A hero is only as good as their villain. Some villains are misguided antiheroes who believe they're doing the right thing, while others are simply greedy or just evil to the core. Some, to paraphrase Alfred when describing the Joker, just want to watch the world burn. But some of the best film villains are those motivated by one simple thing: revenge against the hero. And it makes the story all the more engaging when that revenge is at least a little bit warranted, even if the villains are perhaps taking things a bit too far.
That's the case with these villains, who all want retribution for a wrong that was perpetrated, often by our hero, sometimes by an entire organization or community. And because they have a legitimate beef, a genuine reason to want payback, it makes their dangerous dance with the heroes all the more thrilling.
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
"I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you."
The Villain: When it comes to vengeful villains whose desire for retribution is justified, they don't come much more infamous than Khan Noonien Singh, the antagonist of the second Star Trek movie, where he is played by Ricardo Montalban. According to the film, Khan was a genetically engineered superhuman, possessed of exceptional strength and intellect, who once ruled much of earth in the 1990s (remember that?). Khan and many of his followers were picked up by the Enterprise centuries later, floating in cryogenic stasis. Khan attempted to take over the Enterprise and Captain Kirk marooned Khan and his followers on a deserted but lush planet.
The Target: Does Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) really need an introduction? In the movie he doesn't, though by now he's Admiral Kirk, former captain of the Starship Enterprise.
Why So Vengeful? What Kirk doesn't know at the beginning of the film is that the planet on which Khan and his people were marooned was devastated by the destruction of a nearby world shortly after Kirk left them there. The result was a barren planet, on which Khan and his followers struggled desperately to survive. Many perished, including Khan's wife. Khan blames Kirk's neglect for the suffering of his people and the demise of his wife... more than enough reason for Khan's Ahab to make Kirk his own personal white whale.Strong motive?
- Photo: TriStar Pictures
"You were not content with the stories, so I was obliged to come."
The Villain: Say his name five times in front of a mirror and he appears behind you, ready to split you from groin to gullet with his hook for a hand. That's Candyman, the vengeful specter played by Tony Todd in Bernard Rose's 1992 adaptation of Clive Barker's short story. By the time the film takes place, Candyman has become an urban legend, "whispered about at street-corners," and he's willing to do whatever it takes not to be forgotten.
The Target: When it comes to killing, Candyman is largely indiscriminate. If you say his name five times, there he'll be. But the target of his obsession, at least in the first movie, is Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a grad student who calls his existence into doubt, forcing him to appear. The film also heavily implies that Helen may be the reincarnation of Candyman's lover when he was alive... or at least that he thinks she is.
Why So Vengeful? Slasher films, at least as we came to know them during the height of their 1980s popularity, were the subgenre of retribution. The vast majority of slasher villains - from Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th franchise to Ben Willis in I Know What You Did Last Summer - were wronged in some way that spurred their later sprees. Few had as much cause for righteous vengeance as Daniel Robitaille, however, a Black man whose love affair with a white woman led to his being slain by a mob of angry bigots who cut off his right hand with a rusty blade, covered him with honey, and staked him out to be stung to death by bees. Little wonder that, as Candyman, he's out for a little payback from beyond the grave.Strong motive?
- Photo: Overture Films
"Vengeance? That's what you think this is about? Vengeance?"
The Villain: Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), the eponymous "law-abiding citizen," is a former CIA contractor who specialized in creating elaborate assassination plans. When his family is slain during a home invasion and the prosecuting attorney makes a plea deal with the man responsible in order to guarantee a "win," Shelton begins planning an elaborate revenge scheme.
The Target: Shelton's main target is Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), the prosecuting attorney who let the man who killed Shelton's family off with a light sentence in order to secure a conviction. But Shelton's beef isn't just with Rice - it's with the entire system that he sees as having failed not only him but the very concept of justice.
Why So Vengeful? Shelton's wife and daughter were slain during a home invasion, but that isn't what ultimately drives him on his vengeful quest. Instead, it's the injustice of seeing their killer walk free due to a plea deal that pits Shelton against both the attorney and the justice system itself.Strong motive?
- Photo: Universal Pictures
"We belong dead."
The Villain: Monster, creature, Adam Frankenstein, Boris Karloff - whatever you call him, Frankenstein's creation never asked to be made, and when he was, he was rejected by his creator and met with horror, disgust, and violence from just about everyone he encountered. Little wonder, then, that he ran a bit amok.
The Target: While the "man who made a monster," as the movie's tagline called him, was usually named Victor Frankenstein, as he was in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, the 1931 film, directed by James Whale, renamed him Henry. Regardless of what he's called, his story is every bit as familiar as that of the being he creates. Frankenstein set out to make a perfect creation, and in the process, his hubris led him to create something he regarded as imperfect. Rather than seeing his achievement as a grand success, he rejected his creation, in the process making it into the monster that he saw it as.
Why So Vengeful? It's one thing to go after someone because they hurt you, wronged you, were responsible for the demise of a loved one. In the case of Frankenstein's creation, however, his drive for vengeance is more existential. Frankenstein is the cause of his suffering in a much more literal way - had Frankenstein not brought him to life in the first place, then rejected that which he had made, there would be no suffering to begin with.Strong motive?