The best villains are those whose motivations we can understand. Who hasn’t wanted to lash out at the world when things didn't go our way? Many of the most beloved (or hated) villains in superhero movies are those who manage to do something unbelievably awful while getting the audience on their side - even if only just a little.
Not all of these evil fictional characters started out bad. Many led decent lives until extenuating circumstances put them on the path of darkness. Sure, they pulled out all the stops to commit some truly heinous acts, but their underlying thought process was sound.
- Photo: Batman & Robin / Warner Bros.
It's hard to think of Dr. Fries (AKA Mr. Freeze) as anything but the ice-pun-loving strong man played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though he's incredibly goofy, this cold villain has a heartwarming backstory.
Why We Hated Him: Aside from the puns, the most heinous thing this master villain does is attempt to freeze Gotham and all its inhabitants.
Why He Was Probably Right: Fries's wife is suffering from a rare disease, MacGregor's syndrome, that only he might be able to cure. In order to fund his research (and keep his diamond-powered life support suit operating), he has to keep stealing. Not exactly virtuous, but he is doing it for a good cause - after all, think of all the other people who might also benefit from a cure. In fact, Batman's own Alfred Pennyworth suffers from MacGregor's syndrome too.
- Photo: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Warner Bros.
Shredder, villain of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, isn't a good guy, but he's not the worst. Sure, he runs a karate group and dresses like a metal Dracula, but it's not until the turtles come along that he really steps things up.
Why We Hated Him: The audience's biggest grievance with Shredder is his obsession with slaying the Turtles and Splinter. He goes out of his way to ruin the lives of four turtles who just want to eat pizza and toss out surfer slang.
Why He Was Probably Right: Shredder wasn't right about trying to end people's lives. That's never cool, folks. But he did create a space for young people in New York City to learn discipline and become physically fit. We see in the first two films that not every kid who hangs out at Shredder's arcade all day is brought into the Foot Clan - just those predisposed to being a ninja bad guy. By hosting the youth of New York in the '80s and early '90s, Shredder kept a lot of young people off the streets.
- Photo: Avengers: Endgame / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
With an 18-film buildup to carry out his master plan, Thanos is one of the more nuanced characters in the MCU. Even though audiences don't love what he did (wiping out billions or maybe trillions of sentients), his plan was somewhat admirable.
Why We Hated Him: With a snap of his Infinity Gauntlet-clad fingers, Thanos wiped out half the population of the universe, including some of our favorite heroes. To say this was very uncool is the understatement of the century.
Why He Was Probably Right: Overpopulation is a problem; there's no way around that. Humans have developed an unsustainable way of life that's led to the climate crisis and food shortages in places that should be rich in natural resources. Thanos's plan for zero population growth across the universe may be overkill, but hey - at least he's taking action to make the cosmos a better place.
- Photo: Black Panther / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Black Panther from 2018 gave audiences one of the best villains since the inception of comic book movies. Played by Michael B. Jordan, Killmonger is ruthless but righteous. His actions make you think about who's actually in the wrong in the MCU - as well as the non-cinematic world in which we live.
Why We Hated Him: The gist of Killmonger's plan is to take vibranium tools and globally distribute them to the systematically oppressed, sparking chaos that could lead to the demise of millions.
Why He Was Probably Right: It's not cool that Killmonger wants to cause mass panic and anarchy, but he is correct that colonialism has given indigenous people across the world a raw deal for generations. His plan to reset the order that's been created by systemic, race-based prejudice is something that, at its heart, isn't bad. It's just all the violence that's not so great.