A hero is only as good as their villain, right? And in many cases, a villain is only as bad as the heroes that oppose them. In fact, many of the most notorious screen villains were actually responsible - sometimes directly, others less so - for creating the very heroes who eventually brought them down. From simple (or exquisitely complex) plots of vengeance to more literal acts of creation, sometimes a villain is even the actual parent of their nemesis. More often, a villain brings their foil about, either through their own villainous acts, or through experiments that (inadvertently or otherwise) give someone else the power they need to stop the villain's reign of terror.
Here are a few cases of film baddies who maybe should have quit while they were ahead and instead created the hero who ultimately struck them down...
- Photo: Gladiator / DreamWorks Pictures
"Are you not entertained?"
The Creation: When Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) learns his father, the emperor, believes he is unfit to rule and plans to have Maximus (Russell Crowe), a general, rule in his stead as regent, Commodus chokes his own father to death. He demands Maximus's loyalty, and when the general refuses, Commodus has him imprisoned and his family slain.
The Hero: After defeating his captors and escaping, Maximus is ultimately taken by slavers and becomes a gladiator, eventually going on to fight in the Colosseum before the eyes of Commodus himself.
How It Ended: During his training as a gladiator, Maximus is told he must "win the crowd" in order to gain true victory. Using this knowledge, he eventually maneuvers his own popularity to make it impossible for Commodus to simply have him put to death, and takes down the upstart emperor in a duel, despite the fact that he "fixed" the duel by mortally injuring Maximus beforehand. The gladiator succumbs to his wounds and his body is carried from the Colosseum as a hero.Fatal villain mistake?
- Photo: Batman / Warner Bros. Pictures
"You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"
The Creation: We all know the story by now, right? A young Bruce Wayne sees his parents gunned down in an alley after a trip to the theater (what they're going to see varies, but it's often Zorro). He inherits his father's fortune and eventually grows up to be the costumed crime-fighter Batman. Who pulled the trigger also varies from one version of the story to another, however, and in Tim Burton's 1989 film, the trigger man is a young Jack Napier, played by Hugo E. Blick in the flashback. The same Jack Napier who will later become Batman's most famous nemesis, the Joker, by which time he is played by Jack Nicholson.
The Hero: Does Batman really need to be explained to anyone at this point? He's rich, he's the "world's greatest detective," he has "wonderful toys," and, in Burton's version, anyway, he was played by Michael Keaton.
How It Ended: Batman has gone up against the Joker countless times in the comics, in animated series, and even in more than one film. The vast majority of the time, the Joker survives the encounter and ends up committed once again to Arkham Asylum. Those versions of the Joker usually aren't Jack Napier, however, and are rarely responsible for the demise of Batman's parents. In Burton's version, the Joker suffers a much more permanent fate, plummeting to his doom from the tower of a cathedral after a final skirmish with Batman.Fatal villain mistake?
- Photo: The Princess Bride / 20th Century Fox
"Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
The Creation: When Inigo Montoya was just a child, his father was slain by a man with six fingers; ever since, he has been training and traveling the world in hopes of finding the villain so that he can finish him off. He even knows the speech he will give when that fateful day arrives...
The Hero: Inigo may not be the primary protagonist of The Princess Bride, but he is certainly one of the most memorable, thanks in no small part to his engaging backstory and the repeated refrain he has been practicing for years to deliver to his father's assassin when they finally meet.
How It Ended: When Westley realizes Prince Humperdinck's evil vizier Count Rugen has six fingers, he puts together that he's found the man Inigo has been searching for. Rugen and Inigo eventually cross swords, where Montoya recites the speech he's been practicing over and over again, before finally putting an end to his father's murderer.Fatal villain mistake?
- Photo: Unbreakable / Buena Vista Pictures
"They called me Mr. Glass!"
The Creation: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) seems like a regular guy who miraculously survives a tragic train catastrophe that costs the lives of 130 other passengers. He escapes without a scratch. This leads him to the discovery that he actually has superhuman powers, including incredible strength and near-invulnerability. What he doesn't know until the end of the film is that the train derailment was no accident - it was staged by the very person who is helping him hone his new abilities, the enigmatic art gallery owner Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson).
The Hero: In addition to being very strong and basically invulnerable to everything except water, David Dunn has a sort of limited extrasensory perception that helps him identify people who have committed crimes.
How It Ended: While Dunn is initially reluctant to see himself as a superhero, he eventually embraces his powers, with Elijah's help. It's only after he does so, however, that he shakes Elijah's hand and realizes that he's the one who arranged the train derailment and numerous other disasters, all looking for his own superheroic arch-nemesis so he could become "Mr. Glass," the villain he believes he was always meant to be, taken from the nickname children called him because he suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta. Aghast, Dunn calls the authorities and Price is committed to a psychiatric hospital, where he is still being held in Glass, the 2019 sequel that ties together M. Night Shyamalan's films Unbreakable and Split.Fatal villain mistake?