20 Movie ‘Villains’ Who Were Basically Justified
Movie villains are supposed to be utterly unlikable. In fact, that’s kind of their sole purpose. After all, how can we root for the good guys if there’s no one on the other end of the spectrum to compare them to? Let’s face it, without Voldemort, Harry Potter would have just been an entitled, privileged kid getting up to all sorts of mischief at his exclusive boarding school. (We already wrote about why Harry is basically the worst character ever.)
But whilst we might love to hate those pesky villains, sometimes their actions are somewhat justifiable. Whether due to a dodgy past that has set them on the wrong track or simply having a perfectly valid explanation for their antagonising the hero, these are 20 movie villains whose actions were basically justified.
20. Arthur Fleck – Joker
Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Arthur Fleck shed some light on the truth behind the most infamous Batman villain of them all, the Joker.
Considering 2019’s Joker made over a billion dollars at the box office, we’re sure we’re not the only ones who felt a huge sense of sympathy towards the man who has become one of pop culture’s best-known psychopaths.
Joker allows us to see the person behind the mask (or makeup, if you will), and it’s clear that Fleck’s battle with his mental health plunged him into despair, after which time his fragile mental state became only more precarious.
Fleck is repeatedly mocked and taken advantage of, by strangers on the street as well as by those he considers friends.
He is consumed by loneliness, and when he learns the awful truth about his own mother, his perception of reality is immediately skewed and he gives up all hope – finally succumbing to the demons within.
There’s no justifying the actions Fleck takes at the end of Joker, but it is alarmingly easy to understand his descent into madness, and maybe even empathise with his dire outlook on life.
19. Snape – The Harry Potter franchise
As a wise man (Sirius Black) once said, “the world isn’t divided into heroes and villains”. And no one exemplifies this statement more than Severus Snape. Snape is decidedly cruel to the title character throughout the Harry Potter series, bullying and provoking the boy wizard whenever he gets a chance.
However, we later learn that Snape has in fact been charged with protecting Harry, and despite his apparent displeasure in doing so, he makes it his life’s mission to serve this purpose all the same.
To add another dynamic to Snape, we must not forget his undying loyalty to the woman he considers to be the love of his life, Lily Potter.
Whilst his adoration for Lily borders on obsession, it’s clear that Snape has become consumed by both love and hatred, to the point where the two have begun to merge.
We can only assume that Snape’s determination to save Harry was perhaps more due to the guilt he felt over Lily’s death rather than any affection for the boy himself, but regardless of his motives, Snape is nothing if not consistent to the very end.
18. Roy Batty – Blade Runner
There’s no denying it: Roy Batty does some seriously awful stuff throughout Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi Blade Runner.
Still, Roy may the leader of a band of rogue, murderous replicants, but he was also literally created to participate in off-world combat.
Roy has a genius-level intellect and immense physical strength which exacerbates his brutality, but he also has no idea how to manage his emotions. Imagine the mental strain it would take on a person to have a programmed-in death date, as Roy and the other replicants do.
Roy was a victim of circumstance, forced by his creators to work like a slave and commit horrific acts against his will.
Furthermore, Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of Batty only adds to the character’s endearing nature – who can resist the Dutch actor’s wide-eyed, soulful sense of innocence?
17. Syndrome – The Incredibles
Before The Incredibles’ Syndrome succumbed to villain-hood, he was actually just an innocent kid intent on following in the footsteps of his hero, Mr Incredible.
However, Syndrome is rejected by the person he admires the most simply because he was born without superpowers, clearly something he has absolutely no control over. It’s not like Syndrome is completely talentless, either – he shows great promise as an inventor, for one.
Syndrome, or Buddy, becomes consumed by jealousy and hatred which, whilst troubling, is completely understandable for someone of his age and circumstance.
Despite the reason behind Syndrome’s behaviour being largely attributed to Mr Incredible, we are not placing the blame solely at the superhero’s feet.
After all, Syndrome’s obsession is inappropriate, and as an adult, Mr Incredible has no choice but to send the young boy away. Still, we feel you, Buddy.
16. The Machines – The Matrix
This is perhaps the most controversial choice on the list, but hear us out. At first glance, the Machines that have enslaved humanity and forced them to exist in an alternate reality, ie the Matrix, whilst simultaneously draining those human bodies of energy are pretty much the definition of villainous.
However, there are some external factors that we have to consider here, which might make you view the events of the movie in a whole new light.
If you’ve seen Animatrix, you will have discovered the dark truth behind the existence of the Machines: it turns out that humans actually created the machines that would later enslave them.
After the Machines developed a sense of consciousness, they remained largely benevolent and wished to co-exist with the humans.
However, the Machines were soon persecuted by the very people who had created them, forcing these wily AI to create the Matrix in order to survive. Like Roy Batty, The Matrix’s Machines are man’s own making – and it’s only when mankind pushes them too far that they become antagonistic.
15. Magneto – The X-Men series
Magneto’s villainous nature is a matter of perception, especially when we consider that he has endured the horrors of the Holocaust, an experience which would only skew one’s view of the world.
Magneto is hyper-aware of the foibles of humanity and man’s tendency to turn on anyone who he perceives as being “different”.
Therefore, Magneto feels strongly that his people should be capable of fighting back and makes it his mission to ensure they are equipped with the skills essential for survival.
Magneto’s militaristic approach is proved to be successful (for himself and his comrades, anyway) time and time again, and whilst he understands that a cease of conflict is the ultimate goal, he is not willing to sacrifice the lives of his own people in the name of peace.
Erik and Professor X clash several times thanks to their different strategies, but not even Xavier is ever willing to brand Magneto as entirely evil.
14. Gollum – The Lord of the Rings
Gollum in himself could be said to be neither inherently good or evil, but even if you think he’s a true villain, Gollum is certainly a victim of circumstance.
Gollum was corrupted by the Ring and swayed by its power, to the point that by the end of his manipulation he was barely even human.
Sure, perhaps this is merely a testament to Smeagol’s lack of self-control, seeing as Gandalf had the willpower to refuse to be tempted by the ring as he knew it would corrupt him.
Nonetheless, it could be said that it is Gollum’s open nature and hunger for knowledge that allowed him to become susceptible to the Ring’s allure.
Not only could he not control his desire for the ring, but Gollum was treated with disgust and suspicion everywhere he went, which obviously wouldn’t help him to resist his desires.
13. The Grinch – How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The Grinch is one of the most iconic Christmas villains of all time, but underneath his heartless facade, there is a heart full of pain and torment.
With this in mind, is it really any wonder the Grinch took out his frustrations on the people around him?
In How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), it is revealed that as a child, the Grinch was subject to bullying and harassment from his peers.
This led to him developing low self-esteem and feeling isolated. With no one to turn to, the Grinch became a recluse and retracted into himself, retreating to his solitude in the mountains.
At the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it turns out that The Grinch is actually a pretty good guy after all. He learns the true meaning of Christmas and love, and is able to forget the torment of his past.
12. King Kong
The story of King Kong was first recounted in 1933’s King Kong, a monster movie classic that was remade in 1976 and later in 2005.
Now, King Kong is a giant ape, and it could be said that animals are rarely portrayed as being either good or evil, considering they lack the emotional capacity to justify their actions.
However, King Kong is widely regarded as the antagonist of the King Kong movies, despite the fact that he is merely trying to protect himself in a concrete jungle full of predators.
In all the King Kong movies, Kong is captured against his will and forced to live out his days as an exhibition – a fate endured by billions of animals across the globe.
This ‘villain’ is forced to rely on his animal instincts in order to survive, and is persecuted for what is only his natural instinct.
11. Frankenstein’s Monster
Frankenstein’s Monster should not exist – that’s the moral of both the original novel, and every screen adaptation that has followed it.
Forced into an unnatural state of existence and left to his own devices, despite having the brain of a child and a body made of discarded human limbs, the Monster does everything within his power to integrate himself with society, but he is shunned purely as a result of his appearance.
Driven to the depths of despair, the Monster seeks to get revenge on his creator by killing Dr Frankenstein’s brother. The Monster is later torn between his feelings of vengefulness and solicitude, further dehumanising him and causing him to fall into a state of inner torment.
Even after his creator’s death, the Monster is unable to be free of malice. His relief is bittersweet – happy because the man who caused him so much pain is dead, yet despairing as he is now all alone in the world.
Despite the creator’s hatred towards him, Dr Frankenstein was the only person with whom the Monster had any sense of a meaningful connection.
10. The Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard Of Oz
When it comes to iconic villains of cinema, not many are as instantly recognisable as The Wicked Witch of the West.
From her sickly green complexion to her iconic cackle, very few characters have been scaring kids behind the couch for as long as she has.
It seems impossible to argue that the Wicked Witch isn’t totally evil, since she’s Dorothy’s dreaming embodiment of a woman who tried to kill her dog.
However, when you look at the events of the Wizard of Oz, it quickly becomes clear that the poor woman is just trying to get on with her life.
All the Witch wants is the ruby slippers back, shoes that belonged to her now dead sister. Considering those shoes were stolen by the very woman who killed her family, that really shouldn’t be such an unreasonable request.
9. Killmonger – Black Panther
Despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe being one of the most detailed and well-thought-out universes in all of fiction, they don’t always go for the most nuanced villains.
Often, the threat to our heroes is an evil wizard who wants the world destroyed, or a big purple man who wants to destroy half of all life in the universe.
By contrast, the villain of Black Panther has no magic of his own, nor does he possess superhuman strength or speed to help him accomplish his goals.
Instead, Erik Killmonger is just a child who has never seen the birthplace of his family, and is furious that a country with the power to save his own community from suffering decided instead to abandon it.
It isn’t hard to be sympathetic to that anger, especially when it’s so obvious by the end of the film that Killmonger has done what he truly believes to be right. Not only that, but Killmonger even manages to bring the hero around to his way of thinking, not something that happens often in superhero movies.
8. Principal Rooney – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s Principal Rooney is about as close to a cartoon character as you can get in a live action movie.
The man turns bright red whenever he gets angry, he can seemingly survive any number of injuries including those from dog attacks, and he is single-minded in achieving his goal.
All this can make Rooney seem like a hugely unreasonable person, with a sadistic grudge against the high school’s most lovable rogue. However, Rooney is simply going above and beyond to do his job.
Think about it this way: if word gets out that Rooney was soft on one kid who played truant constantly, then everybody else would want to try their hand at being Ferris Bueller.
In order to prevent an epidemic of kids going to parades and baseball games instead of staying in their classrooms, Rooney had to make an example out of Ferris – even if it does make him look a little extreme.
7. Yzma – The Emperor’s New Groove
Disney villains usually fall into two categories. Either they are beings of immense power with enough scheming ability to take over the world, or they’re just kind of bumbling and hilarious.
The Emperor’s New Grooves’ Yzma is the rare exception because she is incredibly intelligent and has a high-level understanding of both magic and politics, and yet she’s relegated to the evil equivalent of a comedy sidekick for most of the movie.
This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that she’s actually right: Yzma’s whole evil plan revolves around her getting the obnoxious, irresponsible and downright idiotic Emperor out of the way, since he’s constantly banishing his advisors and making the kingdom worse for everybody.
Yzma wants to rule, but literally only so she can restore order to the place where her subjects live, and stop having to babysit a rich kid who has no idea how to rule responsibly.
Sure, the Emperor does eventually become a better guy over the course of the film, but it shouldn’t have taken him turning into a llama and hanging out with a working-class farmer for him to learn how to do his actual job!
6. Gunnery Sgt. Hartman – Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket’s Sgt. Hartman is one of the most iconic characters in all of cinema, to the point where he’s recognisable even to people who have never seen Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War classic.
That’s because R Lee Ermey’s performance single-handedly cemented the stereotype of the aggressive drill sergeant, which was based on the actor’s personal experience of being in the military.
Hartman’s overbearing, condescending and downright traumatising approach to dealing with recruits might seem unprofessional and seriously damaging, but it’s established right from the beginning that his techniques are nothing personal.
Instead, they are strategies proven to make soldiers tougher, more able to follow orders in a crisis, and more bonded as a team – which is exactly what they’d need to be out in the field.
Perhaps if Hartman had known the additional stress some of his recruits were under he would have behaved less harshly, but as it stands, he was just doing his job – and, according to the standards of the Marines, he was doing it well.
5. Sid – Toy Story
Pixar might make family films designed to entertain people of all ages, but sometimes it sure does seem like they kind of hate kids.
From Toy Story to Finding Nemo, it seems like in Pixar movies it’s children who are constantly the villains, traumatising the sentient animals and toys and forcing them to flee.
At first glance, it seems like Toy Story’s Sid is an undeniable psychopath, ripping the limbs off of defenceless toys just for the thrill of it.
However, we know for a fact that Sid has no idea that the toys are alive and able to feel, so in reality, he’s just harmlessly playing.
Not only that, but there are way worse things a kid like that could be doing than experimenting with his toys. Sid’s basically teaching himself engineering, design and creativity, when he could be out bullying other human children instead.
4. Prince Nuada – Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Fantasy villains are normally pretty straightforward in their goals and outlook – often they are evil for evil’s sake, or want to bring about the end of the world for some magic or religion-related reason.
This normally means it is easy to categorise fantasy villains as unambiguously evil, but Prince Nuada’s personal mission is a whole lot more nuanced than that.
Yes, he wants to bring about the end of humanity and take over the world, but for the simple fact that he was there first.
Nuada remembers the day that humanity fought the magical races and drove them back, forcing them to live in secret while humans could live without constraint and spread across the globe.
Nuada’s motive isn’t pure vengeance but allowing his community to live freely and openly, as humans have done for centuries. It’s hard to disagree with such a goal, even if the Prince probably shouldn’t have murdered his father to try and achieve it.
3. Scar – The Lion King
We’ve already established that some Disney villains are woefully bad at being anything other than funny, while others are so intimidating they’ve found a permanent spot in our nightmares.
Scar definitely falls into the latter catergory – he has the mind of a military strategist, he’s a master manipulator and he’s pretty good at double-crossing. He’s also completely right?
Sure, maybe Scar’s strategy for gaining the throne was more brutal than it needed to be, and there’s no denying that there was a little bit of sibling rivalry at play in his actions.
Despite that, Scar is right that Mufasa’s reign is not serving everybody that it should be, since the hyenas are starving and on the brink of revolution.
Not only that, but there’s clearly disorder in the kingdom as a result of the super-strict predator-prey hierarchy, which Scar at least had the opportunity to put right.
2. Miranda Priestly – The Devil Wears Prada
Miranda Priestly is essentially the boss from Hell. She demands you find a way to fly her home during a typhoon, she insists you run outrageous errands on a moment’s notice (such as finding a copy of an unreleased Harry Potter book), and she never, ever says thank you.
All of that amounts to what can only be seen as straightforward bad behaviour – except for the fact that she is based on a number of real people.
Every personal assistant is expected to go above and beyond to prove their usefulness at first, and that is especially true in the fashion industry, as attested to by many who have worked that job.
Miranda Priestly is at the very top of her game, and so any strange requests she insists upon are only to ensure Andy’s loyalty. Miranda is constantly at risk of having her personal life discussed in the newspapers, and has to resist takeover attempts from friends and rivals alike on a daily basis.
All that pressure is sure to make somebody a little bit of a perfectionist, and yet Miranda still decides to help Andy get another job after she walks out on her. Is that what an entirely cold-hearted boss would do?
1. Javert – Les Miserables
When it comes down to it, many of the people being shunned for villainy on this list are actually just trying to get through a normal day at work.
Les Miserables’ Javert has been criticised for his dogged pursuit of a probation-breaking criminal ever since the first musical adaption hit Broadway, and the disdain is hardly fair when you think about it.
Javert is not unfeeling – he lets Jean Valjean go when his sentence is up, and doesn’t goad him daily or make his life harder when he’s in prison.
Javert only gets involved in Valjean’s life again when it becomes clear that the former prisoner has not atoned for all of his past crimes, and is technically still reaping the rewards of a less than law-abiding life.
Even when he invades the barricades to continue his investigation, Javert doesn’t immediately arrest every student protester on the spot, and is even sympathetic to their struggle.
Over time, he even becomes more understanding of the nuance of good and evil, which is more than can be said for most villains.