What is a Villain? Definition, Film Examples & How To Write One

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A villain is typically a character whose actions, motives, and personality traits directly oppose the protagonist. Villains catalyze conflict and are essential in creating dramatic tension. They are not merely evil for the sake of being evil; they often have complex backstories and motivations that make them multidimensional and relatable on some level.

How to Write a Good Villain

Like any well-written character, the villain needs at least four basic blocks: backstory, motivation, personality, and traits:

Backstory and Motivation

A well-crafted villain requires a backstory that justifies their actions and makes them more than just a one-dimensional antagonist. Your audience should understand, if not agree with, their motivations.

Example: Killmonger in Black Panther (2018) is driven by a desire to correct historical injustices, making his motives relatable even if his methods are extreme. This makes him an anti-villain.

Also, by exploring moral ambiguity, you can make a villain more intriguing. Characters who blur the lines between good and evil challenge the audience’s perception and add depth to the story.

Example: In Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Walter White transitions from protagonist to antagonist, embodying moral ambiguity and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

Personality and Traits

The personality of a villain should contrast with that of the protagonist. Traits such as arrogance, cunning, and ruthlessness are common, but adding layers of vulnerability or unexpected kindness can make them more complex.

Example: In The Dark Knight (2008), the Joker’s chaotic nature and philosophical beliefs about anarchy make him a compelling character.

Adding humanizing elements to a villain can create a more nuanced character. This could include showing moments of vulnerability, personal losses, or a code of ethics.

Example: Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) believes he saves the universe through his actions, providing a twisted but understandable rationale for his deeds.

See also foil character.

Summing Up

The perfect villain is not just a foil to the hero but a fully realized character that embodies the complexities of human nature. To write a compelling villain for a film, give them clear motivations and backstory.

Make them complex and relatable, not just evil for evil’s sake. Show their strengths, weaknesses, and humanity. Ensure their goals conflict with the hero’s meaningfully, creating tension and driving the story forward.

Study and analyze your favorite villains and what makes them so compelling. Write down their traits, personality (or – for some villains – personalities), backstory, and motivation. Do they have a human aspect, or are they pure evil? Do they have an inner conflict? Are they a sad character in a way? Asking yourself these questions is a good way to create multifaceted and interesting characters.

Up Next: Types of Villains in Film.

Author

  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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