Here are, what I think, the 6 greatest villains in all fiction of recent history. Prepare for some of my usual philosophy talk.
#6. Voldemort (Harry Potter)
I’m surprised I ultimately chose to include Voldemort on this list at all, but I have my reasons. He’s basically Adolf Hitler of the magical world. But not only that, Voldemort is completely sociopathic and narcissistic. Even the real Hitler at least had a love for his people and animals, and wasn’t 100% insane. Voldemort, though, is completely inhuman, while also having a very human fear: death. Voldemort is literally obsessed with achieving immortality because he is terrified of dying. JK Rowling herself said that the theme of the Harry Potter books is death, so of course it is fitting that the antagonist of the series has some connection to the subject. Harry, his arch-nemesis, lost his parents as an infant, and thus learned not to fear death, which is a terrific achievement for the main character of a children’s book series. In the final book of the series, Harry sacrifices himself for the greater good by handing himself over to Voldemort. That, I think, is what makes Harry defeat Voldemort. He may be less powerful, and the lost fight (physically), but he won the argument. Who better to help teach us this lesson than an inhuman monster with a very human fear? It’s because the series is so popular with youth, with death being its theme, and that being how the story ends, is why I deem Voldemort one of fiction’s greatest villains ever. He unwittingly taught us all a lesson about death, which we will all have to face someday.
#5. Hannibal Lecter (the Hannibal Lecter books)
Dr. Lecter is, I think, the best example of the fact that evil comes in all shapes and sizes. The Bible teaches that Lucifer was once very beautiful, and he’s the most evil being ever, and yet people still get fooled by appearances easily. Hannibal Lecter is a prime example of how the worst kind of human being can be respectable, charismatic, neat, orderly, educated, attractive, and kind, but also be completely batshit insane. In Silence of the Lambs, we see the main character, Clarice, walking down a hallway with a row of psychos in their prison cells, all shouting gibberish at Clarice, trying to grab her, and one guy even throws semen at her, but at the end of the hall is the craziest of them all…. A man who stands there upright, calm, collected, and greets Clarice pleasantly: Hannibal Lecter. With real life examples of psychos who had similar likable attributes, like Ted Bundy, this isn’t entirely something we have to rely on fiction to teach us. Lecter is additionally entertaining to watch, and he is always a step ahead of everyone who’s trying to stop him. He’s so out of his mind, yet genius, that the plot of half the books about him involve the main character trying to catch other crazy people with his help. Hannibal Lecter is also probably the only villain on this list who has never tried to cause destruction on a large scale. Mainly, he would just like to be left alone to eat people in peace.
#4. Magneto (X-Men)
More than just a villain, and more than just a villain who can control metal. During the Holocaust, he was imprisoned for being a Jew, and lost his parents and sister. This experience made him hate mankind, and the fact he was a ‘mutant’ only made him hate humans even more. Magneto unwittingly became exactly like his Nazi oppressors, in that he believed he was of a superior species and ultimately tried to eradicate the inferiors. He is not a villain because he tries to kill the heroes – the X-Men – but because he fights against what they stand for, which is equality between mutants and ordinary humans. He hates fighting his own kind, but believes in his cause so greatly that he will do so if needed. Magneto’s very existence in the world of fiction has to make us all stop and wonder if human beings really are as good as they view themselves to be, whether they are ‘normal’ or not. Is one race superior to another? Even if there was a superior race, or culture, or religion, does that mean all other must be eradicated? One can hardly even argue with Magneto, because he did truly experience something horrible at the hands of humans, but we must ask ourselves if he is justified in doing the same to them……
#3. Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Here’s something most people don’t seem to notice about the original Star Wars trilogy. Has anyone else noticed that as the movies progressed, we learned more and more about how insignificant to the empire and how weak of a person Vader actually is? I mean, he’s the main villain in the whole trilogy, sure. In the first movie, he’s the force (pun intended) to be reckoned with, while in the second movie you see he’s subservient to the Emperor AND learn that he has a son and a soft spot for that son, and finally by the third movie we see him sacrifice himself for a good deed. Luke was electrocuted extensively by the Emperor, yet survived without serious damage, while Vader was electrocuted for a much shorter period of time, and died from it. When you look at the trilogy as a whole, you see that Vader, from the very beginning, has been a flawed and broken man, literally and figuratively. In the original trilogy, they don’t outright say what turned him to the Dark Side, but it’s implied that he was a great person, yet reckless, and he was angry about something. Very human behavior, and very human emotions. Not to mention, the guy’s a father, so it’s safe to say he fell in love too. Makes you wonder if he turned to the Dark Side because the Jedi killed his lover, or perhaps he got caught up in something else and his actions directly or indirectly killed the one he was in love with, and he never forgave himself for it. The original Star Wars trilogy was secretly about Vader, I think, and Luke was just the character who guided us through his father’s redemption story. Darth Vader was one of the greatest influences for my Remnant series, because I’ve always seen him as a very interesting characters for the reasons I listed above. Of course, I actively ignore the fact that the prequel movies even exist. They’re like traumatic experiences I’ve repressed.
#2. Joker (Batman)
My all-time favorite villain, but only #2 on this list. I’ve already explained here why I love this character, but I’ll summarize it in this article. To understand what makes the Joker so great, one has to first look at Batman. With Batsy, we have a guy who dresses in a black high-tech costume that’s styled like a bat … Not to mention he’s always very serious. He’s dedicated his life to eradicate crime in his hometown through use of brute force and wits. Joker, however, has stated that he only exists because of the Bat. Joker wears bright colors, laughs a lot, kills people in huge numbers without a speck of remorse, and has dedicated his life to creating chaos, even if it costs him his own life. Joker, in admitting he only exists because of Batman, also tells us something with that. He’s trying to prove a point. What most people seem to overlook about the Joker, both in real life and in the comic book world, is that Joker is always trying to prove a point. He’s not crazy, he only pretends to be because he thinks everyone is crazy for taking life so seriously. In Joker’s mind, there is no point to order, there is no point to justice, and he turned himself into a freak like Batman for his own amusement. The only way Batman can beat the Joker for good is to kill him, but that would contradict what Batman has set out to do. It’s a paradox. And that’s Joker’s point: Crime will always exist, and everybody eventually dies no matter how many times their life is saved, so why take life so seriously at all? To Joker, the very thing that creates his laughing, clownish personality is that he finds it amusing how much everyone around him takes life. You’d laugh all the time too if that was your perspective on life. He’s a parody of all of us, in reality and fiction.
#1. Ozymandias (Watchmen)
One could debate forever as to whether or not this guy is even a villain at all, and that’s a big part of why I think he’s the greatest villain ever. Ozy is a superhero who did something monstrous (killing millions of people) for the sake of good. In the end, his plan worked, and the entire world became a peaceful utopia for the first time, but it came at a terrible price. Ozy only killed millions because he realized that human beings will always be in conflict because of their very nature, and the only way to make peace was to force it, and the only way to force it was to give mankind a common enemy. In the Watchmen graphic novel, the enemy was a giant psychic squid that gave the illusion of an alien invasion, while in the Watchmen movie the enemy was the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan. In both works, the enemy is something that isn’t found in the real world, and I think in itself is a philosophical testament. Nothing found in this world made us unite before, so it had to be something outlandish and something that is beyond our understanding. Ozy also saw himself as a god, but only to the extent that he believed it was his duty to make mankind behave, just like it would be God’s job in real life if there was a god. Religion is great at making people behave, just like Ozy became God (creating life) to make people behave, but that same fear that makes people behave can also make them behave even worse… At the end of the Watchmen graphic novel, Ozymandias asks Dr. Manhattan if his plan will work in the long run, and Dr. Manhattan gives him a very vague answer that leaves him unsatisfied. Point is, even after he killed millions of people, Ozy still doesn’t know if his plan will work. He knew it was the only thing that could, but even then, it still might not work.
Ozymandias should make us ask if it’s even worth it to kill a few to save many. Or would that make us evil as well? Adolf Hitler never saw his work as evil; in fact, he saw thought he was doing good. Nothing makes someone more dangerous, or more evil, than doing evil things while believing it’s good. That’s how evil people commit evil acts in the first place. Perhaps Ozymandias, in all his genius, didn’t realize what the Joker realizes, which is that there is no cure for what’s wrong with mankind. Beating criminals to a pulp doesn’t fix us, nor does mass genocide. Forcing people to behave through tyranny doesn’t do it… Well then, perhaps there is no fixing what’s wrong with us. Dr. Manhattan, who can alter matter at the atomic level, once said, “I can change almost anything, but I can’t change human nature.”
Fictional villains can teach us a great deal about evil people in real life. They can teach us that being a good person can cause one to become evil, they can teach us that any of us can be evil without realizing it, and more. They can even make us ask: What exactly defines evil? And it’s good they make us ask that question, because we all want to do what is right, but it’s not always easy to understand what that is.