Villains come in all shapes and sizes. From cruel dictators to menacing ghosts, these villains are often the driving force behind a story’s narrative. Through their evil deeds, villains create tension and keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Whether they’re out for revenge or simply seeking power, every villain has their own unique motives and endless list of misdeeds. In this blog, we’ll explore the different types of villains that inhabit our stories and discuss how they differ from each other.
Watch: Writing Great Villains — 3 Villain Archetypes
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What Makes a Villain in Story?
The stereotypical villain
What is a villain?
A villain is defined as an evil or wicked character that enacts evil action and/or harms others. A villain may have a justification for their actions that is in line with their own principles, but their actions inflict harm and create ruin in the process. This is not the same as an antagonist. There is overlap between them but they're not always the same. The antagonist is simply the main obstacle attempting to thwart the protagonist from reaching their goal.
What makes a villain a villain?
- Malevolence and a desire to do harm or evil
- A disregard for laws, social norms and morality
- Selfishness and a lack of empathy for others
- Cunning, deceitful and manipulative behavior
Types of Villains
Unlike protagonists, antagonists do not necessarily need to be sympathetic nor likable. Though they can still evoke empathy or sympathy in readers who understand their motivations better.
This type of villain is often driven by an emotion such as anger or greed, and their ultimate goal usually conflicts with that of the protagonist. The Dark Knight’s Joker is a classic example of this type of villain.
Villain Archetype Guide
This type of villain is often a larger-than-life character who either symbolizes evil or has been warped enough by tragedy or circumstance to embody it.
Different Types of VIllains in Film
This type character seeks to trick and manipulate the protagonist into making bad decisions rather than causing direct harm. They often use their wit and intelligence as their best weapon, relying on manipulation over physical confrontation.
The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland is an iconic example of this villain archetype. More recently, Loki has proven to be an entertaining trickster villain to Thor within the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.
Evil Twin Villain Archetype
The Evil Twin
While the Evil Twin villain is not always an actual twin of the protagonist, they do share similarities. This type of villain shares similar characteristics with the protagonist but still poses a threat due to their conflicting goals or ambitions.
A great example of this can be seen in No Country for Old Men, arguably the top of the list of the Coen Brothers’ best films. In the film, Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh have the same goal of obtaining the case of money.
They both have incredible survival and combat skills. However, they differ in morality and intent.
The corrupt official is an archetypal example of an authority villain and can be found in many stories; Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man is one such character. More iconically, is Capt. McCluskey in The Godfather.
Character Villain Stereotypes
The bully villain is a type of antagonist commonly seen in stories, often as the main source of conflict. This type of villain archetype aims to terrorize, intimidate or belittle the protagonist and other characters, with their behavior usually rooted in a desire for attention and power.
Types of Villains in Writing
The criminal villain is a type of antagonist commonly seen in crime and mystery stories. This type of villain is often a professional criminal who commits some form of theft or crime for financial gain. But they can also be 'amateur' criminals who commit their offenses out of a twisted sense of justice.
Female Archetypes of VIllains
A femme fatale is a female character often featured in books, movies, and plays who is seductive and alluring but also has a dangerous side. She typically uses her charm and wit to manipulate, deceive and outwit her opponents.
A femme fatale has no moral boundaries or sense of guilt and will not hesitate to use any means necessary to get what she wants. She has her own agenda that puts her at odds with the protagonists of a story.
An example of a femme fatale in film is Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. She uses her sex appeal, wit, and cunning to manipulate people to get what she wants. She's able to outsmart anyone who gets in her way, whether it be Batman or the villains she goes up against. Her ability to capture the attention and admiration of those around her serves as an example of her femme fatale persona.
Archetypes of Villains in Story
Mother Nature is often depicted as a villain in film, embodying destructive forces of nature beyond human control. From natural disasters to powerful storms, Mother Nature is often seen as the ultimate enemy that must be overcome in order for humanity to triumph.
In films like The Day After Tomorrow, Mother Nature serves as a reminder of the power and destruction that nature can bring when it goes unchecked. You can also count animalistic monsters like the shark in Jaws as a natural villain.
Types of Villains in Horror Films
The supernatural villain is a popular figure in films, representing an entity beyond human control. The supernatural villain often has magical or otherworldly powers that make them unstoppable and almost invincible.
Movies in the horror genre like Paranormal Activity feature the supernatural villain as a powerful force of evil. Films like Ghostbusters depict the supernatural villain as more mischievous and playful.
No matter the exact portrayal, these villains usually bring with them some sort of chaos or destruction.
What is an Antagonist?
While not always, villains are often the primary antagonist in a story. Antagonists are important to an engaging story. Learn more about the antagonist character and their role in narrative storytelling in our next article.