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villain skull intro

What I’d loved about April’s blogging challenge was the constant flow of information. And the adrenaline rush made everything seem immediate which helped clear the way to figure out topics to blog about. On the other hand, it also made that I’ve started wondering if it’s worth blogging about the same topic in a different way (because everyone has already blogged about villains for the V post…)

I got over that. If there’s only seven basic plots written in thousands of different ways, then of course it’s worth blogging about a topic even though others had already covered it.

So today’s topic: Villains.

A villain (also known as the “antagonist,” “baddie“, “bad guy“, “heavy” or “black hat“) is an “evil” character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction.

The villain usually is the antagonist (though can be the protagonist), the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters. A female villain is occasionally called a villainess (often to differentiate her from a male villain). Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines villain as “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot”.

Folk and fairy tales

Vladimir Propp, in his analysis of the Russian fairy tales, concluded that a fairy tale had only eight dramatis personae, of which one was the villain, and his analysis has been widely applied to non-Russian tales. The actions that fell into a villain’s sphere were:

  • a story-initiating villainy, where the villain caused harm to the hero or his family
  • a conflict between the hero and the villain, either a fight or other competition
  • pursuing the hero after he has succeeded in winning the fight or obtaining something from the villain

None of these acts necessarily occurs in a fairy tale, but when any of them do, the character that performs the act is the villain. The villain therefore could appear twice: once in the opening of the story, and a second time as the person sought out by the hero.

When a character performed only these acts, the character was a pure villain. Various villains also perform other functions in a fairy tale; a witch who fought the hero and ran away, and who lets the hero follow her, is also performing the task of “guidance” and thus acting as a helper.

The functions could also be spread out among several characters. If a dragon acted as the villain, but was killed by the hero, another character (such as the dragon’s sisters) might take on the role of the villain and pursue the hero.

Two other characters could appear in roles that are villainous in the more general sense. One is the false hero: this character is always villainous, presenting a false claim to be the hero that must be rebutted for the happy ending. Among these characters are Cinderella‘s stepsisters, chopping off parts of their feet to fit on the shoe. Another character, the dispatcher, sends a hero on his quest. This might be an innocent request, to fulfil a legitimate need, but the dispatcher might also, villainously, lie to send a character on a quest in hopes of being rid of him.

Portraying and employing villains in fiction

Tod Slaughter always portrayed villainous characters on both stage and screen in a melodramatic manner, with mustache-twirling, eye-rolling, leering, cackling, and hand-rubbing (however, this often failed to translate well from stage to screen). Brad Warner states that “only cartoon villains cackle with glee while rubbing their hands together and dream of ruling the world in the name of all that is wicked and bad”. Ben Bova recommends to authors that their works not contain villains. He states, in his Tips for writers:

“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil… Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus of what they know in life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.”

David Lubar adds:

“This is a brilliant observation that has served me well in all my writing. (The bad guy isn’t doing bad stuff so he can rub his hands together and snarl.) He may be driven by greed, neuroses, or the conviction that his cause is just, but he’s driven by something not unlike the things that drive a hero.”



But what makes a villain so necessary?

Villains can make or break a story. Every hero needs a bad guy to not only show their own heroic traits in contrast to villainous traits but also to push them to become better as they struggle against the villain. Heroes need obstacles. Villains create complex, interesting and down-right dangerous obstacles for the hero to overcome.

“And just because you’re a bad guy, doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy.” – Wreck it Ralph

Sometimes the bad guy, isn’t a bad guy. Take Damon from The Vampire Diaries for instance. Just because Stefan thinks he’s the villain, everyone assumes that he’s a bad guy. But Damon has a whole history with his brother that no-one else is aware of. He has his reasons (motive!) to torture his brother in any way possible. He even does a little wish-fulfilment – he becomes the bad guy for a while because everyone wishes him to be. Oh, and he does so many things that the viewer wants to do that they identify more with him than with Stefan… Writing a convincing villain like that, the writer needs to do proper characterisation so the villain has motive for all of his wrong-doing and reason to be an adversary to the hero.

As put by film critic Roger Ebert: “Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph.”

When we think villains, we automatically think the larger-than-life types found in comic books and movies. So, here they are:

The 23 most spectacularly evil villains of all time

Introducing the worst of the worst:

When it comes to villains, there’s bad and then there’s really bad. This gallery celebrates the latter–the truly despicable bad guys we love to hate…ranked by evilness. (And the best kind of evilness, too: subjective evilness!)

You won’t find lame, cartoonish, and ineffectual baddies like Gargamel, Bowser, or Team Rocket here. No, this list starts out with tricksters and murderers, fills out with especially heinous mass murderers and torturers, and wraps up with genocidal, world-ending destroyers who take pleasure in death, misery and suffering.

There’s a few movie villains in the mix, a few comic book villains, and a few gaming villains, too. And they’re all just the worst.

19. Scarecrow (Batman)

Batman’s Scarecrow has an absolutely sadistic love for torture. To wit, he’s always forcing his fear toxin on the people of Gotham City, driving them all into complete madness.

He also murdered his grandmother, a high school classmate, and his chemistry mentor, just to name a few. He’s even driven several Arkham Asylum inmates to suicide through psychological manipulation.

Bane is more violent, but Scarecrow will get in your head to destroy you from within. We think that’s incrementally worse.

18. Ultron (The Avengers)

Can a robot programmed with artificial intelligence be considered evil? Maybe; maybe not–but The Avengers‘ Ultron makes a good case for the affirmative.

Depending on which Marvel story you prefer, Ultron was either (a) first programmed with the consciousness of its creator, Dr. Henry Pym, “blessing” the robot with a unique madness that fueled its hatred for the human race; or (b) created using an alien intelligence who thinks he must destroy humanity to save Earth. Either way, Ultron then moves to exterminate everybody.

Motivations aside that seems like some pretty evil stuff, at least from this human’s point of view.

16. Lex Luthor (Superman)

Motivated by an egocentric hatred for Superman, Lex Luthor has built a criminal empire, launched nuclear weapons, and sacrificed his soul to the demon Neron.

When Luthor becomes President of the United States in Superman: Lex 2000, the supervillain allows an invading alien force to destroy Topeka, Kansas, in an effort to manipulate the public into supporting him.

15. Professor Moriarty (Sherlock)

Sherlock Holmes’ legendary nemesis, Professor James “Jim” Moriarty, is a cunning sociopathic criminal–arguably the best ever written.

The narcissist can manipulate just about anyone. Worse yet, Moriarty is willing to do anything to further his mad schemes and taunt Sherlock, even if that means poisoning and killing innocent children.

This stands in great contrast to Lex Luthor, who only kills innocent children. He rarely poisons them.

14. Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter)

A loyal follower and apprentice of Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange is arguably one of the most evil and sadistic Death Eaters of the bunch. Not as evil and sadistic as her master, because she can still feel the emotion of love (sort of). But still: Lady be nasty.

She tortures Neville Longbottom’s parents until they descend into madness (and later tortures Neville himself), carves “mudblood” into Hermione’s arm, and murders poor awkward Dobby–and surely takes great joy out of all of it. She even made it a goal to kill her family members who dared join the anti-Voldemort Order of the Phoenix.

13. Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Sure, Darth Vader gets his redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi. (Admittedly, he’d rank a lot higher on this list otherwise.)

But his road there is littered with sadness and destruction–including the slaughter of the 2 billion people living on Alderaan. That’s a pretty hard sin to forgive.

10. The Joker (Batman)

The Joker has no larger motivation for his myriad crimes–he seems to cause death and destruction solely for the lulz. The sadistic prankster has no redeeming qualities.

Alfred said it best in The Dark Knight: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

5. Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter)

Pure-blood supremacist Lord Voldemort is thoroughly evil, seeking power through fear and manipulation.

He killed Harry Potter’s parents, Myrtle, Severus Snape, and countless others, all in an effort to hold power and subjugate the Muggle-born.

His body count is lower than Thanos’ is, but we think a new dark age of humanity’s slavery, suffering and submission to the forces of evil might actually be worse than a quick obliteration.

Of course, you can check out the rest of their list. But the villains listed above are truly, spectacularly villainous in any incarnation.

The thing that sets apart great comic books from the rest are the quality of their villains. While superheroes are stuck playing the boring good guy know-it-alls, villains get to plan the crazy schemes, blow stuff up, and cause the kinds of havoc and destruction that makes comic books work.

Uma Thurman made such a great Poison Ivy in the Batman movies in the early nineties.

Did you see the twist of him as Captain Cold – played by Wentworth Miller – in the new Flash series? What a great villain.

As a brilliant and tortured villain in the Thor and Avengers movies I sometimes find myself rooting for him…

He made an imposing leader of the League of Assassins in Arrow. Though he’s definitely off his rocker, one cannot argue against his belief in the rules he’d set out for himself and those who follow him.

More villains can be found on the list of 25 greatest comic book villains of all time.


Everyone and their dog knows that the most interesting character in any story is the villain. And what’s more interesting than the bad guy being a woman? Like Lucy Liu’s sword-wielding O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill

But being a writer, I have to think of the girl-next-door type villains. The type of psycho who hides in plain sight. The bad girl who thinks that she’s the hero.

Let’s look at the biggest female villains from movies and television.

In The Vampire Diaries there is no bigger villain than Katherine (played by Nina Dobrev). She does whatever she has to in order to ensure her survival. If that means killing the men who love her… Well, rather them than her.

In Arrow one woman rules them all. Amanda Waller (played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson) does what she has to – whatever it takes – to keep the bad guys from destroying the world. Whether that means shooting down an entire airplane to get to one baddie, teaching Oliver how to torture, or create the Suicide Squad to take on the worst missions, she’ll do it without flinching.

In Glee Sue Sylvester (played by Jane Lynch) makes it her mission to destroy the Glee Club to save the children from misguided dreams that can only lead to heartbreak. Yet her obvious psychosis allows her to help them when they need her the most – like winning nationals in the third season.


In Keeping Mum – a somewhat disturbing movie – Maggie Smith’s character Rosemary Jones protects her family by killing everyone who threatens their supposedly idyllic English country life.

In the Wedding Date the main character Kat Ellis, played by Debra Messing, is constantly attacked by her own half-sister Amy, played by Amy Adams, in such a way that she doesn’t even realise that her sister is the baddie messing up her life.

In Mean Girls the greatest villain (Regina George) is played by Rachel McAdams. She keeps her popularity by terrifying and terrorising everyone else. Everyone will do as she says, no matter what lows she has to stoop to in order to get her way…

Then there’s the spectacular villains:

The stepmother in Cinderella played by Cate Blanchet oozing glamour in her elaborate wardrobe and scarlet pout.

Ursula the sea witch in The Little Mermaid is terrifying without having to say a word.

Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, strikes fear into the heart of children with her sinister costumes, yet she’s every bit the fairy tale beauty with her blood-red pout and chiselled cheekbones.

– though one could argue that she’s actually the hero in the newest movie.

The bowler hat

in Meet the Robinsons. She outwitted them all. Well, until she was “never invented”.

As Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman, Charlize Theron eats bird hearts and sucks out the souls of young subjects to keep her youth and attractiveness. She remains an icy beauty dressed in her ostentatious gowns and numerous jewels. The fairest of them all? The baddies, I mean.


So you created the greatest villain ever. Your villain is so awesome, people love to hate them. Your villain is so villainous they’re able to turn themselves into the MC’s ally (á la Malcolm Merlyn in Arrow and Katherine in The Vampire Diaries). Oh, you had so much fun writing your villains. Sometimes you’ve been confused as to who the villains and who the heroes are in your story. Your villain had won, disappeared and done other things to evade the hero only to continue their plotting and scheming.

But now it’s the end. How do you deal with your villain?

You’re absolutely infatuated and you allow them to win. Yes, it’s the end of the series and you’ve decided to let them win. Now, I get it. I’ve written villains that have been so charismatic that they’ve fooled me: is the hero or the villain-turned-ally the bad guy? Everyone is the hero in their own story… You have to remember who the real hero is and stay true to your story. Just remember the “success” of the Star Wars movie where Anakin gave in to the dark side and the villains won.

You know who the good guys and who the bad guys are. Your villain was absolutely nasty and you’ve decided to kill them. It’s a popular choice. Readers want justice – think how happy you felt when Voldemort died in the last Harry Potter book. This makes a neat ending, with no loose ends. Unless your world has ghosts and other horrible ways for your villain to make a comeback…

Your villain had slowly, but surely, seen the error in their ways. Letting them win would only cause them to go into a suicidal spiral. Killing them would be as bad as running your car over the little old lady outside the grocery store (even though she’d continuously rammed you with her trolley earlier…). All you can do is to redeem them. But you can’t just snap your fingers and it’s done. It has to be part of the story (like in Megamind). Just like with everything else, the character has to have motivation for the change. And the reader has to see how this character is struggling not to do evil. This is a hard thing to set up properly. But if this villain is ready for it, then it could be spectacular.

Your villain is so awesome that no-one can kill her. She’s so badass there’s no redeeming her. And if she were to win, the world will burn. What now? Neutralise her. And not in the “kill her” sense. If she’s only a threat in battle/with magic, take away her powers (á la Avatar: The Last Airbender where the fire lord’s firebending was taken away). Though probably as twisted and evil as ever, this villain is no longer a threat. Or lock her up in a special prison where her powers cannot work and no-one can rescue her. The point is, the threat had been neutralised.


Okay, so sometimes calling them the antagonist is more apt. But saying villain is so much more fun.

“Let each become all that he was created capable of being.” – Thomas Carlyle


Do you have any favourite villains you’d like to add to the list? Do you read a book/watch a movie or TV series based on the villain or the hero? How do you write your villains? How do you deal with your villains? Do you use villains at all?

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