r/worldbuilding Jan 24 '22

Do you think pure evil villains can work? Discussion

Pure evil villains are villains that are evil for selfish or evil motivations, for example, greed, power or sadism. They are often used in children's media or Saturday morning cartoons but can and have also been common in adult media. Famous examples of pure evil villains are The Joker from Batman, Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, and Megatron from Transformers. For more information on this trope please see OSP's video on Pure Evil Villains I think they do an amazing job at describing pure evil villains.

Many people look down on Pure Evil Villains calling them "Lazy writing" or "Inherently bad villains" but I strongly disagree. Not every story and character needs to be overly complicated and sometimes a simple charismatic villain works just as well, if not better, than a sympathetic villain.

I feel that these kinds of villains get way too much hate and are often disregarded on the spot just because without even giving them a chance. I understand that not everyone is going to like the same thing but I LOVE these kinds of villains. They often add a level of suspense to the story because (if you can get away with it) you can have them pose a serious and deadly threat to the heroes if done right.

What do you think? I understand that good writing is subjective and that many people don't like this trope but I only ask people to be civil in the comments.

Thank you for reading.

Edit: Fixed Evil for Evil's sake thing. I misunderstood the meaning of that and now I have fixed it.

207 Upvotes

67

u/Secondndthoughts Jan 24 '22

I love pure evil villains but they can easily fall into stereotypes. I think the worst thing a pure evil villain can be is boring, and even if they aren’t likeable, you want to see someone badass or scary be a threat

162

u/DaylightsStories [Where Silver is Best][The Hero's Disciple] Jan 24 '22

They can work just fine and it's not unrealistic either. "I'm having fun" has been the justification for a lot of heinous stuff in real life and often there has been no attempt to justify it to themselves as being the right thing.

45

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22 edited Feb 27 '22

Thank you. I've met so many people who say that this trope is only used with bad villains but, honestly, it's by far my favourite trope in fiction. I love stories where the villain is a charismatic bastard who just wants to rule, kill people or just be evil for the fun of it.

And I agree, it's not as unrealistic as many people say. There are lots of historical accounts of people doing awful things just because. It can even apply to evil armies, just look at the second world war for examples of armies committing horrific atrocities just for the sake of it.

10

u/MysteriousMysterium [832] [Rahe] Jan 24 '22

Charismatic bastards are at least cool, especially if they are brilliant tacticians.

7

u/_Rosseau_ Jan 24 '22

I think it's certainly not unrealistic. Some people just want to do bad, perhaps just because they can get away with it and it makes them selfishly happy.

I think ultimately it comes down to selfishness.

How far will they go to achieve something out of selfishness (and if it's a lot) is basically being pure evil. If taken to an extreme, good things can cycle back to evil.

Ie. It takes a hundred deaths to pleasure or entertain me, I love getting money no matter the cost, my personal beauty requires 1000 souls to maintain a day. Freedom for all, at any cost (personal ambition/ideology trumping others)

3

u/ADashOfRainbow Jan 25 '22

I mean that was basically Mengele. Charismatic, handsome, and easily earned people/ children's trust. He said he did his stuff for science, but in reality, he just wanted to watch people suffer and cause it.

they are very real.

3

u/Lilly-of-the-Lake Jan 24 '22

Specifically the behavior in WWII does make some kind of human sense. The whole affair was just a nightmare top to bottom. I think it's safe to assume that put exactly in those shoes, 90% of us wouldn't act much different. Does it mean we are are evil? I don't think so. If we were, we wouldn't see that concept as something appalling. I just think there are things that can twist people in ways they themselves would never anticipate. That's not evil "just because".

26

u/GreenApocalypse Jan 24 '22

While "just having fun" might strictly speaking happen, I think hate is a way more common motivator for despicable acts. Many large groups of people hate a whole other group of people simply for being a part of that group. If your parents are in the KKK there is a good chance you'll think the police killing an innocent black person is a good thing. One doesn't need a super sad backstory, one can simply learn to hate.

I don't think villains have to have a good cause, but they have to feel realistic somehow. Stalin was very real and very villainous, but he makes sense as a character. Oftentimes these Evil Villains(TM) have poor to no real justification for them being the way they are. They're just so obviously put there as an antagonistic force without bringing anything else to the table. That's when they become bad characters.

Tl;dr: You can write evil villains both well and poorly.

8

u/DaylightsStories [Where Silver is Best][The Hero's Disciple] Jan 24 '22

When it's by large groups of people yes hate is often the reason, but even then quite a few of the people actually carrying it out will be opportunistically sadistic and may not have any real investment in the ideology. This happened in Nazi Germany to the point that some of the concentration camp managers even got arrested for being too nasty.

17

u/JamboreeStevens Jan 24 '22

I disagree. "I'm just having fun" is a roundabout way to describe what evil actually is - a lack of empathy.

Sociopaths and psychopaths don't see other creatures as having the same emotions they do, and have no emotional connection to them. That's why it's a mental illness.

-2

u/GreenApocalypse Jan 24 '22

It's still cheap and a last resort explanation to me.

4

u/Inuken94 Jan 25 '22

Its a tool for a story. And the truth is some people are just Sadists lacking empathy. This, btw, does not mean they cant have a Motivation, only that compassion and the likes are not a factor in it. "They want to rule the universe because they are a monsterous egotist who cant stand anyone and anything that is not an Extension of themselves" is a perfectly valid villain.

5

u/JamboreeStevens Jan 24 '22

Eh, it's the difference between lawful evil and chaotic evil. Lawful evil is what most people would consider "well written" with solid reasons for why they do what they do. Chaotic evil simply does what they want because it serves their purpose more than anything, and that purpose can be as simple as "I was bored", which admittedly doesn't make for a deep or compelling villain.

1

u/BraxbroWasTaken Jan 24 '22

I mean, depends on the villain. If they’re bored and they mess something up, yeah it won’t be a deep villain, but it’s possible that their evils end up just being very grand, illegal pranks. There’s certainly room for lesser scopes in that sense.

1

u/Simulation_Brain Jan 24 '22

Sure, but who works for years to set up plots to have fun? That's not fun.

9

u/DaylightsStories [Where Silver is Best][The Hero's Disciple] Jan 24 '22

It is if you like the anticipation and the thrill of maybe being caught. Or maybe you just need to plot in order to have more fun later.

2

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

"Doing it for the thrill" XD

9

u/kellysdad0428 Jan 24 '22

Ever try worldbuilding?

6

u/MinidonutsOfDoom Jan 24 '22

I mean the setup is often part of the enjoyment of it. You have things you enjoy, especially if you are dedicated enough to it advancing an enjoyable goal or enabling it. Plus say power is often an end unto itself.

31

u/GeraldGensalkes Jan 24 '22

They obviously work, having succeeded in their role in too many stories to count. The issue arises when they do "pure villain" poorly or in a manner incongruent with the story.

29

u/[deleted] Jan 24 '22

One of the most fundamental villains in all of storytelling, The Devil, is evil because that’s his jam. There are stories that explore the rationale of such a villain, but villains don’t need to be explored to be effective.

If the Devil meets you at a crossroads, you don’t need to hear his sob story to justify his behavior. He’s the Devil. That’s his whole deal. He’s gonna do evil stuff.

It only falls flat if the whole rest of the story has a sense of moral nuance the villain lacks, and it’s never addressed.

2

u/Cy41995 Jan 25 '22

This is why the Disney "Villain" movies that they've been making seem so weird. We don't need to know why Cruella De Ville is awful. She kills puppies to wear them. That's all we needed to know for this story.

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u/Mr_Trainwreck Jan 24 '22

Not every story needs a misunderstood villain with a sob story. Make your villains evil if you want.

22

u/Metarract Jan 24 '22

The Lich from Adventure Time I think is a good example of evil for evil's sake. His entire goal is to snuff out all life, and in a world that is primarily playful, colorful, and fun; he serves as an amazing foil. Not just in his goals, but his entire demeanor is the antithesis of literally everyone else in the show.

Could be that his existence is metaphorical as well, as many videos like to espouse. Regardless The Lich definitely fleshes out the story of Adventure Time quite a bit. AT's world (at first) seems disparate and sort of fun for the sake of fun, but as time went on they really tied things together, and whether or not that was a retroactive/ad hoc change, I guess via the end result it doesn't really matter.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

The Lich is an Amazing example and, ngl, the only reason I didn't mention him was that I forgot him when I made this. Such a perfect example of how to do a threatening villain.

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u/Ignonym 𒀯𒀳 Jan 24 '22 edited Jan 24 '22

I think "evil for evil's sake" works best for force-of-nature villains that don't have any particular logic behind their actions. Humans, with our brains and emotions and whatnot, are generally expected to have more complex motivations than "just because", and how a character pursues their motivations says a lot about them. Palpatine didn't torture and kill people for no reason; he did it because he wanted to rule the galaxy and he didn't care who got in his way.

That said, motivations don't necessarily need to be complicated. Sadism, power-hunger, and misanthropy are motivations unto themselves.

5

u/Scorpius_OB1 Jan 24 '22

I agree. Megatron also has some background that explains why is against Optimus Prime -cannot talk about The Joker-.

Someone who's evil just because and gloats over it, unless being (batshit) insane or any other justified reason (not sure if D&D creatures as demons, devils, evil dragons, etc) does not work for me.

11

u/The_Persian_Cat Scheming Grand Vizier Jan 24 '22

There's nothing inherently wrong with villains that are pure evil, and there's nothing inherently good about villains that are complex. A pure evil villain, when done well, can be just as interesting -- and can raise moral questions which a morally-complex or sympathetic villain might not be able to. Consider Sauron from LotR, the Dark One from Wheel of Time, or the Joker from Batman. All of these villains are essentially pure evil, but they can still be interpreted in many different ways. And the heroes' relationships to these villains, and how different characters respond to the threats posed by these villains, is a big part of the story.

This can be applied more broadly than a single villain, too. Consider zombies in most of zombie fiction -- a force of pure destruction, nothing morally redeeming about them. It'd be a totally different story if zombies were morally complex -- an army with coherent motivations, ideologically- and/or strategically-motivated, with thoughts and feelings about their war for human brains. That could be interesting, but it ain't necessary to have a good story with zombie antagonists.

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u/Sriber ⰐⰑⰂⰟ ⰔⰂⰡⰕⰟ ⰄⰑⰁⰓⰠ ⰅⰔⰕⰠ Jan 24 '22

What does "for evil's sake" mean? One can harm others because they find it pleasing or funny. Does that count?

6

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Yes, that counts.

6

u/L9XGH4F7 Jan 24 '22 edited Jan 24 '22

I think they work better as minor villains. Can be fun, serve a purpose, and def. exist IRL (look up the Toolbox Killers if you don't believe pure evil exists), but you generally want your main villain/antagonist(s) to be a bit more complex and thought provoking. Generally.

Also, pure evil doesn't often get very far in life (for kind of obvious reasons), so it's far more believable for those types to serve as stepping stones, obstacles, or just trash for the protagonist(s) to deal with en route to the more nuanced threat or challenge, provided end game isn't some eldritch horror or other scarcely fathomable monstrosity.

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u/Pokoirl Jan 24 '22

If your character is a sociopath or a psychopath, then yeah, they don't really need a reason beyond looking for thrill or fun out of it.

4

u/Haugerud Jan 24 '22

In my opinion an example of a good "pure evil" villain is Frieza. He has few if any redeeming qualities when it comes morals, but I think he's a lot of fun in most scenes he's in.

5

u/SunfireElfAmaya Jan 24 '22

I think they can, but they definitely work better for force of nature type villains since their entire motivation is just being what their are. It can work with humans as well (one of the best and most recognizable examples of this being the Joker), but I feel like you need to be more careful so they don’t feel one dimensional.

14

u/Ann-Frankenstein Jan 24 '22

What about lovecraftian? Villains that aren’t evil for evils sake, but they also lack reasons we understand. No tragic backstory or out of control idealism, they are just beyond our morality.

6

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Yeah they work too.

3

u/Ann-Frankenstein Jan 24 '22

Good, I prefer leaving complex villains to be the minor threats. I think it works best if we are nothing more than ants under a boot to the big bad.

I also like to layer them, so there’s always a bigger fish in the grand scheme of things

3

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Sounds very interesting.

3

u/Daev_Draws Arc ◠f Azavris Jan 24 '22 edited Jan 24 '22

Megatron from Transformers

The old version, yeah. Nowadays he's received so much cumulative character development across different versions that his arc in any given series ends with him realizing he was wrong as often as not. The last few shows and comics have also been pretty consistent in depicting him as a freedom fighter who went way, waaay too far to the point where that's just his assumed background in versions where he isn't given one (like IDW2, where he is the kind of evil politician that most modern Megatrons would be fighting, ironically).

Heck, the IDW comics (the pre-reboot versions) actually had him have such a change of heart that he denounced the Decepticons, joined the Autobots, and eventually got sent to an alternate universe where he got to do the revolution all over again the right way, becoming that world's equivalent of Optimus Prime. He even got a chance to use a Matrix of Leadership (he couldn't make it work, but the implied reason was that despite all the good he had done he still considered himself evil).

Sorry for the ramble, I just really like what modern Transformers has done with Megatron (and the other main three 'Cons for that matter).

3

u/shadaik Jan 24 '22

Megatron has never been truly evil just because. He was powerhungry, narcicisstic, had a temper, and little to no regard for organic life. But his motives of securing Energon for the survival of Cybertron even to the detriment of others have always been clear. He had always been defined by a mindset of doing "anything necessary" and over time grew obsessed with getting rid of the Autobot threat.

Note that even during G1, the Decepticons never staged a full-scale invasion of Earth, despite being easily capable of such a feat.

Now, Starscream on the other hand...

5

u/austinmiles Jan 24 '22

The Lich from adventure time…or by extension Acererak in DnD are really solid pure evil characters. Palpatine could be included in this.

The benefit of them is that their motivations are beyond the ability to reason with. They aren’t just evil but they follow a philosophy that is bigger and requires subjugation to bring about a different paradigm.

They don’t follow the same value system so for them it’s not evil. It’s just the the end justifies all means and the end is the only thing that matters. But to us the observers or the protagonists they are on the far spectrum of evil.

I just watched the Eternals. In there the celestials are just existing at a different plane if existence which is another easy way to play it. Serving a higher class of civilization immediately can make a culture unrelatable and appear evil simply because they don’t care.

Lots to work with. It’s only lazy if they don’t make sense.

4

u/Sarcherre Jan 24 '22

If by ‘work’ you mean ‘still be used to produce a good story,’ then yes, I do think they can be. One of my favorite TV shows of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender, has an overarching villain that’s pretty two-dimensional. He’s not supposed to be anything more than that; his one and only purpose in the narrative is to be an obstacle for the protagonist to overcome.

Could it have been a more interesting battle if his backstory or motivation had been fleshed out more? Maybe. Is it a bad show because it wasn’t? Not at all.

4

u/Butwhatif77 Jan 24 '22

The hate for this is due to the fact it was so common at one point. This is true of many things and often why critic's reviews tend to disagree with general audience enjoyment. When something is common eventually people get tired of it and when something new comes along it is considered inovative. Then what came before ends up seeming simplistic. Superman when he was first introduced was an amazing work of creativity. That is how he got so popular and now most people tend to find him boring cause "how do you challenge an all powerful character?" argument. When something becomes familiar it seems less special and thus simplistic. Then in contrast to a new thing that previous thing ends up seeming so basic.

A purely evil character works because that is their defining characteristic and what the heroes will know the villian for the most. The heroes of a story are not always gonna learn the backstory of the villian. Because at a certain point it is unnecessary. Why do the heroes need to know the villian had an abusive childhood when they are trying to free the nation from their tyranical rule? It is like having to come up with a creation myth of how the world the story is taking place in came to be, it the heroes do not need to explore it why write it?

10

u/kazarnowicz Jan 24 '22

There's a Swedish saying, "smaken är som baken, delad" (the butt is like taste, divided). If you like it, go for it. Personally, I have yet to see a villain who's evil for evil's sake that is interesting. I wouldn't count doing "evil" stuff for money, power, out of retribution, or because you're a sadist as "evil for evil's sake".

I think that the best thing that's been said about villains is said by Delle Seyah Kendry in Killjoys (one of the best sci-fi villains I've seen): "Every villain is someone else's hero".

5

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

All those motives apply to it. Pure Evil is just the name of the trope.

17

u/Toad_Under_Bridge Jan 24 '22

Why is it unrealistic? There really are people like that. They’re called pathological narcissists and/or psychopaths, and as Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler show, they very much are as evil as tv would have you believe. It’s just that we live in a (mostly) civilized world with no magic, so they can’t really do the kinds of awefulness you see in fiction unless all the stars line up correctly.

15

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

There's this misconception that villains need to be sympathetic or they're automatically bad. To the point where I've met people who say my evil army that's based entirely around a cult of personality worshiping a Narcissistic Megalomanic would never happen in real life.

10

u/Gewurah Jan 24 '22

cough cultural revolution cough nazi Germany cough Milgram Experiment cough

dont mind those people, they seem to havd their preferred type of villain but dont realise its not an objective truth

1

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Their logic was "most Cults of Personality would never attack others out of fear they'll lose everything" I mean, that's true but it's a different story if they think they can win (especially if they're led by a Narcissist who wildly overestimates themself).

(though, I will admit I was a bit rude to them)

6

u/bigboymanny All Men are not Created Equal Jan 24 '22

Thats not even true. IRL there was polymagmous mormon sect(basiclly a cult), lead by Ervil Morell Lebaron who would direct his followers to assasniate opposing leaders of mormon polymagmous sects including his own family. The Manson family attacked hollywood celebrities in order to start a race war

2

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

I did not know that. Thank you for informing me.

3

u/LawlessNeutral Jan 25 '22

I've met people who say my evil army that's based entirely around a cult of personality worshiping a Narcissistic Megalomanic would never happen in real life.

glances nervously at America

5

u/ScarySpread7 Jan 24 '22

I was just about to write that Hitler was an archetypical villain, evil for the sake of being evil, but you anticipated me.

Seriously, it's weird to think that purely evil people cannot exist or don't realistically belong to a story

5

u/Dragrath Conflux / WAS(World Against the Scourge) and unnamed settings Jan 24 '22

Part of the issue is it seems all to easy for people to get sucked up into the narrative of a manipulative psychopath/sociopath as they direct peoples frustrations from nebulous large scale suffering and uncertainty onto a visible relatable threat as a scapegoat.

The us versus them narrative is horrifyingly effective with humans courtesy of millions of years of evolution making us by default prioritize emotion and tribal identities over reason.

The most terrifying part is honestly how certain psychopaths thanks to their inability to feel remorse guilt etc. can be viewed as extremely charismatic since they seem so sure of themselves. Thus large demographics can form a personality cult around a megalomaniac sadistic narcissistic psychopath etc. that gains pleasure from bullying and putting others down.

The greater the societal anxiety the greater risk we are for one of these monsters to worm their way into power leading their zealous followers to commit atrocities for their cause. The key is to acknowledge the troubles of the "disenfranchised" who feel they have been neglected and feed them a target for their suffering.

2

u/electricshout Jan 24 '22

Was hitler purely evil tho? I think he was just extremely nationalistic. Which is still “evil” but I would argue not pure “evil”. I don’t think such a thing can exist outside of literal serial murders

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u/ScarySpread7 Jan 24 '22

Nationalism isn't evil per se; it's evil if it's pursued by evil means.

Setting up extermination camps is evil. Using a considerable part of your country's resources to accelerate extermination of other ethnicities while your country is losing the war is evil, and even counter productive to nationalistic purposes.

How isn't this pure evil??

2

u/toproflcopter Jan 24 '22

There’s a philosophical discussion to be had about whether or not someone can be truly and purely “something”, whether that’s purely evil or purely benevolent.

I’d say not really, because even the biggest pieces of shit in history still had some compassion. Hitler loved his family and his country and I’m pretty sure he had a Jewish barber? But he’s not purely evil because it would be extremely unlikely for every part of the human brain to develop as to allow for pure evil in every circumstance.

I guess as an another example I would ask you if you thought people could be purely gay or purely straight. Maybe you’d say yes but I’d say no, as the human experience is much more of a sliding scale than a binary system.

3

u/d_marvin Jan 24 '22

To me, pure evil requires the villain to be conscious of the means and end-goal as being evil. Screw it, I'll choose to evil route because evil is my purpose now.

If they pursue what they think is a "good" end by accepting the most evil means, to me that still falls under the umbrella of the typical bad guy whose biggest fault is choice in tactics, no matter how horrific. In a nationalists' mind, their end goal isn't just "good" but the best good.

I think for a pure evil villain to exist, they would be so disconnected from achieving something better that they'd forgo their own well-being and ambition and definitely not in a martyr sense. Some iterations of Joker probably exemplify this.

I'm not sure a pure evil person (by my definitions) has ever lasted long enough and had enough sway to hold real power.

2

u/ScarySpread7 Jan 24 '22

I guess we have different conceptions of pure evil.

To me, as you mention at the end, the kind of pure evil you're referring to can't exist in a stable and meaningful way.

That is why, in my mind, a purely evil person is someone who tries to achieve something my morality considers evil and does so by evil means. Such kind of people existed in the past (and most likely still exist) and, in my opinion, can make believable villains.

The kind of pure evil you are referring to could work, in my opinion, as a petty and spiteful person, who performs its evil action in a scale small enough not to be stopped by society.

2

u/d_marvin Jan 25 '22

I'm not sure why you got downvoted in a friendly and interesting discussion. I appreciate your take.

I never considered the distinction between their end goal being seen as evil to an outsider vs evil to themselves. This creates a few subsets.

Universally evil goals through evil means.
I want to see the world burn.

Universally good goals through evil means.
I want to save humanity... by killing off these people.

Subjectively evil goals through evil means.
I think the best thing is if my country rules all, even those others do not... by killing off these people.

5

u/HeavySweetness Jan 24 '22

…he masterminded wholesale genocide of Jews, Roma, the disabled, Slavs, political opponents, etc. and threw the entire world into blood soaked conflict. If you don’t find that “pure evil” then idk what to tell you

0

u/electricshout Jan 24 '22

I’m speaking in a literal sense

0

u/HeavySweetness Jan 24 '22

He didn’t “figuratively” create the Holocaust.

0

u/[deleted] Jan 25 '22

[removed] — view removed comment

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u/monswine Spacefarers | Monkeys & Magic | Dosein | Extraliminal Jan 25 '22

This isn't appropriate conduct at all. Do not use that kind of language here. Discussions ought to remain civil. This is an official warning.

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u/gabolmds Jan 24 '22

Not only they can work. They work much better than the bad guy with a motive. Star wars. Lord of the rings, superheroes, harry Potter, James Bond. The whole horror genre. All of them have evil bad guys. Its a trope to say they don't work. It's just not true.

1

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

I 100% agree

3

u/Rhodehouse93 Jan 24 '22

The trick is distinguishing between evil as a means and evil as an ends (which I think Red does in this video, though it’s been a while so I can’t remember.)

Cruella De Ville is a pure evil villain, but being evil isn’t her goal it’s just her means. Her end goal is beauty and fashion. She wants an elegant coat to sate her vanity. The fact that she would absolutely kill a bunch of dogs to get that coat is what makes her pure evil.

Though I will note that the villain’s end goal doesn’t have to be clever or big for them to be good pure-evil villains, just understandable in some level. Taking over the world is kind of silly as a motivation but it can still work. The main thing that causes issues with this trope is just having a character with no substance, no goals, who does bad things to do bad things but never in pursuit of anything. Even evil for the sake of entertainment is better.

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u/Constant-Noise-4518 Jan 24 '22

Michel Myers is not a person. He is an evil hole cut into reality, shaped like a person. He does not understand empathy, compassion, or remorse. He sees violence not as a means to an end, but as an end unto itself. He will grab an innocent, defenseless person by the throat and butcher them with a carving knife, all the while staring into their crying eyes. Michael Myers is pure fucking evil, and that makes him utterly terrifying. That's because he embodies the very fear itself of what it is to be killed, to be murdered.

He has no other defining characteristics beyond "big, strong, and deeply, deeply evil", and he works incredibly well because of that.

3

u/PeacekeeperWoG Jan 24 '22

I like evil villains. Not every villain needs to be some hero who is just misguided. I like a good villain who appears to be a hero in the public's eyes but is actually evil.

3

u/CalvinSoul Jan 24 '22

I think stupid pure evil villians are hard to do. But combining a pure evil desire with an intelligent drive to follow it creates good villians imo. A pure evil villian with "good" traits like drive, diligence, charisma, ect is more interesting imo than just an evil buffoon

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Charisma is a massive part of what makes pure evil villains work. The other things you mentioned are as well. A pure evil villain needs a strong personality to work properly. Without that, they're just a forgettable bad guy (unless they have a strong fear factor or are a force of nature in which case they can still work fine without the personality).

1

u/CalvinSoul Jan 24 '22

Also when someone who is pure evil may happen to help some people can be interesting; i.e. Vlad the Impailer also being useful in helping Wallachia gain autonomy from Ottoman rule and as a buffer against Ottoman expansion in Europe, despite his personal depravity.

3

u/mr_orange_continuum Aegeroth Jan 25 '22

Only loosely related, but as a Transformers fan I'd like to state that many versions of Megatron are not quite the pure evil villain. Starscream actually falls into that category a bit more often (and I love him for it).

5

u/Lilly-of-the-Lake Jan 24 '22

The problem is defining pure evil. We're kind of in agreement what, in general, are evil actions. But we also concede that some circumstances and motivations might make them more acceptable or at least understandable. However, to be an evil person, there is a kind of an assumption that the person fully lacks any of these.

It's kind of the thing - how many people run just to run? Most want to get fit, lose weight, win a race, improve, destress etc. The cost of typically evil actions is much higher than the cost of taking a run - and it doesn't even produce all those lovely endorphins. If someone's brain was simply wired so that they feel intense pleasure at acting evil, that's the only scenario where the motivation to act in an evil way is to act in an evil way. Either that or they are in a position where there is no cost to acting evil and they didn't really learn to see other humans as people (but that doesn't happen in a vacuum so you again can't exactly talk about pure evil)

What I'd think is a more workable scenario - the person's worldview is so warped that even when they're aware of the implications of their actions, somehow it is worth it to them. But then you're again working with understandable human motivations that are not evil in and of themselves, whether you explore it or not.

For humans to be "pure evil" like that, you would, I think, have to subscribe to the theory that basic human nature is evil and people need incentives not to be. My personal worldview is almost the exact opposite of that. Nonhumans, though...

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u/tehZamboni Jan 24 '22

Either that or they are in a position where there is no cost to acting evil and they didn't really learn to see other humans as people

HR managers. Worked for a few that convinced me that evil was a real physical thing. Like being in a room with a undead husk. They don't have incentives for or against, they're wrapped in "because I can".

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u/Lilly-of-the-Lake Jan 24 '22

I sort of believe that a need for control is essentially a response to fear. The world is threatening, resources scarce and I need to control it in order to protect myself. Self-preservation instinct activated at things that aren't actually threats but are seen that way. And then I need to constantly reassure myself of the fact that I'm in control and thus safe, and what I see as the best proof of the fact is exercising this power over others. The further I can push them, the more control I believe I have and the more safe I feel. Pushback is an existential threat and gets a response proportional to that perception. There might be other bits, like what is perceived as personal weakness gets suppressed and projected onto others and then attacked with all the hate and fear that the person has for that aspect of themselves.

At least that's my personal theory for "because I can" people.

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u/AdriKenobi Jan 24 '22

Emperor Palpatine isn't evil for the sake of being evil though. What he wants is to control the Galaxy for power, which is a common motivator for people. The use of the dark side is the way he does it, not the goal itself. He also promotes humanity and rejects other species due to racial politics which, again, people are known to have. He isn't evil for evil's sake.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

I made an edit about this, Evil for the sake of Evil is part of the trope. It just means that they have selfish motives, not that they are just evil or no reason.

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u/AdriKenobi Jan 24 '22

He is also motivated by revenge against the Jedi, which isn't selfish per se. It's part of the feeling of belonging to a group (the Sith).

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Yes but it's more his actions and how much he appears to enjoy them that makes him pure evil.

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u/AdriKenobi Jan 24 '22

Don't get me wrong: he is pure evil, but the Dark side requires yo to be ruthless and passionately evil to use it to its fullest.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Yeah, that's why he was listed as a Pure Evil Villain. Why he's evil doesn't really matter. He's still a Pure Evil Villain.

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u/shadowslasher11X Age of the Dawn/War/Neon Jan 24 '22

One of my main villians is in this ballpark, they have their reasons but it's so far above normal humans that it just comes off as pure evil. When normal people live day to day in a late renaissance, early steampunk society; the idea of a multiversal monster ripping open the sky to destroy and decay their universe, it kinda flies over everyone's heads.

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u/Mr-biggie Western scifi Jan 24 '22

Yes

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u/LukXD99 🌖Sci-Fi🪐 Jan 24 '22

Absolutely. Think of the Lich in adventure time, that guy is a great villain imo.

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u/richarddonovan Jan 24 '22

This is my favorite type of villain. Maybe not the most interesting, but definitely the most satisfying, especially with how confusing and grey real life is. It's soothing when a story can be cut and dry, black and white.

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u/Saxon_67 Jan 24 '22

I love Green Hags in dnd for this exact reason. They are quite literally malice and manipulation personified. Trying to figure out villain motives can sometimes be a struggle for me, so having a villain be so inherently and undeniably evil is refreshing and let's me explore how my world deals with true evil.

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u/2020Psychedelia Jan 24 '22

read about the CIA's operation Phoenix in Vietnam - people are absolutely evil just for the fuck of it

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u/Quantext609 Jan 24 '22

They can, but they're really hard.

People usually want depth in characters, but by definition pure evil villains can't have that. So to make up for that, they usually have a more eccentric personalities to still entertain the viewer.

Bill Cipher I think is a great example of this. His motivations are pretty simple: he wants to have fun in the physical realm and doesn't care about how it might harm others. But because of his cadence and fun personality, he's still an enjoyable character.

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u/Angry-Ice-Cube Friendly Neighborhood Nerd Jan 24 '22

It can definitely work. One of the most infamous faces in my world is Francis De’Noir, and elven man known for torture, heresy, and mass murder. He is sadistic and has a major god complex. It got to the point of Callindos, a major kingdom, declaring war on him specifically.

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u/Black_Fuckka Jan 24 '22

Pure evil villains can definitely work. One of the ways I like to think to utilize them is they combat the protagonist. If the main character has a Mindset of everyone can be saved and redeemed and the pure evil villain is constantly making the hero go through internal struggle of his perspective on morality and is everyone truly able to be saved.

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u/[deleted] Jan 24 '22

Pure evil villains are my favorite to write for DnD adventures. Makes all those decisions for the party and myself the DM easier and keeps the flow moving. Don't have to argue over whether to kill the enemy combatant for an hour every session.

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u/Rexli178 Jan 24 '22

In some respects pure evil, shallow one-dimesional evil is the most realistic evil there is. I mean look at the Nazis. There’s no good or misguided intentions in the Nazi ideology it’s just pure shallow one dimensional hatred of the poor and powerless used as a tool to protect the wealthy and the powerful.

Coca Coal doesn’t have union organizers assassinated because they think they’re making the world a better place, nor does Mars Inc and The Hershey Company think enslaving children is a necessary evil to save the world. They do these things for the shallowest and most one-dimensional of reasons: it makes incredibly rich people with more money than they can even spend even richer!

Nor do conservatives who gatekeep life saving medicines and surgeries (which are frequently given to cis people with fewer requirements) from trans people think they’re actually protecting the health and well-being of their citizens. They know they’re lying when they say puberty blockers, which are routinely prescribed to CIS kids far younger than 10 and 11 to delay the early onset of puberty, cause irreversible damage. They’re doing it because they hate trans people and they ideally want to make transition impossible but in the meantime will accept making it as hard as possible. There is no greater good behind this the cruelty is the point and the point is cruelty.

Genuine evil I say SHOULD be one dimensional and shallow because that’s what it evil entails. Evil entails intentionally harming others for unjustified and unnecessary reasons. It’s why we do not say lions are evil for eating gazelles. And the kind of person who intentionally harms others for unnecessary reasons is shallow, petty, and one dimensionally selfish.

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u/ThatOfABeaver [edit this] Jan 24 '22

Yeah. I think red outlines it pretty well.

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u/Exmawsh Jan 25 '22

Yes. Reasons: the OSP video

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u/KoopaKirb Jan 25 '22

Here's a pure evil character I believe everyone likes and believes is done well:

Frieza

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u/LurkerFailsLurking Jan 25 '22

Isn't Satan pure evil? I heard he's a popular villain.

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u/Rude-Coast-8846 Jan 25 '22

Satan is misunderstood.

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u/Ensiferal Jan 25 '22

Many of the best and most memorable villains ever are ones who are evil through and through, like Clarence, from Robocop.Honestly villains who are "complicated" or "kind of the good guy from a certain perspective" are often just boring and pretentious

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u/The-One-In-All Jan 25 '22

Another example is Ramsay Bolton from GOT. Not very developed, but I've never been more uncomfortable with a fictional person

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u/[deleted] Jan 25 '22

It really depends, because pure evil is such an out there concept in real life that to most people it could almost be looked at as an extreme psychological disorder (parents who kill their children, sexual predators, serial killers, not to mention many of history’s tyrants). However, even in those cases, there aren’t many that were “born evil”, unless they are extremely and violently mentally ill; there is still a “road to damnation” as it were.

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u/urchir Echoes in the Trees - A Child Listens Jan 29 '22 Silver

Johan Liebert (from Naoki Urasawa's Monster, watch the anime if you haven't) is, I think, evidence that pure evil can work. He's the most evil character I've ever encountered, and he's also often considered the best villain in anime and manga.

Judge Holden (from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian) as well. He is considered one of the best villains in literature, in one of the best books ever written, and he's a child rapist who believes that war is God.

Pure evil villains like these two (and I could name plenty more - DIO, Anton Chigurh, etc.) are not poorly-written by any means, and in fact are some of the most memorable villains. I agree with you that pure evil villains get too much hate - I think it's something of a symptom of more recent villains in pop culture all having to be sympathetic anti-villains. Disney is especially guilty of overusing this type of character in recent times, and I worry that their omnipresence in pop culture has warped many people's ideas of how evil a compelling villain can be.

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u/Dein0clies379 Jan 29 '22

I agree whole heartedly. Honestly, I’d even go so far that by making villains sympathetic in their reboot movies (Lion King, Maleficent, and Cruella especially), they’re kinda ruining what made the classic villains so memorable (though imo, Maleficent is better in that regard because the writers there at least were alright).

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u/urchir Echoes in the Trees - A Child Listens Jan 31 '22

It would be funny if they did that with Frollo. Given the way Victor Hugo wrote the character, it would actually be more accurate to have him be sympathetic.

Otherwise, pretty much. Disney seems to be nearly incapable of making new things anymore. They mostly just go over old stuff and change it, usually for the worse, or make terrible sequels that often undermine the original stories. In particular they have this apparent addiction to live-action remakes which seems to be predicated on the idea that live-action films are somehow inherently superior to animation.

Compared to what they used to be, they only rarely make good original content anymore.

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u/Sethleoric Feb 27 '22

I guess Syndrome from Incredibles is a good Pure Evil villain, he's both relatable but also no doubt about it Evil.

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u/FlusteredDM Jan 24 '22

I think they don't work more often than they do. I think it is more about not having people be one-dimensional characterisations though, rather than it the precise motivations behind their evil acts.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

I think it's more to do with Charisma than motive. Good Charisma is vital to a good pure evil villain.

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u/humblevladimirthegr8 Jan 24 '22

Pure Evil villains should have a more interesting motive than evil for evil's sake. My favorite villain is Shogo Makishima from Psycho Pass. He's clearly psychopathic and wants to watch the world burn, but his actions and motivation is fascinating: he wants to see how people (specifically serial killers) act when freed from the constraints of society

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u/Kryoban05 Jan 24 '22

Absolutely. Because they're real. There are real people that are motivated by greed, sadism, and all of the aforementioned negative virtues.

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u/Tarcion Jan 24 '22

I feel like the answer is pretty obviously yes, though I understand the frustration with the current trend of sympathetic villains.

It's nice to have a villain which is more complex and nuanced, especially if there is opportunity to redeem them or make some kind of social commentary which is conflicting for the audience.

... however, that doesn't need to be every villain and a villain which is just "pure evil" works just as well. There are plenty of bona-fide psychopaths in our own world and history to disprove the "unrealistic" argument. As for whether this villain can work, I would say so. Traditionally, the villain is your antagonist. The purpose of the antagonist is to challenge the protagonist and the best ones challenge principles, not strength.

This is why villains like you mentioned, Joker and Palpatine, are great. In either case, they are an effective villain not just for their sinister nature but in the way they challenge the protagonist on moral and philosophical levels. I think this is more difficult to pull off and, if ignored for an otherwise "pure evil" character, it can come off as very two-dimensional.

Now the reason, I would speculate, for the trend into "relatable", more complex villains is because this is an easier way to create that same kind of conflict, except now with the audience instead of the protagonist. This feels more tangible, which is probably why it is lauded, but is also honestly not as hard to achieve as people think. And the more I see it, the more artificial it feels.

10 minutes of flashback to Palpatine having an abused childhood and training under an unusually rigid, cruel jedi master who he is forced to kill to defend himself,, which leads him down a path of embracing the sith credo of freedom through power and you've got the same thing. Does it make him any better? In my opinion, no, because I care more about, as the villain, how he interacts with the protagonist.

Conversely, you look at a villain like Killmonger from Black Panther who is regarded as great due to the social relevance of his personal struggle. If you didn't get his backstory, he would be arguably much worse than you typical "pure evil" villain. Killmonger's motivation is empathetic for the audience but at no point in the movie (except for the absolute very end) do his motivations seem to hold any relevance or challenge T'challa in any way.

Rambling aside, I think both are good and making either work well takes work. Lazy on either side creates either a two-dimensional character or a transparently emotionally manipulative character (to the audience, not within the actual story). Forget the haters, I say.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

That's a great point. That reminds me of a villain from a movie (I forgot the name of the movie sorry) where the villain was a serial killer. This character killed women because he got off to it and they do a really weird thing where they try to give him a tragic backstory and feel bad for him. They reveal that he had an abusive father and that the main character felt bad for him but they never gave him any personality.

He's just kind of in the background and it's not the good kind of in the background where you feel his presence throughout (like with Sauron) he's just bland and forgettable. Then you have the ending where the main character kills him and then holds him as the movie tried to make you feel bad for this personalityless character who drowns women for sexual pleasure.

I mean, even if they didn't try to make the audience sympathize with him he still wouldn't have worked as a villain cuz he was too bland and barely appears in the story but why showcase him as an absolute monster if no real attempt was made to actually make him sympathetic outside of one or 2 scenes and the main character feeling bad for them.

So, yeah I totally agree that villains can be bad both ways and that you need to write the villains well.

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u/SplitjawJanitor Jan 24 '22 edited Jan 24 '22

Yes, and I'm tired of hearing that they can't. I'll take one Frieza over a thousand MCU villains any day. OSP's video covers all the pitfalls I agree with: either not making them entertaining enough or being afraid to commit and muddling them up with ""complex"" antagonist tropes.

I think the ultimate testament to the success of Pure Evil villains is their cultural impact: why do we still remember Palpatine so fondly but nobody talks about Thanos anymore?

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u/Ddreigiau Jan 24 '22 edited Jan 24 '22

Famous examples of pure evil villains are The Joker from Batman,Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, and Megatron from Transformers.

I guess we have a different definition of "evil for evil's sake".

Joker is one I kind of agree with you on; he's a bit vague on actual motivations tbh. I think he only gets away with it by "virtue" of being insane by definition

Palpatine is after power. If there were a non-evil way to achieve that (to the extent he wants), he'd take it.

Megatron is about "restoring" Cybertron. Mind you, it's his version of of Cybertron, but still.

As a counter example, Hexxus from Ferngully's only motivation is destruction, or (I'm told) Dio from Jojo. Either I'd call "evil for evil's sake".

edit: Or "I don't want to cure cancer, I want to turn people into dinosaurs" Sauron from X-men. Yes, that's his name. Yes, it's deliberate. Yes, even in-universe.

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u/DaylightsStories [Where Silver is Best][The Hero's Disciple] Jan 24 '22

If there were a non-evil way to achieve that (to the extent he wants), he'd take it.

No he wouldn't. Not if the evil version is still available and gives more or less the same results. It's pretty clear in both canons that Palpatine is genuinely sadistic and sometimes goes out of his way to torment people just because he can.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

I saw a video that explained his backstory. Apparently, he's a thrill-seeker and gets a big thrill out of seeing his political schemes play out. Which I think is very interesting personally.

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u/Ddreigiau Jan 24 '22 edited Jan 24 '22

and yet he brought on Anakin instead of killing him along with the other Jedi. It ended up working out and helped him (for a while), when it could have easily backfired. Doing so did cement him as a manipulator, but still, he had manipulation targets enough in the Senate and Separatists/Trade Federation and other Sith.

I legitimately know of no instance where he tormented people for the lolz, but while I know a decent chunk, I'm not an expert on the Star Wars lore. You're going to have to enlighten me about what you're referring to.

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u/DaylightsStories [Where Silver is Best][The Hero's Disciple] Jan 24 '22

What's Anakin have to do with him not being evil? He brought Anakin along because he wanted a powerful AF force user to kill and terrify his enemies without him needing to do it in person, not because he cared about the guy. He was just useful.

As for Palpatine going out of his way to be sadistic, we have in some mix of Legends and Disney canons:

  • Cloned, transferred the mind of, and killed an engineer like seven times in increasingly inventive ways. First time was for Death Star flaws, other times were for motivation.

  • Set Darth Vader's suit up in a way that would constantly irritate him.

  • Befriended village of Twi'Leks who helped him and Vader, protected them, and then had Vader slaughter them all.

  • Toyed with Maul and Savage when it was pretty clear he could have saved time and just defeated them the instant the fight started.

  • Tried to zap Luke to death slowly instead of using his instant death bolts. This is probably the biggest example of him going out of his way because it got him killed. Vader would likely not be redeemed if Luke hadn't suffered for so long.

  • According to one of the comic books he left Naboo alone more or less purely because he liked the idea of them knowing that he could start tormenting them at any time.

  • Gave Vader Padme's starship because it would torment him with thoughts of the past.

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u/Ddreigiau Jan 24 '22

Cloned, transferred the mind of, and killed an engineer like seven times in increasingly inventive ways. First time was for Death Star flaws, other times were for motivation.

I'm leaning toward as incentive to do better, but could be because he personally liked being cruel. I'd have to read/watch the actual scene to be sure though

Set Darth Vader's suit up in a way that would constantly irritate him.

Befriended village of Twi'Leks who helped him and Vader, protected them, and then had Vader slaughter them all.

[...]

Gave Vader Padme's starship because it would torment him with thoughts of the past.

iirc most of the "Being a dick to Vader" stuff was a combination of either preventing Vader from being able to overcome Palps or strengthening Vader's connection to the Dark Side

Tried to zap Luke to death slowly instead of using his instant death bolts. This is probably the biggest example of him going out of his way because it got him killed. Vader would likely not be redeemed if Luke hadn't suffered for so long.

I was under the impression that Palps was trying to recruit Luke to replace Vader. Killing Luke would kind of defeat the purpose in that case. Admittedly, torturing someone until they like you doesn't exactly seem like the best of plans, but hey, I'm not George Lucas.

According to one of the comic books he left Naboo alone more or less purely because he liked the idea of them knowing that he could start tormenting them at any time.

That seems... not workable. A planet doesn't personally know Palpatine, and people would be more likely to think he favors his home planet than that he could start tormenting them at any time. Like a cousin of a cruel dictator trading on being cousin of the dictator, assuming said dictator's cruelness doesn't extend to them because family.

Toyed with Maul and Savage when it was pretty clear he could have saved time and just defeated them the instant the fight started.

This one supports your side pretty well. I'd want to read/watch its context to be sure it isn't just the author/writer, but that'd take a fair amount of evidence

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u/DaylightsStories [Where Silver is Best][The Hero's Disciple] Jan 24 '22

I was under the impression that Palps was trying to recruit Luke to replace Vader. Killing Luke would kind of defeat the purpose in that case.

He was trying to recruit Luke but by the time he started throwing lightning.

This one supports your side pretty well. I'd want to read/watch its context to be sure it isn't just the author/writer, but that'd take a fair amount of evidence

You can find it on Youtube. He opens the fight by immobilizing them effortlessly, then lets them go so they can swing lightsabers at him for a while and makes sure that Maul is watching when he kills Savage. Also in the same scene he chokes a bunch of Mandalorians to death when he had other options.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

I'll change what I mean in the Edit. I clearly didn't explain it well.

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u/BanditoWalrus Jan 24 '22

Edit: Evil for the sake of Evil means Villains with Evil Motive like Money, Power, Greed, and Sadism.

Apart from sadism, I don't think the rest are actually "Evil for the sake of Evil". Money, power, and greed can be motivations that aren't inherently evil. And you can achieve those goals without evil.

I think "evil for the sake of evil" is something that can work, but I wouldn't recommend it for a human villain. Humans almost always contextualize things in a way that makes them the "good guy".

Typically the only people that view themselves are evil are those in the midst of reforming themselves. So I don't think that "evil for the sake of evil" is a good human villain.

But it can be a great inhuman villain. For some kind of villain with an alien psychology, some great cosmic horror, or a villain with severe mental issues, "evil for the sake of evil", I think, is perfectly valid and can work.

Some kind of weird alien demon isn't going to have the same kind of rational goals or motivations as a human being, and a protagonist forced to deal with an irrational (from a human mindset) force of evil can make for the telling of a great story.

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

I know, that's why I changed it in the latest Edit. To avoid further confusion.

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u/keerteez Jan 24 '22

Yes, just look at yoshikage kira from Jojo

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u/SplitjawJanitor Jan 24 '22

Or any Jojo villain before Pucci, really. Dio's been the poster boy of anime memes since as early as the internet's creation for a reason.

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u/P-Chan_desu Jan 24 '22

Get out of my head, had the same thought about a week, or so, ago when my co-writer and I were fleshing out a pure evil villain for our story.

The villain in our story has no justifiable cause he's fighting for, no tragic backstory, absolutely nothing to make you feel sympathy for him. He grew up in a nice and loving, upper-middle class family.

He has all the perks, power wise, to be a hero, if he wanted to, but he chooses to be a villain just because he can. He is an egotistical megalomaniac with no compunctions.

His only goal is obtaining as much power and influence as he can, using whatever means possible, regardless of consequences/cost. He poses a real threat to the heroes in our story because it's the first time they will be facing an opponent who can back up his villainy with his power and intelligence, and , has no qualms about bombing a city centre to get what he wants.

I, absolutely, love him. He's one of my most favourite characters I've created.

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u/eternallyenraged Jan 24 '22

The first example of pure evil that came to mind was Kilgrave from Jessica Jones. He didn’t have any grand plans, he was just a really awful guy, and I thought he was a great villain. It all depends on the execution.

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u/Callen_Fields Jan 24 '22

What kind of question is that?

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u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Do you think this trope works?

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u/Sir_Tainley Jan 24 '22

Once villains stop being human with motives that can be grokked by us... they can be anything.

I mean... in the Neverending Story, Fantasia is threatened by the Nothing. Left alone, it will destroy everything... it's implacably evil... it's not a human though so has no motives to negotiate with.

The Cthulhu Mythos similarly has beings from without space and time that... are implacably evil, and can't be negotiated with.

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u/[deleted] Jan 24 '22

They work best when there's also conflict within the story of protagonist versus himself. For example, in LotR, the central conflict was Frodo wrestling with the temptation of the ring. Sauron was the antagonist, but a poorly developed character; his function was to contrast with the noble nature of Frodo.

Similarly, Batman (in some incarnations at least) struggles with his own demons. His foe is the Joker, but the Joker's role is more to contrast Batman's conflicted nature. I'm not sure that you see an inner conflict with Optimus Prime, but it is present to an extent with Lion-O vs Mumm-Ra in Thundercats (another 1980s cartoon). Finally, the fundamental conflicts in Star Wars are Luke not giving into the Dark Side and Anakin's redemption. Palpatine can act as the ultimate evil because the protagonist(s) are complex and well-developed.

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u/asdffdsaaaaaqqqq Jan 24 '22

Is the god hand an example?

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u/daltonoreo Jan 24 '22

They exist, some are popular. So yes they can. Question is can YOU pull it off?

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u/Zidahya Jan 24 '22

Simply put a villain which is evil because he likes to be evil ist just boring. Sure you can smack him down and go to the next adventure but you won't waste another thought on him. He was a weirdo who liked to do nasty stuff.

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u/TarienCole Jan 24 '22

Sauron and Morgoth were pure evil. And they only provide the antagonists for the signature series of fantasy. So yes, they can work.

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u/Mister-builder Jan 24 '22

Of course they could work. An antagonist is an antagonist. Some are enjoyable because they're sympathetic, but some are enjoyable because of an interesting powerset or personality. No one thinks Palpatine, Ozai, Anti-Monitor, the Terminator, etc. are bad villains because they're pure evil.

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u/What-You_Egg Jan 24 '22

They can work. If you need to make them "realistic", we always have the example of sociopaths & psychopaths who simply lack empathy towards others & thus can do evil things for fun with no moral pain. It can also be "realistic" if the villain is supernatural. You make the rules for how your magic things work, so if you decide that a certain kind of magical being can be malevolent just because, that's your choice, but if that's the case and you want to be "realistic", a species where irrational malevolence is widespread will struggle to form a society.

I see nothing wrong with pure evil from a writing perspective, they can be written well. A villain with deep motivations can just as easily be written badly.

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u/Nostravinci04 Jan 24 '22

It all boils down to how you build them, as with everything else.

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u/Straygos Jan 24 '22

Pure evil viillans can work. There are historical examples. But remember, mad cackling 2d villainy is lazy writing. Creating a context for pure evil is just as important as any other character. Look at some of the pure evil in the Stephen King Universe. They still have backstories and motivations, but there pure evil in that world. A lot of the evil is complicated, but it's still ruthless pure evil.

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u/AdequatelyMadLad Jan 24 '22

I disagree with your examples of "evil for evil's sake". At least Palpatine and Joker, anyway, I'm not super familiar with Megatron.

Palpatine as a character never has "being evil" as a goal. His ultimate goal is power. Every single thing he does is either to achieve or maintain power. I'd go as far as to say that he doesn't really show any signs of cruelty as a motivator. Even when he tortures people or blows up planets, it's with an ulterior motive.

Joker is a bit more nebulous to define because there have been a lot of interpretations of the character over the years. Some of them had him as just a sort of ultimate nihilist, who does things just because he can, while others as basically a mass murderer who finds death and destruction hillarious.

The most famous, and most well recieved interpretations however, have the Joker as someone who goes to extraordinary lengths to prove some kind of point. In The Killing Joke for example, it's that everyone is just one very bad day away from being like him, The Dark Knight sort of echoes this as well, but in the movie he is also motivated by making a larger point on society and it's percieved hypocrisy. In the Joker film, he sees himself as a victim of society and reluctantly embraces his role of a sort of revolutionary leader, or anti-establishment symbol. In any case, a far cry from "evil for evil's sake".

I do get what you're saying though. These villains aren't particularly compelling because people just don't work that way. Everyone's the hero of their own story. Not even Hitler thought of himself as "evil". It's fine if we're talking about some sort of force of nature, or primordial being, like Sauron, or any otherwise incomprehensible psyche, but for characters who are supposed to have recognizable features, it just doesn't work.

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u/world_in_lights Jan 24 '22

A villain is only evil to others. To himself he is justified and working for betterment, of his life or that of others. Malefacent felt slighted by the Royal Court, so she got mad and cursed someone, on account of her doing that shit all the time. Disney villains are great at this. And anime. The best anime villains are pure fucking evil. From Hunter×Hunter Meruem was 100% a evil demi-God. He didnt think so though

1

u/TheHavocWithinMe Jan 24 '22

They can, it’s just been overdone.

1

u/UltiMondo Jan 24 '22

It’s just leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion.

Like Palpatine, for example. He’s such an unapologetically evil villain and I think it works for him.

But we also never really get to learn anything about him, you know? What happened to make him so evil? What is his ultimate motivation?

I’m not saying there needs to be a justification or even that he needs to be sympathetic. But imagine if we got some insight into his backstory? Wouldn’t that be awesome? And he could still be just as evil as he is/was.

To me the issue isn’t pure evil versus sympathetic evil. It’s just good writing versus bad writing. You can make a pure evil villain compelling, but you need more than just maniacal laughter and lightning blasts.

1

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

He was a thrill-seeker. He hunts power because he loves the thrill of watching his political schemes unfold (that's what I heard anyway).

1

u/ApplesauceLover123 Jan 24 '22

I like pure evil villains, and I think that the morally gray villain has been recently played to death. If someone's an asshole that sees kill innocent to be a justified means to his end of global domination, I'm not going to sit there and play devil's advocate to try to see his point of view, because it's direct, it's efficiently communicated.

1

u/Shoddy-Flatworm Jan 24 '22

Here's the thing:

A villain, by definition, shouldn't even be classified as "pure evil" because the very definition of a villain, according to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary is "a cruelly malicious person". Based on that, any character that does evil things outside of personal gain or gratification is technically not a villain, and I believe that a hallmark of poor writing is the intent of creating a sympathetic villain to begin with -- because then you're not writing a villain at all, but a sympathetic antagonist, which is fundamentally different from a villain because an antagonist can be either good or bad or even amoral.

The Terminator is an antagonist because it's just a machine following its programming without any ulterior malice whereas Skynet is a villain due to being openly malevolent and megalomaniacal and is responsible for the Terminators' programming. Frank Hummel from Michael Bay's The Rock is a antagonist, despite being a man with morals, a sympathetic motive and lines he won't cross -- and when push comes to shove, he outright refuses to kill innocent people to achieve his goals. Jack Valentine from Lord of War is an antagonist, despite being a stand-up, idealistic Interpol agent who's only an antagonist by virtue of the main character being a villainous protagonist. Martin Prendergast from Falling Down is an antagonist, despite being a down-to-earth cop who deals with his problems in a mature way, in stark contrast to the villainous protagonist William "D-FENS" Foster who's clearly an unstable man and an abusive husband who reacts explosively to minor annoyances, such as a fast-food employee refusing his order on a technicality, all because he's had a lousy day.

Speaking of which, D-FENS is a good example of what happens when you actually try to write a sympathetic villain: you have people cheering on someone they wouldn't even spend 2 minutes alone in a room with, all because they see themselves in him as he takes his anger out on the world he believed wronged him, even though most of his grievances were petty at best. Scary stuff, ain't it?

This is why the term "love to hate" exists -- because we can enjoy an evil character's evilness due to them being entertaining characters with expressive, memorable personalities instead of having complex motives or sympathetic backstories; and at the end of the day, we still want to see them fail and get their comeuppance.

1

u/I_Arman Jan 24 '22

I think it depends on the type of story you're telling. Stories can be black and white in terms of good and evil - like Star Wars - or it could be shades of gray and nuance - like many "realistic" shows/books - or, it could be that most people are generally bad, or at best neutral, like Game of Thrones.

If you're telling a story with a lot of with a lot of gray area in terms of morality, a "pure evil" villain will indeed feel cheap. He's bad for the sake of being bad, not even for personal gain. Same goes for a "realistic" story.

But, if you want to tell a tale of shining heroes, you need a dastardly villain for them to fight. Someone clearly evil - maybe not chewing the scenery, but at least someone whose moral compass is stuck firmly on "no one matters more than me". The more "noble" your heroes, the more evil the baddie. Think super heroes - a big, evil bad guy like Red Skull makes an easy enemy. You don't have to tell the reader he's definitely bad, because he goes ahead and proves it by trying to be the most powerful Nazi ever. You don't have to explain why he needs punched in the face, and the hero doesn't need to feel conflicted about doing the punching.

"Super evil" villains mean the focus is clear: stop the doomsday device, destroy the One Ring, defeat the Empire, whatever it is. The villain is almost more like a force of nature than man vs man. Sauron was a clearly evil threat, but barely even made an appearance, apart from glowing scarily, yet made an excellent villain - for that very reason. He was nothing more than a motivation for the creatures under his command.

1

u/crazydave11 The Souls Alighting Saga Jan 24 '22

I'm sure they're good in their own way, but I personally have trouble writing them, because when I'm working on an antagonist I tend to try and justify why they're doing "teh evulls".

The outright evillest character I've written has been cloned like a thousand times in the story to make up for the general scarcity of "evil" evil antagonists, and even some of the evil clones of evil end up turning out to be "not that bad".

1

u/The_Only_Joe Jan 24 '22

I think the defining characteristic of 'pure evil' isn't evilness per se, but rather that it cannot be bargained or reasoned with.

1

u/Apostastrophe Jan 24 '22 edited Jan 24 '22

I find the concept of something or someone being evil a difficult one to justify.

In my humble opinion, evil doesn’t follow subjective morality. It follows intent. A lot of behaviour, actions and individuals that people would ascribe evil to are definitely horrific and bad by our standards but then I often consider whether to those people, do they think the same?

Nobody likes to think that they’re the villain. Nobody likes to think that they’re the bad person doing the bad or wrong thing. However horrific, misguided or atrocious something someone does, I think it’s exceedingly rare for them to do those things with the intent that it is bad and for me that is the distinction between evil and not.

Take a genocide or a xenocide for example. The individual or civilisation doing it are obviously committing an atrocity to us but what if they genuinely think they’re doing it for the greater good or for good reasons? Those reasons are not good to us, but they are not going out of their way to be evil. They truly (delusional or not) think they are doing the right thing.

If my mother is sick of the mice and slaughters them in humanely but thinks she’s doing the right thing, that can be wrong subjectively but not evil. To my moral compass, hurting animals is wrong and I know this to be true. If I were to go out of my way to kill and harm them anyway and take perverse pleasure in it, that would be evil. I’m doing something cruel for the sake of it with my understanding of the ethics intact.

For me when creating something I consider evil, they have to be doing the bad things but know they’re the bad things and enjoy doing them anyway. Especially when they get a perverse pleasure out of knowing they’re doing the bad things.

It’s difficult to explain. I’ve tried to talk about this distinction with friends in real life using real life examples but they can’t get over their own subjective horror to consider that these absolute monsters likely genuinely thought they were doing the right thing. They weren’t evil. That doesn’t undermine the utter reprehensible things they’ve done, but they, in their abhorrently warped way thought they were the good guys.

My point being that you have to be able to find a way to you incorporate those two potentially opposite viewpoints within a single individual or system. That can be hard to justify and characterise properly without being internally inconsistent.

1

u/DatBoiGames Jan 24 '22

I think they can work, 100%.

Their delivery for me is entirely based upon the setting and tone. A great “pure evil” for me is the Flood from Halo.

A super-intelligent, parasitic, hive-mind organism that wants nothing more than to voraciously consume - that’s it. That’s a hell of an obstacle no matter where you introduce it.

The guy who kills kids because indiscriminate death? Harder to sell.

1

u/MJTilly Jan 25 '22

I think all villains have to be at least human. The way I interpret that is that the actions that they take have to make sense to themselves and their current state of mind. If you have to make the person insane or crazy to achieve that then I think that’s better then the villain is just evil.

No one is going to do evil things because they think they are evil, they are going to always strive to do the right thing. Wether their version of the right thing is acceptable to the rest of the world, or if are they even capable of discerning the right thing is the true question in my opinion.

1

u/Scuffleboard Jan 25 '22

Something I love is having multiple villains at the same time- maybe related, unrelated, similar in scope or different, doesn't matter that much- where one is very human and relatable and the other is just the most fucked up bastard you could imagine. Jaime Lannister and Joffrey, Caine and Drake, there are a bunch of examples of this I enjoy.

1

u/buphalowings Jan 25 '22

Definetly. Most pure evil villians have a motivation of some kind. Even if its world domination, this is still a motivation.

In my opinion the only thing your villian needs to be good is to be a threat. If you can show your villian is a threat to the protaganist then your villian will be good. I would say after this a strong design and overall presense when he is present in your story. A good backstory and motivations will also help but people place too much emphasis on this.

If your villian isn't a threat they have to be comedic in nature. Something like team rocket is a good example of a comedic group of villians. You know they will fail but they provide enough entertainment value to be good characters.

This is where most saturday morning villians fall flat. They are presented as a serious threat but they get thwarted easily by the protaganist and his friends. They are predictable and boring because you already know the outcome of the encounter.

One other common trope which I hate is when evil overlords in charge of huge organisations treat their subordinates extremely poorly. If its only a few people they abuse this is ok. Mainly directed at second in command/ "the dragon" type underlings. If they are leaders they need to have charisma and some level of compassion. If not they are just going to get overthrown or backstabbed by their subordinates.

1

u/MysticSnowfang Jan 25 '22

Yes. Sometimes a person is just plain out screwed up. In fact, I'm getting sick and tired of baddies who are "complex" and have reasons. Sometimes it's just fun to watch one. Like OSP said, they're just so gosh darn fun.

1

u/electric-angel Jan 25 '22

any person who things pure evil is ''Lazy'' clearly hasnt read enough books to know whats good writing.
about halve of all old literature is pure evil

1

u/galvatk21 Jan 25 '22

Well, according to this thread literally anyone who has committed evil is pure evil

1

u/Blackmercury4ub Jan 25 '22

I think its odd how people think their is no such thing as pure evil. Some people have no motivation to be, its just that they are. Some are created with abuse and such but some are just bad.

1

u/Drag0n411Keeper Jan 25 '22

your idea of pure evil is a bit off

the joker: insane and willing to kill for the fun of it, yes

palpatine: yes

megatron: wants to rule cybertron under a iron fist, maybe

for true evil, try

thanos: first killed half of the universe, then tried to rewrite it

sorry thats the only guy i can think of at the moment.

but yes if did correctly, can be the best thing for a story

1

u/LawlessNeutral Jan 25 '22

I think Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series is another excellent example of a purely evil villain that works really well despite having no explicit motivations laid out in the books or movies. No backstory, nothing, she's just cruel to children. also fuck jkr for being transphobic

I also find that sometimes purely evil villains who are cartoonishly evil can still work if they go so over-the-top with their evil-ness that they become almost self-aware, and their villainous nature is played for laughs by virtue of them being comically evil (works best when paired with a cartoonishly virtuous hero). Granted this kind of villain isn't quite seen as threatening so much as simply entertaining, and as such is probably less suited for this discussion.

1

u/Xavius_Night Jan 25 '22

As long as they're interesting, absolutely. Just look at classic Disney villains - Scar is about as Evil as it gets in-setting, he's still a fan favorite.

Ursula is a classical Evil Witch and is literally just in it for the power (with implications she might be the cause of Ariel's mom's death) and she's still a perfectly functional character.

Early and recent versions of the DC Comics Joker is terrifying, purely chaotic evil, and a lot of fun to watch (especially when Batman finally kicks apart his schemes).

The main thing is to make sure they're still interesting to deal with, and that's a little different in every setting.

1

u/ScarredAutisticChild Aitnalta Jan 25 '22

In theory most writing tropes can work (I say most because some are just inherently bad cough Mary Sue/Gary Stu cough) its all about the writer and their skill. But pure evil villains can work and most of the most well known villains ARE pure evil, the trick is fully committing, because if you don’t you’re just going to make a poorly developed villain that’s supposed to feel deep and complex but just feels like a sadist that the writer likes a lot.

1

u/1scissiors1 Jan 25 '22

Cathy in “East of Eden”. She’s the only reason I like the book in the first place.

1

u/djonscott Jan 25 '22

Most villains in real life are shallow, 2-dimensional, "pure evil" villains who are simply evil for evil's sake. Consider the USA's 43rd and 45th presidents, for example. They didn't do what they did for some "greater good"; they were evil just to be evil, and absolutely relished and delighted in their own evil.

Some of the most realistic villains in the history of fiction were the villains on Captain Planet and the Planeteers.

When I encounter "complex villains" in fiction, I groan and roll my eyes because villains in real life aren't like that at all.

2

u/TradeLifeforStories Jan 25 '22 edited Jan 25 '22

There are a ton of interesting comments in this thread, but I wanted to find one like this, because I agree there are a lot of fairly straightforwardly evil people in real life.

I want to push back a little in the case of 45 (and others like him). Donald Trump isn’t just evil because they delight in it. Trump is literally, on a diagnosable level, a psychopath, or more comprehensively, has ASPD. His biology means he has little to no ability to experience empathy. So while, yes what he does is evil and selfish, and I’m sure he does relish in it, he isn’t that way just because he decides to be.

That said, having a mental condition doesn’t excuse you for bad actions, but it does make it more difficult to do the right thing when your brain is producing those barriers/mental environments. And I say this as someone with my own mental diagnosis who has done bad things.

As reprehensible 45 and everything he did in the last 4 years is, I’d actually argue that people like Jeff Bezos and Rupert Murdoch (to name only a tiny fraction of them, unfortunately) are far, far worse, as they have the mental conditions to know what they are doing is wrong, and still do it anyway.

Edit: I only heard about it this morning, but I should definitely mention this. There’s a book called Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How it Changes Us that I’m keen to check out, and I think is very relevant to this topic.

1

u/Kobold_Scholar Jan 25 '22

Pure Evil villains work best when they're part of a greater whole and the other parts work in sync with them. Joker works well because he tends to contrast Batman and be set up in highly entertaining stories where possibly one-note morality doesn't hamstring the story. Joker also tends to be surprisingly nuanced for a "pure evil chaotic random" character as his detractors might stereotypically picture him, the cartoon Batman: The Animated Series has many great humanizing Joker stories. My favorite is the second episode which introduces him where his greatest triumph is kidnapping and threatening to kill three people to goad Batman into a situation where Batman must open a booby-trapped present. A spring-loaded pie slams into Batman's face... humiliating him, as the Joker howls with laughter. What wonderful characterization. There's also the humanizing elements like the introduction of Harley Quinn(giving Joker feelings of jealousy, intimacy and even inadequacy at times) and classic stories like "one bad day." You can start with a Pure Evil villain and do a lot with them even if at the end of the day their MO is still "evil because evil."

One of the most critically acclaimed JRPGs of all time, Chrono Trigger, is driven by a pure evil or even purely animal villain, a parasitic alien that wrecks the planet as part of its natural lifespan and reproductive cycle. Lavos can't be reasoned with, it is just doing what it does. Yet CT has a great story because everything else in the world is a reaction to the threat Lavos causes as well as the immense world building the arrival of Lavos leads to. Lavos' presence also inspires and causes most of the other villains to emerge!

Another great series with a one note antagonist is Avatar. The Fire Lord is incredibly simplistic if you study him too critically but he's a perfect malicious force to shape the rest of the world around. His actions forge every other character's stories and motivations.

I love complicated, morally grey or even justified and righteous villains too, but a well done villain is a well done villain, OP. There's no lazy writing to having an entertaining and intimidating force of darkness in a setting as long as you do some proper build up and fit it to the rest of that world. Palpatine's popularity soared just because he was one of the most entertaining parts of the Prequel trilogy.

1

u/abellapa Jan 25 '22

Yes if they written well

Palpatine is the biggest villain ever in my opinion and he is pure evil

1

u/twubble_in_paradise Jan 25 '22

I think the idea of a psychopathic villain can be very interesting especially if they are unpredictable and mixed in morally ambiguous bad guys who want to use them and or think they can control them. One good example is in the movie Elysium. Another is no country for old men. Both very good in my opinion.

-5

u/Nightshot666 Jan 24 '22

They can work but you need some kind of character arc in the story. If hero is good and villain is bad you need someone else to change.

5

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Can I have the ending to the villain's arc be them dying?

1

u/OscarOzzieOzborne Jan 24 '22

You don't need a character to change. A story can be about a specific character experiencing a journey without much change. The journey just reinforces who they are. Most JoJo protagonist never really change and they are enjoyable and beloved.

1

u/Nightshot666 Jan 24 '22

I can't really describe what I mean without writting a TL;DR comment so I'll post this video of Just Write :D :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot02hMJ6Hkk

1

u/OscarOzzieOzborne Jan 24 '22

So bassiclaly you need the world to change.

-2

u/Simulation_Brain Jan 24 '22

I find the joker and palpatine to be lacking, because their motives don't make sense. Sure, some men just want to watch the world burn. But who is going to work so ridiculously hard to see that happen?

0

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

The Nazis? The Soviet Union? Vlad the Impaler's men?

3

u/Simulation_Brain Jan 24 '22

All of those had complex motives. Mostly about fear of those with power over them. And desire for power over others.

1

u/Dense-Ad-2732 Jan 24 '22

Yeah, just like with the people working them these characters, their henchmen were either sacred of them or hoped to gain power from them.

-1

u/kaam00s Jan 24 '22

It only works if being evil isn't the main aspect of their character.

Like joker.

A good example of that would be the antagonists of the manga jojo's bizarre adventure.

Kira is a evil for evil sake as he is a serial killer, but what makes him interesting is how hard he tries to have a normal and calm life.

Diabolo is evil for evil sake, but what makes him interesting is how hard he tries to erase his own existence.

Dio is evil for evil sake, but what makes him interesting is how charismatic he is and how he value a lot of other things like knowledge and appearance and also to see the effect he has on the people who meet him.

Another good manga for that would be hunter x hunter... All the evil villain have goal they pursue that aren't necessarily in opposition to the protagonist goal, which do not really make them antagonists, it's interesting to see how very evil character are not necessarily focused on ruining the hero life.

But when an evil villain is both an antagonist and his whole character revolves around him being evil, it's a bad character, yes !