7 Types of Villains

by | Feb 10, 2015 | Prose and Cons | 2 comments

7Types_of_VillainsNot every hero has a villain. A hero can battle faceless foes, the environment, or even his own inner demons, but if you want to write about heroic deeds you may find yourself looking for a villain to pit against your hero. A villain is a complement to a hero, a contrast to the heroic virtues for hero embodies. Whether you decide on the hero first and choose a villain for him to oppose, or start with the villain and build a hero to defeat him, it can help to have some archetypes in mind. While you’re free to mix, match, and invent your own, here are a few basic types of villains you can look to when brainstorming.

The Mustache Twirler

The mustache twirler is an over-the-top villain who is nothing but a villain. He exists, seemingly, only to create perilous situations for the hero to overcome. He is a flat character with little or no back story, and one who seems to dare the hero to foil him.

This is a simple villain for a simple story. There is little nuance involved, and on close inspection, the mustache twirler’s schemes seem designed to be foiled. Children’s stories and campy action movies are good settings for this sort of villain.

Examples: Snidely Whiplash, Auric Goldfinger

The Ancient Evil

Someone has been up to something dangerous, and they should have known better. They opened an ancient crypt, read aloud from the wrong book, or put a magic ring on their finger perhaps one time too many. Whatever the cause, something evil and long dormant has come back, and great heroism will be required to save the city/world/universe from it. This is an evil for evil’s sake, something beyond reasoning with, threatening, or waiting out.

This is the classic villain of epic fantasy, though it has fallen somewhat out of favor in modern times.

Examples: Sauron, Cthulhu

The Bully

Well down the spectrum from the ancient evil is the bully. A staple of YA and coming-of-age stories, the bully is there to make life miserable for the hero, if not actually threaten it. Often, a bully can be a stepping-stone villain, meant to contrast a hero’s before (being bullied) and after (dealing successfully with the bully) states. But there can be occasions when the bully is the main villain.

Bullies are best used when looking to show emotional growth in a character. They are not limited to stories with child protagonists, but they are found most frequently there.

Examples: Biff Tannen, Dudley Dursley, Mr. Bumble

The Mastermind

The perfect counterpart to the clever hero is the villain who is always thinking one step ahead. A mastermind isn’t a villain who needs to get his hands dirty, though there’s nothing stopping him from doing so, if the plan calls for it. A mastermind will often have a keen interest in a hero, often wanting to match wits with a worthy adversary. This common flaw in masterminds is often the only plausible manner of their undoing.

This type of villain works well in many types of story, though it generally works better when the hero is the sort who is willing to match wits, rather than try to doggedly pursue.

Examples: Megamind, Professor James Moriarty, Loki

The Dark Lord

In the classic battle of good an evil, the Dark Lord is the “other guy.” Unlike the ancient evil, the Dark Lord is usually a contemporary of the hero, or a generation older. What sets him apart from other villains is his official status as the leader of an organized group. While “lord” might be an arbitrary title for the archetype, the moniker can be applied to kings, dukes, warlords, princes, generals, or any other similar marker of status. A Dark Lord will always have minions, henchmen, or underlings to carry out his orders. Those will often be used to harass the hero or soften him up before a final confrontation.

The portrayal of a Dark Lord is generally not nuanced, but that trope can be subverted a bit to show the man behind the villain. Otherwise, this villain is best used in stories with black-and-white morality. The Dark Lord is, by definition, evil.

Examples: Darth Vader, Voldemort, Mister Sinister

The Mirror

Evenly matched in brains, brawn, and often even appearance, the mirror is the hero’s equal in every way but one: ideals. There will be some fundamental difference in moral and/or philosophical outlook that will always end up playing into the result of the final confrontation. This match up cancels out all the mundane traits that might set a hero apart from normal people, because the villain possesses those same traits. In this case, it is the heroism itself that matters.

This is a great villain for a case study in what being a hero means. Karma, friends, and just the value of having something worth fighting for – these are the things that set a mirrored pair of hero and villain apart.

Exmaples: Negaduck, Professor Moriarty (a versatile guy!), General Zod

Someone Else’s Hero

They fight for a cause that opposed the hero’s, but for those who follow that cause, this villain is their hero. Turn the tables, and you could tell the story with the roles reversed, casting the villain in the heroic light and the hero as villain.

Examples: Magneto, Khan Noonien Singh, Benjamin Linus


  1. cathleentownsend

    Excellent post. Villains are well worth the thought we put into them.

  2. davidwatson

    Odd that you’d use, as your headline picture, a photo that is NOT a villain. This is a photo of the narrator of the 1930’s radio drama, “The Shadow” (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”). The Shadow is a vigilante hero who was the catalyst for other such heroes, up to and including Batman. The Shadow struck fear into the hearts OF villains with his ability to hypnotize them at a distance and become apparently invisible. Often shown in the pulp fiction novels as a man with a slop hat, hawk nose, piercing green eyes, and a black cloak or trench coat (or both), and sporting gleaming twin long-barreled .45 caliber pistols, he thwarted villains to bring justice to a world overrun with crime.


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