View Full Version : What makes a good villain?

Sherack Nhar
08-21-2003, 01:25 AM
In any form of storytelling (novels, movies, comic books, radio shows, soaps, you name it) what would you say makes a good, admirable villain?

I believe that any story with a good plot is only as good as its bad guy. The opposition of the hero, the antagonist, is an extremely vital part of the story. The best example that I can think of to prove my point right now is the movie Bad Boys 2.

In BB2, you have good humor, a loveable duo of main characters, a decent supporting cast, and a good enough story to move along the action scenes... but the villain? A stale, completely uninteresting (and badly acted) cuban drug dealer that is about as believable as a political election speech. This creates an imbalance that makes you truly unable to fear for the main characters' lives, because it is unthinkable that they could be defeated by such a pathetic, generic crime boss.

A villain can make or break a story. As movies become more popular, it seems like the usual "muhuhahaha I am ee-ville" kind of bad guy just doesn't cut it anymore. So, I ask you again. In your opinion, what makes a good villain?

08-21-2003, 01:38 AM
This got anything to do with that novel you and that Chole person are writing?

But to the villian thing: I think a good villian is one that isn't a one dimensional "hehehehe I am evillleee for no god damn reason" A really compelling villian, in my opinion, is one that has a few redeeming traits, but is still evil.

Example: An episode of the anime "Noir" (which basically is about a duo of female assasins) involves our protagonists being hired to assassinate the head of a corporation that gives funds to overthrow Third-World Governments (Or something to that extent), now the head seems like a real dickhead at first, especially to his daughter, who just wants to be with her dad. But over time in the episode the Head is shown with a soul, as he allows his daughter to stay with him for an extra week, even purchasing some unknown gift for her...

But at the same time, he's sending hired goons to off our female assassin heroes in guerilla fashion, but at the end he is offed, and you are left wondering on how the daughter feels, among other things.

That is a good villian to me.

Sherack Nhar
08-21-2003, 01:48 AM
Originally posted by Clefo
This got anything to do with that novel you and that Chole person are writing? I've been found out >_> So quickly too! But yeah, I created this partly because we're having problems creating a good villain, and because this board is lacking some good discussions lately :D

I agree, one or two redeeming traits are important. It reminds me of Vader in RotJ. Another thing that I believe is very important is motive. A villain that is bad just for the sake of being bad, well, sucks. A good villain needs a purpose, a goal.

08-21-2003, 02:02 AM
For a villain to be "good", they have to experience some internal conflict. Villains that are completely sadist throughout the whole movie are boring. There's got to be something that threatens a change in the bad guy. They also have to be smart. If they're stupid, they're not a villain: they're a thug. Finally, they also have to lose control at some point. This goes back to the internal conflict. If the villain get beaten stoicly, it's boring. They need to just absolutely lose it at some point.

I am also writing a story, Sher. What's your's about?

Boba Rhett
08-21-2003, 02:53 AM
A good reason why they're doing what it is they're doing. That's a big one for me. I also don't like it when they have henchman with weird names like, "Adolf I. Killalot" or something just as stupid.

Not many movies this sumer have had good villains. LXG had a frightfully awful one. :(

08-21-2003, 04:46 AM
I always associate a good villain with power. A good villain makes the hero look pathetic...atleast until the very end. :p

Power, and class are the characteristics of a good villain. A small example of what I mean by class - If he needs to do something, he doesn't go around doing it himself - he has people do it for him.

And then again, I personally dislike the "well-educated, intellectual badguy" who has just happened to take the bad road ala Conair's Cyrus and The Postman's 'General Benedict.' I wince when I see a badguy quote Shakesphere just to show the hero that he's educated. A poor method of showing his formidability, if you ask me. And then again, they can't be a dumbarse either, ala the big, grunting, strong-but-silent, badguys. That's what made Darth Maul a relative letdown for me. Sure he can kick arse, but you can't call yourself a great villain if you don't say anything. Actions don't say everything.

And the inner conflict point mentioned by Jedi Duo is also an interesting one.

Some of the best badguys I've ever seen in movies:
1) Darth Vader: no question as to his power. And he also had class, given that was a world other than our own. And he was intimidating. The inner conflict is strong in this one, although we don't see it till the very end :p
2) Dr. Evi...naa, just kidding... :D

That's about the only good example I can think of now :indif:

But as you can see, my criterion are mentioned above. Either way, each characteristic is very subjective. In the end, it all ends up having to be a balance. :)

08-21-2003, 04:56 AM
Dark. Leather. Pants.

Darth Groovy
08-21-2003, 05:40 AM
Originally posted by Boba Rhett
A good reason why they're doing what it is they're doing. That's a big one for me. I also don't like it when they have henchman with weird names like, "Adolf I. Killalot" or something just as stupid.

Not many movies this sumer have had good villains. LXG had a frightfully awful one. :(

How, and why someone would become a henchman, I would really like to know.

The only real benifit I can say is maybe they have a killer life insurance plan... otherwise.... teh hell?:confused:

Sherack Nhar
08-21-2003, 03:50 PM
Originally posted by krkode
I wince when I see a badguy quote Shakesphere just to show the hero that he's educated. A poor method of showing his formidability, if you ask me. General Chang was the best villain in all of Star Trek lore next to Khan himself... bitch >_>

As for the henchman thing, there are many reasons to be one. Loyalty to the main villain, mind control, or secretly having his own agenda...

Thanks for all your input guys, it's greatly appreciated. I wonder what Havoc has to say about it :D

About the book... I don't wanna say too much, but it's a sci-fi/fantasy story, and we're trying to aim for something more original than what most stories of this genre offer. Although we're still keeping certain necessary conventions, the plot very captivating and the characters are extremely interesting. They gotta be, because it's mostly a character-driven piece ;)

Havoc Stryphe
08-21-2003, 05:09 PM
Originally posted by Sherack Nhar

Thanks for all your input guys, it's greatly appreciated. I wonder what Havoc has to say about it :D

Basically everything I would have said has been said already, but to recap:

A good Villian has a purpose behind his villiany
A good villian is every bit as skilled, intelligent and 'tough' as the hero, if not moreso
There should be alot depth to the villian, but having been said, all characters should have some sort of measurable depth to them
The villian should have alot of 'screentime' as well, don't focus too much on the hero or the villian will come off as 'flat' or 1 dimensional.
Villians can have a just as important past and history as the hero
The Villian should naturally build suspense throughout the story. There shouldn't be just one big conflict when they meet and it's over.
Henchmen make or break a Villian. Most of the time, your villian probably doesn't need any henchman. Too many Henchman come off as 'campy' or 'corny'. An remember, henchman are a direct reflection of their employer. Smart Villians do not employ dumb henchmen.
A redeeming quality or two can add a lot of depth to a Villian, but be careful your audience doesn't grow too attached to your Villian. We should still love to hate him.
A Mysterious Villian is all good and well as long as their is good foreshadowing and subtle hints with use of tangible henchmen and crooked characters in league with said mysterious villian

As a good guideline, if you couldn't tell the exact same story from your villians viewpoint with just as much depth, length and plot your villian probably isn't 'fleshed out' enough, or have enough characterization.

Hope that helps! :D

08-21-2003, 05:09 PM
Like what some of the others said, power and brains. A kick ass outfit would help too...

also, no corny lines, period

also, this books sounds interesting... :D

08-21-2003, 05:12 PM
First of all, very good topic Sher.

Well, what I am going to say is what I think of a villain, I don't know if you will agree, but hear me out.

1st, and perhaps the most important of all, is that he must be better or at least as good as the Hero. What do I mean by this?
If they are swordsmen, it's more interesting if the villain has the edge, and only loses by a distraction or mistake, not by the actual skill of the Hero. (See all Star Wars villains.)

2nd, as someone said, he must be intelligent, that's a must, and if possible, be ahead of the hero in this aspect. (See Thrawn.)

3rd, as someone also said, he must have a reason to be bad. No one's bad just because he's bad, he must have a painful background that led him to his actual state.

4th personality. No bad guy is good without a good presence and personality. (See Vader, Hannibal Lecter)

5th. I agree with krkode. POWER. If the bad guy is not powerful, what's the point of fighting him? Without power, even though he's bad, he can't do anything. (see Vader, Al Capone)

What could help, but only if it is done in an incredible way, is an inner conflict, if it's done correctly it enriches the character, if it's done poorly, it weakens the character.

My two cents.

BTW, a good villain must be well-educated and "elegant", he must stand out from the crowd.

EDIT: Havoc posted seconds before I did, so some are repeated.

08-21-2003, 05:54 PM
Good Villain...

Unless you don't want this to be a serie of book, perhaps a villain shrouded in mystery would fit well only reveiling himself at the very end. Of course he has to play a role throughout the book but maybe not describing what he looks like or something like that will keep people guessing what he is. Remember inspector Gadjet(the 80's tv show I mean)? Dr.Mad's(or some other name) face is never seen making people watching the show until one day you might see he's face.

Another caracteristic that I like is when you're not sure if this guy is truly bad. There's a line between heroes and villain and making that line as thin as possible is very interesting(especially if the hero is such a good guy either).

Try to do innovate and go out of the lines, explore other avenues for a villain instead of going traditionnal way. I remember Harrison Ford saying that he never wants to play a bad guy 'cause they were just tricks and all. A villain also has to climb his mountains, overcome difficulties.

Tie Guy
08-21-2003, 10:05 PM
The characters all have one thing: change. They are all dynamic, and the rule applies to great villains just like it does to great heros.

If your villain can't change, then he will almost always end up boring. Vader, case and point. Villains don't always need to be redeemed, or anything like that, but they need to change is some fashion. Static main characters are just bad characters in general.

Other than that, villains can be anything you want. Have a villain be surprising or out of the ordinary helps spice up a work, and having them be pure evil can contrast nicely with the protagonist (ie. Jedi vs. Sith), if that's what you're looking for. Yet, like others have said, villains don't always have to be pure evil, or even evil at all. Having them simply carry a conflicting viewpoint is just as good at times. Two people working towards opposite goals can be just as opposed as Jedi and Sith, and can be just as entertaining and exciting. It all comes down to how adeptly you can portray it.

BTW, i'm also writing a book, and i'm nearly done. However, i'm at almost 90000 words and there is still no singular, clear-cut villain. It's a Star Wars book set in a Sith Era war, and the villains are named as "The Sith," and while there have been encounters, no one person opposes the main character and his master at every turn, like a traditional villain might. The book is more about his internal debate concerning his own identity and role in the war/Jedi, as well as his struggle against a presumed "fate," than anything else. And, oddly enough, the Jedi Council actually plays the role of villains, though the two never cross swords (or in this cases, lightsabers), only ideals and perspectives.

Sometimes villains aren't the most important thing to a story. They can be, if you make them, but they don't have to be. And also that villains aren't always evil, and they don't always actually fight or try to kill the hero. A villain can be anything or anyone that opposes the hero in any way.

I guess what i'm really say is don't worry about making your villain "good," that will only make him traditional and predictable, just make him real. Villains are just heros on the wrong side of the author. Anything more or less and it won't be real.