Photo: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones / 20th Century Fox

The Exact Moments Sci-Fi Villains Were Born

Voting Rules
Vote up the most tragic origin moments of sci-fi villains.

Just like great heroes, great villains aren't born, they're made, and movie fans can tell the difference. Giving an antagonistic character a backstory filled with hardships and tragedies can go a long way toward explaining their bad behavior and possibly even make audiences sympathize with them. (We know you're out there, "Thanos was right" truthers!) But many of the best science fiction villains in cinema are the ones we never saw coming - ones who seemed like "one of the good guys" or maybe just a little bit bad, but not full-on "evil," until they snapped.

This list of classic sci-fi villains focuses on the defining moment that made them who they are. These are characters - mostly human, some superhuman, plus an artificial intelligence thrown in for good measure - may never even have become the villains we know them to be if it hadn't been for a single catalyst. Each one experienced a trigger event that forever changed them, finally driving them over the edge of sanity and reason into murder and mayhem or cold, computational, calculus.

Photo: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones / 20th Century Fox

  • HAL 9000 Decided To Kill The Crew Of The 'Discovery' When They Plotted To Shut It Down
    Photo: 2001: A Space Odyssey / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

    Whether natural or synthetic, it seems that some sentient beings will do anything to stay "alive." HAL 9000 was an artificial general intelligence program designed to assist the crew members of the Discovery One spaceship in its mission to study Jupiter. When the mission was changed en route to investigate a mysterious signal originating from Saturn's moon Iapetus, HAL was instructed to keep aspects of the mission a secret from the crew. Perhaps because of this new directive, or because of hardware or technical problems, HAL became self-aware and, subsequently, began to malfunction.

    HAL continued to care for the ship, but grew distrustful of the crew and their intentions. When it found astronauts Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) conducting a conversation in a soundproof EVA pod, it used its advanced linguistics skills to read their lips. The suggestion that they disconnect its cognitive circuits threatened HAL's sentience and the mission objective, so it chose to eliminate them. While Poole was on a space walk, HAL took control of his pod, severed his oxygen, and sent him hurtling through space. After Bowman exited in another pod to rescue Poole, HAL locked him out of the Discovery One and turned off the life support functions of the three other astronauts in suspended animation. 

    When Bowman managed to again access Discovery One, he began to disconnect HAL's memory. In its final moments, HAL expressed what appeared to be emotions like fear and sadness as its "mind" slipped away. Despite its belief that the human crew members were a liability, Bowman, whom it had tried to kill, completed the mission by contacting the mysterious source of the alien signal.

    22 votes
  • Anakin Skywalker Tossed Aside His Jedi Principles (And Mace Windu) To Protect Supreme Chancelor Palpatine And Learn The Ways Of The Sith
    Photo: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith / 20th Century Fox

    The fall of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to the dark side of the Force was a gradual one, but there was one precipitous moment that forever sealed his fate, one moment that thrust the young Jedi away from being the "Chosen One" to being a Dark Lord of the Sith. Despite objections from the Jedi Council, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) fulfilled his fallen master's desire that he train the former slave boy, even though Anakin was filled with fear and anger. Anakin learned quickly and was a powerful Jedi and expert pilot, but his descent began when his mother was slain by Tusken Raiders on the desert planet Tattoine. In a fit of rage, Anakin used his Jedi abilities and his lightsaber to massacre an entire village of the primitive people, children and all.

    Anakin became arrogant and began to question the Jedi Council and quarrel with Obi-Wan, even engaging in a forbidden relationship with Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). Though influenced greatly by Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), a tremendously powerful Sith Master hiding in plain site as Chancellor of the Republic, Anakin manged to resist Palpatine and attempted to turn him over to the Jedi Council. However, when Anakin began having visions of Padme's painful demise, the thought of losing her and being alone drove him to consider learning "unnatural" Sith abilities from Palpatine.

    When the Jedi Council finally did move to act against Palpatine, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) felt the Sith Lord was too dangerous to be allowed to live and planned to execute him. Fearing that he would lose Padme if Palpatine perished before teaching him how to save her life, Anakin threw away his Jedi teachings and chose the path of the dark side. He attacked Mace Windu and cut off his sword hand, allowing Palpatine to use his Force Lightning to blast Windu through the window of the high-rise building they were in. Once turned, Anakin utterly embraced the dark side, fronting an attack on his former friends and colleagues in the Jedi Order and slaughtering anyone who got in his way, including a classroom filled with tender-aged "younglings."

    30 votes
  • Tetsuo Shima Went From Common Crook To Homicidal Maniac After Being Imprisoned Following A Motorcycle Accident That Gave Him Superpowers
    Photo: Akira / Streamline Pictures

    Abandoned by his mother at a young age, Tetsuo Shima (voiced by Nozomu Sasaki) grew up in an overcrowded orphanage in the futuristic city Neo-Tokyo. The corrupt metropolis was built upon man-made islands in Tokyo Bay after the original Tokyo had been obliterated by a singularity that triggered World War III. He formed a strong connection with another orphan, Shotaro Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata), who treated him like a younger brother. After aging out of the orphanage, Kaneda started and led a biker gang called "The Capsules" and Tetsuo joined him in committing crimes and warring with competing biker gangs. 

    Though he had always been short-tempered and prone to confrontations, Tetsuo's violent crimes were more a function of his membership in a biker gang than him being "evil." That changed, however, the night he almost struck an ESPer named Takashi - one of three children with psychic abilities being experimented on by the government - with his motorcyle. When Takashi protected himself from the collision, his abilities somehow awakened latent psychic abilities within Tetsuo. Fearing another powerful psychic would arise and destroy Neo-Tokyo the way Akira wiped out Tokyo, Self-Defense Forces promptly detained Tetsuo and secreted him away to a government facility to be studied.

    Once again feeling abandoned and persecuted, but now granted superhuman psychic abilities, Tetsuo focused his lifelong feelings of inferiority and resentment against authority on his captors. Without hesitation, Tetsuo attacked the other ESPers and then used his mind to obliterate the facility staff and Self-Defense Forces guarding the facility. Having learned about Akira, Tetsuo rampaged across Neo-Tokyo in a quest to grow even more powerful. Tetsuo's abilities ultimately turned on him and caused him to go after Kaneda and murder his own girlfriend. He only showed a sliver of remorse when his own painful demise was imminent.

    13 votes
  • 4
    18 VOTES

    Psychic Cid Turned Evil When He Watched A 'Looper' Murder His Mother 

    Psychic Cid Turned Evil When He Watched A 'Looper' Murder His Mother 
    Photo: Looper / TriStar Pictures

    In the year 2074, society is held within the clutches of one man: a powerful telekinetic dubbed "the Rainmaker." With his abilities, he controlled organized crime, influenced governmental policies, and even manipulated the citizenry. To protect himself from time-traveling hitmen called "Loopers" who might discover his secrets and threaten his empire, the Rainmaker ordered all loops be "closed" by sending the older hitmen back in time to be terminated by their younger selves.

    One Looper didn't go easily, however. Having actually killed his older self as a young man, "Old" Joe (Bruce Willis) knew how "Young" Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) planned to kill him and eluded the same fate. Armed with a list of three names of children who might grow up to be the Rainmaker, Old Joe planned to wipe out all three to save the future. Not yet as jaded as his older self, Young Joe pursued Old Joe to "close the loop" and save the lives of the children.

    Old Joe targeted a young boy named Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who lived on a farm with his mother, Sara (Emily Blunt). Joe attempted to eliminate the boy, wounding him in the face. Ironically, the slaying of his mother by a Looper during a failed assassination attempt was the trigger that originally made Cid use his telekinetic powers for evil and set him on the path to becoming the Rainmaker in the first place. Young Joe, realizing there is only one way to save Cid and Sara from Old Joe, committed suicide to erase Old Joe. His sacrifice possibly saved the future, as well as Cid. With his mother to guide him, it's implied that he may never grow up to become the Rainmaker.

    18 votes
  • 5
    17 VOTES

    Erik Stevens Became The Sociopathic 'Killmonger' After Learning His Father Was Killed By The King Of Wakanda

    Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) grew up in an urban area of Oakland, CA, and led a fairly normal life - until the day he saw a futuristic aircraft fly over his apartment complex. The ship was a Royal Talon Fighter from the secretive, highly advanced African nation of Wakanda, and its occupants included the country's king, T'Chaka (Atandwa Kani), who had just killed Erik's father, N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown). Rushing inside to tell his father about the aircraft, Erik instead found his father dead, with panther-like claw marks on his body. Having lost his mother when she was wrongfully incarcerated and now his father, Erik found himself lost, alone, and very, very angry.

    After discovering his father's secret cache of Wakandan materials, including maps and a royal signet ring, Erik devoted himself to becoming a living weapon so that he could someday find Wakanda and his father's killer and enact his revenge. He excelled at the United States Naval Academy, MIT, and later, in the Navy SEALs. His sociopathic tendencies made him a perfect recruit for the CIA, where he racked up an enormous kill count that he proudly displayed on his body in "crocodile scars."

    After becoming Killmonger, he slashed and burned his way to the very throne of Wakanda, even killing his own girlfriend and (presumably) his cousin, King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), AKA Black Panther, in the process. As king of Wakanda, Killmonger's ultimate goal was to foment a worldwide revolution by arming disenfranchised people of African descent with vibranium-powered weapons.

    17 votes
  • Carter Burke Attempted To Sacrifice Innocents (And The Human Race) For Corporate Profits
    Photo: Aliens / 20th Century Fox

    To rise to the position of Special Projects Director for Weyland-Yutani's Special Services Division, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) had no doubt done some pretty shady things along the way. But duplicitous double-talk and ruthless business tactics do not necessarily make a person a villain, especially within a futuristic conglomeration with extra-solar interests like Weyland-Yutani. Even when Burke keeps the existence of alien eggs aboard the derelict ship on LV-426 from the colonists he has sent to investigate it and all but one of them loses their lives, a corporate attorney would likely argue he was guilty of little more than negligence. However, when he accompanied the crew of the USS Sulaco to LV-426, greed and desperation turned Burke from corporate shark to psychopathic monster.

    When it became clear to him that the Colonial Marines planned on wiping out all traces of the Xenomorphs, Burke saw his grand future at Weyland-Yutani going up in smoke. He hatched a desperate plan to smuggle alien embryos back to Earth inside of living hosts so that Weyland-Yutani would have powerful biological weapons - and he'd get a promotion. Locking Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the only survivor found on LV-426, a young girl named Newt (Rebecca Jorden), inside of a room with deactivated security cameras, he released living Facehugger aliens in an attempt to impregnate them.

    Ripley and Newt survived and informed the crew of his treachery but, weasel that he was, Burke managed to slip away. It's likely he fell victim to a fate even worse than the one he had in store for Ripley and Newt, however, as the last time he was seen, he was face-to-face with a Xenomorph.

    19 votes