What is it about the villain that’s so great? Why do we like villains so much… to the point where we want to see the villain more than the hero?
Well originally, villains were just supposed to be a plot device. A simple element that was used to create a plot. There was no rhyme or reason to it. The villain was just a bad guy, there was very little back story or justification for it.
Over time, that changed. With crimes like those of Ted Bundy, Manson, and the Son of Sam killings, people started to become more interested in what made a villain tick. What made the Joker become the person with the white makeup? Why did the mad scientists and engineers that Superman fought do what they did? We established they that they were bad guy, but we never established why.
That’s when we started getting villains like Darth Vader, a tortured soul who became evil over years of conditioning and crippling fear of losing the ones he cared for most.
Other great villains would then follow. Suddenly stories were full of villains who were tortured during childhood, villains who were pushed into their crimes by their circumstances, villains who initially good guys but were betrayed by the actual good guys. Often, villains are villains because of a point of view. Many villains could actually be good guys if the narrator hadn’t already established who the ‘good guy’ was.
My personal favorites are the villains that are the most like the heroes, that want the same thing as the heroes but have different methods for achieving their goals. The X-Men have perfected this with Magneto. Some would call this the Anti-villain.
So why do we like these villains? Well I believe their story makes them more relateble, harder to hate because many people could see themselves become like them should the circumstances be right. How many could not see themselves coming to the same life conclusions as Magneto after living through such horror, only to see humanity make the same mistakes over and over again?
So does that mean that the plot device, static, villain no longer has a place? Well… to a point. If a story doesn’t have room for a largely dynamic villain in a story with multiple good guys and he’s just the device to bring them all together or influence their lives, then yes, a static villain has a place, but those types of villains are becoming rarer and rarer and eventually may go away. A good example of this type of villain still being used would be Lord of the Rings. Think about it, what is Sauron’s motivation for what he’s doing? Is that ever established in the move?