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Bad Guys: The Villains and Antagonists We Love to Hate

Monday, August 17, 2009

villain_iconIt’s about time for a new series, yes? One of the series I’ve been wanting to do since running across a certain couple of books online earlier this year is: Bad Guys: The Villains and Antagonists We Love to Hate. With help from the two new books I picked up—The Power of the Dark Side (Pamela Jaye Smith) and Bullies, Bastards & Bitches (Jessica Page Morrell)—we’ll start to analyze the bad-guy characters in our writing and reading. And for those of you who aren’t writers, we’ll be looking at the antagonists in books and movies for examples, and I’ll be wanting your feedback as non-writers so we can learn from what readers take away from these kinds of characters!

As I’ve stated innumerable times over the years, the heart of telling a good story is conflict. And while that conflict doesn’t have to come from an antagonistic character (a bad guy/girl, villain, whatever you want to call it), some of the most iconic characters across storytelling venues have been bad guys: Darth Vader, Professor Moriarty, Voldemort, Sauron & Saruman, the Wicked Witch of the West, Nurse Ratched, all of the evil queens and stepmothers from fairytales, Captain Bligh, and so on.

Sometimes the story will give us a black-and-white picture of which characters are heroes and which characters are villains. These are usually stories which have a plot that hinges on some kind of “good will ultimately triumph over evil” idea (like Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings). Sometimes, the stories are more complex, and we are made to feel something for the antagonistic character—even though we know we shouldn’t. Sometimes the badness is in shades of gray; and sometimes, as with Heath Ledger’s immortal portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight, the character is as bad as bad can get—and we never really find out why.

I’ve been asked in a lot of interviews recently which one of my many characters I’ve had the most fun writing (which is quite different from tagging the one who’s my “favorite”). The answer is easy: Sir Drake Pembroke from Ransome’s Honor. Actors many times will say that it’s a lot more fun and interesting to play a bad guy than a hero—and that’s because the bad guy can get away with a lot more. I found the same to be true when writing Sir Drake. I could get away with just about anything with that character—so long as he could justify it to himself. Which we’ll get into at length in this series.

I’ll be posting an updated Favorite Bad Guys list on Friday, but I wanted to start the series out by finding out who some of your favorite bad guys are. From movies, TV, or books, who are some of those bad guys you love to hate?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, August 17, 2009 11:24 am

    Am I first? How fun!

    Hmm. My very favorite bad guy is Captain Dietrich on the 60’s TV show “The Rat Patrol” (played by Eric Braeden at 25). Although he was more of a sympathetic character instead of a super-nasty bad guy. Not quite the love to hate type.

    As far as REALLY NASTY…I always enjoyed Basil Rathbone’s villians…Robin Hood, etc. Although I haven’t seen the show, from clips I’ve seen I think I would like RA’s Guy of Gisbourne as well.(Who wouldn’t like RA in anything??? 😉 )

    Um…Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham, Sean Bean’s Ian in National Treasure…um…hmm. Have to think about this one!

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    • Monday, August 17, 2009 12:01 pm

      I watched a film adaptation of one of Catherine Cookson’s novels this weekend which had Sean Bean in it . . . and as usual, he was playing a not-so-nice guy. I wonder if there’s a parallel between actors who always seem to be cast in bad-guy roles and authors who write the darker-natured genres like dark fantasy, thrillers, and horror. Hmmm . . . let me write that down on my Topics to Explore list for this series!

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  2. Monday, August 17, 2009 11:55 am

    Hmmm…bad guys we love to hate. First one to come to mind is Helen Cutter from Primeval! I was also going to mention Richard Armitage’s take on Sir Guy in Robin Hood…though I definitely don’t hate him. Maybe bad guys we love to love should be a topic. LOL!! Literature-wise I must echo your mentions of Moriarty, Voldemort, Sauron & Saruman, etc.

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    • Monday, August 17, 2009 12:02 pm

      Oh, don’t worry, we’ll discuss the sympathetic bad guys as well! I couldn’t leave poor Richard—I mean Sir Guy—out in the cold.

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  3. Monday, August 17, 2009 1:18 pm

    For me, no bad guy list of any kind is complete without Hannibal Lector.

    Ultimate love-t0-hate? Commander Sela from TNG. I never liked Tasha’s character and I’m not a fan of Denise Crosby, so I *loved* seeing her play Sela and be as evil and despicable as a Romulan can be.

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  4. Monday, August 17, 2009 1:46 pm

    Oh…there’s so many I don’t know where to start. 🙂

    I see so many little quirks in bad guys that catch my attention. For example, the “Tall Man” from the Phantasm horror movies. He’s ruthless, he’s unstoppable…but when in one film he had the main protagonist held down and was able to kill him…he called him a worthy adversary and let him go. Take that kind of respect for the good guy as the basis for a bad guy and you have all kinds of possibilities.

    I like guys like Don John from “Much Ado About Nothing.”

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  5. Jess permalink
    Monday, August 17, 2009 3:10 pm

    Caroline Bingley and Kim Jong Il.
    And Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada.

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  6. Monday, August 17, 2009 5:33 pm

    Ooh, that Sir Drake Pembroke was a slithering snake, and his mother and aunt were also pretty nasty.

    Sheriff Brannock in Breathe by Lisa T. Bergren is a pretty mean dude.

    Alec d’Urberville in Tom Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urberville’s was also despicable creature.

    There are also a few hereos that I despised and were almost unredeemable. They were so horrid to their wives I could almost wring their necks. There was a fine line between hero and villain in these novels.

    Tanner Richardson Who Brings Forth the Wind Lori WIck

    Ruel Chouteau, Marquess of Blackthorne from Bachelor’s Bargain by Catherine Palmer

    Tertius Pembroke, Earl of Skylar from Dawn in my Heart by Ruth Axtell Morren

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  7. Paige permalink
    Monday, August 17, 2009 5:37 pm

    James from Twilight. He was a pretty good picture of pure evil.

    I was fascinated by all the characters in the Twilight books and the movie. Vampires are supposed to be villains just because of who they are and what they do, but it was a fun twist for Stephenie Meyers to write her characters as she did. We should love to hate Edward, too, and all the other vampires, but she made them likable in a really creative way.

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  8. Laura Domino permalink
    Monday, August 17, 2009 6:18 pm

    In some romance novels, heroes and heroines fight against each other until they give up and allow themselves to fall in love with the one they thought was the villain. That’s always fun.

    As far as TV villains go, I love to hate Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie because she could’ve been nice if she’d wanted to be. She just seemed to like being nasty.
    Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life because Lionel Barrymore did a great job of selling the wickedness of this guy. The fact that he rolled in a wheelchair didn’t make me feel sorry for him.
    Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz because she’s got one wicked laugh and because she can only be wicked in sunny weather. So what happens when she drinks a glass of water?
    Col. Wilhelm Klink of Hogan’s Heroes because he is such a weenie. Sgt. Schultz could’ve taken him down a notch or two on a regular basis, but he’s too much of a sweetheart.
    The Borg from Star Trek: TNG because they seemed invincible. “Resistance is futile.”

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    • Monday, August 17, 2009 6:42 pm

      Thanks for reminding me of Colonel Klink (and General Burkholter) and Mr. Potter! ;-)It has always been one of my deepest regrets that he never go his due at the end of the film.

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  9. Monday, August 17, 2009 7:22 pm

    Okay seriously before Ieven read these comments the first person that I thought of was Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisbourne! I mean seriously I have a total crush on RA as it is soooo if he plays a guy that’s slightly naughty…**SIGH**…it doesn’t get much than that!!! 😉

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  10. Monday, August 17, 2009 9:08 pm

    I feel so inadequate with this because I can never remember the names of character…but the guy in Sabrina who turns out not to be so bad. I really like bad guys that in the end have a change of heart, maybe they don’t become good guys…but just for a moment they are.

    Endora in Bewitched, she was always my favorite, or the evil twin…another Sabrina.

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  11. Tuesday, August 18, 2009 6:56 pm

    Sounds fun, Kaye! 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve.

    Favorite villain or bad guy…the only movie that is coming to mind right now is Deceived with Goldie Hawn – and her husband. Ooooo…just yucky in the end! Or Sleeping with the Enemy – that’s creepy/nasty all rolled into one.

    As far as books go – lately the whole Twilight series and the drama between the two that should dislike each other (wolves vs. vampires). Of course, there are so many others – but that’s what pops in my head right now.

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  12. Gail Roarke permalink
    Monday, August 24, 2009 1:56 am

    My favorite movie bad guys is probably Hans Gruber, the master villain in Die Hard. He was smart, he was clever (the two are not synonymous), he was ruthless, and he had a plan. I loved it that he had a plan–and that he could think on his feet, working around unexpected problems. I loved it that despite all the hero (Bruce Willis) could do, all the chaos he caused, all the minions he’d killed off, Hans was STILL going to get away with the money right up to the last minute.

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  13. Knight permalink
    Monday, April 26, 2010 10:46 am

    Mrs. and Jason Voorhees all the way for me! Also, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Pennywise The dancing Clown from Stephen King’s “IT”. As you can tell i really love horror movies.

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  14. Kallithrix permalink
    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 11:00 pm

    No one does a villain better than Shakespeare, and my favourite is Aaron, the Moor from Titus Andronicus. His character is probably very politically incorrect, but I just love the fact that he is through and through wicked, for no apparent reason, and proud of it. He has all the cleverest and wittiest lines, full of swagger and unabashed ego. My favourite is:

    ‘Coal-black is better than another hue,
    In that it scorns to bear another hue;
    For all the water in the ocean
    Can never turn the swan’s black legs to white,
    Although she lave them hourly in the flood.’

    He’s no less proud of his black heart than he is of his black face:

    ‘Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace.
    Aaron will have his soul black like his face.’

    Unlike some of Shakespeare’s other villains (e.g. Edmund the bastard in King Lear) Aaron never feels guilt or tries to make amends for what he is done, even when he is about to be hanged. The only thing he is sorry for at the end is that he had not done a thousand more heinous deeds. The speech where he describes some of the stuff he gets up to for fun makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. But for some reason, you just can’t help but admire him for it. Harry Lennix played him magnificently in the film Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins.

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