If there’s one thing audiences love to watch more than a hero, it’s a villain. Whether they’re making life difficult for the protagonist or staring down the hero in a final breathtaking battle scene, villains are what give our favorite movies balance.
It’s a fact understood that a victory is only made sweeter when the journey there is filled with struggle and adversity to overcome. On the big screen, that usually comes at the hands of an antagonist whose sole purpose is to make life hard for the hero, forcing them to push beyond their limitations. Yet even as we’re rooting against the villains, we can’t help but be transfixed by these characters, who are often dripping in charisma and creative even in their grievous misdeeds. They live without apology and spend their time on screen doing exactly what they want, without permission, which is a desire that many of us can relate to.
Our favorite villains are also scary, and sometimes they’re scary precisely because their manifestos sound reasonable, leading us to think more deeply about the complexities of right and wrong. Occasionally, they even offer up a few moments of surprising clarity. These 8 characters may not be the heroes of their stories, but their words may just remind us that inspiration can be found in the strangest and most unexpected of places.
The hardest choices require the strongest wills.
– Thanos, "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018)
In the penultimate Avengers film, Thanos has made half of all living creatures disappear with just a snap of his fingers, a devastating act that he feels is in the best interest of the universe. Even though he feels that what he’s done is justified, he acknowledges that huge decisions are often difficult to carry out, and require tremendous strength.
Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.
– Darth Vader, "Rogue One" (2016)
In Rogue One, Darth Vader delivers this line to an underling as he uses the Force to choke him. Moments before, the underling in question made the mistake of overstepping his position, and his punishment serves as a powerful reminder to not let your ambitions cloud your judgment.
Remember, above all, self-control.
– Lady Tremaine, "Cinderella" (1950)
Also known as the evil stepmother in Disney’s classic Cinderella, Lady Tremaine gives the aforementioned warning to Cinderella’s stepsisters when they begin to argue during a music lesson. While viewers are right to dislike her for how she’s treated Cinderella, Lady Tremaine was no less correct in reminding her daughters that self-control is an important skill to cultivate.
You’re a god among insects.
– Magneto, "X2: X-Men United" (2003)
In X2: X-Men United, Magneto, leader of the rebellious brotherhood of mutants, meets Pyro, a mutant who can control fire and who is, for the time being, studying under Professor X. When Magneto tells Pyro, who is used to hiding his powers, not to be ashamed of his mutant abilities, it serves as a reminder that what makes you different can be your biggest asset.
If you’re good at something, never do it for free.
– The Joker, "The Dark Knight" (2008)
The Joker utters this line to a group of powerful criminals during a scene in The Dark Knight. Sure, he’s explaining to them why they should pay him to go after Batman, but it’s also sensible career advice for anyone who’s considering monetizing their talents.
– Scar, "The Lion King" (1994)
The Lion King is an animated film that has stood the test of time and remains a favorite for many Disney fans, not least of all due to its iconic songs. While Scar isn’t the character you’re supposed to root for, few can deny that “be prepared” is excellent advice, whether you’re talking about overtaking a throne or just living your life.
My motto is, ‘If you want to win the lottery, you've got to make money to buy a ticket.’
– Louis Bloom, "Nightcrawler" (2014)
In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal portrays a paparazzo whose dedication to photographing crime scenes is downright scary. The character is not exactly a role model, but his motto — that you have to be able to play in order to win — is worth remembering.
Being brilliant’s not enough, young man. You have to work hard. Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift, and you use it for the good of mankind.
– Dr. Octopus, "Spider-Man 2" (2004)
When Peter Parker first meets Dr. Octavius in Spider-Man 2, the brilliant scientist who will later become his enemy gives him a dressing down for his work ethic. In scolding Parker not to rely on smarts alone, he’s delivering a message that’s not only valuable for students, but anyone who’s working towards a goal.
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