Not every movie villain is interested in being evil. Some are misguided or wrongly believe that they are completely in the right. They see the supposed heroes of the story as hindrances to their righteous cause.
Let’s examine 10 bad guys who never think of themselves as “bad” guys, but as heroes:
1. Annie Wilkes – Misery
The maddening thing about Annie Wilkes isn’t that she’s psychotic, but that she talks so politely and apologetically to maimed author Paul Sheldon, even after she does horrific things to him. She loves the man because of the fictional world he has given her in his novels. But she also hates him for taking it all away from her. In Annie’s mind, she is saving her favorite character by forcing the creator of that character to bring her back to life – or else. Better not get writer’s block.
2. Dr. Bolivar Trask – X-Men: Days of Future Past
While just about every X-Men movie has a villain who doesn’t think of himself as such, X-Men: Days of Future Past has the best one. In the throes of the Cold War when America was on the verge of losing the Vietnam War, Dr. Bolivar Trask offers a radical idea to world leaders: Stop fighting each other and start fighting the real enemy. Mutants are a common enemy that can finally unite humanity. Trask doesn’t see himself as evil for dissecting mutants and creating genocidal robots. Those are necessary steps to make the world a better and safer place for the human race.
3. Principal Ed Rooney – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller is a menace – a bad influence on his fellow high school students. If they see him get away with skipping school, they might follow in his footsteps, spreading belligerence and chaos everywhere. Or so Principal Ed Rooney thinks. Which is why he takes matters into his own hands and tries to bring Ferris down. But all he manages to do is get himself into a lot of trouble in scenes that probably inspired Home Alone, which was also written by John Hughes.
4. John Doe – Seven
John Doe doesn’t murder innocent people in Seven. In his eyes, each of the people he kills has committed one of the seven deadly sins, and are worthy of death. He never raises his voice or shows a hint of anger. He’s calm and quiet, even as he describes horrific things he’s done. He’s just sending a message that society needs to shape up. His goal could be called noble, but the ends don’t justify the means.
5. Leonard Shelby – Memento
Wait a minute, isn’t Lenny the good guy in Memento? After all, he’s just trying to find his wife’s murderer. Or so we think through most of the film. Whatever his intentions were at the start of his quest, they have since become twisted. He seems totally innocent each time he loses his memory, but he is also quite guilty because he manipulates himself into committing murder after murder. At the end of the film (or the beginning, I suppose) it’s clear that he has no intention of ever stopping his killing spree. He has an unlimited supply of targets based on the clues he’s left for himself.
6. Col. Nathan R. Jessup – A Few Good Men
Did Col. Nathan R. Jessup order the Code Red at the start of A Few Good Men? You’re darn right he did. And for good reason – to him, at least. His famous monologue, which begins with the even more famous line “You can’t handle the truth!” establishes his reasoning for everything he’s done in this film. He deserves both respect and pity because he was just doing what he thought was right. And he feels like a martyr when he’s carted off for his crime.
7. Ra’s al Ghul – Batman Begins
Ra’s al Ghul isn’t out for power or world domination in Batman Begins. Quite the opposite, actually. When a city or civilization reaches a peak of immorality and corruption, his organization, the League of Shadows, steps in to restore the balance. They’ve been toppling regimes for thousands of years, and Gotham City is just their latest target. He sees himself as completely moral, fighting against injustice. His methods may be extreme, but he justifies them with seemingly airtight logic.
8. Tai Lung – Kung Fu Panda
Tai Lung is a tragic version of the heroic Po in the first Kung Fu Panda film. They’re both adopted as babies, trained in the art of Kung Fu by Shifu, and assured that they are the Dragon Warrior. Tai Lung feels cheated out of his destiny when he learns he is not to be made the Dragon Warrior by Shifu’s superior. Tai Lung is the strongest fighter, and thus, he should be the Dragon Warrior. But Shifu was the true villain for planting that idea in his head. Everything Tai Lung does is because he believes he has been treated unjustly, and for good reason.
9. William Foster – Falling Down
William Foster just wants to go home. He spends the whole movie standing against unfairness in the form of urban racism, gang warfare, out-of-control inflation, lazy construction workers, snooty golfers, and more. When William reaches the final confrontation with a veteran cop, he is genuinely surprised to learn that he is the bad guy. “How did that happen?” he asks. No matter. He still comes up with a creative way to feel like the good guy in the end.
10. Dr. Zaius – Planet of the Apes (1968)
In the original Planet of the Apes film, Dr. Zaius is the Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith in a world dominated by highly evolved apes. Zaius lobotomizes intelligent humans and does everything in his power to protect his ape society from the scourge of man. He does this because he has been warned that humanity will lead to the apes’ downfall. At the end of the film, as he violates his scientific integrity, he justifies his actions by saying that he is attempting to save the world he loves.
Good to Be Bad
When villains think of themselves as heroes, it creates a lot of tension and drama because we can sympathize with them and think of them as antiheroes. I’m sure there are many other examples of villains that fall into this category. If you think of any that I left off this list, feel free to let me know in a comment below.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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