We know who to cheer for when watching a film. They're our heroes, the ones we're supposed to be able to relate to in some small way. They fight for the good of mankind (or a single city, depending on what film you're watching) and we know that because... well, do we know that? What if the heroes are being short-sighted? What if their actions, while noble, didn't really benefit anyone and may have actually made things worse?
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That happens surprisingly often, and why not? A great film is one that pits a hero against a worthy adversary, one that makes us question what we know about right and wrong. We're not saying these villains were necessarily good people at heart, but it might have been better if they'd been allowed to see victory unhindered by well-meaning good guys.
15 SENATOR KELLY
It's difficult to see Senator Kelly as a good guy. His character and general attitude make him easy to dislike, but he wasn't completely wrong in advocating the Mutant Registration Act. In fact, during the hearing at the beginning of the 2000 film, "X-Men" (directed by Bryan Singer), Kelly makes some pretty good points about the dangers of having mutants running amok with powers like intangibility or telepathy. Given the state of the world, it's easy to see that he goes too far in implying mutants should be segregated. His clear prejudice and generalization of mutants was vile, that much is true and it's enough that we can safely call him a villain. However, the Mutant Registration Act might have worked with a small amendment here and a dash of tolerance and understanding there.
Had his life not ended, things might have been better for everyone. The bill, written correctly, might have actually aided in the acceptance of mutants somewhere down the line. At the very least, it addressed the legitimate fear humans had of mutants. Then again, it also preyed on humanity's persistent and often irrational fear of "The Other," so the question remains open to debate.
14 DOC OCK
Otto Octavius started out as a highly intelligent man with a beautiful dream. He just wanted to make the world a better place. That meant giving people an alternative to fossil fuels and the kind of resources that pollute our air and poison our water. If only he'd explored methods of creating renewable energy in "Spider-Man 2" (directed by Sam Raimi) other than placing a mini-sun right in the middle of NYC. If it weren't for Spider-Man, that sun would have destroyed a lot more than just a shockingly under-prepared laboratory (if you can even call it that).
For a minute, though, forget that he became a homicidal mad scientist thanks to his four mechanical arms. His scheme, though criminal, wasn't evil. If had succeeded, he'd have changed the world for the better and saved more lives than he potentially took (there's no way everyone survived the few minutes that ball of fire started dragging everything in New York toward it). If it was somehow limitless energy, as he implied, there's no telling what sort of technology might have been born from it.
Disney has always been quite good at embedding deep messages in their animated films. "The Incredibles" (directed by Brad Bird) is no exception. Aside from its heart-warming message about family and heroes, it gave us something else to think about: power. Syndrome, Mr. Incredible's psychopathic former fan, aimed to give everyone around the world access to technology and gadgets that would allow them to become "super."
That could arguably be a good thing and they cleverly left Syndrome's intentions ambiguous. Was he looking to create superheroes to rival Mr. Incredible or did he intend to fill the world with supervillains and destroy it? We never find out, but seeing all the technology Syndrome created (his zero-point energy ray, numerous robots and clever modes of transportation) his success might have actually helped make the world better. Who knows what else he might have been able to develop were it not for his insistence on exacting unjust vengeance? You could argue the pros and cons of access to that kind of tech given to the general public, easily using the same arguments as real world debates in which both sides have valid points.
12 THE RED HOOD
Batman is known as Gotham's brutal, watchful guardian, adhering to just one rule: don't kill. It's something he tries to teach to those he takes into the Bat-family. It doesn't always stick however, as we see with Jason Todd in the animated film, "Batman: Under the Red Hood," (directed by Brandon Vietti) based on the "Batman" story arc, "Under the Hood." After taking up the mantle of the infamous Red Hood, Jason Todd acts as Gotham's more lethal protector. His aim isn't to exterminate crime, but rather control it, since he believes the former is impossible.
If Batman let him succeed, there's a good chance Gotham would have been better for it. If the majority of crime were controlled by one person, there would be far less blood, no turf wars, controlled drug flow (he made it a point to warn his people not to sell to kids). Why shouldn't he have been allowed to control crime? Batman has been fighting it for years and yet it never stops. Has he really accomplished anything? The Red Hood, on the other hand, seemed to be making real progress. There was just Black Mask to tend to and it might have all worked out.
Another well-meaning scientist-gone-mad is Curt Connors, a brilliant man working for Oscorp Industries in "Amazing Spider-Man" (directed by Marc Webb). Driven by the desire to help those in need, Connors worked with certain reptiles in order give their ability to regenerate entire limbs to the human race. There's no denying that a world in which people don't need to fear injury (most forms of injury anyway), would be much better. It's just a shame his experiments only led him to create vicious lizard people. What if he'd been allowed to continue his work?
Sure, the people of Earth might have all been scaly, green and cold-blooded (which means you Canadians out there would have to migrate south every winter, or get used to hibernating), but is that really such a terrible price to pay for what humanity might receive in return? We're not saying Connors' experiments had reached perfection -- there was clearly a lot of work to be done -- but it was work that should have continued nonetheless.
10 HIGH CHANCELLOR ADAM SUTLER
Simply put, the High Chancellor from the 2005 film "V for Vendetta" (directed by James McTeigue) is a really bad guy. Under his regime, the media was heavily censored, law enforcement was corrupt and society was encouraged to be hateful, but that tends to happen in totalitarian regimes. Of course we'd wholeheartedly root for V in his fight against England's oppressive dictator, but should we really be cheering for his complete dismantling of England's government?
The problem with V's plot was that it left England without a form of government, leaving the common folk to rebuild from scratch. That might not sound like such a terrible consequence, until you really start to think about how utterly chaotic that would be. That doesn't mean V was completely wrong for doing what he did, but as a character, he wasn't exactly heroic. In fact, the graphic novel, "V or Vendetta" by Alan Moore, is even more ambiguous about who is good and who is evil. V is a bit more psychotic than he might have been presented in the film, showing no care for those he killed. The regime definitely should have changed, but against V, maybe it should have seen victory.
9 THE CREW OF THE BLACK PEARL
As fun and merry as most of them appear to be in Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" film series, pirates are all bad guys. Captain Barbossa and the crew of the Black Pearl from "Curse of the Black Pearl" (directed by Gore Verbinski) are proof of that. They are as criminal as pirates get. Terrible as they are, however, should they have been stopped by Ja—err... Captain... Jack Sparrow and his friends? After all, though reckless and destructive on their path to mortality, all they really wanted was an end to the curse, and to finally live again.
It might have just been easier, saving a lot of time and effort, for everyone if they'd been allowed to run rampant for a while longer and end the curse sooner. You might also argue that, aside from the obvious charm and wit, they really aren't any better or worse than Sparrow himself, and therefore deserved to succeed just as much as anyone else in that film!
8 DARTH VADER
The Dark Side of the force has many paths to it and none of them sound particularly delightful. Logically then, an Empire forged by a master of the Dark Side must be evil. Darth Vader from George Lucas' "Star Wars" saga sure looks that way and yet, despite everyone feeling that Vader was evil in the beginning, we aren't really given a chance to see that in action. Yes, he Force chokes every other Imperial officer he sees, but is that really so bad given how corrupt they all are?
If you think about where he comes from and what he became, you'll agree that Vader is technically a very bad guy, but at the same time, he quite clearly has good intentions. He knows the Emperor is evil and he tries to recruit Luke; maybe Luke should have joined him. They could have turned the Empire into something great, or slowly returned it to its former glory. You can't blame Luke for immediately rejecting that offer, since he did just find out who his father was. Anyone would have been distraught; but that doesn't make him necessarily "right."
We always associate chaos and violence with villains (or anti-heroes), so in "The Dark Knight Rises" (directed by Christopher Nolan), it was only natural that we'd instantly pin Bane as the villain. Releasing criminals, murdering law enforcement officers and speaking through a monstrous metallic device, it all just screams villainy. Maybe he did go a bit too far but most of what he did seemed to be necessary.
Gordon and Bruce Wayne both said that Batman wasn't the hero Gotham deserved but the one they needed. What if Bane was something they needed as well? After all, he shed a harsh but much needed light on the corrupted structure of power in Gotham (and by extension, the world). Maybe Batman should have just allowed him to do his thing and the world might have learned something and grown from it. Wouldn't that be better than what Batman generally does; i.e., picking at relatively smaller crimes, trying to place band-aids on gaping wounds?
6 THUNDERBOLT ROSS
There's no real reason we should side with the Hulk in Marvel's, "The Incredible Hulk" (directed by Louis Letterier). He's a gigantic, destructive force of fury. He doesn't save anyone, except for Betty, but that doesn't really count. Why should we hate Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross for trying to take him down? Ross isn't a likeable guy, everyone can agree on that; and yet, while his motives aren't all that pure, ultimately, he's doing his job and protecting his nation.
Banner admirably tries his best, but he can't seem to make any progress in his struggle against his emerald alter ego. If he can't control the beast, should we not applaud Ross for being brave enough to stand against it and subdue the Hulk before he can destroy everything and kill everyone? He has made his mistakes, like trusting Blonsky for example, but the good he's generally trying to do outweighs any bad that he actually does.
Often, villains are born from the mistakes of a story's heroes. Batman has created a few of his own greatest foes, like the Riddler in "Batman Forever" (Directed by Joel Schumacher). Edward Nygma, a researcher at Wayne Enterprises, had gone to Bruce Wayne, eager to show him his invention. It was a device that would allow television to beam directly into an individual's brain. Unfortunately for him, Bruce saw the dangers in such a device. The potential for mind control, the unethical transference of information and all other dangers attached to accessing and manipulating a mind.
To be fair to Edward, aside from the direct interaction with a mind, his device wasn't so different from the concept of wifi and communication through personal devices we put a lot of ourselves into today. What's really so wrong with his device when you consider we're practically able to do all that now anyway through the internet and social media, which can be accessed by nearly anyone anyway? Much like the internet today, access is sometime ethically questionable and access to certain things is still being debated. That being said, had Nygma succeeded (maybe without the homicide), the world may have been better for it.
Here's one that wouldn't have changed the world; at least not ours. The Sandman we see in "Spider-Man 3" (directed by Sam Raimi) didn't have a grand scheme or a vision of the future about which he was passionate, but his motives were ultimately noble nonetheless. Flint Marko began as a criminal, that much we know from the flashback at the end of the film where we see him threaten Peter's Uncle Ben. Even then, his heart wasn't really in it. He's not a bad guy, he's just trapped in his place in society and that's something a lot of people can relate to.
Is it right that he tried to rob a truck of its sacks of money? No. Considering that his aim was to save his daughter, maybe it might have been better if he'd gotten away with it. Who knows? With all the powers he received from that odd late-night sand experiment, he could have become a great hero, inspired to aid others and find real redemption in doing it. In the end, he did after a fashion, but only after he and Spidey realize that the other isn't so bad.
The epic film, "Captain America: Civil War" (directed by Anthony and Joe Russo), had one villain and only one: Zemo. He didn't get a lot of time in the film, but unlike most others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a villain, he accomplished the most. He tore the Avengers apart. Why? He didn't want to conquer the world or hurt anyone. He just wanted people to see that the Avengers are not gods to be worshipped, and that their presence, left unchecked, destroys just as many lives as it saves.
In that respect, he did succeed. The Sokovia Accords were a start in ensuring so-called heroes would be held accountable. Here was a man who was intelligent enough to defeat Earth's mightiest heroes by turning them against each other and turning half the world against them as well. As a symbol of what mere mortals can do against gods, Zemo deserves praise and deserved to see his plot realized. Obviously, though, it would have been better and easier to sympathize with him if he hadn't tried to blow up a peaceful meeting of world leaders.
Another fan favourite from the MCU is Loki from "Thor" (directed by Kenneth Branagh). He's charming, clever and hungry for the Asgardian throne, something he can never have because he's not the rightful heir. That didn't stop Loki from trying to prove himself as a worthy king to his father. You could argue that Loki's actions weren't exactly "morally sound" -- after all, he does try to exterminate the entire frost giant race. Then again, from what we saw, the frost giants didn't seem like beings worth keeping around. Like the ice that surrounds them and forms them, the frost giants seemed like cold, harsh creatures. Maybe the world would be better off without them. Maybe Loki was right to try and vanquish them before they could assault Asgard again.
Loki is emotionally unstable in the film, appears to have been driven mad by the need to prove to everyone that he is more than just the outcast and trickster. Given a real chance to prove himself as a great king, it's likely he would have exceeded everyone's expectations. The qualities that made him a great villain might also make him a fantastic king.
The Neo-Noir superhero film, "Watchmen" (directed by Zak Snyder) did a great job at exploring the line between good and evil, not just in the world but within each man and woman as well. If someone does an evil thing for the sake of the greater good, then are they truly evil? The film's main antagonist, Adrian Veidt, AKA Ozymandias, helps explore that concept in his plot to destroy the world's main cities in order to unify it. Unlike the rest of the villains in this list, he actually does see success and the world does see a fragile peace.
So why shouldn't he or some of the other villains on this list be seen as heroes? Drieberg, AKA Nite Owl II, beats Ozymandias, claiming that he mutilated humanity and he too has a point. Is that peace worth the deaths of countless lives? It was set during the Cold War, a time where countries couldn't really trust one another, so maybe it was the only way to give the world a clean slate and a real chance at peace.
Where do you stand on the ethics of supervillainy? Let us know which baddie you think deserved to win in the comments!