Most movie plots always revolve around the protagonist’s story in achieving something; winning a bet, proving one’s worth, rebellion for revenge, or saving the world. Of course, they will face obstacles at some point in the story, to enrich the plot and make the story more entertaining to watch. Sometimes, the protagonist also serves as the villain of the story, as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl or Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. Be it reaching a happy ending or stumbling into their downfall, the protagonist will always be faced with the antagonist.
A villain isn’t automatically born into a villain by birth. There is always a story behind; a childhood trauma, rejection in society, seeking for validation, or the ‘born different’ factor that contributes to the epiphany of a villain. For instance, Cruella DeVil was a fashion designer with a peculiar taste named Estella, and Arthur Fleck was just a man suffering from a neurological disorder before turning into DC’s most famous villain Joker.
A villain origin story helps us understand the character more and unfolds the reason why they act the way they’ve become. This resulted in the view how audiences are more drawn into the villains rather than the heroic figures, because most of the time protagonists are portrayed as perfect and have their own ‘special’ spirit in becoming a heroic icon. Studies have proven that it’s possible to be attracted to our dark side. Thus, making villains more likable and relatable because we can resonate with them more.
Even in movies where it centers around a villain undergoing a mission that is supposedly not encouraged, we would also root for them. This can be seen on the Spanish Netflix series Money Heist or in 21, starring Jim Sturgess which tells a true story about MIT students cheating in gambling by using math. They’re not good people, but we can’t help but root for them to succeed in their journey. This may derive from the fact that we enjoy being drowned in the thrill of the main characters’ adventure in achieving its objectives, even when it was a bad deed.
Modern movie productions have accentuated the depiction of these villains by incorporating their background stories into the plot, thus constructing our perspectives that they’re not pure evil, but instead there is something that just won’t let them be good, and we managed to find it fascinating. So worry not! You are not the only one who enjoys seeing the secret government project become a boomerang in Suicide Squad, or Loki messing up with the timeline of the universe.
Entertainment purposes aside, people find villains terrifying and mean-spirited — not generally the kinds of individuals anyone would want to be friends with. Villains murder the loved ones of others, rob families of their riches or life savings, sabotage competitors and more, seemingly without a care. If people despise real life evil miscreants, why do they root for them in fictional works?
This question has been asked on many online surveys, and one of the reoccurring answers is, “Because the bad guys are usually the hottest characters in the story!” It is human nature to initially like the most attractive person in any given setting. Beautiful people, no matter what their personality, usually find it easy to win over a person’s trust and affection. As said on bobsommers.com, “Good looking adults are more likely to be elected to office, get a higher paying job and avoid jail time if they’re convicted of a crime.” Hence even criminal offenses are overlooked so long as the offender is pretty.
Another common response is, “The bad guys make more interesting characters than the heroes.” Every villain has a motive and sincerely thinks he or she is doing the right thing. Take for example Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello. Never does he do anything for the mere sake of being evil; he does what he thinks is just. He attempts to destroy Michael Cassio and Othello because he feels they deserve it, and while he thinks that his actions are fair, society considers them immoral and cruel. It is this warped view — this paradox — that add depth to a villain, and people are generally more drawn to it than they are to the less complicated character of an average hero.
In addition, some individuals say they root for the bad guy because they tire of good guys prevailing. In other words, they do not root for the bad guys because they are evil, but because they are the underdogs. Which leads to the question, why is it common to root for the party least likely to win? According to psychology, it is because this is the party most people can relate to. Everyone has, at some point, felt hopeless, powerless, and at a disadvantage. Underdogs are pitted against something seemingly impossible to overtake, and therefore undoubtedly feel hopeless, powerless, and at a disadvantage. They struggle and try so hard to succeed that audiences cannot help but wish them the best of luck.
So, is it the dark side of human psyche that has people cheering for the villains’ cause? Is it the innate evil with which everyone is born that has even the most good-hearted individuals smiling in response to a bad guy’s victory? Not necessarily. When people look at fictional villains, they see versions of themselves gone wrong. Maybe these bad guys were once just as innocent as anyone else. Maybe they were turned by one regrettable choice, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Audiences know this can happen to anyone, including themselves, and by cheering on the so-called “bad-guys“ and “villains“ in films and books, they are, in a way, cheering for themselves.