At Writer’s Relief, we’ve been asked: What makes a great villain? Is it diabolical cunning…dastardly deeds…a tragic backstory? Villains who are just as multifaceted and complex as heroes can be extremely memorable characters. A great place to find inspiration is on the big screen, where villains can be larger than life.
Here are a few villains who have left their mark on movies, and tips to help you write a villain your readers will love to hate!
Movie Villains To Inspire Your Writing
The Joker, The Dark Knight
Tip: Give us a reason not to trust your villain.
Perhaps one of the most frightening characters of all time, the Joker is a villain who is truly beyond redemption. One of the most powerful scenes in The Dark Knight is when the Joker tells another character how he got his iconic scar—only to completely change his story for another character later in the movie! If the Joker can’t be relied on to provide his own backstory—how can we trust him at all?
Regina George, Mean Girls
Tip: Give your villain a taste of his or her own medicine.
Regina George is selfish, superficial, and highly manipulative. She is also beautiful, smart, and charismatic. It is easy to see why her fellow students both worship and revile her. But when the tables are turned on her, Regina gets bullied as much as she bullies her peers. While it may be satisfying to watch this unlikable character get the same treatment she’s dished out to everyone else, it’s difficult to not feel a little sympathy for her.
Nina Sayers, Black Swan
Tip: Make your hero also the villain.
Ballerina Nina Sayers is cast in a production of Swan Lake in which she will play the innocent white swan and the sensual black swan. With other dancers competing for her part, Nina strives to prove that she can pull off the dual roles. In her struggle for artistic perfection, however, Nina descends into paranoid self-destruction and becomes her own villain in the process. This creates both a strong hero/villain dichotomy and a sense of suspense.
Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada
Tip: Show the vulnerable human side of your villain.
In the book The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of the elite fashion magazine Runway, terrifies her employees with her insane demands and condescends to her belabored assistant, Andrea. She does the same in the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada, but we also learn that she is a victim of her own success: Her family and home life are in shambles, her employees despise her, and all she has is her fashion magazine. By humanizing Miranda, the film not only created a memorable villain, but also improved on the source material.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about writing villains is that the scariest antihero may be evil beyond redemption, but the most memorable villains are the ones who, in some way, are just like you and me.
Question: Who is your favorite movie villain and why?