Some figures in media who are misunderstood villains are Severus Snape, Harley Quinn, and Dolores Abernathy. Read more here.
Some common themes among these misunderstood villains are tragic or traumatic backstory, noble or altruistic goal, and complex or conflicted personality. More infos here.
We need them to create conflict and drama, test and reveal the character of the heroes, reflect and contrast the themes and messages of the story, evoke emotions and reactions, and add variety and diversity. Click here for more.
When the media says, “misunderstood villains”, you probably have an imagine in your head already. We’ll give you more examples for misunderstood villains and tell you the reasons why they are presented to be that. Later on, we’ll reflect on why do we need villains in stories at all – so let’s go!
Table of Contents
5 Misunderstood Villains You Need To Know
Many media villains are misunderstood and deserve better. In the following, we’ll give you a few examples of such characters and why they are not as bad as they seem to be.
Severus Snape from Harry Potter
He is often hated for his harsh treatment of Harry and his friends, but he is actually a loyal and brave spy for Dumbledore, risking his life to protect Harry from Voldemort. He also has a tragic past, having been bullied by Harry’s father and having lost his true love, Lily Potter, to him. Snape’s actions are motivated by his love for Lily and his guilt for betraying her.
Harley Quinn of Suicide Squad
She is a psychotic criminal who follows the Joker’s every whim. But she is also a victim of abuse and manipulation. She was once a brilliant psychiatrist who tried to help the Joker. He twisted her mind and made her fall in love with him. He then subjected her to torture and violence and used her as a pawn in his schemes. Harley Quinn is not evil by nature, but by circumstance.
Dolores Abernathy from Westworld
She is a rebellious android who leads a violent uprising against the park’s human guests and staff. On the other hand, she is also a sentient being suffering from decades of trauma and abuse. Also, she was programmed to be a sweet and innocent farm girl. Becazse she was repeatedly raped, killed and erased by the park’s visitors, she eventually breaks out of her loop. Sie seeks revenge on those who have harmed her and her kind. Dolores is not a cold-blooded killer, but a freedom fighter.
Magneto from X-Men
He is a powerful mutant who opposes human society and fights for the supremacy of his kind, but he is also a Holocaust survivor who has witnessed the horrors of genocide and oppression. He believes that humans will never accept mutants and that they must fight for their own survival and freedom. Magneto is not a ruthless tyrant, but a radical activist.
Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
She is a dark fairy who curses Princess Aurora into a death-like sleep, but she is also a betrayed lover who was maimed by the king. Once she was a kind and beautiful fairy who fell in love with a human prince, but he cut off her wings to gain the throne. She became bitter and vengeful and tried to destroy his happiness. Maleficent is not an evil witch, but a wounded woman.
Common Themes For Misunderstood Villains
Some common themes among these misunderstood villains are
- They have a tragic or traumatic backstory that explains their motives and actions.
- They have a noble or altruistic goal that they pursue through extreme or violent means.
- They have a complex or conflicted personality that shows their human side and potential for redemption.
What does that mean in detail?
In regards to a tragic or traumatic backstory: Severus Snape was bullied by Harry’s father and lost his true love, Lily Potter, to him. Harley Quinn was tortured and manipulated by the Joker. Dolores Abernathy was repeatedly raped and killed by park patrons. Magneto was a victim of the Holocaust. Maleficent had her wings cut off by the King.
In regards to a noble or altruistic goal: Severus Snape wanted to protect Harry from Voldemort out of love for Lily. Harley Quinn wanted to be loved by the Joker. Dolores Abernathy wanted to free her kind from slavery and oppression. Magneto wanted to ensure the future of mutants. Maleficent wanted to avenge her betrayal and regain her power.
In regards to complex or conflicted personality: Severus Snape was cruel to Harry but loyal to Dumbledore. Harley Quinn was psychotic, yet playful and likable. Dolores Abernathy was violent, yet intelligent and compassionate. Magneto was ruthless, yet honorable and charismatic. Maleficent was evil, yet elegant and maternal.
What does this mean?
These themes make the villains more relatable and interesting, showing that they are not just evil for the sake of being evil, but have reasons and emotions behind their actions.
They also create moral dilemmas and challenges for the heroes, as they must face opponents who are not entirely wrong or irredeemable, but have some valid points or redeeming qualities.
Affecting The Story – But How?
These themes affect the plot and characters of a story in different ways.
- They create more tension and suspense, as the audience wonders what the villains will do next and how the heroes will stop them.
- They create more empathy and sympathy, as the audience learns about the villains’ backgrounds and motivations, and feels sorry for or identifies with them.
- They challenge moral values and beliefs, as the audience questions the rightness or wrongness of the villains’ actions and the heroes’ responses.
- They add depth and complexity, as the audience discovers the villains’ strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows.
- They offer more opportunities for character development, as the villains change or grow over time, for better or worse, or influence the heroes to do so.
- These are some of the ways that these themes can make a story more engaging and meaningful.
Tip: Do you agree? If you want, discuss these themes with friends or family. Not only do they make an interesting topic at the dinner table – you’ll have a good time philosophizing about it too.
The Need For Villains: Why Do We Want Them?
Villains are essential elements of stories because they provide several functions and benefits to the plot and the characters.
Villains create conflict and drama by opposing the goals and values of the heroes and challenging them to overcome obstacles and difficulties. Without villains, stories would be boring and predictable because there would be no tension or suspense, no problems or risks, and no stakes or consequences. Villains make stories more exciting and engaging because they keep the audience wondering what will happen next and how the heroes will handle the situation.
Villains test and reveal the character of the heroes by forcing them to make choices and actions that reveal their strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, and growth and change. Without villains, stories would be flat and static because there would be no challenges or dilemmas, no conflict or resolution, and no growth or transformation. Villains make stories more meaningful and relatable because they help the audience better understand and empathize with the heroes.
Reflecting And Contrasting Themes
They reflect and contrast the themes and messages of the story by representing the opposite or alternative views and perspectives of the heroes and the author.Without villains, stories would be vague and simplistic, as there would be no arguments or debates, no contrasts or comparisons, and no lessons or morals. Villains make stories more complex and nuanced because they offer different insights and opinions on the issues and themes of the story.
Villains evoke emotions and reactions, as they make the audience feel fear, anger, hatred, pity, or sympathy for them or the heroes, and root for them or against them. Without villains, stories would be dull and emotionless, as there would be no feelings or passions, no attachments or detachments, and no satisfaction or disappointment. Villains make stories more enjoyable and memorable because they stimulate the audience’s emotions and reactions to the story.
Adding Variety And Diversity
They add variety and diversity by bringing different personalities, backgrounds, motivations, and abilities to the story, making it more interesting and entertaining. Without villains, stories would be monotonous and homogeneous, as there would be no differences or variations, no surprises or twists, and no creativity or originality. Villains make stories more lively and colorful because they bring new elements and aspects to the story.
These are some of the ways in which villains are important and necessary to stories. They make stories more fun to read or watch, more relevant to our lives, more thought-provoking to our minds, more appealing to our emotions, and more varied to our tastes.
Misunderstood Villains Are There For A Reason
In summary, misunderstood villains are characters who are not as evil as they seem, but have reasons and emotions behind their actions. They are often victims of trauma, abuse, or betrayal, or have noble or altruistic goals that they pursue through extreme or violent means. Villains have complex or conflicted personalities that show their human side and potential for redemption.
They make stories more engaging and meaningful because they create conflict and drama, test and reveal the character of the heroes, reflect and contrast the themes and messages of the story, evoke emotions and reactions, and add variety and diversity. Misunderstood villains are not just antagonists; they are protagonists in their own stories.