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a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel .

a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.

a person or thing considered to be the cause of something bad: Fear is the villain that can sabotage our goals.

Origin of villain

Other words for villain, other words from villain.

  • sub·vil·lain, noun
  • un·der·vil·lain, noun

Words Nearby villain

  • villagization
  • Villahermosa

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use villain in a sentence

To begin with, there’s Ursula, a flamboyantly campy villain who lives to be over the top.

He has avoided labeling any actual villains he would blame for San Diego’s problems.

Instead, Halliburton claims, health administrators treated him like a villain for calling.

For years, publishers have singled out the duopoly — Google and Facebook — as the industry’s mega villain characters, hoovering up the majority of the digital advertising pie and leaving behind just the crumbs for everyone else to play with.

China’s accelerating AI innovation deserves the world’s full attention, but it is unhelpful to reduce all the many developments into a simplistic narrative about China as a threat or a villain .

I could complain about how, two out of eight episodes in, Agent Carter is in no hurry to introduce its real villain .

When I play a villain , I always try to make sure they believe what they are doing is right.

I say a lot that in the story of racism in America nobody wants to be the villain .

Bill Cosby, it seems, can only be seen in two registers: sainted family man of a much-loved sitcom, or fallen, tarnished villain .

And if there was a villain on whom to pin this whole struggle—it would be our inner demons.

"So that is Jim Poindexter, the bloody villain ," muttered the boy between his set teeth, and nervously fingering his revolver.

The villain Longcluse, and the whole fabric of his machinations, may be dashed in pieces by a word.

"You infernal villain , if you don't surrender, I'll blow your brains out," hissed his lordship.

That black-hearted villain , Hidayut Khan, wanted more than his share of plunder on many occasions, and was refused it.

But Sir G. Downing would not be answered so: though all the world takes notice of him for a most ungrateful villain for his pains.

British Dictionary definitions for villain

/ ( ˈvɪlən ) /

a wicked or malevolent person

(in a novel, play, film, etc) the main evil character and antagonist to the hero

often jocular a mischievous person; rogue

British police slang a criminal

history a variant spelling of villein

obsolete an uncouth person; boor

Derived forms of villain

  • villainess , fem n

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

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Quick Reference

The principal evil character in a play or story. The villain is usually the antagonist opposed to the hero (and/or heroine), but in some cases he may be the protagonist, as in Shakespeare's Richard III. The villains of English Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, especially in revenge tragedy, appear to be descended from the devils and the Vice in earlier morality plays. A more simplified villainous stock character appears in 19th-century melodrama, usually as a bewhiskered seducer. See also machiavel.

From:   villain   in  The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms »

Subjects: Literature

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What Is a Villain? Definition & 20+ Examples

Have you ever found yourself secretly rooting for the bad guy in a story, even for a moment? It’s a curious phenomenon, isn’t it?

Let’s face it — villains can be incredibly captivating, stealing the show, stirring our emotions, and leaving us questioning our moral compass. From ancient myths to modern-day blockbusters, they have held audiences spellbound for centuries. But what makes a villain a villain ?

Villains play a crucial role in storytelling, often acting as the catalyst for the main character’s growth and determination. In this article, we’ll look at the alluring concept of villainy, exploring the definition of a villain, their significance in storytelling, and some iconic examples that have left a mark on our collective psyche.

By exploring the different facets of a villain’s personality, creators can develop intricate and enthralling storylines that captivate audiences.

Table of Contents

What Are Villains?

Villains are a fundamental part of storytelling, serving as the main source of:

These characters are complex, often with fascinating and sometimes relatable motivations, which makes them an integral component of engaging narratives.

In media, a villain is typically a character that opposes the hero, causing conflict and tension throughout the story. A well-crafted villain can elicit strong emotional reactions from the audience, making them invested in the narrative and rooting for the hero’s success.

Though the concept of a villain is simple, there is great variation in the types and depth of villains found in different media. Some might be purely evil, displaying no redeeming qualities, while others may have complex backstories that evoke sympathy or understanding.

Examples of villains in popular culture include iconic characters such as:

  • Darth Vader from the Star Wars franchise
  • The Joker from the DC Comics series

The word “villain” has its roots in the Old French word “ vilain ,” which referred to a person of lower status. As the term evolved, it took on the meaning of an evil or wicked character in various forms of literature, ultimately becoming a staple of modern fiction.

Key Characteristics

Villains can possess a range of characteristics, but some several common traits and motivations make characters distinctly villainous. These include:

  • Selfishness
  • Power-hungry tendencies
  • Manipulation

These characteristics make villains stand out as opposed to other characters and often contribute to the driving force behind their negative actions.

Intentions vs. Actions

While villains are often defined by their malicious intentions, the line between villainy and heroism can sometimes blur when actions are taken into consideration.

It is important to note the distinction between:

  • A character who has good intentions but ultimately commits harmful acts.
  • A truly evil villain who seeks only their personal gain.

It is crucial to differentiate villains from other character types, as storytelling elements may sometimes overlap. Here are some key distinctions:

Villain vs. Antagonist

In discussing characters in media, it is important to understand the distinction between a villain and an antagonist. While both characters serve as obstacles for the protagonist, their intentions and roles in a story can be vastly different.

A villain is a character who not only opposes the protagonist but also has malicious intent or acts immorally. Villains often have evil motives, such as greed or a desire for power, and they are typically portrayed as bent on causing harm or chaos.

Examples of villains include:

  • Negan from The Walking Dead
  • Voldemort from the Harry Potter series

On the other hand, an antagonist is a character who opposes the protagonist’s goals, but they may not necessarily be evil. In fact, antagonists can sometimes be morally justifiable, or even sympathetic figures. Their opposition is often rooted in conflicting objectives or motivations, rather than malicious intent.

Examples of antagonists who are not villains include:

  • Javert from Les Misérables
  • Harry’s fellow students in the Harry Potter series

Here is a comparison of key traits between villains and antagonists:

Evolution of Villainy

Throughout history, the concept of villainy has evolved significantly, adapting to the tastes and requirements of different societies and art forms.

Historical Context

As storytelling developed over time, so too did the concept and portrayal of the villain.

The notion of the villain can be traced back to ancient myths, folklore, and religious texts, where evil or malevolent characters often represented the darker aspects of human nature or cosmic conflicts.

  • Myth and folklore

For instance, Greek mythology features characters such as Medusa and Hades, while Hindu epics like the Ramayana depict the demon king Ravana. These early villains served as archetypes for later literature, imbuing stories with conflict and moral lessons.

In medieval and early modern European literature, villains were often motivated by their societal status or ambitions, as seen in characters such as Richard III and Macbeth. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the emergence of charismatic, calculating, and often sympathetic villains like Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes and Dracula .

  • Modern media

The modern villain has evolved even further, with contemporary literature and cinema offering a wide array of villainous archetypes.

These range from serial killers and psychopaths, such as Hannibal Lecter , to corrupt politicians like Frank Underwood from House of Cards , and even supernatural beings like the White Walkers from Game of Thrones .

The evolution of villainy can be seen not only in their motivations and characteristics but also in their relationship with protagonists and society at large. Early villains were often clearly distinguishable from heroes, maintaining a strict moral dichotomy.

As time progressed, however, villains began to exhibit more complex and nuanced motivations, engaging in moral ambiguity and making it more challenging for audiences to distinguish between good and evil.

In some cases, villains are now even portrayed as anti-heroes with redeemable qualities, as seen in characters like Walter White from Breaking Bad and Deadpool from the Marvel Comics . This ongoing evolution demonstrates the adaptability and importance of the villain as a narrative device and cultural touchstone.

Types of Villains

Villainous foil.

A villainous foil is a type of villain that contrasts sharply with the protagonist, highlighting the differences between them. The villainous foil and the protagonist often have opposing goals and values, which can create conflicts and tensions throughout the story.


Anti-heroes are central characters who possess traits typically associated with villains, such as:

  • Ruthlessness

Despite their flaws, anti-heroes may still have redeeming qualities or goals that align with the greater good.

Sympathetic Villains/Tragic Villains

Sympathetic villains are those with relatable motives or tragic backgrounds that evoke sympathy from the audience. They are characters who suffer a downfall as a result of their own actions, often due to a tragic flaw or error in judgement. They may have once been good, but circumstances or past traumas have led them down a darker path.

Unintentional Villains

Unintentional villains are characters who become antagonists due to circumstances beyond their control rather than an inherently evil nature. These characters may not even realize the negative impact they are causing, and their actions may be driven by factors such as:

  • Desperation

Comic Villains

Comic villains are those who primarily serve a comedic function within a story. They may be bumbling, incompetent, or ridiculous in nature, providing entertainment and comic relief rather than posing a serious threat to the protagonist.

Super Villains

Super villains are powerful antagonists commonly found in comic books, superhero films, and other forms of media featuring superpowered heroes. These villains possess extraordinary abilities, resources, or technology, enabling them to pose a significant threat to the heroes and the world they inhabit.

Archetypal Villains

Archetypal villains are characters who embody universal concepts of evil, often drawing upon established tropes and characteristics from myth, folklore, and historical events. Examples include:

  • The Mad Scientist
  • The Sadistic Torturer

Common Tropes and Clichés of Villains

Villains are essential to any compelling story, but certain tropes and clichés have become overused throughout various media. Some of these common tropes include:

The Anti-Villain

The Anti-Villain is a complex character who does not fit the typical mold of a villain. Often harboring sympathetic qualities and motives, this type of antagonist blurs the line between good and evil. They might have a moral code of their own, which makes their actions more understandable, yet still conflicts with the protagonist’s values.

The Mastermind

The Mastermind villain is a strategic and intelligent individual who often operates from behind the scenes. This character might not possess physical strength, but their cunning and manipulation skills enable them to control situations to their advantage.

They often have a network of minions or associates working for them and are usually driven by a need for power or control.

The Monster

The Monster archetype typically represents a terrifying and inhuman force. This type of villain may lack human characteristics, leaving them difficult to empathize with. They often instill fear in the characters around them, serving as a representation of evil itself.

Monsters can take many forms, including:

  • Mythical creatures
  • Supernatural beings
  • Mutated humans

The Femme Fatale

The Femme Fatale is a seductive and manipulative female villain who uses her beauty and charm to wield influence over others. Often driven by revenge or personal gain, this archetype can be seen as a threat to traditional values, especially within patriarchal societies.

Femme Fatale villains are usually intelligent and cunning, exploiting their relationships with others to achieve their goals.

Rogues and Thieves

Rogues and thieves are villains who operate outside of societal norms and laws, driven by their own desires or even a sense of rebellion.

While they may not pose a direct threat to the protagonist, their actions often disrupt the balance of power within the narrative. Rogues and thieves can appear charming, charismatic, or even sympathetic, making it difficult for the audience to view them as purely evil.

Other Villain Archetypes

  • The Evil Genius: A highly intelligent villain with a knack for creating advanced technology, manipulating others, or concocting intricate schemes.
  • The Power-Hungry Tyrant: A villain who only seeks power, control, and dominance, often aiming to conquer or command others.
  • The Vengeful Outcast: A character who has been wronged, betrayed or ostracized, and embarks on a journey of revenge against those who harmed them.
  • The Sadistic Psychopath: A villain who seems to have no conscience, committing evil acts simply for the pleasure of causing pain and suffering.
  • The Dark Reflection: A villain who mirrors the hero in some way, often by embodying their darker traits, worst fears, or untapped potential.

Overused Tropes: Potential Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them in Storytelling

While these common tropes have their place in storytelling, relying on them too heavily can lead to predictable or uninspired villains. To avoid these pitfalls, storytellers can:

  • Subvert expectations

Challenge readers or viewers’ assumptions by putting a fresh spin on a familiar trope, or by combining and reimagining elements of multiple tropes.

  • Add depth to characters

Develop villains with nuanced motivations, complex relationships, and realistic reactions to their own actions and consequences, to create a more engaging and relatable antagonist.

  • Focus on u nique features

Give villains unique abilities, skills, or quirks to differentiate them from the archetypes, making them feel more original and intriguing.

  • Explore moral gray areas

Present villains with redeeming qualities or justifiable motives, challenging the audience to reevaluate their perspective on the villain’s actions and the line between right and wrong.

By recognizing these common tropes and clichés in villain creation and exploring ways to innovate and develop their characters further, storytellers can craft compelling, original villains that avoid frequently-used narrative pitfalls.

Iconic Examples

Villains can be found in various forms of media, such as literature, film, and comic books, captivating audiences with their unique traits and motivations. This section showcases a diverse range of memorable villains, examining what sets them apart from others.

  • Literature: In William Shakespeare’s play Othello , the villain Iago manipulates the protagonist, causing tragedy and chaos.
  • Film: Darth Vader, from the Star Wars franchise, is known for his menacing appearance and complex relationship with the protagonist, Luke Skywalker.
  • Television: Walter White, from the TV series Breaking Bad , starts as a mild-mannered chemistry teacher but evolves into a ruthless drug kingpin.
  • Comic Books: Thanos, from Marvel Comics, is a powerful villain who believes that eliminating half of the universe’s population will solve the problems of limited resources and overpopulation.

What Makes These Characters Stand Out

Each of these villains possesses specific characteristics that set them apart from other antagonists:

  • Iago’s intelligence and cunning make him a master manipulator.
  • Darth Vader’s internal struggle between good and evil adds depth to his character.
  • Walter White’s transformation from a sympathetic character to a criminal mastermind is another unique aspect of his villainy.
  • Thanos’ motivation to create a balanced universe, albeit through destructive means, makes him a compelling villain with a twisted sense of justice.

The Most Iconic of Them All

While there are countless villains in storytelling history, The Joker stands out with his unpredictable nature, chaotic mindset, and enduring rivalry with Batman.

Over the years, he has been portrayed in various media and has gained notoriety for his sinister humor and nihilistic personality . The Joker, as a character, is a testament to the power of well-developed, complex villains.

Villains in Literature

Shakespearean villains.

William Shakespeare’s works have presented audiences with memorable villains. Often driven by ambition, jealousy, or a need for power, these characters captivate readers and contribute to the stories’ complexity:

  • Lady Macbeth from Macbeth
  • Richard III from Richard III
  • Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus

Modern Literature

Contemporary literature features villains with new layers of complexity, forcing readers to question morality and empathy. Notable modern literary villains are:

  • Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  • Amy Dunne from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Classic Novel Villains

Classic novels often depict villains as symbols of societal issues, exploring themes of power, corruption, and greed. Some examples include:

  • Mr. Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Sauron from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Long John Silver from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Villains in Comic Books

Comic books have also featured numerous iconic villains, including:

  • Lex Luthor ( Superman )
  • The Riddler ( Batman )
  • Doctor Octopus ( Spider-Man )

These characters have acted as the nemesis for their respective heroes and have often appeared in animated adaptations

Role in Storytelling

Villains play a crucial role in storytelling by providing conflict and challenges for the protagonist. They often embody the darker parts of human nature, which helps authors explore complex themes and moral questions.

This dynamic creates engaging, thought-provoking narratives that continue to captivate readers over time.

Famous Quotes about Villains

Throughout history, famous authors, poets, and playwrights have explored the notion of villains in their works. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic quotes that capture the essence of these complex characters:

These quotes demonstrate the multifaceted nature of villains and the motivations that drive them. There is often more to these characters than meets the eye, which is one of the reasons why they continue to intrigue and captivate audiences.

Villains in Film and Television

In the world of film and television, villains are essential components, often creating the conflict necessary for a compelling narrative. Through various portrayals, villains have evolved over time, providing both entertainment and a reflection of society’s changing perceptions.

Evolution: Shifting Perceptions and Portrayals

Over the years, villains in film and television have evolved with society’s changing values and expectations. Earlier depictions often focused on one-dimensional figures who were purely evil, while more recent portrayals have given rise to complex characters with relatable motivations.

Contemporary media has allowed for a wider range of villainous portrayals, often challenging preconceived notions of good and evil. These characters may defy stereotypes, blurring the lines between traditional roles and offering greater representation for diverse perspectives on morality.

Modern Villains and Complex Characters

In recent years, audiences have been introduced to a new generation of complex villains whose motives extend beyond simple desires for power or revenge. These nuanced characters often possess tragic backstories , relatable emotions , and internal struggles , providing depth and layers of intrigue that keep viewers engaged.

Iconic Villains in Cinema

Several iconic villains have left their mark on film history, thrilling audiences with their unique characteristics and intriguing backstories. Some of these notorious figures include:

  • The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • The Wicked Witch Of The West from The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
  • Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  • Michael Myers from Halloween (1978)
  • Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

TV’s Most Memorable Villains

Television shows have also produced their share of memorable villains. The following each offer nuanced portrayals of characters grappling with desires for power and control:

  • Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones
  • Wil Wheaton from The Big Bang Theory
  • Eric Cartman from South Park
  • The Governor from The Walking Dead

Villains through Children’s Eyes

Perception of evil.

Children often perceive villains as characters who embody evil, having qualities that oppose their understanding of goodness. Such traits can include:

At a young age, children may struggle to comprehend the complexity of villains, which leads to a simplified and polarized view. However, as they grow and mature, their understanding of the motives and characteristics of these characters evolves.

Fear and Fascination

Fear is a common emotion experienced in encountering villains. The frightening elements depicted by these characters, such as scary appearances or menacing behavior, can stir up anxiety and unease in young minds. Yet, this fear is typically essential to the story’s development and can help children learn to navigate challenging situations.

Simultaneously, villains can also evoke fascination, eliciting curiosity about their motives and actions. This curiosity encourages engagement with the story and exploration of the reasons behind the villain’s behavior, highlighting the importance of understanding others’ perspectives, even those that are different from our own.

Impact on Child Development

Villains in children’s media play a crucial role in shaping their understanding of good and evil. By presenting consequences for harmful actions and rewarding positive behavior, these stories can teach morals and values to young minds.

In addition, the complex emotions elicited by these villainous characters can support children’s emotional development, providing opportunities for them to confront their fears and develop resilience, ultimately aiding in their growth as individuals.

Role in Child Development

Moral lessons.

Villains in media play a significant role in imparting moral lessons to children. Through their actions and the consequences they face, children learn the difference between right and wrong. As young viewers observe the hero’s journey and the villain’s defeat, they come to understand the importance of good behavior and consequences of wrongdoing.

For example, in classic fairy tales such as Cinderella , the evil stepmother and stepsisters exhibit unkindness and jealousy, which ultimately result in their downfall. These stories demonstrate to children that negative traits and behaviors lead to negative outcomes, reinforcing the importance of treating others with kindness.

Overcoming Adversity

Another crucial aspect of villains in child development is their role in helping young audiences learn about overcoming adversity. Villains often present obstacles and challenges that the hero must overcome, teaching children that perseverance and determination are necessary to succeed in the face of adversity.

Take, for instance, the villainous Scar from The Lion King . His deceit and manipulation force the protagonist, Simba, to confront his fears, learn valuable life lessons, and grow into the leader he is meant to become. By facing and overcoming the antagonist, children learn that they too can triumph over their personal struggles and challenges.

Cartoon Villains

Role in cartoon narratives.

Cartoon villains play a crucial role in animated narratives, often serving as the primary force of conflict against the protagonist. Their actions and motives drive the plot forward, while also adding depth to the story and presenting challenges for the heroes.

Impact on Pop Culture

Cartoon villains have become an integral part of the overall narrative. By challenging heroes, they highlight themes of resilience and morality , while also contributing significant entertainment value to the stories they inhabit.

Golden Age Villains

The Golden Age of Animation, roughly spanning the 1920s to the 1960s, introduced some of the most iconic villains in cartoon history. Characters like Tom from Tom and Jerry , Yosemite Sam, and Captain Hook were created during this era and continue to influence animation today.

Modern Age Villains

Modern Age cartoon villains have evolved to become more complex and multidimensional characters. Examples include:

  • Lord Business from The Lego Movie
  • Sid Phillips from Toy Story
  • Syndrome from The Incredibles

Disney Villains

Disney is known for creating many memorable villains who have captivated audiences through their wickedness and villainy. Some of these villains are:

  • Evil Queen Grimhilde ( Snow White )
  • Cruella de Vil ( 101 Dalmatians )
  • Gaston ( Beauty and the Beast )
  • Maleficent ( Sleeping Beauty )
  • Jafar ( Aladdin )

Warner Bros. Cartoons Villains

Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes series has introduced a diverse range of cartoon villains, each with their distinct quirks and comedic styles. Popular characters include:

  • Marvin the Martian
  • Tazmanian Devil

A Wider Lens: The Cultural Impact of Villains

Understanding the cultural significance of villains in media is essential when examining their impact on society.


Villains often represent dark aspects of our world, reflecting social and cultural issues that societies grapple with. Through these depictions, audiences can explore and better understand these problems in a safe environment.

A Reflection of Societal Concerns

As a mirror to society’s concerns, villains embody widely held fears, values, and attitudes. Examples include:

  • Class divisions
  • The degradation of natural ecosystems

By observing these antagonists, we can learn about the issues that society faces and the values that shape it.

Influence on Popular Culture, Politics, and Public Discourse

Iconic villains not only leave an indelible mark on popular culture, but also influence politics and public discourse. In some cases, the ideas and values represented by these characters infiltrate our daily lives and conversations, shaping collective beliefs and ideologies.

Usage of the Term ‘Villain’ in Culture

The term ‘villain’ has been used extensively in various aspects of culture, ranging from literature to cinema, to represent characters who are morally corrupt and oppose the protagonist.

This concept is not limited to fictional characters, but also extends to historical figures and events, which are used as examples for social commentary and discussions about morality.

  • Social commentary

Oftentimes, villains are depicted in a way that reflects social issues and concerns. For instance, a villainous character may embody characteristics such as greed, cruelty, or discrimination, serving as a way for people to address and discuss these real-world problems through the lens of fiction.

Furthermore, the opposition between the hero and the villain provides a platform for scrutinizing the complexities of human nature.

  • Historical figures

Throughout history, certain individuals have gained notoriety as ‘villains’ due to their actions or personality traits. These historical figures may have been responsible for causing significant harm or suffering, such as tyrants, war criminals, or leaders who abused their power.

In some cases, their deeds are still remembered and debated in contemporary society, highlighting the lasting impact of their actions.

Cultural Impact

Villains in popular culture often profoundly influence how people perceive certain concepts or ideas. For example, a well-known villainous character from a novel, comic book, or film may help to shape the public’s understanding of what constitutes evil or immoral behavior.

Additionally, the portrayal of villains can contribute to discussions about moral and social values, as different works of fiction and historical accounts may present varying definitions of villainy.

Functions of Villains in Storytelling

Villains are essential to storytelling as they create conflict and challenge protagonists. Without them, stories would lack tension , excitement , and purpose .

  • Villains drive the narrative forward by obstructing the hero’s goals and forcing them to adapt and grow.
  • Through their actions and choices, villains force protagonists to confront their fears and insecurities, which in turn leads to character development. For example : In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort’s quest for power forces Harry to find his own strengths and overcome his weaknesses.
  • Villains also expose the moral and ethical dilemmas that protagonists face. They bring out the darker sides of human nature and force heroes to confront difficult, sometimes painful, decisions.

Functions of a Well-Developed Villain

Well-developed villains are not just obstacles for the protagonist to overcome; they can also enhance the story’s themes and messages.

  • They often mirror or counter the protagonist’s journey, highlighting the choices and actions that define both characters. For example, in Batman and the Joker’s iconic rivalry, the Joker’s chaotic and destructive nature contrasts with Batman’s pursuit of justice and order, emphasizing the broader themes of chaos versus order and the line between heroism and villainy.
  • A complex villain can also humanize the story, providing depth and relatability. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Othello , Iago’s motives are rooted in jealousy and betrayal, making him a more three-dimensional character who showcases the destructive power of such emotions.

The Psychology of Villains

Motivations and mindsets.

A villain’s motivations and mindset are crucial in understanding their behavior. Factors such as a thirst for power, revenge, or personal gain often drive a villain’s actions. Despite these destructive aspirations, some villains might believe that their actions are ultimately for the greater good.

Nature vs. Nurture

The debate of nature versus nurture focuses on whether a villain’s actions are influenced more by their genetic makeup or environmental factors.

While there are instances where trauma or upbringing play a significant role in shaping a villain, some cases showcase an innate propensity for evil, suggesting that biology may also have an impact on villainous behavior.

Evolutionary Perspective

From an evolutionary perspective, villains may:

  • Serve as cautionary tales.
  • Illustrate the consequences of disregarding social norms.

By portraying the negative effects of villainous behavior, these narratives reinforce social values and discourage antisocial conduct.

Aspects Affected by Villains

Plot development.

Villains are essential for driving a story’s plot, as they often initiate events that compel the protagonist to make crucial decisions and take action. They create circumstances leading to the protagonist’s pursuit of a vital mission, involving numerous challenges, obstacles, and increasing stakes tied to the villain’s influence.

Throughout the story, the antagonist’s actions push the protagonist to confront their own beliefs, weaknesses, and limits, ultimately fostering character development and growth.

Conflict and Tension

Conflict and tension are indispensable elements of a compelling story, and villains are often the source of these tensions. By creating obstacles and opposing the protagonist’s desires, the villain generates dramatic tension that engages the audience.

  • External conflicts : The villain may generate conflict by endangering the protagonist or their loved ones, threatening a community, or undermining a goal.
  • Internal conflicts : Villains can also prompt internal struggles within the protagonist, by raising moral dilemmas or challenging the hero’s values and principles.

Inherent conflicts involving the villain help build suspense and anticipation, as the audience wonders how the hero will overcome the adversities and defeat the villain.

Character Growth

Not only do villains contribute to plot and conflict, but they can also spark character growth in other characters, particularly the protagonist. Often, a well-crafted villain will challenge the hero’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses, forcing the protagonist to adapt and evolve.

Throughout their confrontations and interactions with the villain, the protagonist may learn valuable lessons, overcome challenges, and ultimately emerge as a stronger, more developed character.

This growth enables the protagonist to confront the villain in the climax of the story, bringing about a resolution and an end to the conflict.

Character Development and Redemption

Over time, some villains transform into heroes, while others showcase moral ambiguity, adding depth and complexity to their narrative arcs.

Villain to Hero

Several iconic villains have experienced redemption and evolved into heroes throughout their storylines. These transformations often occur due to personal growth, circumstances that force reevaluation of their morals, or interactions with other characters.

  • Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series initially appears as an antagonist but ultimately reveals his true loyalties and sacrifices for the greater good.
  • Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender , who starts as the primary antagonist but undergoes a journey of self-discovery and ultimately fights alongside the protagonists.

Moral Ambiguity

Moral ambiguity in villains adds complexity to their character and keeps the audience guessing about their true intentions. These characters often struggle internally, caught between their negative past actions and their desire for redemption or change.

  • Walter White from Breaking Bad : An example of a morally ambiguous villain who starts as a high school chemistry teacher and gradually transforms into a drug kingpin. Despite his illegal actions, the audience can still empathize with him due to his motives and the circumstances that led him to this path.
  • Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones : Her actions are driven by her love for her children and her need to protect them. Although her methods may be ruthless, her motives humanize her and create moral ambiguity within her character arc.

The Art of Crafting Compelling Villains

Develop strong motivations and backstories.

Creating a compelling villain begins with understanding their motivations and backstory. A well-developed backstory provides context for their actions and helps the audience empathize with their struggles.

  • Consider the villain’s history and experiences that shaped their worldview.
  • Examine what drives their actions and choices.
  • Explore how their goals conflict with those of the protagonist.

Emphasize the Complexity and Depth

A complex villain is more than just an evil force; they possess depth and layers that create a more nuanced character. To accomplish this:

  • Delve into the character’s emotions, beliefs, and values.
  • Explore their relationships with other characters.
  • Consider how their personality traits and motivations create a dynamic and believable individual.

Illustrate the Villain’s Evolution

A villain should evolve over the course of the story. This can include changes in their motivations, tactics, or worldview. To portray this evolution:

  • Show how the villain adapts to challenges and setbacks.
  • Reveal gradual shifts in their beliefs or values.
  • Illustrate how their relationships with other characters influence their development.

Utilize Key Elements Needed

Some key elements that make a villain memorable and multifaceted include:

Villains in Everyday Life

Although fictional villains can capture our imaginations and provide great entertainment, it is important to recognize the role of villains in everyday life. These real-life antagonists differ from their fictional counterparts, but can still have profound impacts on society.

Common Examples

Villains in everyday life come in many different forms. Examples include:

  • Bullies: Someone who intentionally imposes their will onto others through intimidation, harassment, or physical force.
  • Scammers: Individuals or groups who use deception and lies to defraud others for personal gain.
  • Abusive Relationships: When one person in a relationship holds an unhealthy amount of power and control over the other, leading to emotional or physical harm.

Real-life Villains vs. Fictional Villains

There are key differences between real-life villains and their fictional counterparts, such as:

  • Motivations: Real-life villains typically have motivations based more in reality, such as greed or vengeance, compared to fantastical or supernatural motivations which can be found in fictional works.
  • Consequences: While fictional villains can often serve as cautionary tales, real-life villains have a more immediate and personal impact on people’s lives.
  • Parallels to Society: Real-life villains may reflect wider societal problems, and their actions can be influenced by or shape our culture and values.

While real-life villains pose a genuine threat to people, they can also serve an important role in societal discussions and storytelling. Here is a table summarizing some of the pros and cons associated with the existence of real-life villains:

Real-Life Villains Throughout History

Political villains.

Political villains are leaders or individuals who abuse their power or influence to commit atrocities, leading to the suffering of their people. Some infamous examples include:

  • Adolf Hitler , the dictator responsible for World War II and the Holocaust, causing the deaths of millions.
  • Joseph Stalin , who ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, resulting in the deaths and suffering of countless citizens through forced labor, famine, and political purges.
  • Mao Zedong , whose policies during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution led to the deaths of millions of Chinese people.

Crime Leaders

Crime leaders are individuals who control criminal organizations and exploit others for personal gain through illegal activities. Some notorious examples include:

Terrorist Leaders

Terrorist leaders are individuals who orchestrate and direct acts of terror, which result in civilian casualties and social unrest. Some examples include:

  • Osama Bin Laden , the founder of Al-Qaeda, and the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi , the former leader of ISIS, who was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks and atrocities across multiple continents.
  • Anders Breivik , a right-wing extremist who perpetrated the 2011 Norway attacks, resulting in the deaths of 77 people.

The Role of Society in Creating Villains

  • Social i njustice

When individuals experience systemic discrimination or inequality, they may resort to villainous behavior in response to their circumstances. This can manifest as a desire for revenge or a fight against the system that has oppressed them.

Some villains arise from marginalized communities, seeking to right the wrongs they have endured.

  • Abusive or n eglectful upbringing

A lack of love, support, or guidance in one’s formative years can sometimes push a person towards a darker path.

Villains who have experienced trauma or abuse might develop negative coping mechanisms, leading them to inflict harm on others. Their actions might be driven by a desire for control or a deep-seated belief that they are unworthy of love and kindness.

  • Economic disparity

Extreme poverty or wealth can contribute to the rise of villains, with individuals turning to crime as a means of survival or power.

Those living in impoverished conditions may feel they have no other option but to engage in criminal activity. In contrast, the wealthy might use their resources to manipulate or exploit others for their own benefit.

  • Cultural norms

Society’s expectations and norms can create villains when individuals feel constrained, alienated, or excluded due to their beliefs or identity.

In some cases, villains are born out of a rebellion against societal norms, striving to create a new world order or seeking acceptance for their unique qualities. Others might lash out at a society that has rejected them, aiming to prove their worth or exact vengeance.

  • Propaganda and misinformation

When exposed to false information or extremist ideologies, individuals may adopt villainous beliefs and engage in destructive behavior.

Propaganda can warp one’s perception of reality, leading to radicalization and pursuit of dangerous goals. These villains might believe they are acting in the best interest of their cause or group, even if their actions have disastrous consequences.

  • The need for power and control

Societal pressures to succeed or dominate can push individuals to embrace villainy as they seek to assert their authority.

In a competitive world, some people may become ruthless in their quest for power, employing immoral tactics to achieve their goals. These villains may view compassion and empathy as weaknesses, opting for manipulation and control instead.

Dealing with Villains in Everyday Life

Recognizing and identifying villainous behavior.

It is essential to understand that villainous behavior can present itself in various ways. Often, it includes manipulation, deceit, and causing harm to others. Recognizing these behaviors can help individuals identify potential villains in their lives:

  • Manipulation and control, both overtly and subtly.
  • Deceit and dishonesty, such as lying or withholding information.
  • Cruelty and a lack of empathy or concern for others.

Strategies to Handle Villains

Even though confrontations with villains can be challenging, the following strategies may help in dealing with them:

  • Set boundaries and communicate them clearly to prevent manipulation.
  • Keep a record of incidents and document evidence for future reference.
  • Seek support from friends, family, or professionals when dealing with a villain.
  • Avoid engaging in conflicts or power struggles; try to remain objective.

Consequences and Preventative Measures

Dealing with villainous behavior can be emotionally draining and can have lasting consequences. However, individuals can take preventative measures to protect themselves from potential harm:

  • Stay informed about common tactics villains use and be prepared to identify them.
  • Create a support network that can offer assistance and guidance when needed.
  • Educate oneself on the legal options available for dealing with villainous individuals.
  • Maintain a healthy emotional and mental well-being even during challenging times.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are all villains evil.

Not all villains are evil in the traditional sense. Some are complex characters with sympathetic motivations, which can make their actions more understandable despite being morally ambiguous.

Can a villain become a hero?

Yes, villains can undergo redemption arcs where they face the consequences of their actions, make amends, and ultimately work towards a more heroic path.

Why do people find villains fascinating?

Villains often embody darker aspects of human nature, and exploring their motivations, flaws, and desires can lead to intriguing and complex narratives that challenge and engage audiences.

Throughout the article, the exploration of villains has unveiled their diverse types, functions, and historical evolution, as well as their cultural impact and significance in storytelling.

Through their evolution from ancient myths to modern literature and cinema, these compelling characters have captured our imagination and shaped popular culture, reflecting our fears, values, and societal attitudes.

As we continue to explore the depths of villainy, one can’t help but wonder: How will villains evolve alongside our ever-changing society, and what new forms of darkness will they bring to life in the stories yet to be told?

Embrace the allure of villainy as we eagerly anticipate their next fascinating chapter.

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Cambridge Dictionary

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Meaning of villain in English

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  • be in the frame (for something ) idiom
  • juvenile delinquent
  • perpetrator
  • probationer
  • white-collar criminal

You can also find related words, phrases, and synonyms in the topics:

villain | American Dictionary

Translations of villain.

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in a way that is natural, often sudden, and not planned or forced

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Villain Archetype: Definition and 10 Examples of an Antagonist

Every great story needs a compelling antagonist to challenge the protagonist and drive the plot forward. Villains are the ultimate obstacle in the heroic journey, often providing the conflict and tension necessary to keep readers engaged.

In this article, we’ll explore the villain archetype in stories, including what makes a great villain and how to create one that readers will love to hate.

Villain Archetype: Definition and 10 Examples of an Antagonist

What is the Villain Archetype?

At its simplest, a villain is an antagonist who opposes the protagonist’s goals and desires. However, a truly great villain is more than just a one-dimensional character who exists solely to thwart the hero. Instead, the best villains are complex, fully realized characters with their own motivations, goals, and desires.

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Characteristics of a Great Villain Archetype:

  • Compelling Motivations : A great villain has a compelling reason for why they are doing what they are doing. They believe that what they are doing is right, or at least necessary, and this makes them much more interesting than a villain who is evil for the sake of being evil. We often see the villain’s motivations become know during the Speech in Praise of the Villain OBLIGATORY MOMENT .
  • Ideologically Driven : A villain often has a particular, unwavering way of seeing the world and consistently acts out of this ideology.
  • Intelligence : A smart villain is always more dangerous than a dumb one. They can outsmart the hero, anticipate their moves, and stay one step ahead of them.
  • A Tragic Backstory : Some of the most memorable villains have a tragic backstory that helps to explain why they turned to a life of villainy. This backstory can add depth and complexity to the character, making them more sympathetic.
  • Threatening : A great villain needs to be threatening to the hero. This can be through their physical attributes such strength, speed, or combat abilities, but can also include emotional, psychological, and existential threats as well.

Examples of Great Villains:

To better understand the Villain archetype, let’s take a look at some examples from popular culture.

1. Darth Vader ( Star Wars )

Villain Archetype: Darth Vader

Darth Vader is the classic “dark lord” archetype, a towering and physically intimidating figure with immense power and intelligence. He is a skilled strategist, manipulator, and believer in the power of the dark side of the Force. Motivated by his desire to impose order on the galaxy, he has a tragic backstory that adds depth and complexity to his character. He embodies many of the traits of this archetype and is one of the most iconic villains in storytelling.

2. Hannibal Lecter ( The Silence of the Lambs )

Villain Archetype: Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter is the classic “psychopath” archetype, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. He is incredibly intelligent and manipulative, with a twisted sense of humor that makes him even more unsettling. He embodies the traits of a classic psychopath, including a lack of empathy, charm, and superficial charm. He is a master of manipulation, using his intelligence and charm to get what he wants.

3. Voldemort ( Harry Potter )

Villain Archetype: Voldemort

Voldemort is the classic “dark wizard” archetype, seeking to impose his will on the wizarding world through power and fear. He is physically imposing and powerful, with a deep knowledge of dark magic. He is motivated by a desire for immortality and a thirst for power, willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He is also intelligent and manipulative, using his powers of persuasion to gain followers and control those around him.

4. Agent Smith ( The Matrix ):

Villain Archetype: Agent Smith

Agent Smith is the classic “artificial intelligence” archetype, a program created by the machines to police the Matrix. He desires to eliminate all threats to the Matrix. He is physically threatening, with the ability to replicate himself and overpower his opponents. He is motivated by a desire to maintain control and order within the Matrix, at the expense of human freedom.

5. Cersei Lannister ( Game of Thrones )

Villain Archetype: Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister is the classic “ruthless ruler” archetype, seeking to maintain her grip on the Iron Throne through any means necessary. She possesses deep knowledge of politics and war tactics. She is motivated by a desire for power and to protect her family, at the expense of anyone who opposes her. She is a master of manipulation, using her intelligence and cunning to gain the upper hand in any situation.

6. Professor James Moriarty ( Sherlock Holmes )

Villain Archetype: Professor James Moriarty

Professor James Moriarty is the classic “criminal mastermind” archetype, a brilliant and calculating villain who poses a constant challenge to Sherlock Holmes. He is intelligent and manipulative, with a deep knowledge of crime and the criminal underworld. He has a cunning that gives him the ability to outsmart and anticipate his opponents.

7. The White Witch ( The Chronicles of Narnia )

Villain Archetype: The White Witch

The White Witch is the classic “dark sorceress” archetype, an evil ruler of Narnia who seeks to maintain her grip on the land through fear and intimidation. She uses her dark magic to control those around her along with her ability to turn creatures to stone with a single touch. She is motivated by a desire for power and control, using her magic to impose her will on the land.

8. Jafar ( Aladdin )

Villain Archetype: Jafar

Jafar is the classic “power-hungry advisor” archetype, seeking to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world and take over Agrabah. He uses his position as the Grand Vizier to gain power and control those around him. He is motivated by a desire for power and control, willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals.

9. Annie Wilkes ( Misery )

Villain Archetype: Nurse Claudia

Annie Wilkes is the classic “deranged fan” archetype, obsessed with her favorite author, Paul Sheldon. She uses her power as his caretaker to control and manipulate him along with drugs and restraints to keep him captive. She is motivated by a desire to keep him writing and continue the story she loves, even if it means harming him.

10. Iago ( Othello )

Villain Archetype: Iago

Iago from Othello is the classic “manipulative villain” archetype, a deceitful and cunning character who seeks to destroy the title character. He uses his powers of persuasion to turn others against each other. He is motivated by a desire for revenge and a thirst for power, using his intelligence and cunning to gain the upper hand.

Creating a Great Villain Archetype:

Now that we’ve looked at some great examples of villains, let’s explore how to create one of your own. Here are some tips for creating a compelling antagonist:

  • Give them a clear motivation : Your villain needs to have a clear reason for why they are doing what they are doing. It can be something personal, like revenge or a desire for power, or something more altruistic, like a desire to save the world.
  • Make them complex : Your villain should be a fully realized character with their own backstory, motivations, and desires. They should be more than just a one-dimensional character who exists solely to oppose the hero.
  • Make them physically threatening : Your villain should pose a physical threat to the hero. This can be through their strength, combat abilities, or other powers.
  • Make them intelligent : A smart villain is always more dangerous than a dumb one. They can outsmart the hero, anticipate their moves, and stay one step ahead of them.
  • Consider giving them a tragic backstory : A tragic backstory can add depth and complexity to your villain, making them more sympathetic and interesting.

Final Words

The villain archetype is a crucial component of any great story. A well-written antagonist can drive the plot forward, challenge the hero, and keep readers engaged. By following the tips outlined in this article and studying some great examples of villains, you can create a compelling antagonist that readers will love to hate. Remember, the key is to make your villain complex, physically threatening, and intelligent, with clear motivations. With a great villain, your story is sure to be a hit.

More Heroic Journey Resources

  • Villain Archetype
  • Hero Archetype
  • Mentor Archetype
  • Trickster Archetype
  • Shapeshifter Archetype
  • Herald Archetype
  • Threshold Guardian Archetype
  • Allies Archetype

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#5onFri: Top 5 Types of Villains in Literature

#5onFri: Top 5 Types of Villains in Literature

Feb 24, 2023 by Neil Chase published in Writing

literature villain definition

What are Villains in Literature?

A villain is, by definition, an evil or immoral character intent on harming others. In literature, these characters portray evil and immoral behavior while also providing readers with an antagonistic force or bad guy – a figure against whom to root.

They are often presented as self-serving or selfish, especially when it matters the most. Their own survival ultimately trumps everything else and can typically be a reason why they fail in the pursuit of their goal, while the hero succeeds in being willing to sacrifice everything for the same goal.

Villains can be motivated by greed or lust or pride, or self-preservation, or they could simply enjoy the act of hurting others. This is the simplest type of adversary because, technically speaking, they don’t need a motive to do what they do.

But giving them a reason for being who and what they are will add complexity to storylines, as they provide tension and difficulty for the heroes of stories, making them work harder for their goals.

Villains often have deep-seated motivations and reveal something about human nature, which makes them attractive for readers to analyze. Moreover, many villains have secrets and pasts that draw readers’s sympathy, adding complexity to the story.

In literature, villains create compelling stories through conflict and challenge traditional notions of morality, and this brings out strong emotions in readers.

What Are the Top 5 Types of Villains in Literature?

Though there are many villain archetypes, these are my top 5 picks:

The Trickster

The trickster villain, who relies on cleverness and manipulation, is one of literature’s top five types of villains.

Think of characters like the Joker, Loki, or the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland – they rely on deception and wicked cunning to get their way. 

The Trickster often makes a deal with the protagonist, appealing to their needs and desires, but the price for the agreement is always higher than the main character realizes. They’re an incredibly entertaining addition to books and movies, always finding ways to throw a monkey wrench into plans and add more excitement and drama.

They may seem infuriating initially, but eventually, their motives become clear – they are simply out to prove their brilliance and superiority over the hero. Most often driven by greed or jealousy, they typically want something from the main character that they would otherwise be unable to get on their own.

The Trickster is brilliant and fun but lacks a moral compass, and is thereby perfect for adding nuance and richness to the world of literature!

The Evil Overlord

For anyone familiar with the great works of literature throughout history, the iconic Evil Overlord has become a symbol in its own right for an antagonistic force that brings about destruction and chaos.

From J.R.R Tolkien’s Sauron to Count Dracula to Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz , this type of ultimate enemy stands out for their power and sagacity in crushing all who oppose them!

The Evil Overlord is among the most despicable of villains – one might even say they are evil incarnate. Typically offered with little backstory, their motives are nothing short of total domination, and they perform acts of evil because they can. They have no redeeming qualities, they fully embrace their nature, and they are driven only by their own selfish and impure desires.

As such, it’s often their unchecked hubris that proves to be their undoing through an act of extreme courage by the hero.

Having said that, the allure of evil overlords in literature remains as captivating as ever. This intelligent and ruthless character type presents a formidable challenge with their immense power and wicked cunning, making them a challenging foe for the hero to defeat.

Indeed, when these powerful villains are finally vanquished, it’s always cause for joy and celebration by the characters within the story.

From power-hungry tyrants to heartless manipulators, villains in literature come in all shapes and sizes.

One of the most common types is the Bully – whose physical or emotional abuse threatens and intimidates their victims.

This villain allows readers to explore themes such as justice and to experience courage and sympathy by seeing how very human characters endure incredible hardship and prevail.

This is a universal archetype, as most people have had real-life experience with a bully figure. Audiences can relate, with fairly little explanation needed for them to understand why this character poses a threat.

Rather than using complex high-tech devices or mastermind plots – these villains’s strength lies in the power of their imposing words and actions. They have an inherent need to display their dominance over the main character through strength and cruelty to prove their superiority and mask their shortcomings and fragile egos.

Some famous examples include Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , and Miss Trunchbull from Matilda .

The Corrupt Politician or Authority Figure

The Corrupt Politician or Authority Figure is a villainous character trope explored in many genres throughout literature.

From the wicked orphanage owner Miss Hannigan in Annie to the tyrannical Captain Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty and Alonzo Harris in Training Day , these villains are often seen as morally bankrupt figures who may have started as decent people, but whose unchecked authority has corrupted them. They command an organization or institution with an iron fist and little remorse – seeking their own agenda while taking advantage of those they rule over.

As characters, they help build tension and drama, giving the protagonists clear-cut obstacles to overcome to achieve their desired goal while inspiring readers to explore tales of agency and justice.

Not all villains are created equal, unless they are compared with the hero .

One of the top categories of villains is the Equal – often presented as the mirror image of the main character. They share the same skills, knowledge and/or savvy, but their ethics and morals are polar opposites.

Whereas the hero is ultimately presented as moral, brave and just, the Equal is often shown as immoral, cowardly, and deceptive. On paper, they have everything it takes to win the conflict, but their lack of compassion and unwillingness to sacrifice tends to be their undoing when it matters the most.

Unforgettable examples include General Zod in the Superman comics, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings , and Renee Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark .

There are dozens of different types of villains out there, each with their own quirks and motivations. As a writer, you get to find the most compelling villain type for your story. And as the saying goes, the hero is only as good as the villain.

After all, without a good villain or antagonistic force to drive the conflict, you can’t have a good story. So make yours memorable!

Do you have a favorite type of villain? Let us know in the comments below!

literature villain definition

Neil Chase is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, actor, and storytelling consultant with extensive experience in a variety of genres, including action, sci-fi, drama, horror, and comedy. Neil has won over 90 international writing awards and is most proud of winning the FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards Grand Prize.

Neil’s screenplays have been produced for film and TV, and he is the author of the award-winning horror-western novel Iron Dogs .

When not working, he’s drawing inspiration from his amazing family, thinking up new worlds and adventures, and helping aspiring authors find the best tools for writing and follow their dream of writing something truly amazing.

You can find him on his website:  https://www.neilchasefilm.com or follow him on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , Pinterest , and Linkedin .

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The History of the Word 'Villain'

Upon being informed that villain is related to a Latin word meaning "inhabitant of a villa ," one might conjure up images of a mustache-twirling villain conniving evilly at his sprawling villa. The history of the word, though, is far more complicated than that.


'Villain' comes from a synonym of 'villager'. So where did all this villainy come from?

The story does start with that Latin word. Actually, it's a Medieval Latin word: villanus . The fact that it's Medieval Latin matters because although the word villa in classical Latin referred to a large country dwelling, by the time of Late Latin —the 3rd to 6th centuries—the word could also refer more generally to any aggregation of rural dwellings, making it nearly equivalent in meaning to village . Medieval Latin came after Late Latin (Medieval Latin was in use from the 7th through the 15th centuries), making villanus , with its "inhabitant of a villa" meaning, basically a synonym of villager —which doesn't exactly evoke that evilly conniving villa-abiding villain.

The landed aristocracy (those at home in villas in the classical Latin sense of the word) dominating medieval society in the days of Middle English had all the power, politically and linguistically, and under their use of the word, the Middle English descendant of villanus meaning "villager" (a word styled as vilain or vilein ) developed the meaning "a person of uncouth mind and manners." As the common equating of manners with morals gained in strength and currency, the connotations worsened, so that the modern word villain is no unpolished villager, but is instead (among other things) a deliberate scoundrel or criminal.

A glimmer of this history is visible in the dictionary entry for villain : the earliest meaning of the word is " villein ," a word that refers (in part) to a free common villager or village peasant lower in rank than a thane . Research on whether such villeins twirled their mustaches has so far proved inconclusive.

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Types of Villains Forms of the Villain Archetype Explained Featured

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Types of Villains — 10 Forms of the Villain Archetype Explained

  • Types of Characters in a Story
  • Protagonist
  • Deuteragonist
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  • Tritagonist
  • Anti-Villain
  • Foil Character
  • Common Character Types
  • Character Archetypes

Types of Villains

Femme fatale.

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V illains come in all shapes and sizes. From cruel dictators to menacing ghosts, these villains are often the driving force behind a story’s narrative. Through their evil deeds, villains create tension and keep readers on the edge of their seats. 

Whether they’re out for revenge or simply seeking power, every villain has their own unique motives and endless list of misdeeds. In this blog, we’ll explore the different types of villains that inhabit our stories and discuss how they differ from each other.

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The Antagonist

The monster, the trickster, the evil twin, the authority villain, the criminal.

  • The Femme Fatale

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The supernatural, what makes a villain in story, the stereotypical villain.

Villains are great characters because they help to create tension, suspense , and drama in stories. Before we take a look at each type, let’s take a look at the villain definition.


What is a villain.

A villain is defined as an evil or wicked character that enacts evil action and/or harms others. A villain may have a justification for their actions that is in line with their own principles, but their actions inflict harm and create ruin in the process. This is not the same as an antagonist. There is overlap between them but they're not always the same. The antagonist is simply the main obstacle attempting to thwart the protagonist from reaching their goal.

What makes a villain a villain?

  • Malevolence and a desire to do harm or evil
  • A disregard for laws, social norms and morality
  • Selfishness and a lack of empathy for others
  • Cunning, deceitful and manipulative behavior

The  antagonist  is the main obstacle that stands in the way of the protagonist’s  goal. They provide a source of opposition and conflict , testing the hero's mettle and pushing them to greater heights. 

What is an Antagonist  •   Subscribe on YouTube

Unlike protagonists, antagonists do not necessarily need to be sympathetic nor likable. Though they can still evoke empathy or sympathy in readers who understand their motivations better.

This type of villain is often driven by an emotion such as anger or greed, and their ultimate goal usually conflicts with that of the protagonist. The Dark Knight’s Joker is a classic example of this type of villain.

Villain Archetype Guide

This type of villain is often a larger-than-life character who either symbolizes evil or has been warped enough by tragedy or circumstance to embody it.

Jaws  •  Monster villain archetype

These villains pose a physical threat to the hero, forcing them to confront difficult challenges in order to conquer them. Godzilla and King Kong are both examples of monster villains. Few, however, are as iconic in cinema as the shark from one of Steven Spielberg’s best films Jaws .

Different Types of VIllains in Film

This type character seeks to trick and manipulate the protagonist into making bad decisions rather than causing direct harm. They often use their wit and intelligence as their best weapon, relying on manipulation over physical confrontation. 

Thor: Ragnarok  •  Loki as a villain archetype

The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland is an iconic example of this villain archetype . More recently, Loki has proven to be an entertaining trickster villain to Thor within the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline .

Related Posts

  • What is an Antagonist? →
  • What is a Villain in Story? →
  • How to Create the Ultimate Antagonist →

Evil Twin Villain Archetype

While the Evil Twin villain is not always an actual twin of the protagonist, they do share similarities. This type of villain shares similar characteristics with the protagonist but still poses a threat due to their conflicting goals or ambitions. 

Anton Chigurh Character Analysis

A great example of this can be seen in   No Country for Old Men , arguably the top of the list of the  Coen Brothers’ best films . In the film, Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh have the same goal of obtaining the case of money.

They both have incredible survival and combat skills. However, they differ in morality and intent. 

Types of Villains in Cinema

The authority villain is a type of antagonist commonly seen in thrillers and political stories. This villain often takes on a position of power or authority, but abuses this authority for their own evil ends. 

The Godfather (1972) Movie  •  Michael Corleone gets punched by cop

The corrupt official is an archetypal example of an authority villain and can be found in many stories; Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man is one such character. More iconically, is Capt. McCluskey in The Godfather . 

Character Villain Stereotypes

The bully villain is a type of antagonist commonly seen in stories, often as the main source of conflict. This type of villain archetype aims to terrorize, intimidate or belittle the protagonist and other characters, with their behavior usually rooted in a desire for attention and power.

Regina George  •  Mean Girls

They can be found in many genres from fairy tales to superhero films, taking on various guises. From the tyrannical school bully to the corporate shark. Regina George from Mean Girls is an iconic example of this type of villain.

Types of Villains in Writing

The criminal villain is a type of antagonist commonly seen in crime and mystery stories. This type of villain is often a professional criminal who commits some form of theft or crime for financial gain. But they can also be 'amateur' criminals who commit their offenses out of a twisted sense of justice.

How Sound Creates Suspense

They can be found in many  film genres , from hardboiled detective noir to contemporary heist films . Tommy DeVito from  Goodfellas is an iconic example of the criminal villain archetype. Another great example, is Bernie from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive .

Female Archetypes of VIllains

A  femme fatale  is a female character often featured in books, movies, and plays who is seductive and alluring but also has a dangerous side. She typically uses her charm and wit to manipulate, deceive and outwit her opponents. 

Top 10 TV Femme Fatales

A femme fatale has no moral boundaries or sense of guilt and will not hesitate to use any means necessary to get what she wants. She has her own agenda that puts her at odds with the protagonists of a story.

An example of a femme fatale in film is Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. She uses her sex appeal, wit, and cunning to manipulate people to get what she wants. She's able to outsmart anyone who gets in her way, whether it be Batman or the villains she goes up against. Her ability to capture the attention and admiration of those around her serves as an example of her femme fatale persona.

Archetypes of Villains in Story

Mother Nature is often depicted as a villain in film, embodying destructive forces of nature beyond human control. From natural disasters to powerful storms, Mother Nature is often seen as the ultimate enemy that must be overcome in order for humanity to triumph.

he Day After Tomorrow  •  Super-Sized Tsunami

In films like The Day After Tomorrow , Mother Nature serves as a reminder of the power and destruction that nature can bring when it goes unchecked. You can also count animalistic monsters like the shark in  Jaws as a natural villain.

Types of Villains in Horror Films

The supernatural villain is a popular figure in films, representing an entity beyond human control. The supernatural villain often has magical or otherworldly powers that make them unstoppable and almost invincible. 

Paranormal Activity 2 

Movies in the  horror genre like Paranormal Activity  feature the supernatural villain as a powerful force of evil. Films like  Ghostbusters depict the supernatural villain as more mischievous and playful.

No matter the exact portrayal, these villains usually bring with them some sort of chaos or destruction.

What is an Antagonist?

While not always, villains are often the primary antagonist in a story. Antagonists are important to an engaging story. Learn more about the antagonist character and their role in narrative storytelling in our next article. 

Up Next: Antagonists →

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I. What is Character?

A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing in a story. Writers use characters to perform the actions and speak dialogue, moving the story along a plot line. A story can have only one character (protagonist) and still be a complete story. This character’s conflict may be an inner one (within him/herself), or a conflict with something natural, such as climbing a mountain. Most stories have multiple characters interacting, with one of them as the antagonist, causing a conflict for the protagonist.

II. Examples of Character

A popular television series that just ended is the show “Glee.” Each season had popular characters who had to learn to work together to create a good musical production. Various characters underwent a change, making them a dynamic character, such as Noah Puckerman. He appears to carry out the stereotype of a jock (strong but not so smart), but his character changes as it’s revealed that he can be hard working and intelligent.

A movie that features one character throughout most of it is “Castaway” with Tom Hanks. His character is on board a shipping plane when it crashes. He’s the only survivor, trapped on an island for four years. This movie focuses on his psychological (mental) and physical condition as he slowly adapts to a life of isolation, living alone on an island that is off all regular sea and airplane routes. It’s a great example of how a story can work with only one character, although many minor characters appear in the beginning and end.

III. Types of Character

A. major characters.

These are the most important characters in the story. There are two types, of which there may be a couple for each.

  • Protagonist – This is the main character, around which the whole story revolves. The decisions made by this character will be affected by a conflict from within, or externally through another character, nature, technology, society, or the fates/God.
  • Antagonist – This character, or group of characters, causes the conflict for the protagonist. However, the antagonist could be the protagonist, who is torn by a problem within. Most times, something external is causing the problem. A group of people causing the conflict would be considered society, perhaps the members of a team, community, or institution. Additionally, the antagonist could be a part of nature, such as an animal, the weather, a mountain or lake. A different kind of antagonist would be an item such as a pen, car, phone, carpet, etc. These are all considered technology, since they are instruments or tools to complete a job. Finally, if the conflict comes from something out of the character’s control, the antagonist is fate or God.

b. Minor characters

These are the other characters in a story. They are not as important as the major characters, but still play a large part in the story. Their actions help drive the story forward. They may impact the decisions the protagonist or antagonist make, either helping or interfering with the conflict.

Characters can have different traits. Major characters will usually be more dynamic, changing and growing through the story while minor characters may be more static.

  • Foil – A foil is a character that has opposite character traits from another, meant to help highlight or bring out another’s positive or negative side. Many times, the antagonist is the foil for the protagonist.
  • Static – Characters who are static do not change throughout the story. Their use may simply be to create or relieve tension, or they were not meant to change. A major character can remain static through the whole story.
  • Dynamic – Dynamic characters change throughout the story. They may learn a lesson, become bad, or change in complex ways.
  • Flat – A flat character has one or two main traits, usually only all positive or negative. They are the opposite of a round character. The flaw or strength has its use in the story.
  • Round – These are the opposite of the flat character. These characters have many different traits, good and bad, making them more interesting.
  • Stock – These are the stereotypical characters, such as the boy genius, ambitious career person, faithful sidekick, mad scientist, etc.

IV. The Importance of Character

Characters are what make stories. Without a character, there is no story to tell, only a lot of scenery. Many characters in literature, television series, and movies have a huge impact on people. Some people like to live their lives through these characters, who appear to have more exciting lives.  Also, these characters may seem so real and inspirational, that people forget they are fictional.

Characters become so important to the audience, that cities across the country hold conventions in which people pay a lot of money to dress and act as their favorite characters from multiple types of shows, particularly of the comic magazine genre (type of literature).

V. Examples of Character in Pop Culture

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been keeping the city safe since the 1980s, but are still just as popular today. They each have their own special fighting method as well as personality. Originally simple, small turtles, they became super human, err turtle, after an accident in which the fish bowl of water they were in got knocked out of their owner’s hands and fell down a sewer grate, along with a canister of radioactive material. The rest is history. Nickelodeon has brought the characters back to fame, as can be seen on the channel and in the Nickelodeon Hotel in Orlando, Florida. The hotel features suites based on characters from the Nickelodeon shows for kids, and kids can interact with their favorite characters, including the Turtles, during breakfast and fun events. It’s clear that characters are an important part of our culture.

The characters are named after famous painters, and each turtle has his own personality to which different kids may relate. For example, Leonardo is the wise leader, the one who can keep the group focused. Raphael is the hothead. His temper wants to get the best of him, just as most of us would like to jump into things! Michaelangelo is the comedian. Like our class clowns in school, he’s the group clown. Finally, no group is complete without the geeky nerd. Donatello is always inventing things to help our turtle heroes in their adventures .

VI. Examples of Character in Literature

A book whose character was inspired by a real teenage girl is “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. The protagonist is 16-year-old Hazel, who meets Gus, a fellow 16-year-old cancer patient, at a camp. Their young romance is doomed as they are fighting a losing battle with cancer. Their strong spirits overcome their parents’ fears as the determined Hazel gets her wish to go overseas to meet an author she has long admired. The book has both characters undergoing change, very dynamic, as they struggle to adapt to their fate. The minor characters are impacted by the decisions Hazel and Gus make, giving depth to the story line. This book is an example of how authors take real life situations to create believable and interesting characters. Green’s inspiration for the story, Esther Earl, was a young fan with cancer who had wanted to meet him. He became friends with her and her family. She was diagnosed with cancer at 12 and died at 16.

John Green Discusses the Touching Inspiration Behind 'The Fault in Our Stars'

VII. Related Terms

Archetype: A standard or stock type of character that appears in fiction, such as the villain, the hero, the damsel-in-distress, or the sidekick. Each archetype has more categories within, as well. For example, the villain could be a tyrant, devil, schemer, etc. The hero could be the warrior, proto-female, scapegoat, etc. These are especially common in fairy and folk tales.

VIII. Conclusion

Characters are the whole reason for any story. They can be used to help teach a lesson, to entertain, to educate, and even to persuade, depending on the author’s goal for the story line. Characters can be based on real people and events, or be totally unrealistic, such as space aliens. People become attached to characters as if they are real, may develop favorites, and relate to those that have faced similar situations.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
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literature villain definition


literature villain definition

Protagonist Definition

What is a protagonist? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. This character tends to be involved in or affected by most of the choices or conflicts that arise in the narrative. For example, Snow White is the protagonist of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs .

Some additional key details about protagonists:

  • A protagonist can be present in any form of art that contains characters and a story: novels, films, poems, dramas, operas, etc. Most stories contain one protagonist. However, if a narrative contains a subplot or several different stories, it's possible for each story to contain its own protagonist.
  • Protagonists aren't always "good"—many are dishonest or even criminal—but they always have the sympathy and support of the audience.
  • The opposite of the protagonist is the antagonist : a character that opposes or thwarts the main character. Not all stories that have protagonists also have antagonists.

Protagonist Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce protagonist: pro- tag -uh-nist

The Evolution of Protagonist

The term protagonist originally referred to the character who engaged with the chorus in Ancient Greek tragedies (the chorus is a group of actors who recite their lines in unison and represent "the masses," or the general public). However, the definition expanded over time. Sophocles was one of the first Ancient Greek playwrights to put more than two characters on stage, and thus further expanded the definition, bringing its meaning closer to our modern definition: the main character among many characters who appear within a story.

Types of Protagonist

Most protagonists fit into one of the following four protagonist types: heroes, antiheroes, villain protagonists, and supporting protagonists.

  • Hero/Heroine: A hero or heroine (that is, a female hero) is a character in a literary work who overcomes a profound struggle or conflict to achieve some sort of success because of their own perseverance, bravery, or intelligence. Heroes often have to make sacrifices along the way, always for the greater good and not for personal gain. In contemporary literary works that aim for realism, it's common to find heroes with more complicated personalities, or heroes who aren't "perfect," as the heroes of classical literature often seem to be. Sometimes people use the terms "hero" and "protagonist" interchangeably, but this isn't correct. A hero is just one type of protagonist. Not all protagonists are heroes.
  • Antihero/Antiheroine: An antihero is a type of protagonist that might lack the qualities found in archetypal heroes. Unlike contemporary heroes, who might have a few flaws in order to seem realistic, the antihero is distinctly unlike the hero in that they are often revealed not to have moral or particularly noble intentions. They tend to act on behalf of their own self-interest, but they aren't wholly corrupt or immoral, like a villain.
  • Villain Protagonist: Unlike the hero and antihero protagonists, the villain is unequivocally the "bad guy," devoted to evildoing. Often a story's villain is the antagonist (the character working against the protagonist); however, villains can also be protagonists when they are the main character driving the story forward and have the audience's sympathy.
  • Supporting Protagonist: A supporting protagonist is less common than the other types of protagonists. When a supporting protagonist does appear, it's often when a story is told from the perspective of a seemingly minor character in the story. There may be a character in the story who seems more important or who experiences more of the "main action," but the supporting protagonist's otherwise minor role in the story becomes more important because the story is told from their perspective.

How to Identify the Protagonist of a Story

It's often relatively simple to identify the protagonist. But in some stories it can be more difficult, particularly if a narrative is complicated by multiple sub-plots or contains many characters with important roles. Some of the most common situations that can make it a bit more complicated to identify the protagonist of a story are:

  • The protagonist doesn't get the most "time on stage": In this situation, another important character appears more often in the narrative, but that character is still not the focus of the audience's sympathy. For instance, in Sophocles' tragedy Antigone , the king (Creon) decides to punish a man who died fighting on the losing side of a civil war by leaving him unburied in a public place, which would mean that his body would not be sanctified by the gods. The man's sister, Antigone, defies Creon and buries her brother anyway, so Creon orders her to be placed in a tomb and buried alive. While in the tomb, Antigone hangs herself, and the rest of the play focuses on the aftermath of her death, which inspires multiple other suicides. Creon is ultimately on stage for far more of the play than Antigone. However, it is Antigone whose actions seem righteous wins the audience's sympathy, and whose death (as well as the deaths it causes) makes the play a tragedy, so Antigone would be the obvious protagonist here. Another clue, of course, is that the play is titled after her.
  • Multiple protagonists: While most stories will only have one protagonist, it's possible for stories to contain more than one—particularly when multiple subplots are woven into one larger narrative. For instance, Tolstoy's novel War and Peace chronicles the history of the French invasion of Russia in 1812 through the narratives of five different families, with fifteen major characters, who receive approximately equal attention. In part because of this lack of a single protagonist, Tolstoy maintained that War and Peace was not actually a novel. It's not a book about one story or one person's life, like a traditional novel—rather, it's a book about war and peace. While War and Peace is an extreme example, it is possible for other books to contain a few protagonists from a few different subplots (and to still qualify as novels).
  • False Protagonists: A "false" protagonist is a technique in which an author introduces a character who seems to be the protagonist but is later revealed to not be. For instance, the horror film Arachnophobia opens by following a nature photographer through the Amazon rainforest. The photographer appears to be the story's protagonist, but only 10 minutes into the film, a spider crawls into his sleeping bag and bites and kills him. The photographer's body is shipped back to the US for burial with the spider still in the coffin. Upon arrival, the spider finds its way into the barn of a man named Ross Jennings, who becomes the film's protagonist, since it's his predicament (a barn full of deadly spiders) that drives the story forward. By the time the film ends, the audience has completely forgotten about the false protagonist (the photographer), but the jolt given by the death of that seeming protagonist sets up the thrilling suspense that fills the rest of the movie.

Protagonist vs. Antagonist

In order to better understand what makes a character a protagonist, it's helpful to also understand its opposite: antagonist. The antagonist is most often the protagonist's opponent in the story—such as a villain in a superhero movie, or the high school bully in an 80s teen movie.

The Protagonist and Antagonist in Stephen King's Misery

In Stephen King's Misery , a writer named Paul crashes his car on his way to Los Angeles, shattering both of his legs. He's found by a woman, Annie, who takes him to her house to nurse him back to health. Annie reveals herself to be one of Paul's biggest fans, and it gradually becomes clear that she's mentally disturbed and dangerous. Paul tries to escape a few times, but Annie always catches him and punishes him brutally (cutting off a finger and a foot). Annie is the book's antagonist.

King writes an extensive backstory on Annie, so her motivations are clear and her character isn't entirely impossible to relate to—and indeed, some readers might even pity her. In a way, she could be said to be the most multi-dimensional character in the book, but she still is not the protagonist. Paul is the novel's protagonist because its plot hinges on his fate, and the question of whether or not he will make it out alive. In other words, Paul is trying to carry out a series actions to move the plot forward (drive to LA, recover from his injuries, escape from the deranged Annie), while Annie is trying to stop Paul (with imprisonment, torture, threats), making her the antagonist.

Protagonist Examples

Nearly every story has a protagonist, so there are countless examples to choose from. Below we've provided an example of each of the four main protagonist types: heroes, antiheroes, villain protagonists, and supporting protagonists.

Example of a Hero Protagonist in Beowulf

The epic poem Beowulf is one of the oldest surviving pieces of literature in the English language and its protagonist is an example of a traditional epic hero: he is relentlessly strong, brave, and just. The poem tells the story of Beowulf's bravery in battle against a monster named Grendel, who threatens to destroy the Danes. Later, Beowulf also risks his life to slay Grendel's mother, as well as a fire-breathing dragon. He sustains a fatal injury while fighting the dragon, but doesn't die until he has claimed victory and ensured the people's safety. The story closely follows Beowulf and his strength in battle, only mentioning others as necessary to better tell Beowulf's story, so there is no doubt Beowulf is the protagonist.

Example of an Antihero Protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye

In J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye , a teenage boy, Holden Caulfield, has been expelled from multiple boarding schools and seems on the verge of being expelled from his current one. The novel follows the lonely, angry Holden as he abandons his school and wanders around New York City and searches for some form of companionship or comfort. Holden isn't a courageous character (he admits to being "yellow," or cowardly), nor is he honest (he perpetually lies), or strong (he admits to being weak). He's not terribly moral (he hires a prostitute) or tough (he ends up getting beaten up by her pimp). Holden dreams of being a hero—a "catcher in the rye," who saves kids from danger—but even that dream is based on him misunderstanding a classic poem. Put all together, Holden lacks the traditional attributes of a hero and is instead a teenage antihero. Nonetheless, Holden holds the audience's sympathy throughout the book (and many teenagers identify with him precisely because he is an antihero) and drives the plot, and is therefore the protagonist.

Example of a Villain Protagonist in Despicable Me

The protagonist in the animated film Despicable Me is Gru, a self-described villain. The plot hinges on Gru discovering that another villain is planning to steal the Great Pyramids of Giza, which makes Gru jealous, so he tries to thwart his rival's plan and pull off an even bigger evil plot (stealing the moon). Along the way, Gru does seemingly kind things (he adopts three orphaned girls, for instance), but always for the sole purpose of achieving his villainous goals (he thinks they can help him break into his rival's compound). While Gru does grow and change over the course of the story (he comes to love the girls he initially adopts and saves them from his rival), he never actually gives up being a villain. Still, Gru always has the sympathy of the audience and his actions and desires drive the story forward.

Example of a Supporting Protagonist in Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant private detective with astonishing powers of deductive reasoning. But Doyle's stories about him are narrated not by Holmes, but rather by Holmes' "sidekick," Dr. Watson. Watson, then, acts as a supporting protagonist in these stories. It's through Dr. Watson's voice and perspective that the audience is told Holmes' life story. Even though the stories follow the actions of Holmes, the fact that Dr. Watson is delivering this narrative makes him as essential to the story as Holmes himself. He is a supporting protagonist because he is at the center of the story, even though the story isn't about him.

What's the Function of a Protagonist in Literature?

Without protagonists, most stories would seem to be lacking a plot. Protagonists are one of the key building blocks of a narrative, so the vast majority of stories have at least one. Here are a few reasons why protagonists are so important to stories:

  • When a story has one central figure for an audience to follow, the story feels more cohesive. This character tends to tie together all of the story's elements.
  • A protagonist tends to make a story more compelling, as the protagonist is the character that the audience relates to and cheers on through conflict of the plot.
  • Because the story revolves around the protagonist, it's usually through this character that the audience discovers the story's central themes. The protagonist might be the champion of a particular cause or idea, or they might experience a realization that becomes the main subject and focus of the story.

Other Helpful Protagonist Resources

  • The Wikipedia Page for Protagonist : A helpful overview, with a few helpful examples.
  • The Dictionary Definition for Protagonist : A basic definition that's very light on examples.
  • Why Your Protagonist Might Not Be Your Hero : This short video explains why all protagonists are not heroes.
  • A Villain Protagonist in Action: Gru explains his plan to pull off the "true crime of the century" to his minions.

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  1. Villain Definition & Meaning

    : a character in a story or play who opposes the hero 2 : a deliberate scoundrel or criminal 3 : one blamed for a particular evil or difficulty automation as the villain in job … displacement M. H. Goldberg 4 : villein 5 : an uncouth person : boor Synonyms baddie baddy beast brute caitiff devil evildoer fiend heavy hound knave meanie meany

  2. Villain: Definition and Examples

    Quiz I. What is a Villain? A villain is the bad guy, the one who comes up with diabolical plots to somehow cause harm or ruin. It is one of the archetype characters in many stories. The villain may truly believe that he/she is helping society, but causes harm in the process.

  3. What is a Villain

    A villain is defined as an evil or wicked character that enacts evil action and/or harms others. A villain may have a justification for their actions that is in line with their own principles, but their actions inflict harm and create ruin in the process. This is not the same as an antagonist.

  4. Antagonist

    An antagonist is usually a character who opposes the protagonist (or main character) of a story, but the antagonist can also be a group of characters, institution, or force against which the protagonist must contend. A simple example of an antagonist is the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, who opposes and wants to destroy Snow White.

  5. Villain

    Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines such a character as "a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot". [1] The antonym of a villain is a hero .

  6. VILLAIN Definition & Usage Examples

    a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel. a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot. a person or thing considered to be the cause of something bad: Fear is the villain that can sabotage our goals. villein. Recommended videos Powered by AnyClip

  7. Villain

    Quick Reference The principal evil character in a play or story. The villain is usually the antagonist opposed to the hero (and/or heroine), but in some cases he may be the protagonist, as in Shakespeare's Richard III.

  8. What Is a Villain? Definition & 20+ Examples

    In media, a villain is typically a character that opposes the hero, causing conflict and tension throughout the story. A well-crafted villain can elicit strong emotional reactions from the audience, making them invested in the narrative and rooting for the hero's success.

  9. Villain

    A villain in literature is the antagonist, or bad guy, who harms and causes problems for the "good guys," or heroes. The role of the villain is archetypal. That means that villains have certain attributes, no matter what genre of literature they appear in.

  10. Villain Definition & Meaning

    : a character in a story, movie, etc., who does bad things comic-book heroes and villains He plays the villain in most of his movies. 2 somewhat old-fashioned : a person who does bad things She describes her first husband as a villain who treated her terribly. 3 : someone or something that is blamed for a particular problem or difficulty


    a character in a book, play, film, etc. who harms other people: He made his reputation as an actor playing villains. [ C usually singular ] informal something or someone considered harmful or dangerous: We've always been told that cholesterol was a major cause of heart disease but, actually, saturated fat is the worst villain.

  12. Villain Archetype: Definition and 10 Examples of an Antagonist

    At its simplest, a villain is an antagonist who opposes the protagonist's goals and desires. However, a truly great villain is more than just a one-dimensional character who exists solely to thwart the hero. Instead, the best villains are complex, fully realized characters with their own motivations, goals, and desires.

  13. #5onFri: Top 5 Types of Villains in Literature

    A villain is, by definition, an evil or immoral character intent on harming others. In literature, these characters portray evil and immoral behavior while also providing readers with an antagonistic force or bad guy - a figure against whom to root. They are often presented as self-serving or selfish, especially when it matters the most.

  14. 8 Villain Archetypes: How to Write Different Types of Villains

    1. Anti-villain: The anti-villain is a villain archetype in which the bad guy has a sympathetic motivation or appealing characteristics. In the same way that an anti-hero is ostensibly a good guy with villainous or immoral tendencies, an anti-villain may have justifiable, noble goals or even a good side.

  15. The History of the Word 'Villain'

    Upon being informed that villain is related to a Latin word meaning "inhabitant of a villa ," one might conjure up images of a mustache-twirling villain conniving evilly at his sprawling villa. The history of the word, though, is far more complicated than that. 'Villain' comes from a synonym of 'villager'.

  16. Types of Villains

    Protagonist. Deuteragonist. Anti Hero. Superhero. Villains come in all shapes and sizes. From cruel dictators to menacing ghosts, these villains are often the driving force behind a story's narrative. Through their evil deeds, villains create tension and keep readers on the edge of their seats. Whether they're out for revenge or simply ...

  17. The Psychology of Villains in Literature: Understanding the ...

    The Psychology of Villains in Literature: Understanding the Motivations and Complexity of Antagonists Chrissie · Follow 14 min read · Jul 10, 2023 -- 1 From Shakespeare's Iago to J.K. Rowling's...

  18. Character: Definitions and Examples

    I. What is Character? A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing in a story. Writers use characters to perform the actions and speak dialogue, moving the story along a plot line. A story can have only one character (protagonist) and still be a complete story.

  19. Perceptions of Heroes and Villains in European Literature

    Perceptions of Heroes and Villains in European Literature. It is tempting to classify literary, cinematic, and historical characters into groups. The trouble, of course, is that such labels can be misleading at best, and severely subjective and variable. When using terms such as hero, villain, anti-hero, anti-villain, or adventurer, it is ...

  20. How to Write an Unforgettable Villain: Tips for Writing a Great Villain

    From Darth Vader to Count Dracula, some of the best fiction writing contains unforgettable villains. Villains help define your story's hero, drive the conflict, and capture the reader's attention. For that reason, villains are just as important as the good guys in your story.

  21. Protagonist

    Here's a quick and simple definition: The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. This character tends to be involved in or affected by most of the choices or conflicts that arise in the narrative. For example, Snow White is the protagonist of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

  22. Gothic Literature: A Definition and List of Gothic Fiction Elements

    Gothic villains often pose as innocents or victims. (Think Lord Dracula, Heathcliff, and Dorian Gray.) Anti-Villain. Just as the hero or protagonist is typically flawed in Gothic lit, the villain often has extremely attractive qualities. Gothic lit likes to flirt with the boundary between good and evil and keep us guessing which is which.

  23. Character in Literature

    A literary character is a person, animal, or object/thing presented as a person in a narrative. There are two required elements of a story; the first being characters, the second is the plot or ...