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.

    24 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."

    32 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.

    16 votes
  • 4
    19 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.

    19 votes
  • Ivan Vanko Became 'Whiplash' To Punish Tony Stark For His Father's Death
    Photo: Iron Man 2 / Paramount Pictures

    Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) should have had a privileged life. His father, Anton Vanko (Yevgeni Lazarev), was a brilliant Russian physicist who helped Howard Stark (John Slattery) create the first Arc Reactor. Fame and fortune eluded Anton, however, when Howard accused him of espionage and had him deported. Anton was forced into exile in Siberia, where he took out his alcohol-fueled rage at Stark on Ivan. Despite the neglect and abuse, Ivan managed to escape his severe home life by applying his intellect to physics and engineering.

    Like his father, however, Ivan turned to the black market and was caught attempting to sell plutonium to Pakistan. After 15 years in prison, Ivan returned to Siberia to care for his ailing father. In his final moments, Anton finally apologized to his Ivan for all of his mistreatment. He confessed that his mistakes had prevented Ivan from becoming like Howard's son, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who had just out come out to the world as Iron Man. Watching his father expire while cursing the Stark name, Ivan was galvanized with a villainous purpose: Destroy Tony Stark.

    Using his father's designs and his own advanced technical knowledge, Ivan created an Arc Reactor of his own and an armored battle suit that granted him superhuman strength and durability, as well as a pair of electrified whips. As "Whiplash," Ivan ambushed Stark in Monaco, but was defeated and arrested. He managed to escape custody and joined forces with Stark Industries competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), sharing the Arc Reactor technology in exchange for Hammer's resources.

    Ivan double-crossed Hammer and converted his battle suits into unmanned "Hammer Drones" and launched an all-out onslaught on Stark during the Stark Expo with no regard for civilian casualties. It took the combined efforts of both Iron Man and War Machine (Don Cheadle), with an assist from Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), to finally defeat Ivan, who ended his own life in a last-ditch effort to blow up Stark.

    22 votes
  • 6
    18 VOTES

    Pinbacker Abandoned His Mission To Save The Earth After 'God' Ordered Him To Let The Human Race Perish

    Pinbacker Abandoned His Mission To Save The Earth After 'God' Ordered Him To Let The Human Race Perish
    Photo: Sunshine / Fox Searchlight Pictures

    The sun began to cool in the mid-21st century, and Captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) was chosen to lead the mission to save the Earth from freezing over. After passing Mercury, Earth lost all contact with Icarus I and its mission to deliver a "stellar payload" to reignite the sun was never accomplished. Seven years later, Icarus II was launched with the same mission objective. It received a distress signal from the Icarus I as it approached the sun. The Icarus II changed course to rendevous with the lost ship and salvage its stellar bomb. After a series of accidents crippled the Icarus II, the crew commandeered the Icarus I, finding most of the missing crew's severely burned bodies and a rambling captain's log left by Pinbacker.

    Unbeknownst to Cassie (Rose Byrne), the pilot of the Icarus II, and her crew, Pinbacker was still alive aboard the derelict ship. He had suffered a psychotic break and become an omnicidal maniac after passing the point of no return on his approach to the sun. Pinbacker believed that God had spoken to him, commanding him to let the human race die off, so he abandoned the mission to kickstart the sun. Pinbacker locked his crew in the solarium and the unshielded sunlight burned them alive. Pinbacker survived off of the ship's oxygen garden and food stores and spent his time communing with "God" while awaiting the end of humanity. 

    When the Icarus II docked with the Icarus I, the unclothed and severely sunburned Pinbacker began hunting the crew and sabotaging their efforts to complete their mission. Even in his deranged state, Pinbacker was cunning enough to avoid detection, kill several crew members, and destroy the Icarus II. Cassie and crew member Capa (Cillian Murphy) managed to evade Pinbacker long enough to launch the payload ship containing the stellar bomb, and they were all incinerated as the mission was accomplished and the sun flared back to life.

    18 votes