Misunderstood Movie Villains: Bad Guys That Were Better Than the Good Guys

August 25, 2020

Yes: there are indeed movie villains that are just misunderstood.

As a former English teacher, I’m pretty familiar with story elements and the Hero’s Journey. When it comes to books and movies, I can be somewhat of a traditionalist. The bad guy is bad, and the good guy is good, right?

Well, a peanut butter sandwich can be good. Good is one of those connotatively wishy-washy words that I often told my students to avoid. Most of the time, we only know that good just means not bad. But then again, what is bad?

Our vernacular and traditional plot elements like to identify good guys and bad guys. We love a good versus evil theme.

Do We Secretly Love the Bad Guys?

Don’t deny it: many of us watch movies or read stories because of the bad guys.

It could be a psychological thing. Maybe we connect with the bad guy’s circumstances and motivations because they reflect our own adverse experiences or misdeeds.

He didn’t have a choice. She was totally misunderstood. They were just angry and confused.

As we then watch and re-watch (or re-read) these stories, we start to recognize that certain bad guys were…a lot more than bad guys.

Our Favorite Misunderstood Movie Villains

1. Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove

“Pull the lever, Kronk!”

Yzma and Kronk are the dynamic villainous duo in Disney’s animated film, The Emperor’s New Groove. The story follows Kuzco the Emperor, who is turned into a llama for being something of a narcissistic jerk. At the beginning of our story, Kuzco fires his royal advisor (and evil sorceress/chemist) Yzma. Yzma is comically eccentric, and has a lust for power and revenge. She becomes obsessed with killing the emperor and usurping the throne with the aid of her loveable-but-dimwitted henchman, Kronk–another one of our favorite misunderstood movie villains.

Somewhere in the film, Yzma mentions that she practically raised Kuzco after his parents disappeared. One day, he suddenly fires her for “meddling,” and for trying to usurp the throne. While it’s totally likely that Yzma was meddling (remember, she has this whole lust-for-power thing), it still seems abrupt and callous.

Kuzco wasn’t exactly a saint, so she must have put up with a lot from him over the years. Imagine: you (and your father before you) have worked at the palace for your whole life, and this punk kid becomes king and kicks you to the curb. Hello!? No to mention, everyone seems to constantly be ragging on her appearance, which can’t be good for her self-esteem.

Despite everything, Yzma looks after Kronk and refuses to give up.

We also think alike:

misunderstood movie villains Yzma emperero's new groove

You’re right, Yzma. There is always time for dessert.

2. Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series

Another one of our misunderstood movie villains is Draco Lucius Malfoy. Draco is named after his creepy dad and the hundred-headed dragon from Herculean myths. He’s a pureblood wizard who comes from a long line of Slytherins, which means he’s not exactly destined for heroism or chivalry. This does not, however, stop him from being a badass and complex character.

Malfoy is an undeniably arrogant bully for most of the series. In fact, Hermione refers to him as a “foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach.” Ouch.

But when it comes to nature versus nurture, a lot can be said in defense of Draco. Let’s face it: he’s a mess (as are most of us).

He’s brought up in an intolerant household and comes from a long line of arrogant a-holes. His parents hold him to super high standards but don’t show him much love, guidance or compassion – making him terribly insecure. It’s no wonder we end up with a character as messed him as Draco.

Despite his insecurities (desperate for acceptance), his internal conflict clearly reveals that he would somehow prefer to break the chain of hatred and entitlement. Unfortunately, we real people tend to lose our internal conflicts – and Draco is the realist. He makes the choices he knows he can live with, often crumbles in the face of fear, and grows up wondering if anyone will ever really have his back.

Ooof. Among the magic and fantastical elements, Draco is the most authentic depiction of the human psyche. Yes, we read and watch movies to escape. But we also read and watch to relate.

3. The Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus

🎶 I put a spell on you… and now, you’re mine..

Hocus Pocus became a fan-favorite classic Halloween film for audiences of all ages. The movie follows the story of Max, his kid sister Dani, and his new “friend,” Alison. You know what I mean by “friend.”

Max accidentally brings back the Sanderson sisters, witches who have been dead for 300 years, by lighting the black-flame candle. The younger trio sets off to put the witches back in the ground before they manage to suck the life force out of all the children in town, ensuring their immortality. Mwahaha.

It’s such campy and hilarious fun.

And while, yes, the Sanderson sisters are technically the antagonists and “evil” witches who kill children, they are also badass feminists.

The Sanderson sisters start their magic and shenanigans for the same reason many of us max out our credit cards: we’ve bought into society’s standards of youth and beauty. Who can blame them? Especially at 300 years old.

Social media and dating apps are a nightmare. Imagine life without presets and filters.

These ladies are without a doubt, the stars of the show. They show us that

  1. Bullies belong in cages
  2. It’s totally reasonable to punish your cheating ex-boyfriend for his wandering penis and loose lips
  3. And that no matter what time period you wake up in, you should always embrace your weird and wacky boldness – and run with it.

4. Dally, from The Outsiders

If you were ever a fan of the bad boys, you probably had a Teen Bop tear-out poster of young Matt Dillon as Dallas Winston from the 1983 film, The Outsiders. The film is based on the novel by S.E. Hinton (spoiler alert: she’s a woman) about a gang of lovable misfits known as The Greasers. Their rival gang is the upper-class “Socs” (pronounced soh-sh-es, since it’s short for “socials”). Although the story is narrated by one of the teenaged members of the Greasers, Ponyboy Curtis, these fellas all experience some heavy and important coming-of-age moments.

Dally is hands-down the most bad-ass of the bunch. His eyes are described as “cold with all the hatred in the world,” and rumor has it that his first arrest was at age eleven. He has his own agenda in life and loves getting a rise out of the ladies for attention.

He’s also the most complex character. He serves as a mentor for the rest of the Greasers, stepping in when needed, without judgment or hesitation. And his first instinct is always to defend the gang and its honor.

Sure – baddy Greasers love fights and adventures, but Dally’s complexity lies in his incredible empathy and passion. He’s devastated by the loss of his friend, and his grief becomes his undoing. He’s a lover and a fighter, that Dallas Winston.

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