A story is only as strong as it’s villain. We’ve all heard it before, but there’s a reason for that. It is unequivocally true. An underdeveloped or boring villain can unravel a film’s third act, deflating the climactic moments of all their heft. Pain and pleasure, light and dark, good and evil — a great film has to find the perfect the balance of hero and villain, each as strong and compelling as the other.
Indeed, the hero and the villain are often inversions of each other. People or creatures with similar beliefs and upbringings, but with one critical difference — terrible shit always happens to bad guys. They suffer in some way the hero doesn’t, and it either breaks them or it twists them up into a force for darkness. No matter what the trauma is, and the options are endless, it has to have fundamentally damaged the villain so badly they don’t realize they’re stopped being the hero of their story.
Beyond those qualifiers, the realm of villains is wide open. There are straight up psychopaths. There are heroes gone bad.There are overly ambitious Promethean creators who go two far and bring down hell on Earth. There are crusaders and persecutors; pious and judgemental forces that shut down any opposition. There are despots and demons and desperate career-climbers. The tricksters. The politicians. Whatever mold the villain takes, what matters is that they have been given the time and consideration to become a whole character with comprehensive motivations. If you don’t care about what they’re doing or don’t get why they’re doing it, none of it matters anyway.
There’s a lot of great ways to make a villain, and the century so far has been stacked with successes, but I’ve ranked the 15 best in the list below.