Most of the time, the conflict in movies is pretty cut and dry. The hero lives in a world that is being threatened by a villain, and by the end of the story, the villain is defeated, and the hero rides off into the sunset. That dynamic is based on the assumption that we all identify with the hero, and disagree with the villain. But sometimes, a villain comes along that is so misunderstood, that we can’t help but identify with him/her. Not that we have a penchant for evil, but more that we understand where that villain is coming from. When that happens, that’s when the villain not only ends up stealing the show, but becomes more memorable than the heroes themselves.
With the exception of Darth Vader (just because everyone is already aware of his story and doesn’t need another explanation), these are 5 movie villains that were so misunderstood, we ended up siding with them in the end.
5. Jason Voorhees – “Friday the 13th” film series
When Jason was introduced to us in “Friday the 13th: Part 2” (Yes, you should all know by now he wasn’t the killer in the original), his motivations were simple- avenge his mother, who was killed while avenging HIM. Jason had supposedly drowned as a camper at Camp Crystal Lake because, as we all know, teenagers in the 80’s couldn’t stop having sex, even if that meant a pudgy, deformed camper wasn’t being supervised in the lake. Mrs. Voorhees had a legitimate gripe when she blamed those horny camp counselors (even if we wouldn’t have gone to the extremes of actually murdering them), and Jason DEFINITELY had a grip when he found her dead by decapitation.
Throughout the film series, Jason became more and more undead, but his motivations stayed the same- carry on Mommy’s mission of ridding the world of incompetence . The films made it a point to write every pre-murdered teen in the most obnoxious tone possible, making it harder for the viewer to identify with them, and therefore, can have loads of fun watching every unbelievably creative way Jason decides to eliminate them. Jason’s fan following made him an icon, and by the time it got to “Freddy vs. Jason” in 2003, most of us found ourselves rooting for Mrs. Voorhees’s baby boy, like we always had been.
4. Norman Bates – “Psycho”
Before we got to know the human side of Norman Bates when A&E brought us the “Bates Motel” TV series, we already knew there was something we sympathized with in him. Was Norman off his mother-loving rocker? Absolutely. But the audience finds it hard at times to completely sympathize with Marion Crane, played by Academy Award nominated actress Janet Leigh, as she stumbles across the Bates Motel after having embezzled $40,000 from her boss to give to her broke boyfriend. It’s a decision that the audience has a hard time relating to, because no matter how emotional we’ve all gotten, most of us have never gone to those particular lengths. Even as she decides to return the money, followed by the iconic shower scene, in the back of our minds, we all know it was that stupid decision to embezzle $40,000 that got her in the Bates Motel to begin with, putting herself in the cross hairs of Norman’s “mother.”
Norman may have been historically looked at as the villain of the film, but we find out in the last scene of the movie that he is just another victim of the real killer,”Mother”- a formerly split personality representative of his own mother that has completely taken over his mind. He was absolutely guilty of murdering his own mother and her lover in the backstory, but the gentle traits Norman displayed throughout the film were genuinely his, and he came off as more mentally ill than sinister. We eventually feel sympathy over Norman’s demise, and it turned out that this tragic villain wound up being bigger than the movie itself.
3. Magneto – “X-Men: First Class,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” ” X-Men: Apocalypse”
With all due respect to Sir Ian McKellan’s performance as Magneto in the first X-Men trilogy, it wasn’t until Michael Fassbender’s performance as Erik Lehnsherr in the prequel trilogy that we gained a real understanding of the character’s predicament in this world. We were with him when his mother was killed before his very eyes in a Nazi concentration camp. We were there when he saw the government build giant mutant-hunting robots to kill off his kind. We watched as he held his dead wife and daughter in his arms, killed by the same people he made a genuine effort to live among. But more so, in all 3 of those films, we saw his friendship with Charles Xavier illuminate the best sides of himself as well. We may not have agreed with his whole destruction of humanity thing, but the First Class Trilogy got us to to see something the original trilogy of films could never get us to really see: the experiences of living in that world through the eyes of EVERY character, hero AND villain.
Erik was very much the centerpiece of those films, even more so than Mystique, because he was a character that we can honestly say set foot on both sides of that fine line, and dealt with the pull of both the light and dark. His struggle became OUR struggle, as we found ourselves subtly siding with him in various scenes where he used brutal means to find information necessary for his vengeance. Fassbender’s Magneto made us all question our own morals, and we always find ourselves rooting for him in the end.
2. Johnny – “The Karate Kid”
Ok, I know this is a tough sell, but hear me out. Aside from the obvious display of admiration he showed to Daniel-san at the end of the movie, as well as how sorry we felt for him when he was attacked by his own Sensai, Kreese, in the very beginning of the sequel, Johnny had some pretty legitimate gripes with Daniel throughout the film. First, during their initial encounter at the beach, Daniel instigated that fight just as much, if not more than Johnny did. Sure, Johnny overreacted to Ali not wanting to talk to him (and I am not condoning his reactions towards Ali), but Daniel escalated the situation by inserting himself in the heated exchange, and even throwing the first punch.
Daniel wasn’t so innocent, especially when, after a couple of incident-free months, he decided to provoke Johnny by hanging a water hose over him while he was minding his own business, smoking a joint in the bathroom at the Halloween dance. That ass-kicking he got was definitely excessive, but again, instigated by Daniel.
I’m not saying Johnny didn’t pick any fights himself, but Daniel picked just as many as he did, and when you step back and look at it all, it was just the story of two hormone-filled teenagers who didn’t know how to work out their differences with each other, especially when Johnny’s attitude was being warped by the real villain of the film, Kreese. I’ve watched that movie over and over again, and it becomes easier to see that Johnny is no different than most teenagers his age, and actually DOES have a moral compass, as we all saw in the final fight when he reacted to Kreese’s infamous order to “sweep the leg.” In the end, we all gained respect for Johnny, and Billy Zabka gained one hell of a cult fan following.
1. Loki – “Thor”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for their memorable heroes, and by just as much, their unmemorable villains. The only villain that ended up just as beloved than all of the Avengers combined was the God of Mischief himself, Loki. Marvel knew what they were doing when they hired Kenneth Branagh to helm the first “Thor” film. This was a Shakespearean-like tragedy, as Branagh himself stated that the film is “a human story right in the center of a big epic scenario.” Not only is Thor looking for redemption during his exile on Earth (or Midgard, as the Asgardians refer to it), but as we come to find out, Loki’s scheme is centered around his desired redemption from their adoptive father Odin, when Loki realizes that he may not be the kind of son Odin can be proud of, the same way he is of Thor. Thor had everything essentially handed to him by Odin, of which he initially threw away in order to act like an immature hot shot, and Loki felt he deserved the same kind of acceptance. His plot to prove his devotion to Odin included the destruction of his own kind, the Frost Giants, and his confession of those motives was one of the most emotional scenes in all of the MCU. It’s hard not to sympathize with Loki after all of that, but even more so when he ultimately sacrifices himself in the end. Also, it definitely didn’t hurt that his cool-factor went way up in his next Marvel appearance, taking on all the Avengers himself.