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How To Make A Great Movie Villain

Aug 15, 2008
The English Dictionary describes a villain as a 'a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.' The villain will generally be placed in direct opposition to the protagonist, offering an almost complete mirror image to that of the hero. Where the hero of a movie will promote good behaviour and virtue, the villain will seek to disrupt harmony and possess evil characteristics that contradict those of the protagonist.

To create a great movie villain, there are many characteristics that must be incorporated. For the character to fundamentally work as a menacing villain, they must be enigmatic with a sense of mystery surrounding them. Although not all villainous characters will possess this quality, the very best baddies will be almost complete enigmas.

An indifferent and enigmatic villain can be threatening as a villain with an almost cartoon-like evil uniform like Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th. In The Matrix (1999), the army of 'faceless' agents are cold and emotionless and suggest an unbeatable threat with which the hero cannot reason or negotiate.

The all-powerful emotionless villain is portrayed excellently in the X-Files TV series by William B. Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man. Throughout the series he is constantly in control of the heroes and any attempts to kill him are deemed self-destructive or futile. His power over the protagonists' behaviour is linked to his role in the Syndicate, a mysterious organisation who seemingly are more powerful than the U.S. government.

Cigarette Smoking Man is not the traditional stereotypical villain, as he often hesitates in destroying the hero - Special Agent Fox Mulder. On many occasions, Mulder's life is under threat and Smoking Man regularly prevents the Syndicate from authorising Mulder's murder. His absolute power, suggested by his behaviour towards the show's protagonists, is questioned within his role in the Syndicate as he is often belittled and degraded. However, despite his authority being questioned in these scenes he is till regarded as an obvious force with his control over Mulder's destiny.

A sinister and disturbing persona can often be acquired by a villain when their behaviour is deemed unpredictable and erratic. This is often portrayed in movie villains that are criminally insane such as The Silence of the Lambs' Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Played by Sir Anthony Hopkin, Lecter is a psychiatrist, cannibal murderer with the ability to manipulate and control those around him.

Lecter's power comes from his intelligence and seeming lack of compassion. He uses extreme violence and rarely shows any sign of emotion, which only reinforces his role as a great movie villain. Other characters that have possessed a similar menacing quality are The Shining's Jack Torrance and Psycho's Norman Bates. Although, these two are considerably different in terms of motive, their threat is based primarily upon their lack of self-control.

A lack of self-control may not be the most dominant trait in the next villainous mention, but it is certainly a key aspect. In 1984, The Terminator burst onto movie screens all over the world as a relentless, unstoppable killing machine. This fearless, expressionless villain who will not feel pity or remorse was upgraded for the film's sequel in 1992 when the relatively basic Series 850 Model 101 was outdone by the superior T-1000 model.

T-1000 offers all of the same frightening characteristics of the original Terminator but with an additional ability of shape-shifting. T-1000 is more advanced and so provides a more threatening villain, made from liquid metal and able to mimic various objects including John Connor's foster-parents and his mother. This ability to shape-shift increases T-1000's villainous abilities massively as he is able to manipulate and deceive his victims against their will and judgment.

On the opposite end of the scale are the villains that are emotive, excitable and with exaggerated personas as demonstrated by Heath Ledger's villain in the most-recent Batman film, The Joker. The latest incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime perfectly conveys his lack of empathy and almost-humorous contempt for human life. The most prominent aspect of The Joker is his colourful clothing and unusual physical appearance, with white face make-up, dyed green hair and smudged red lipstick.

The cartoon origins of the character lend themselves well to the movie villain, as his appearance is funny and appealing superficially. This technique is also used in other creations such as Stephen King's It and Chucky in Child's Play. These villains will play on children's trust as they emotionally shape-shift from a friendly face to a horrific villain.

Among the characteristics of the perfect villain, the key component is absolute evil without any redeeming features. This is rare in movie villains as often the antagonist is usually a tortured soul, abuse victim or in extremely weak films a misunderstood character. However, every so often a pure evil villain will arrive and send shivers down the spines of movie-goers everywhere.

The ultimate movie villain, Darth Vader from Star Wars, is as mysterious and dark as any film character in history. Although we do learn things about Darth Vader during the films, he is both physically and psychologically masked and cloaked - adding to the character's haunting menace. From his height (he was played by an actor nearly two metres tall), to his menacing voice which was dubbed over the original actor, Darth Vader is the most iconic movie villain in film history.

To make the ultimate movie villain there are a number of these characteristics that will help to make them memorable, dark, unpredictable and terrifying. Most movie villains will possess some, if not most, of these and will command the viewer's respect and fear. For those villains that possess all of these characteristics and more, we must affirm their status as the ultimate in movie villainy.
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