What Makes A Good Villain

I’m always fond of villains that come across as really brutal and unforgivable, but as the story continues you find out that it isn’t quite as simple as you might have originally thought. Whenever the villain, tragic past or no, finds themselves feeling they have to do the things that they do, no matter now reprehensible, they earn this level of complexity with me that makes me at the very least interested in their character.

However, for villains in general, first impressions are key. Their first appearance should establish why they’re a threat and their personality. I really love villains that make a violent, dramatic, and sudden appearance at the end of the first act and just stay with the heroes as a haunting presence for most of the work.

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A good villian is flawed, and somewhat relatable, just because someone is supposed to be the villian doesn’t mean that they are pure evil. I think the best villians are ones that have complex background with relatable motives that yield a terrible or evil outcome. Honesty for me the most important thing is to make the characters relatable like this person or something about this person either their motives appearance or one of their quarks is realisic.


There are several attributes that can make a good villain. Here are my two cents:

The villain who acts and thinks like a real person. The audience can understand WHY the villain would act that way. They can might disagree with his methods but they can see his cause as a good idea. The chilling thing is that you can see our heroes sliding into this under the correct circumstances. The audience could see themselves sliding into villainy under the circumstances. The bad guy that we root for. The ones who make us think about the labels of “hero” and “villain”.

The villain is immensely entertaining and cathartic. They do and say things that people may think but never actually perform. They are the voice of the nasty little devil on our shoulders and thus can be a channel for our darker emotions. Many vigilante style villains and antiheroes often tread this line but so do the villains that completely defy social convention. They are flamboyant, they have style, they can thumb their nose at anyone and get away with it.

The villain is supremely confident, capable and charismatic. They are the power fantasy writ large. This is perhaps the most common style of villain but the most difficult to pull off well. The villain is immensely intelligent and the audience can appreciate and respect that intelligence. The villain is supremely skilled and a veritable ballet of violence on screen. Usually a victim of “show, don’t tell” since most people are not expert combatants, tactical geniuses or brilliant plotters. So often the villain is just someone with an overpowered ability set and effortlessly defeats the heroes, losing to deus ex machina. Just food for thought, who do you think is more effective as a villain, Superman or Batman?


A good backstory makes a good villain like the reason they became evil and such. Hobbies as well other than trying to destroy [insert hero name here] all the time.

I would say that a good villain is one who reflects the darker parts of the player’s own soul. One that the player can see themselves in. It reminds themselves of the fragile things that are keeping them different, and what would happen if those were to disappear.

Also, a good villain is someone who eventually grows on the player despite being bad. Someone the player would be sad to see die or disappear. Maybe one who’s loyalties change at the end and that change of heart ultimately leads to their destruction?

Now see, I think Littlefinger puts that out there as his “reason” for his actions, but to be honest I don’t think Littlefinger really needs a reason to be the way he is. I get the feeling that no matter what his background he would have ended up being the same way, and I like that we can never really be sure of anything about him even if we might think we understand him. I like villains that seem to be one thing but end up being another—that are always a little bit beyond what the hero realizes.

Totally agreed on characters like Darth Vader, though. There’s a fine balance to strike between giving the villain some semblance of tragedy and sympathy without pushing it too hard, it seems.

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One that makes sense? I don’t think you need a redeemable or even empathetic one. Just as long as they’re consistent an at least a little interesting.

The http://www.darthsanddroids.net/ version is way better.


So it looks like we have Consistency (even if they are constantly unpredictable they can be consistent)

Logic and reasoning skills

3 dimensional


Relatable and or flawed (even slightly)

Vuagly realistic at least

Polar of the primary Protagonist

Has a reason for doing what they do no matter how skewed it seems from the outside perspective

No monologing and no elaborate easily escapable traps

and stylish


So totally easy to write!


No, the audience doesn’t need to fear the villain; they need to fear for the hero. Consequently, the villain must pose a credible threat to the hero (and the hero must also be likeable, but that’s a topic for a different thread).

(I guess we could call them protagonist and antagonist, if you’d like, but they’re harder to type. ;P)


I think that there’s a few ways to make a “good” villain, and that it’s not necessarily conducive to a certain type of villain, but just how you create that type of villain and then continue to portray them.

There is, of course, the sympathetic villain. This one can be great if you have a solid reasoning behind why they do what they do- whether it be that they sincerely believe that they’re doing the right thing or (and what I sometimes find even more compelling) when they know that they’re doing something wrong and part of them wishes to stop, but they just can’t see another way to do what simply must be done.

Then there’s the sorta “true” villain. I think that one of the easiest characters to point to who fits into this category is The Joker. These are the kinds of people that have no remorse, that just “want to see the world burn”, and can end up as great villains who we love to hate (or hate to love). I like these because, sometimes, you can just have fun with them, much like they can have fun with themselves. They have no moral code so you can go crazy with them and what they do. These people become especially threatening, and fun, when they’re smart, and when you know that they “just want to see the world burn” and that it may just be possible for them to achieve that. This kind of character can be fun… but I find it’s often done best if the writer is the one having fun with them. Otherwise they can just come off as flat villains with no… method to the madness, persay.

Then there’s one of my favorite kinds of villains- those who aren’t, or weren’t before. Those who are portrayed as villains working against the hero throughout the majority of the book, film, or other form of media, and then at the end (and hopefully via a slow realization throughout) you, the reader, realizes that maybe they weren’t the villains after all, but either the protagonist, or someone else, was. I think that this can make a villain even more fantastic, whether your talking about the one you previously viewed as a villain or the one you have to now view in such a light. The former because it’s been so drilled into you to root against them but now you find yourself rooting for them, and the latter for the very reverse reason. It can create a lot of conflict within the story and since the reader/viewer/etc. was already attached to the new villain, there’s a lot of conflict and emotional investment there… meanwhile, they can struggle to attach themselves to the old villain as well, which creates the very same thing.

But, overall, I firmly believe that the strongest part of making a good villain, no matter what kind of villain you’re creating (and whether it was listed up here or not) is consistency.

If your villain has a strong conviction for doing what they do, then they should act in accordance with that conviction, and unless something horrible happens in the story they shouldn’t just randomly go crazy and try to do something far outside what they believe in. If your villain is a villain “for the fun of it”, then it’d be jarring and weird to suddenly have them go into some deep, dark backstory as to why they do what they do. If your protagonist is the villain then it’d be odd to paint them as such when all they’ve been doing throughout the story is beneficial to everyone, and suddenly say you were rooting for the wrong person.

And this goes for everything your villain does- if they’re smart then don’t have them leave the hero in an easily escapable situation, if they’re ruthless then don’t have them spare the hero at the moment of the final battle, and so on.

Overall, I’m a firm believer that you can make a “good” villain out of almost any kind of villain (note that I said ‘almost’, I’m sure that there are exceptions). And, granted, some are harder to make into good villains than others (ex. I think that the “villain just for the sake of it” is one of the hardest to make feel real)… but with enough polish and practice I’m sure it could be possible.

That, and I agree with what @ParrotWatcher stated:

Fear is a powerful emotion, and (to sum up everything I’m trying to say, in essence) I think a strong part of what separates a good villain from a bad villain is how the audience reacts to them, emotionally.


First of all, let’s establish the difference between a villain and an antagonist. There’s a minor difference, but it’s an important one. A villain is an antagonist is seeks to thwart the hero’s actions/motivations/goals and is someone who is important to the plot. (Think Prodigal from Heroes Rise trilogy)

An antagonist is someone who opposes the protagonist. Additionally, the use of the word antagonist instead of villain allows for more of a grey area, than the black and white paradigm that villain vs hero implies. For example, if the protagonist is a 5 year old kid who wants to go outside and play, then his mom or dad would be the antagonist because they’re the ones who are stopping the kid from going outside. They’re not evil, unless context clues imply otherwise, they’re just parents who aren’t letting the kid go outside for some reason - kid didn’t finish chores, kid needs to finish homework, etc.

Here’s what I think makes a “good villain”:

  • Villains should be more powerful than the hero. This isn’t just limited to “Superman is stronger than Batman powerful”, and can be applied to where the Villain also serves as the Mastermind that the Heroes have to match wits with (and usually fall short).

  • Villains should win significant battles against the hero. Dragon Age Origins did a wonderful job with this, Dragon Age Inquisition… not so much.

In DAO, the Wardens have the antagonistic Archdemon that is spreading the Blight upon Fereldan but that’s just a force of nature sweeping a nation. Loghain, on the other hand, he cost the Wardens a significant defeat. How? By refusing to answer the call, saving his army, and giving Fereldan somewhat of an army that could be used to defend against the Blight. At that point, the Wardens are reduced to only two members, they’ve been proclaimed to be traitors of the land, and nobody believes that the Blight is coming.

In DAI, Corypheus fails to be a decent villain. He never actually wins anything and his efforts to destroy the Inquisition only make it stronger i.e. destroy Haven = Inquisition gets Skyhold and Cory looses almost his entire Mage or Templar army. You can read more about it here.

  • Their decisions are felt by more than just those around them; this is where the Joker falls flat because his influence is primarily felt in Gotham, not for example, felt across the USA in the DC universe.

  • Remember that saying, “The Villain is the Hero of their own Story”? If you want a “good villain” make them a complex character with their own reasons, thoughts, and emotions and not just butt-monkeys for the good guys to have a laugh at or Storm Troopers for the good guys to plow through. Saren from Mass Effect is an excellent example; he’s the Anti-Shepard, the Foil; he wants to save the galaxy but does so through morally dubious means. You see this complexity if you’re Shepard has enough Paragon points - Saren is a Spectre with good intentions that used “bad” methods to save the galaxy.

  • Entwining with the above: give your Villain a reason why they’re committing these heinous deeds. Were they wronged in the past? Did they receive a vision from a cosmic deity? Were they raised with the expectation that the world belongs to them? Without a reason, however small, you’ve turned your villain into a mindless monster with an instinct for destruction. Think Godzilla vs. Darth Vader.

  • Avoid turning your villain into a symbol of propaganda that the Hero can use to promote their, or your, ideals. Straw-Men aren’t good writing, simple as that.

  • Don’t make your villain the “Chosen One”. In real life, anyone can become a “bad person” based upon their circumstances. Give your villain a background that’s “universal”. What I mean by that is, put them into a situation where anybody else could look at the choices offered to them and take the same ones that the Villain chose.

Noticing a lot of people liking the Sympathetic Villain and here’s my two cents. “Sympathy” is where an individual will try to help another by attempting to solve the problem. Honestly, the phrase should be “Empathetic Villain” because of how the original phrase means that the audience “understands” the Villain’s motivations.

Sympathetic Villains are… a mixed bag. I’ve rarely seen them “done right” (Saren from Mass Effect is the best example I can think of), and most of the times, I’ve seen them gone horribly wrong to where they’re no longer a villain but an anti-hero (from teens romancing SlenderMan to any YA novel with a female audience that makes the “bad boy” a romance option because the protagonist wants to “fix him”).

And maybe Sympathetic Villain = Anti-hero, but I don’t think so…

Sympathetic Villains are people, emphasis on the people, that we can look at their reasoning/origins, and say “That makes sense.” but we still find their actions appalling and deserving of punishment.


Well, it depends what kind of villain you are going for, but a lot of it boils down to the universe you are creating. When creating a good villain, the first thing you need to do is create a well defined hero. The villain or antagonist is what drives the hero and the plot to action. How effective would the Joker be with a hero with a flexible moral compass, willing to kill when necessary? Like a romantic interest or friend, the villain plays off your protagonist. I think there’s a mistake sometimes of creating this amazing villain without giving thought to the universe or hero they are fighting against. When trying to create a villain, look at the villains you really love and ask yourself why you like them.

Saren from Mass Effect, as mentioned above, works because Shepard and him discover this grave information, the Reapers are coming and they plan to wipe out all life. When they reach the crossroads, they both decide to solve the problem based on their moral code (one fights to defeat the Reapers despite the odds to save life and one decides to sacrifice more life and join the Reapers to save only some because they believe the odds are insurmountable) The plot and the great hero/villain dynamic comes from that conflict. This is your more sympathetic villain like Magneto, Darth Vader, Loki, Sauromon.

When you want to create a ruthless villain who you hate, like the Joker, Joffrey Baratheon, or Sauron, make them the antithesis of the hero. Develop the hero, make the reader/player love them and relate to them and then introduce your villain, the one that breaks the hero and their loved ones. The villain that believes in the opposite of everything that your hero holds dear.

In both examples, the villain plays off of the hero and creates the plot and conflict. That, in my opinion, is what makes a great villain. Also, I recommend watching the The Dark Knight - Creating the Ultimate Antagonist by Lessons of a Screenplay on Youtube. It’s great advice.

Also, I heard recently that Hanz Gruber, the villain of the movie Die Hard, was written as the protagonist by the screenwriter. Might be good exercise to help develop your villain.

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In my opinion, what makes a good villain (in general) is the fact they stick to the character. A madman who does a heel face turn (join the side of good definitely) is bad. In the same situation, one who is hell bent on honor will do it because his life belongs to the hero.

Another one is the flaws. To take the same example, honor might be a quality but also a weakness to be used. The most common today are Pride and Anger.

Personally, I like villains who are really confident and charismatic but plagued by ruthlessness and arrogance. Some who will have a down to earth motive, like furthering their position in society.
Example: Tywin Lannister, who is by far my favorite character in Game of Thrones.

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It depends on the type of villain you want. Do you want a villain with a gruesome and sad back story that makes him ruthless and terrible or just a selfish person who wants to take over the world. I personally love a villain with evil humor… a villain that always has a plan but no one knows he does. The best representation of that type of villain is… The Joker in The Dark Knight! That’s a real villain!

In my opinion a good villain needs to be smart and inconspicuous. Every word and every action should have a purpose, if a bit of information slips and ends up on the wrong hands then its because it was (secretly) intentional - the hero knows what the villain wants him to know and whatever course of action the hero takes, the villain has prepared a counter-attack in advance. Its all a chess game in his mind, planning ahead and luring people into where he wants them. They need to either have a good amount of foresight and / or a great team of advisors to help prepare contigency plans and make them as idiot-proof as possible.

None of that stereotypical villain crap where they give speeches about their history and intentions just because they happen to have the upper hand in a fight, a wise fighter never underestimates his opponent and should only speak when they have something meaningful to say. In fact, its probably of the best the villain never makes himself known till the very end. I dislike stories that give us a target to hit right from the start as it kills the purpose of the chase or figuring things out. But I can accept if that enemy turns out to be a pawn in a much bigger game.


A good villain doesn’t view themselves as a villain. A good villain will do something horrible for what they think is the greater good or what is Justified or the least worst option in their mind. A good villain is human.

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A good villain makes the hero look like the bad one in the end. :stuck_out_tongue:


I’ve been doing historical research on The Early Republic. So many famous Americans make great villains during this period.

My friend any game about war particularly the first world war easy. The whole process is dehumanizing each other point the other side looks in villainous and monstrous. And then you were defending your Homeland and so is the other guy so you both become monsters in the end.