. Regardless of his tendencies toward wickedness, he can’t necessarily be considered “evil” and is actually more of an anti-hero.
4. Magneto, X-Men
Though Magneto (most recently played by Michael Fassbender) is primarily a villain to the X-Men, he has also joined them on plenty of occasions, even to become a hero, especially in the comics. Though Magneto isn’t exactly a supervillain due to having some moral fiber, he does fit the traditional anti-hero type because he does a heroic service of protecting mutants from humans. Even Magneto’s best and oldest friend can’t escape his extremely dangerous beliefs and sinister actions, and while he appears to be pretty damn evil, Magneto actually has some redeeming qualities.
Why he isn’t a villain: Magneto not only has a sympathetic backstory, but a valid reason for believing that humans are out to kill and eradicate all mutants. That being said, he is a dangerous character with little restraint or limitations on his idea of what must be done to ensure the survival of his own kind. Ultimately, he has good intentions and at times, is even portrayed as a hero rather than a villain. Flawed? Yes. Totally evil? Not so much.
3. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
Alright, so this guy’s GOT to be a villain, right? You know, the psychopathic villainous protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis‘ 1991 controversial novel turned cult classic film, American Psycho. Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale, is a Wall Street douche bag in the height of 1980s materialism. He has it all – power, prestige, his choice of hot women, an office overlooking Manhattan, and deep-seated psychological issues. Wait, what? On the outside, he’s cool, calm, and collected. Throughout the book and film, Patrick is perceived as a heartless murdering psycho killer, bored out of his mind, going insane, and out for blood for what seems like nothing more than a mental breakdown or lack of personal restraint. That’s the American Psycho theory we all know and love, but is that the real meaning behind the story? Actually, it isn’t and Mr. Bateman is not a true villain in the traditional sense.
Why he isn’t a villain: Get ready for this one, it’s an eye opener. Wait for it… wait for it. Ready? It was all a dream. Well, that’s our stance anyway. Whether you agree with it or not, the brilliance in American Psycho is it’s ambiguity. Did Patrick Bateman ever kill anyone at all, or maybe just a few homeless people along the way? Either way, no one takes him seriously. His work, friends, and life in general are nothing but a shallow existence where the only thing that matters is what’s on the outside, but his internal pain is repressed in the form of a twisted murderous fantasy. Another theory: Maybe he’s just paranoid from all the cocaine.
2. Walter White, Breaking Bad
He admits to being a bad guy and he’s way more than a street-level criminal, but somehow the infamous Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) still seems to have more moral fiber than anyone else in the drug business. Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) qualifies for this category too, as a classic villain-protagonist who’s simply trying to ensure that his family is provided for after he’s gone. One major point that can be noticed throughout the Breaking Bad series is that both Jesse and Walt, albeit doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, are still emotionally driven whereas most true villains are cold-blooded as can be. Though Walt has his heartless moments, as does Jesse, they both inevitably redeem themselves by doing their evil deeds for a bigger purpose. As they rose through the ranks and experienced their share of ups and downs in their relationship as a team, the two continuously fought bigger, badder sociopaths and drug kingpins. But what about the Lily of the Valley incident at the end of season 4? Yeah, that was… bad. But was that the moment when Walt finally “broke bad” or did he cross the line from average guy to stone cold criminal a lot sooner? As the series came to a head, we saw Walter’s true colors, and though he isn’t an anti-hero either, this is primarily because his pride was both his greatest weakness and strength.
Why he isn’t a villain: Well, let’s start with why he isn’t a hero. It’s because he doesn’t truly ever lose his way throughout the series, he is grounded and compelled to thrive, a trait both applicable to heroes and villains. But he also isn’t a true villain either, especially in the sense that he was born that way, rather, he becomes one as he goes up against the likes of Gus Fring bringing everyone around him down along the way, including his family who he claims to love. So is Walter White a villain? Throughout the first four seasons you can argue that he is not. Even up to the finale of Breaking Bad, you might say Walt still had some redeeming qualities – courageous, fearless, unstoppable, driven, and a caring father and husband, who despite the odds, still made time for his family even if for the purpose of keeping up with all of his lies. But wait a minute, that describes Gus Fring, too. Alright, you got us on this one. Walter White may not be a hero at all, and he definitely has all the makings of a villain. Perhaps Breaking Bad was just the beginning for him, the origin of a monster. That being said, Jesse’s still cool though. For Jesse, he transitioned from drug-addicted scrub to educated businessman.
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