Everybody loves a heroic protagonist. They keep the plot moving and provide the audience with a relatable character to connect to the material. At least, that’s what most stories aim to accomplish. But sometimes, just sometimes, a villain will emerge from the shadows and steal our hearts with their charming accents, intellectual mind, and general badass demeanour.
This is such a rare occurrence, though, that when it does happen it’s difficult not to root for the bad guy, or at least pray he or she will survive the ordeal. Or perhaps we just have a soft spot for villains. Because when evildoers are properly developed and fleshed out, they become much more than a simple plot device or one-dimensional stand-in.
See, if we look back on classic movies, video games or anything in print, you’ll be hard pressed to find a lousy story that includes a likeable villain. It’s typically a good indicator that the writers of the material have a strong grasp on makes a classic story, well, classic.
Sure, we can look up to the traditional good guys like Superman and Luke Skywalker, and that’s fine, but the process stales after a while. Villains are an integral part of any story, and ones who are likeable just add depth to the viewing or reading experience.
So with that in mind, it’s time to unveil 10 villains who are more likeable than the heroes. That’s not to say the heroes in the subject matter are boring, in fact that’s rarely the case, but that just speaks volumes of the villains’ cool factor.
10 Venom, Spider-Man
While Venom is somewhat of an anti-hero in the Spider-Man universe, even getting his own comic book series more than once, he is undoubtedly a villain when he is in close proximity to the wall-crawler. When the symbiote takes hold and locks its gaze on Spider-Man, Venom is unleashed in all his dark and grisly glory. Its battles with Spider-Man are always a thrilling experience, especially when Venom controlled Eddie Brock. It’s so disappointing that the slithering tongue of the hulking beast has yet to receive justice on the big screen, but perhaps the new Spider-Man series will rectify that. But I digress…it takes a special kind of badass to steal the show from such a legendary superhero like Spider-Man, but Venom is certainly that badass.
9 Liquid Snake, Metal Gear Solid
Solid Snake is the main protagonist of the Metal Gear Solid series and he’s one cool cat…but he isn’t the coolest cat. That’s because his evil twin brother Liquid Snake swooped in and stole our hearts with his charming accent and devious and maniacal plans. I mean, the guy posed as Snake’s mentor via codec voice calls for the majority of the first game all as part of a genius plan to play his brother like a fiddle. His plans were detailed and devoid of traditional villain clichés, leaving the player in awe of his tactical and physical prowess. We mention his physical abilities because he and Snake exchange a number of fists in what is one of the most emotionally charged showdowns in the series.
8 Magneto, X-Men
Magneto has always been an intriguing character in comic books and on-screen. He blurs the line between hero and villain and he’s not a traditional anti-hero either. So how exactly do we label Magneto? Well, he’s Magneto. He’s in a class of his own. His troubled and tragic past led him on a path of self-worth, anger and triumph, ideals that frankly make him a relatable character. His lust for revenge is fueled by his desire to see the human race supplanted by mutants, who he perceives to be superior as the next step in evolution. While Magneto may draw uncomfortable comparisons to real life dictators, it’s difficult not to pander to his natural charm and conflicted emotions. What makes him such a special character is that you truly believe there’s indeed a beating heart somewhere underneath his red and purple attire.
7 Vergil, Devil May Cry
Look, there aren’t many protagonists in gaming, let alone popular culture that can stand toe-to-toe with Dante. The white-haired, silver-tongued weapons specialist dazzles and entertains whenever he graces the screen. That’s why we’re not fooling around when we proclaim Vergil to be one of the most badass characters ever, never mind villains. He’s so popular among the Devil May Cry fandom that Capcom continue to include the spiky-haired twin brother in the series. Hell, Vergil even has his own game modes now. He’s a cool, mild-tempered, katana wielding, bullet slicing, and blue trench coat wearing badass. His role in Devil May Cry 3 remains an integral part in why that game is among the best video games ever made.
6 Albert Wesker, Resident Evil
Resident Evil has spawned some pretty cool, albeit cheesy protagonists: Leon Kennedy, Chris Redfield, Barry Burton, and Billy Coen. But where the series really shined was in creating one of the most memorable and well-received villains ever in gaming, Albert Wesker. He’s essentially the definition of cool: slicked hair, shades, and a commanding accent that matches his batshit crazy demeanour. And that’s why we love him. Once he enhances his speed and strength, he becomes even more likeable as an imposing and perpetual threat to the gang of protagonists (but mostly Chris)…until he eats a few rockets while bathing in a pool of lava. His death in the series remains one of the biggest tragedies in gaming.
5 Vegeta, Dragon Ball Z
Vegeta may have transitioned from villain to anti-hero to hero, but he was still a villain at some point. He blew up planets and uttered such comical and famous lines like “It’s over nine thhoouussannddd!” in reference to protagonist Goku’s power level. Here’s the thing, I’ve never found Goku to be an interesting character, and I’m a Dragon Ball zealot. He’s a passable protagonist for a series that mainly focuses on high-octane fight scenes that span dozens of episodes, but he simply never compares to Vegeta on any level—which is ironic given the latter continuously attempts to emerge from the hero’s shadow. He’s one of the more interesting characters in anime period, so there’s no doubt he’s more likeable than any hero within the DBZ universe.
4 Agent Kruger, Elysium
While Elysium didn’t receive glowing reviews from critics and fans, I still believe it’s an underappreciated film that lagged under the weight of director Neill Blomkamp’s debut film, District 9. The odds of him replicating that elite quality was slim, and he ultimately failed in that regard, but that doesn’t mean Elysium is a disappointment when analyzed on its own accord. In fact, one area Elysium undoubtedly trumps District 9 is its villain, Agent Kruger. For my money, he was one of the best villains to grace the silver screen since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Kruger was brutal, uncompromising and utterly terrifying. One scene in particular left me with goosebumps on account of Sharlto Copley’s performance.
3 Darth Vader, Star Wars
Anakin Skywalker’s transformation from heroic Jedi Knight to the villainous Darth Vader is one of, if not the most interesting plot points in the Star Wars saga. Say what you will about the prequel trilogy, but Anakin’s slow transition was encaptivating to behold—murdering younglings in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was especially gruesome and shocking. Before he became Darth Vader the antagonist always struggled in dealing with his emotions, putting himself and those close to him before anything else, including the greater good. It’s this complexity that makes Darth Vader more interesting and thus likeable than any other character in the series—yes, even Han Solo.
2 The Joker, The Dark Knight
It’s a difficult task dethroning The Dark Knight in his own movie, but low and behold Heath Ledger took moviegoers by storm with a chilling, poignant performance as The Joker. The classic villain has always been admired by comic book readers, he’s Batman’s primary antagonist after all, but his portrayal in The Dark Knight film transcended even those high standards. And for that reason, and that reason alone, we found it difficult not to root for The Joker, despite his inhuman and abhorrent actions. And don’t get it twisted, we love Batman—who doesn’t?—but a strong villain can steal the show, and what happened in this film is perhaps the epitome of this truth.
1 Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It
Whether you’re a fan of the book or film or both, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is bursting at the seams with classic quotes—“They float, they float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too.” Truth be told, I can barely recall the names of the protagonists in Stephen King’s It. And that’s because they take a backseat to the eccentric and maniacal clown as he murders his way through the town of Derry. The sheer lunacy of Pennywise is his greatest trait, as you never want to see him leave the screen. And when his eyes glow orange and his red stained teeth are exposed, you know you’re in for a scare.