In the spirit of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, this page presents, as a guide for identifying the bad guys, a taxonomy of villains, divided by three axes: Ugly-Attractive; Smart-Dumb; and Hidden-Open.
Although deformations are not sufficient to mark an entity as a bad guy, since some freaks are a source for sympathy (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Elephant Man, Swamp Thing), mutations and false body parts (Treasure Island, Last Action Hero) are red flags for villains, possibly out for revenge for their injury (Moby Dick), or aliens in disguise (V, Men In Black). Grotesque aliens are evil (Alien), but benevolent aliens exist as bright entities such as beams of light (Cocoon, The Abyss).
Be wary, however, of how obvious the villains seem, as the unnamed creepy looking guy in the background is often actually one of the good guys (The Player, The Sting). Movies with a focus on comedy and satire will also be exceptions to these rules (Dr. Strangelove). When characters turn physically ugly, they are often turning bad (The Exorcist, The Fly), but again, disfigurement is not always a sign of evil (The Crow, Darkman).
Attractive villains use their good looks to act as corrupting seducers (The Graduate, Cape Fear) or as femme fatelles (Goldeneye). The villain also may covet the hero’s sexual partner (Ghost, Pacific Heights, Unlawful Entry). Despite their good or bad looks, cats and dogs can identify villains by hissing and barking (Terminator) at them, unless the animals themselves have gone bad (Cujo, Pet Sematary).
The smart villains are diabolical geniuses, except for one or two fatal misjudgments, often from pride or mental illness. To identify his intelligence, look for the villain with glasses, unless he is the geeky good guy (The Untouchables), and perhaps a long and narrow face, preferably with a beard (Aladdin, The Lion King). The smart villain’s typical opening scene shows him winning a chess game (New Jack City), preferably without paying much attention to the game, or ideally playing more than one opponent. The smart villain also participates in other high brow activities (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).
The most common fatal flaw of the smart villain is shared by the dumb villain, who leaves clues on purpose (Seven, Knight Moves), and does not kill captured good guys immediately (almost all Connery Bond films). Another action which is debatable as smart or dumb, but which definitely pegs him as a villain, is their habit of killing their own henchmen (Batman, Robin Hood: Price of Thieves, Empire Strikes Back), just to show how evil they are. A corollary to this rule is that the good guy will define himself by contemplating killing the bad guy, usually in revenge for a slain comrade, before doing the right thing and arresting him (Miami Vice). Villains who are clearly dumb are those who set bombs that include a long timer showing the time before explosion, and color coded wires that will be cut by the hero seconds before detonation.
The hidden villains are the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the stunningly hesitant talkers on the good side who telegraph they are hiding something. But fear not: one of the bad guys can also be singled out and may turn good (Star Trek Insurrection), but will likely be killed in the redemption process. Even more secretive villains are those who reside within the minds of good people (Psycho, Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde, Gremlins). Also, good guys can be hypnotized to act as villains (The Manchurian Candidate, Naked Gun), and robots can be reprogrammed to change sides to either good (Terminator 2) or evil (Lost in Space).
When looking for hidden villains, be on the lookout for identical twins (Michelle Forbes, Guiding Light). Although twin actors are usually in bit parts or bad movies (The Barbarians), on occasion one accomplished actor may play both twins (Dead Ringers), and even more rarely, identical twins are cast to play the same character, usually for effects purposes (Terminator 2). Combining twin theory with the rule above on villains in beards, we see that the twin with facial hair will be the evil one (Knight Rider, Star Trek, Hercules).
Open villains are obviously easy to identify. They are not necessarily public figures, but will be open about being bad (Austin Powers). Be wary, however, as some well intentioned public figures may hold secret identities as villains (Batman Forever, The Phantom Menace, L.A. Confidential), similar to some rebellious heroes (The Mask of Zorro).
This document was written by John Hubbard and first published at: http://www.tk421.net/essays/villain.shtml on March 13, 2000. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this material in any non-profit medium provided that its content is not altered and that this notice is appended.
Created, maintained and © by John Hubbard (write to me). Disclaimers. Hosted by Dreamhost. Last modified: August-09-2007.