ByFergus Coyle, writer at
Movie lover, wannabe director and resident DC nerd. Get more from me at:
Fergus Coyle

So I’ll just cut right to the chase and start talking villains, or more accurately; antagonists, but that just didn’t sound as good in a title. There are a few different ways to go about making a truly unforgettable villain and, you guessed it, we’re going to break down each one of them right here, right now, because statistics show that you’ll find this easier to read if it’s split into clearly defined sections. Also it makes it simpler to write, so it’s a win-win.

1) Paralleling our hero

The most straightforward way to create an antagonist is to have them mirror our protagonist (the main character). So if we’re following someone whose main motivation is to save his brother, then our bad guy could be someone who is trying to save their own brother and confronts our hero with the tragedy of a similar yet subtly different plight which we see our central character deal with as they go along their journey. Alternatively we could have a villain who already lost their brother, adding tension to our lead’s quest as we see how soul shattering failure could be. What this device brings to the table is perspective. We get to see what the other side of the coin looks like and thus we understand our own hero’s plight more than we would. It also ties everything around one central idea so as not to waste time with an antagonist that doesn’t relate to the main thrust of our story’s themes. It can also serve to challenge our hero with a harsh reality of what they could become with a minimal shift.

2) Plain presence

This is a trick which is a lot harder to pull off than #1. That’s because it requires brilliant acting and flawless writing performing in perfect harmony. Basically, all I have to do here is point you to Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight in order to convey what this kind of villain looks like at their best. But hey, it would be unprofessional to not at least break down this form of antagonist slightly. Basically, they can have almost any motivation whatsoever, although the simpler the better most of the time, so that we can focus on their actions more rather than backstory. Usually this bad guy will be insane, although there are other ways to go about doing it. It’s so difficult to pull off because they need to steal every scene they’re in and drip with either charisma or terror. If you aren’t thrilled watching them then the whole thing fails, and a good chunk of the film will just be uninteresting. This makes an especially big problem because when you realize that a good version of this type of character needs as much time as you can give him, whereas a poor version of them can break a movie, so the time-frame for our villain can be nearly impossible to nail.

3) Behind the scenes

Not every villain has to feature prominently in the flesh. Sometimes someone pulling the strings without being seen is the way to go, as it gives us ample time to get to know our lead and supporting characters. However, unless the film utilises a clever twist towards the end and the antagonist turns out to be someone we actually did meet earlier on then the villain will most likely end up being one-note and pretty boring. It can be tricky to sell a twist like that, as it has to be a big surprise yet seem logical in retrospect, and it would have to make sense with the character too, although, again, not appear too obvious. Often a big reveal like this can make a film unforgettable; however a predictable one makes the whole experience a drag. So often it’s worth going down a different track, namely the mystery road. If you can keep them shrouded in shadow and pulling strings, then they can come across as a genuine mastermind, despite recieving incredibly limited screen time. This can also lead to a memorable finale where our villain exits his lair in order to bring down our hero themselves.

4) A sympathetic plight

If you can look at the antagonists motives, shift yourself into their perspective and conclude that they aren`t really evil, then you have yourself something special. This turns what used to be a villain into a three dimensional character who you feel for almost as much as you do the protagonist. It can elevate a simple film to new heights, evoking conflict in your own head over where your loyalty lies, and any film which makes you think about your ideals and views on the right thing deserves praise. Naturally though, this isn't the easiest thing to pull off. Both sides have to come across as sympathetic, yet have valid reason to clash with each other. However, generally a film needs closure, so there needs to be a resolution which makes sense and satisfies us as the audience. So the ending has to have thought to it and not cop out on its thought provoking train of thought yet not leave it overly ambiguous. If you go for this type of bad guy, then a redemption can be a good route to go, although not necessary, and you can give one of the most deep and interesting films possible.

Wrapping Up...

So that was your guide to creating an interesting villain, now go into the world and make films about amazing antagonists. I hope you had fun reading, and if you did, well then there's plenty more where it came from over at Fixing Hollywood. But first, don't leave without letting us know who your favourite villain is down below. Or do leave without doing that, see if I care. Until next time though guys, whatever you do, be sure to enjoy your life.


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