As Seen In:
Hannibal, Leon, Die Hard, X-Men, Karate Kid 3, Cape Fear, The Untouchables, A Clockwork Orange,
any James Bond
Yes, you need to build audience sympathy for the villain, too. That is, if you're looking to make a movie with any kind of character depth. It's the difference between a really good villain the audience loves to watch, and a sneering cartoon character. You need the audience to not just fear the villain, but respect him.
Not just anyone can get one of those hair things.
But for some reason, this is usually done by giving them some kind of quaint, aristocratic hobby that shows they have sophisticated tastes. So he'll probably be watching opera, like the bad guys in The Untouchables or Quantum of Solace. Or he'll just mention his taste for the finer things in life, like Alan Rickman in Die Hard. It differentiates movie villains from most of the bad guys we'll probably run into in real life, whose finer tastes will mostly extend to which sort of iPhone will get them the most meth money.
Even When it Doesn't Make Sense ...
On one hand, the "evil genius" is clearly a villain archetype that goes way back (before even Sherlock Holmes dueled with the evil Professor Moriarity). We know why a high IQ and education makes Hannibal Lecter scary -- he's smart, and therefore formidable.
He also has a considerably better hat than you.
But then they cram this trait into the most nonsensical places. In Tim Burton's Batman, we get a scene where Jack Nicholson's Joker is on a rampage through a museum, destroying priceless works of art. One of his henchmen goes to slash a painting and the Joker stops him with, "No, I like that one." So even there, with that character, in that scene, they stop everything to show he appreciates what is being destroyed more so than his henchmen. But why would he? Before he was the Joker he was just a mob enforcer.
A fabulous mob enforcer.
Likewise, in The Professional (or Leon if you prefer to watch deleted scenes that were voted out by test audiences), the villain played by Gary Oldman murders women and children with a shotgun, and spends most of the film trying to kill a 12-year-old girl. Oh, and he has a classical music obsession. He listens to Beethoven on headphones while conducting drug business, and even monologues about music with his victims. What a classy, sophisticated guy! You know, for a corrupt DEA agent.
Of course it's not that there's no such thing as a DEA agent who listens to classical music in the real world, it's just weird that it's considered a sign of sociopathy in the world of film. The good guy is always a down-to-earth everyman. A John McClane type, or some other down-on-his-luck cop -- even Bruce Wayne, a billionaire, is shown to shun his fancy things in favor of his dank cave. He only flashes his wealth as part of his cover.
Being Batman is hard.
So is the idea that the people who enjoy stuffy, intelligent, ivory tower entertainment like operas and classical music are the enemy? Because that means they're not like us, the Joe Sixpack movie-goer? And that to be a hero, you need to enjoy down-to-earth entertainment, like ...
Well, like movies. Ah, OK. We get it now.
Read more by C. Coville here.
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