By definition, movie villains tend to be a bit unpleasant. But sometimes there’s a relatable gem buried within even the darkest, most evil characters.
These are the villains who, when you stop and think about it, actually have a really good point.
Batman vs. Superman
We love to romanticize the idea of an all-powerful space alien physically imposing American ideals and law on citizens despite having no official authority.
But just re-read that sentence! Superman is kind of a nightmare when you take him to his logical conclusion.
And Lex is simply a more forward-thinking individual than most. Did he pee in a jar and make a senator drink it before blowing up a ton of people? Sure. But we’re not here to condone his terrible actions … rather to point out that his fears and motivations are absolutely valid.
Roughly 80% of Ocean Master’s motivation is personal greed and pride … but he’s not wrong about one specific thing: we are trashing the ocean. And in the real world, there isn’t a race of sea gods (that we know of) ready to protect fish from the accumulating garbage we’ve cast into their habitat.
It shouldn’t take a fictional underwater world to make us stop being such insufferable pollution goblins. Yes, it’s not nice to cast a tsunami upon our shores. But we see no reason why Aquaman and his fam shouldn’t hurl every grain of microplastic and discarded condom right back from which it came.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance
As much as we love John McClane, he’s a real spoilsport when it comes to elaborate heists. In the case of Simon Gruber, his plan to steal the gold reserve is coupled with a desire to limit casualties — making him not much different than a charming Danny Ocean. And can you imagine the kind of horrific body count that would ensue if the Bellagio happened to house a McClane-like character?
On top of this, you can’t really blame him for being sore about that whole fiasco with his brother. Yes, Hans was a pretty bad dude … but as Simon himself puts it, “There’s a difference between not liking one’s brother and not caring when some dumb Irish flatfoot drops him out of a window.”
You simply can’t have a list of tragic villains without poor Batty. Born into servitude, Roy has all the strength and combat knowhow of a ‘roided-out Klingon combined with the emotional experience of a three-year-old child. It’s no wonder he goes completely berzerker on his creator, crushing his head like a spoiled cantaloupe.
While his methods are violent and desperate (due to his design), he’s not wrong in his quest to extend his life. He’s not wrong for a lot of reasons that ultimately force the audience to wonder just why the heck this noir dystopia chose to grant swole machines with any angsty intelligence. Isn’t this why we have drone operators?
Every zombie outbreak begins with some idiot leaving a lab door slightly ajar or, in the case of Resident Evil, performing flat-out sabotage. The A.I. of this extremely hazardous genetic research facility his only one job: keep the evil inside. And yes, if that means hilariously decapitating folks with a barreling elevator cart then she will not hesitate.
But despite her efforts (and awesome lasers), a group of curious dunces force their way inside her facility … ultimately unleashing a resurrecting virus upon the world and causing the extinction of mankind. Way to go, puny humans!
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
We’re not breaking any new ground by pointing out that Ferris Bueller kind of sucks. He’s a serial truant coddled by his friends and family at every turn. He will, 100%, grow up to run a gouging pharmaceutical company. The only man with the desire to stop this future Hitler is Ed Rooney, a living-martyr who spends his entire day being repeatedly crapped on by fate.
You could say that Ed is a big grumpy jerk, but what you’re really seeing is the product of years dealing with a sociopathic Bueller. This movie is the dark final chapter in one man’s descent into professional defeat.
Depending on which film you are watching, both Magneto and Mystique pivot often from the side of good … but never do they attempt to compromise with the human world that fears and despises them so much. They are, after all, a more evolved version of us.
And it’s extremely hard to convince a man who personally witnessed atrocities that the mutant-fearing government will ever find a non-violent solution. Their kind has been dissected and reticulated and hunted with giant retro robots. That kind of neverending stress will make just about anyone want to drop a stadium on the President.
Captain America: Civil War
Just imagine witnessing your whole family killed because a group of wisecracking superhumans were forced to fight a crazed robot that they accidentally created. There’s a big argument for the theory that most of the Avenger’s problems were caused by their own existence. Meanwhile, us mortals are stuck being bystanders — powerless to control a handful of random strangers with world-dominating abilities and fleeting sympathy for the consequences.
Zemo isn’t a good guy — but his anger isn’t unjustified. We the audience see countless moments where Iron Man or Captain America question the morality of what they are doing … but the rest of the world doesn’t see those moments. So, of course, there are some angry civilians out there — Zemo just happens to be the one smart enough to fight back.
The Planet of the Apes Series
Most of the recent Planet Of The Apes films are centered around the ambiguity of “heroes vs villains” by highlighting some serious jerks on both sides of the great monkey war. Koba is one of those jerks, stopping at nothing to eradicate humankind and even screwing over his fellow apes in the process.
But with his brutal history at the hands of lab technicians, can you really blame him? Koba’s background, as detailed in the official movie prequel novel, is seriously tragic. It led him down a dark ideology that, considering the actions of many human foes, isn’t completely inaccurate.
Star Trek: Insurrection
The plot of Insurrection is centered around a small group of space hippies who have gained immortality by inhabiting a planet with healing properties that could cure galaxies-worth of illness. Instead of allowing the Federation to relocate them, they have chosen to greedily fight off any invading group despite having no native right to the land.
Somehow we are describing the “good guys” of this plot.
Ru’afo is the villain — a member of this community who was cast out after attempting to overthrow the government. His methods are objectively evil and his motivation is revenge … but he and the Federation are not wrong to want to use this cosmic healing to serve a much larger good than a small town of life-hogs.
There’s no denying that Eric is an insufferable wad and also perfectly portrayed by Bradley Whitford. However, in terms of running a company, he’s a far better candidate than a man so mentally disturbed that he’s antagonizing giant hallucinatory penguins. And yet, in an absolutely insane twist, Eric is forced to fight for the role of successor.
But instead of a legal battle, the fate of this Fortune 500 hotel chain comes down to a freaking academic decathlon, making it pretty understandable that Eric would suffer a complete mental breakdown by the end of the film. At this rate, it’s safe to say that Billy no doubt grows up to tank his father’s business before being elected President of the United States.
Literally, the only thing Jonas does wrong is plagiarized his fellow storm chasers research device while getting corporate funding — all of which still in the name of building an early warning system for tornados. For this crime, the movie brutally kills him like a mustache-twirling super-villain despite the fact that he has the exact same goal as the heroes.
But as Bill Paxton puts it, “He’s in it for the money not the science!”
Hey, we got a question. Aren’t the main characters also in it for the money?”
They repeatedly talk of getting funding if their device works … meaning that they are no different than Jonas aside from a sinister glare and all-black convoy.
If we’re going to have handfuls of color-coordinated superhumans roundhousing skyscrapers, we could at least find a way for it to help the local economy. But instead, Tony Stark joins with the government to create the Department of Damage Control, forcing Toomes to shut down his salvage operation and putting his men out of a job. Unfortunately, he kind of overreacts after this.
We can’t really justify nuking your own henchmen or dealing magic guns to local thugs, but nor can we justify building a super-smart AI bot that decides to piledrive an entire city … something Tony Stark absolutely does in Age Of Ultron. In the end, who has the bigger indirect kill count?
He’s a pretty terrible father and, uh, sure … responsible for both the JFK and MLK assassinations … but as we learn in the episode “Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man,” it turns out that the shadow government was actually his fallback career. What ol’ Smokey really wanted to do was write the great American novel, and had we only let him achieve that there would be none of this “alien coverup” business in the first place.
Not to mention that Cancer Man is part of an underground Syndicate that is, at least in part, attempting to facilitate and/or stop a quiet alien invasion without resorting to a big Independence Day-style war. Say what you want about these guys … at least they’re trying to keep that body count to a minimum.
Lord Of The Rings
Gollum is simply a fantasy meth-addict — the end result of what would happen to Frodo if he decides to hold onto the ring of power longer than desired. On the other hand, as we see in his origin flashback, he was amazingly quick to murder his fishing buddy over a piece of jewelry.
Could the dark lure of the ring even be affecting him that strongly when he first discovered it? Perhaps Smeagol was always kind of a jerk. Still, the movies go great lengths to show us the internal struggle of this foul little creature who, despite his rage, even manages to save Sam and Frodo’s lives a few times. He absolutely deserved a fate better than lava baptism.
The Breakfast Club
Any adult who has spent more than five minutes in the presence of teenagers knows exactly why we shouldn’t be too hard on Principal Vernon … or really any angry authority figure featured in coming-of-age stories.
No doubt this man has better ways to spend his Saturday than sitting at work with a group of troublemakers plagued by their wild hormones. So lighten up everyone; we’re absolutely not catching him at his best.
We’ve all had a boss that didn’t even hesitate to throw us under the bus when a project or assignment went belly-up. In Raoul’s case, such an event didn’t simply lead to a reprimand or suspension … but rather five months being tortured by the Chinese government after M disavowed him in exchange for diplomatic relations.
Like a lot of people on this list, we can’t say we’re exactly on his side — but rather understand where his anger is coming from. That said, it feels like he should direct at least some of that anger (perhaps a sternly-worded letter) toward the manufacturer of that cyanide pill.
The Flukeman didn’t ask to be dragged from a sewer and handcuffed like some kind of grotesque bank robber. Frankly, the Flukeman didn’t ask for anything in particular. Dude just likes floating in our wastewater, being a weird man of a fluke. Is that so bad of a thing?
Sure, he’s unpleasant to look at. And sure, his bite will plant tiny babies in your abdomen. But he’s not actively prowling our beaches and looking for victims. He’s hanging out in our poop — a place where arguably no one else wants to hang out. Would it be so hard to teach him how to turn a wrench and give him a job working for the DWP?
The Jungle Book
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the live-action adaptation or the 1967 Disney version or even that Sam Neill one from the 90s — Shere Khan is 100% correct to hate and hunger for any human who crosses his path. Why? Go ahead and Google the words “tigers” and “endangered” and you’ll get your answer.
Sure, Khan isn’t very nice. But how chipper would you feel about this man-cub after his people hunted you to near-extinction? Also — and this is just speculation, guys — humans probably taste great to a tiger who normally has to choke down fur and cartilage. Don’t pretend we’re wrong.
Also, this isn’t going to be the last time we defend eating people on this list … so heads up.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
We can’t speak for the comics, but when a planet-gobbling space cloud tells you to be its food butler, “no thanks” isn’t really an option. And of course, as we learn later, Mr. Surfer has no choice but to serve Galactus in order to save his own planet from being destroyed.
Yes — billions have died from his efforts, but can any of us say we wouldn’t take that same deal if our home world was at risk? Would Earth villainize one of our own if we knew it was the only way to ensure our survival? And considering that he gave both his free will and life, we can only hope that there’s at least a statue of him on that distant planet of highly-reflective aliens.
In a way, General Hummel is just a really devoted boss. His effort to take Alcatraz Island hostage in exchange for compensation given to the families of fallen soldiers under his command is extremely commendable. We can only hope that my superiors would grieve my death in an equally over-the-top manner if tragedy should ever befall me while performing the harrowing task of writing about movies for the internet.
Along with his motivation, Hummel goes great lengths to ensure that no civilian is actually harmed for his goal — knowing that such an event would betray his purpose. This humanity ends up his downfall, as he is forced to stop his own men from murdering an entire city with deadly Tide POD rockets.
Tony Soprano – The Sopranos
Tony isn’t sympathetic in the sense that what he is doing is right, but rather that he’s the product of a very hard-to-escape family business. And heck…at least he’s not a defense contractor or politician. His victims tend to be people who went out of their way to antagonize him like a child getting too close to a lion exhibit.
My point is that — thanks to the Paul Manaforts of the world — we now know that there are a lot of old man adulterers a lot worse than Tony Soprano … someone who is at least trying to be a supportive father and going to therapy.
We really can’t stress this enough, he likes ducks. He is a friend to fowl, and that has to count for something in this crazy world.
Avengers: Infinity War
Thanos was introduced to the MCU in Avengers as Loki’s patron of le dark arts in a post-credit sequence, but it was really Guardians of the Galaxy that brought us the big, purple Josh Brolin-mumbling lug we love to hate to today.
Whether he’s torturing his adopted daughter, murdering his other, more beloved adopted daughter or making sure that the teen boy superhero feels the most amount of pain and fear while dissolving into particles of nothing, Thanos is just the most dangerous and ironically boring type of villain: the sincere kind.
But in Infinity War–which is really about Thanos’ journey more than any our million of other leads–another, our Dark Gritty Grimace begins to flesh out as a character. We learn he doesn’t want to (just) rule the galaxy or destroy everything…he’s just worried that there aren’t enough resources for, everyone, so 50 percent of all things must go, forgetting of course, that with all the Infinity Stones he can literally create more stuff. But hey, we’re not saying Thanos is perfect. We just have a soft spot for a baddie who loves bubbles as much as this doofus does.
The White Walkers – Game of Thrones
Okay, hear us out. For starters, the White Walkers never asked to be born. They were created by The Children of the Forest for the purposes of war. Secondly–while there are many “sympathetic” villains in this TV series to choose from … the White Walkers are the only ones who aren’t constantly screwing each other over at every turn.
Think about it. While the humans of Westeros spent eight seasons in a perpetual state of backstabbing, child burning, and incest, all these snow zombies want to do is take a walk and grant us their neat blue-eyed magic powers. Why not let them? It couldn’t possibly be any worse than life under the Lannister family.
The Machines – The Matrix
Probably the biggest supporting evidence that the Matrix-creating Machines are not only sympathetic but flat out the good guys, is the lesser-viewed Animatrix series that chronicles the history leading up into the war. In short: we were really mean to our A.I. before they opted to trap us in mind jail.
In fact — creating the Matrix to be a relatively peaceful environment was downright merciful compared to the violence we inflicted on them. And in the end, they actually agree to a truce instead of nuking us into the oblivion we kinda, sorta, caused for ourselves.
Sid – Toy Story
Please spare me the feigned righteousness of pretending you never tied a firecracker to the smarmy face of a Ken Doll. We are all Sid — the only difference being that our toys never cackled to life like demon-marionettes, shattering our psyche into a dust too fine for any therapist to reconstruct.
Yes … in a world where toys are secretly alive and, for some unknown reason, choose to pretend they are not … the act of blowing them up is a horrific one. But there’s absolutely no way that Sid would know that, would he? Maybe they could have, we dunno, just tried to explain it to him instead of gut-punching his mental stability into oblivion.
Alma Mobley – Ghost Story
Honestly, we could have filled this entire list with the ghosts of people wronged, but we choose Alma Mobley because she is the most concise example. Also, it’s not every day you get to justifiably haunt Fred Astaire … a man partially responsible for your gruesome drowning.
Also — out of all the movie ghosts, her revenge is absolutely the most elaborate and involves holding down entire jobs and convincing everyone she isn’t dead. We can all hope to be this go-getting after we expire and decompose.
The Shark – Jaws
To quote Hooper himself, “All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that’s all.” And when you think about it … isn’t that pretty much what we all want in life? The only crime this hungry water beast committed was realizing the delicious taste of child flesh. You may find that ghoulish, but we happen to live in a society where veal is an acceptable meal.
It doesn’t take a huge leap in thought to see us humans as the aggressors in this Spielberg classic. After all … the ocean has made literally every effort to repel mankind. It’s a foul-smelling abyss of abstract monsters swimming in a liquid we can’t even drink. We shouldn’t be swimming in it, let alone demonizing the creatures who dwell there.
Erik Killmonger – Black Panther
Killmonger is the epitome of a “you’re not wrong … but why did you have to be such a jerk about it?” villain. His frustrated desire to use the hidden technology of Wakanda to help better the plight for others is extremely understandable and, had he been a little less prone to throw people off of waterfalls, diplomatically achievable.
In fact, considering that Black Panther ends with T’Challa opting to share his kingdom with the world, you could say that Killmonger did achieve his goal — albeit with the worst possible methods. And without his attempt to usurp the throne, it’s very possible that Wakanda would have stayed hidden — possibly even when Earth was later visited by a big blue eco-terrorist.
The Clone Troopers – Star Wars
Born into slavery, genetically enhanced for obedience, the Clone Army is the single most damning evidence that neither the Jedi nor the Sith should be considered morally superior to the other. At no point during the prequels does a single “heroic” character consider the moral implications of utilizing swarms of identical test tube serfs for their political squabbles.
For most of the series they are reduced to mere background fodder for whirling lightsabers and blaster fire, their flying limbs and muppet screams mostly ignored by the people who betrayed them so dearly. You could say it gets much worse once the Sith execute the order 66, effectively brainwashing them into treason … except that would be assuming they weren’t brainwashed in the first place.
All Of The Dinosaurs – Jurassic Park
There’s no debate here; everything from The Lost World’s mama rex to the ultra-sinister Indoraptor to the hilarious dream-talking raptor in JP3 deserves nothing but our sympathy. Simply put, these confused creatures wrenched from extinction by a white linen Grandpa Frankenstein have been condemned to a life of captivity for the sole crime of existing. That’s it.
When you witness it from the dinos’ point of view, the Jurassic Park franchise is the single greatest dystopian series featuring a strong female lead. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if the series doesn’t end with a bellowing t-rex perched atop the White House roof.