Top 10 Villains Who Really Aren’t Villains

Is it possible that “every villain is a hero”? Dan Grant asks that question as he delves into a group of movies that showcase the layers that great “villains” are built upon and why, in these cases, they should not be condemned outright.

You know the villain as the “Big Bad”, the truly horrible no-good person who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But as many great writers have said, “every villain is a hero,” given a different context. It’s high time we take a look at some villains we’ve written off as simply evil, and show you how, with just a slightly different perspective (okay, in some cases, a vastly different perspective), these people aren’t quite as villainous as expected. No, sometimes these are villains just doing their jobs, or are put in impossible situations where no reasonable person would think they had any good choices to make.

10. Alex Conklin

The Bourne Identity

As Jason Bourne’s friend and leader, all he knew about Bourne is that he didn’t complete his mission and that he was acting erratically and rather strangely. He had no idea about the amnesia, no idea that he was found floating in the middle of the ocean with bullet holes in him. All he knew is that the CIA’s million dollar asset was not doing his job. Bourne knew what he was in for when he agreed to morph from David Webb into Jason Bourne. All Conklin was doing is following protocol. Unfortunately for Bourne that protocol included eliminating him if he didn’t meet the Treadstone standards.

9. Johnny Lawrence

The Karate Kid

We all hated Johnny Lawrence because he was rich, spoiled and tried to beat Daniel Laruso into a coma. If you have not checked out the new Cobra Kai series, and you are a fan of The Karate Kid, you really should, it helps us get into Johnny’s mind a bit more, and it’s not all that we were led to believe. Look at this from Johnny’s point of view. He and Ally had just broken up. He sees her on the beach and Daniel is hitting on her. Lawrence gets jealous and just wants to talk to her. Daniel throws the first punch and that is what starts their rivalry. Lawrence does go a bit far in the movie but he’s also threatened by this newcomer. To show that he is actually not all that bad, he has a problem with sweeping the leg. He does it because he is told to, but at the end he makes peace with Laruso, telling him that he’s all right.

8. Jack Doyle

Gone Baby Gone

He kidnapped a child, made it look like a drug dealer did it, had the entire city and the child’s family gripped with fear, and ultimately was responsible for the deaths of multiple people. But why did he do it? Because he wanted to give the kid a better life. The child’s mother didn’t really care for her, she didn’t really want her and she was involved in drugs, stole money from a Hatian drug Lord and was more interested in her next high than she was in taking care of a child. When Patrick (Casey Affleck) finds her with Doyle, she’s smiling, content and happy. Bottom line is Doyle certainly did wrong, but he did it for purely selfless reasons.

7. Ivan Drago

Rocky IV

You could also put Clubber Lang here as well from Part 3. These guys were angry and never smiled and were trying to take the title from Rocky. That makes them villains but no more than Rocky was when he was trying to take it from Creed. Yes, Drago killed Creed in the ring and then snarls “if he dies he dies.” But other than that small piece if villainy, Drago is no different that Rocky in the original.

6. The Wicked Witch of the West

The Wizard Of Oz

Dorothy’s house landed on her sister, killing her and then Dorothy stole her ruby slippers. All the witch wanted was the slippers back. Seems reasonable. Ok, so she threatened Dorothy and her little dog too, but for the most part, she wanted her sister’s slippers back. Dorothy would not give them. I’d be pissed too if I were her.

5. Thanos

Many of the Marvel films

Avengers Endgame

Okay, look at the world we live in now (excuse me while I get on my soapbox for a moment). We are going to be at 8 billion Earthlings in about a year. We can’t feed everyone now as it is. The rain forest in Brazil was set ablaze for animal agriculture. We are polluting the oceans, slaughtering animals at an astronomical rate, there’s famine, mass shootings, genocide and…well, you get the picture. Thanos also got the “picture”. He figured that by eliminating half the world’s population, we’d be closer to a Utopia than we are now. Killing billions of people is wrong, but then again, so is what we are doing to the Earth and the inhabitants of it. Thanos might have been wrong, but he did it for the right reasons, in his mind.

4. Ed Rooney

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

This one is pretty simple. Sure, we love Ferris because he is skipping school with his best friend and girlfriend. Ed Rooney is the principal who wants to ruin his fun. Let’s get this out of the way first. He did break into Ferris’ house and scare the bejesus out of Jeannie. And he did smash a planter over the dogs’s head. This is not going to endear him to a lot of people. But all he was trying to do is catch Ferris in the act of being truant. He knew Ferris wasn’t legitimately sick nine times that year. And so he set out to prove that he was faking and skipping. That makes him a good principal.

3. Magneto

The X-Men films

As a young boy, he was kidnapped by the Nazis, watched his mother die, spent years in a concentration camp, had experiments done to him and grew up a very, very angry young man. Is it any wonder he has no faith in humanity? He’s not really a villain, he’s more into self preservation.

2. Marcellus Wallace

Pulp Fiction

Forgetting about the apparent throwing of Tony Rocky Horror out of the window, there really isn’t anything that Marcellus does in Pulp Fiction that makes him a bad man. He’s a gangster, yes. But he gave Butch the opportunity to make a lot of money. He offered him a bribe, true, but he did it to his face and Butch double crossed him and cost him a lot of money. But to top it all off, once Butch comes back to save him from Zed and the Gimp, he wipes his debt clean. I love Marcellus’ character and above all else he was loyal and principled.

1. (Tie) The Shark

Jaws

Jaws, ending, classic scenes, Top 10 Films, Roy Scheider, Steven Spielberg,

There’s a scene in the book where Brody tells Quint that he wants the shark dead, eliminated. Hooper laughs and tells Brody that the shark is just following his natural instinct to feed. And to be fair, the people in the movie who ended up as dinner, were in the ocean. The ocean has sharks and sharks eat flesh. It wasn’t doing anything that we as humans don’t do. But because it was targeting human beings, it had to take the fall and be eliminated. But really, all it was doing was eating to survive.

1. (Tie): Caledon Hockley

Titanic

As Rose’s fiance, let’s look at what Jack and Rose did to him. Rose cheated on him with Jack. Jack was trying to break them up. She was spending more time on the ship with Jack than she was with her fiance. No one forced Rose to agree to marry Cal, she did that of her own free will. Cal obviously felt threatened by Jack and for good reason. He could see the love of his life slipping away. So he did the only thing he could do and that is to try and get rid of Jack. He didn’t physically hurt him or try to kill him, he just wanted him locked away long enough for them to get to land. Hockley wasn’t a bad fiance. True he should not have struck Rose, that was inexcusable. But Rose shouldn’t have slept with Jack either. Also inexcusable.

Some honorable mentions would go to:

The Dean from Animal House
General Frank X Hummel from The Rock
Col Nathan Jessup from A Few Good Men
Captain Ramsey from Crimson Tide
The Hyenas from The Lion King

Written by Dan Grant

Your turn: villains who aren’t really villains..?

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About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

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  1. Avatar
    Mark Fraser Reply

    Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s Nixon. He may have been a dirty politician who prolonged the Vietnam War (and bombed the hell out of Cambodia); he may have obstructed justice to avoid being impeached in the wake of the Watergate break-in (throwing his closet and most trusted associates under the bus in the process), but Stone’s portrayal of him is somewhat sympathetic – plus it highlights the fact he did try to cool the Cold War by meeting with Mao and Brezhnev while all of this was going on. Not sure the director’s portrayal of George W Bush by Josh Brolin in W is quite as well-intentioned though, showing Bush jnr to be nothing more than a spoilt brat/reformed alcoholic/born again Christian who traded political leverage off his family’s name and ultimately took his eye off the ball as the neocons ran circles around him.

    Ed Norton as the murderer who tries to rescue his younger brother in American History X may be another contender, although if he was to appear in a list, the phrase “truly reformed villain” would probably have to appear somewhere in the title.

    Plenty to think about here Dan ….

  2. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Interesting thoughts their mark. I understand where you’re coming from in regards to American history X but I think he is a true villain just because of that one horrible scene that I’ve been trying to forget about four years lol.

  3. Dan
    Dan Reply

    Great read, Dan!

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Thank you Dan.

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    Callum Reply

    Interesting to get the background on Johnny Lawrence. I always thought he was a mean bugger!

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      He’s definitely a bugger. But as Obi Wan says to Luke in Empire, “from a certain point of view. “

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    CineGirl Reply

    Interesting topic. I love that Jaws isn’t a villain because he’s essentially hungry! I wonder if the same can be said of Hannibal Lecter!

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Look at it like this…..would you call humans or lions or other carnivores the bad guy because we eat meat? And if you don’t, then sharks are just trying to stay alive by eating as well.

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