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14 Villains Whose Backstories Could Be An Entire Movie

Updated February 9, 2021 709 votes 114 voters 3.4k views14 items

List RulesVote up the villain backstories strong enough for an entire movie.

The quality of the villain can make or break a movie, and is often the difference between a timeless classic and a forgettable action flick. But crafting a good baddie requires more than just fun one-liners and great casting. The best bad guys are often complex and multidimensional, with fully fleshed-out backstories and rich inner lives. In other words, they feel every bit as real as the hero - even if viewers don't get to see it all on screen.

However, these hints at rich and often tragic backstories are often more tantalizing than the movie itself, and there's quite a few film villains whose origins could make for a truly epic cinematic experience. Whether it's a heartbreaking tale of their fall from grace that awards them a semblance of sympathy or a wild, anti-hero tale of carving out their place in the world, there's no denying that some movie antagonists should get a chance at being protagonists in their own prequel films.

Vote up the villains who are rich and complex enough to be the star of their own movies.

  • The beloved action classic Die Hard follows New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) who visits his estranged wife in LA at an office party in Nakatomi Plaza. He ends up being the right man in the wrong place at the wrong time as high-class terrorist thief Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his crew invade the skyscraper and take all the guests hostage. McClane is forced to take matters into his own hands and take out the bad guys one by one while matching wits with the sophisticated Gruber. It's a timeless film buoyed by the antagonistic chemistry between McClane and Gruber, and it gave moviegoers one of the most memorable and charming baddies in any film of the '90s.

    Little is known about Gruber's past, but what is revealed paints a fascinating portrait of a brilliant young man who leaves his erudite upbringing for a life of crime. Gruber claims to have been classically educated and has expensive tastes. However, we also learn he was part of the Volksfrei movement, a radical West German terrorist group. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, we learn he was the younger brother of Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) - the primary antagonist of the aforementioned third installment. The pair were estranged, as Hans was affiliated with West German terrorists and Simon was part of the East German people's army. All of this familial drama is perfect fodder for a prequel about the Gruber Brothers, two young crooks with ambitions for greatness who are driven apart by the Cold War and shifting political alliances. The possibilities for criminal adventures are endless.

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  • The third installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy pits the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale) against the devastatingly powerful and deadly Bane (Tom Hardy), who is attempting to bring total chaos and destruction to Gotham City. Throughout the film, Batman forms a relationship with the mysterious Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who eventually reveals herself to be Talia al Ghul - the daughter of Batman's old mentor-turned-nemesis Ra's al Ghul. Talia eventually explains that she's in league with Bane, and has known the silver-tongued brute since childhood when they were both young prisoners in "The Pit," a brutal, no-rules prison cave somewhere in the Middle East. As the film progresses, we get a brief but heartbreaking look at Bane's youth and his ill-fated friendship with a young Talia, and it has all the hallmarks of a complex and tragic origin movie.

    Bane was literally born inside the Pit and grew up in the darkness of its soul-crushing walls. Talia, meanwhile, was also born in the Pit after her mother was imprisoned by a warlord, taking the place of Talia's mercenary father. When Talia was a young girl, her mother was slain by the other prisoners and Bane risked his life to save her. In return, he got savagely beaten and mutilated by the prisoners - his famous face mask both hides his deformed mouth and provides pain-numbing gas that helps him cope. He was later saved by Talia and her dad and became a high-ranking member of the League of Shadows before his romantic feelings for Talia led him to be excommunicated by Ra's. Bane wasn't a bad person, just a man born into circumstances beyond his control who tried to adapt to the darkness. For that reason alone, there's loads of cinematic potential in the story of how he evolved into the towering mountain of menace seen in The Dark Knight Rises.

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  • In the iconic proto-cyberpunk noir Blade Runner, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is a Nexus-6 replicant, a type of android almost identical to a human being and typically used for off-world slave labor. Batty escapes, along with a group of other replicants, and returns to Earth to try and find a way to prolong their pre-programmed four-year lifespans. While the bounty hunter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is the hero of Blade Runner, one of the most human and emotional moments in the film comes when Batty is about to expire and he recalls all the things he's seen in his short life - memories that will be "lost in time, like tears in rain."

    It's the things Roy says he's seen that are particularly evocative and reveal how visually incredible his history could be. As he dies, Batty recalls seeing "attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate." Sure, it's all sci-fi pseudo-jargon, but it hints at a universe even larger and stranger than what we've seen in the movie already. There's also a whole tragic story in Batty and his crew leading a rebellion on an off-world colony against their masters and taking over a shuttle in order to find a new life back on Earth. If you change the perspective, Batty is a hero trying to claim his place in a world that subjugates and looks down on his kind.

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  • In the Kill Bill saga, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) is a merciless and brutally efficient leader of the Tokyo Yakuza, as well as one of the world's most skilled warriors with a samurai sword. She is one of the primary targets of The Bride (Uma Thurman), and one of the deadliest women in the world. Before clawing her way to the top of the Yakuza, she was a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and was among those responsible for slaying The Bride's groom-to-be on their wedding day. Throughout the film, viewers are given a significant amount of backstory - told through anime-style flashbacks - that detail young O-Ren's tragic past.

    When O-Ren was just a child, she saw her parents slain by a Yakuza crime lord while she hid under the bed and watched in horror. The house was lit on fire by the gang, and O-Ren barely escaped the flames but was forever altered by the trauma. She dedicated her life to getting revenge on those responsible. She trained for several years under the guidance of master swordsmith Hattori Hanzō and went on to get her retribution. Using her assassination skills to her advantage, she became a hitwoman and joined with Bill (David Carradine) to become a Deadly Viper, codenamed Cottonmouth. While most of this is seen in animated flashback, O-Ren's heartbreaking past - as well as her training with Hanzo, or even her rise through the ranks of the Yakuza and obtaining her army of swordsmen, the Crazy 88 - would all make for an action-packed epic every bit as exciting as The Bride's own revenge narrative.

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