The Nine Most Sympathetic Villains

Gemma, from Lucy Christopher’s Stolen, was kidnapped. She was drugged and taken from her parents and stripped from everyone she knows. Her kidnapper doesn’t let her leave. He also doesn’t hurt her. In fact, he’s kind. Patient. Gentle. Gemma finds herself warming to him, even though she knows that he’s wrong.

Sometimes the bad guy in a story isn’t really a bad guy. Or, okay, fine. He’s a bad guy. But you can understand why he does it–because the author has made him (or her!) a well-rounded character with complex motivations. In honor of Stolen‘s hate him/love him bad guy, we present the nine most sympathetic villains.

Gru from Despicable Me
Gru gets mad points for adopting three cute kids and sure, the whole point of Despicable Me is that Gru isn’t a bad-bad guy. Even from the get-go, those adorable yellow minions scream loveable.

Dr. Horrible from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Because we follow the story from Dr. Horrible’s perspective, we root for him through all of his murderous plots. Not just because Neil Patrick Harris could direct us off a cliff and we would march gleefully to our deaths. Not just that.

Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Spike is a prime example of evil-but-can-we-blame-him? He does terrible, terrible, terrible things, but he tries so hard to be worthy of Buffy. He makes inexcusable mistakes, but his overwhelming love for her makes it hard not to always give him one more chance.

The Grinch from The Grinch
GUYS. His heart grew three sizes. GUYS. THREE SIZES. *sob*

Edward Scissorhands from Edward Scissorhands
Edward’s innocence makes his evil actions not-so-evil. We know, we know–ignorance of the law is no excuse. But it kind of is, though? Right? It kind of sort of is? Like–think of him as a giant baby with razor-sharp phalanges. Would you be mad at that?

Dexter from Dexter
The show pitches Dexter’s urge to kill as something he can’t help. It’s a part of him. Plus he kills killers. He’s like a spider. Let it live, cause it will get rid of all the other bugs in the room. So really, we should thank him . . .

Artemis Fowl from The Artemis Fowl series 
Yeah, he kidnaps a fairy. Yeah, he blackmails an entire species for his own personal gain. But he’s young, naive! And he comes around, eventually.

The Phantom from The Phantom of the Opera
Overaggressive shippers aside, the Phantom has always been a figure of mixed reception. He’s obsessive and incessant and Christine is terrified of him. But romantics will forgive almost anything in the name of passion. Not saying we’d like to be taken to a damp opera-house underbelly where songs are sung in our faces, loudly. But we understand the appeal.

Sylar from Heroes 
Sylar is a big bad. He kills and kills often. He has moments of light, but they are few and far between in a big sky of black. Maybe it’s the infrequency of his moments of not-evil that give us hope for him. They are so out of character that maybe they are actually in character? Shut up. Is too a thing.

A huge part of making villains sympathetic is crafting strong, believable voices for them. Make sure to join Stolen author Lucy Christopher and Shiver author Maggie Stiefvater for a live chat about how to craft a unique and authentic voice, 7:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 15!

77 thoughts on “The Nine Most Sympathetic Villains

  1. I quite honestly feel torn between Edward and Artemis. But I chose Edward because you can see Artemis is going to turn into a good guy (or anti-hero, at least) from the first book.

  2. I love any book or movie with a good, sympathetic villian. I like to try and like every character in a book, even the evil ones. I can’t wait till Dexter comes back again!

      • Loki actually has some abandonment feelings based on his loss of trust and situation in life, as well as never being told about his adoption. So, both sides are equally arguable cases.

    • Not sympathy, really. He’s just attractive. 🙂 That’s all. There’s some good ole fashion bad guy lovin from my end whenever he’s on screen.

      • you got that right. But even if Loki is majorly attractive, he still go my sympathetic vote, I mean come on the dude was practically led to his entire life.

    • I definitely agree with you. Loki does some pretty twisted things, but all he really wants is to be loved and accepted by his adoptive family. He has my sympathy, at least.

    • I didn’t really feel any sympathy for Loki. Odin took care of him like a son despite the fact he wasn’t! Shouldn’t that inspire trust? At the risk of getting hit with virtual rotten tomatoes, I cracked up laughing when Hulk wiped the floor with him 😛

      He had a great costume though 😀 (Loki, not the Hulk…)

  3. Ok, Edward Scissorhands is NOT a villian. Not by any stretch of the imagination. He’s the epitome of innocence and kindness. That’s the whole point of the movie, is that people judge him as a villain based on his appearance, but it is evident from the beginning that he is actually a hero.

    • Thank you! He is the hero but people peg him as a villian even though the point is that by the end they shouldn’t see him as a “villian”

  4. i feel Hannibal Lector should be on here, not that he needs sympathy, but he’s just SO AWESOME! you WANT him to win! now give me a Villain that you want to get the girl and live happily ever after, WHILE being a cannibal think of anyone else? I didn’t think so.

  5. Edward Scissorhands is just so adorable. You can’t help but love him. I mean, the normal people were more villanous than he was. I love him.

    And I knew the Phantom would be there. I really don’t like him. Murder is unforgivable no matter how bad a past you had. And if you want to get a girl, killing people is not the way to go. It just isn’t.

  6. What about Megamind? He was handed a bad card from the very start, being blue. And he really was a good guy from the start.

  7. there’s darth bane. excellent example of a villain protagonist.

    I was torn between Dr. Horrible and the Phantom on the poll though D:

  8. The Phantom is definitely a sympathetic villain. In the movie, he kills three people, in the show, two. Josef Buqeut (The guy who he strangled) was a drunk and wasn’t that nice a guy. Piangi (The other guy who was strangled) wasn’t that bad a guy but if it’s him or the Phantom (even if it really wasn’t), I say go Phantom. And in the movie, when the showman was strangled, he was ABUSING the Phantom. Hitting him with a giant wooden club, all that. Death to showman. Plus, it’s the Phantom. He’s just awesome all around. XD

  9. I had to vote for the Phantom. He’s just so . . . sweet. And yeah, he killed a few guys but they deserved it! And the Phantom is just awesome.

  10. Totally agree about Spike! The last season was so sad! That bathroom scene was unforgivable but I really, really wanted him to not be that guy. He was so capable of goodness, but he was just too broken. Plus, Buffy wasn’t exactly a healthy person to love.

  11. I don’t think anyone can beat Ty in Stolen, though Gru got my vote. Ty is so…loveable. I think he just needs a heavy dose of meds. But not too heavy. He’s a free spirit, after all. (A psychotic free spirit, but it’s all the same…)

    To twist the theme a bit, I loved Flynn Rider from Tangled. He should be the villain. He’s a thief. But…he’s the protagonist? Wha? (Also, that movie was a dozen flavors of awesome.)

  12. Nobody thinks of Snape? Or even Seymour from “Little Shop Of Horrors???” those are the two I would vote for, as they both have really good reasons to be fairly deep characters, but I went with artemis instead =-)

    • I’ll give you Snape, his journey is fairly epic and flips the whole series on it’s head once you realize the scope of his sacrifice.

    • Oh, Snape. This is so true. I’d vote for him even over Spike who I’m championing right now. This theme was practically made for him and he isn’t even on there.

        • Yeah, I mean the whole reason why I clicked on this thing was to
          1. Look for Snape
          2. Almost vote for Snape
          3. Get torn between voting for Snape and someone else
          4. Cry because they’re both so awesome
          5. Read comments

  13. I have a suggestion. Not an individual, but a group.

    Organization XIII. From the Kingdom Hearts series.

    All they want is their hearts back. They may go to some extreme measures, but that’s primarily because their leader is tricking them into believing it’ll work, when really all they’re doing is furthering his personal goals, which have nothing to do with regaining his heart or the hearts of his subordinates.

    In the end, regardless of each individual’s motivations, actions, or even whether they’re actually much of a threat or not, they’re all killed. Every last member, save the one who was never a villain to begin with.

  14. I have to say I’m surprised Mr. Freeze wasn’t on this list. IMHO of all of Batman’s Rogues Gallery he is really the only one with any sort of real justification for his actions. He is a tragic Villain driven by the love and loss of his wife.

    Heart of Ice, in Batman The animated series won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program, for a very good reason.

    • Technically, that would make the Joker justified, too. While there is some speculation of his past-life, one of the theories is that he went crazy when he found out his wife and child were killed. Obviously later was the break-in gone bad, falling into acid, etc. etc, but stiiiiiiill!

      And that is my nerd moment for the day!

  15. OMG MAD PROPS TO JOSS WHEDON. he got two of his characters in there! i was EXTREMELY torn between dr. horrible, the grinch and spike. i went for the dr. though.
    oh! the doctor! heeey…
    i’ll stop typing now. the overall IQ of this comment thread is going down by the second.

  16. This was a hard one, yikes. I felt like a bad guy having to choose just one! I had to go with Artemis, because he is a child genius, after all, and they are usually misjudged as evil.

    But I love me some Phantom. *Swoons.* Specifically some Gerald Butler Phantom. Yum.

  17. Artemis is AMAZING!!!! One of my favorite characters!!!!! I mean yeah he’s a villain but a sexy 12 year old master mind and he is doing it for his family. He has got my vote. Other villains, Scar form Disney’s The Lion King. Best disney villain ever. I guess Snape too. . . is he a villain? not really. . .

  18. Spike is one hundred percent the best up there. By the end of the series, they had half the fans routing for him to be with the main protagonist. I don’t think you get much more sympathetic than that.

  19. I’m torn between Dr. Horrible and Sylar because when Sylar has his moments can be a very good person, and he really does care about people even though he is evil (his mom? Though that did end rather badly). And Dr. Horrible is such a sweet guy throughout the entire video, I mean, sure he wants to be on the Evil League of Evil, but he’s still such a nice guy.

  20. I don’t see how Edward is bad… Like, he’s in wrong places at wrong times. All of his intentions are good, whether executed rightly or not, they were. I refuse to even consider Edward “bad.”

  21. OMG I LOVE SPIKE!!!!!
    He was awesome in the beginning and epic at the end! And he was also great in Angel(season 5). And even when he was evil he still loved Buffy because he was just so passionate as a human… Which was something Angel couldn’t say. Because angel wasn’t even good when he was human. He just felt bad when he got his soul back.
    Yeah. So i totally voted for him.
    although… i want to vote for phantom, too.

  22. I would say for me it was between Artemis and Edward, and I went with Edward, because you don’t feel as bad for Artemis I mean his super rich and Edward I feel bad for. He’s misunderstood even if he wasn’t a ‘true’ villian. A bad guy that you ‘feel bad’ for isn’t actually a ‘true’ bad guy…..

  23. I vote Gru! He is a bad guy but you end feeling bad for him. Come on guys…you’ve got to admit, he’s pretty lovable!

  24. C’mon, how about Draco Malfoy? Sure he was a bully and wanna be deatheater but in the end he has a chance to kill Dumbledore and he couldn’t do it. He even stopped Crabbe from killing Harry. In the end he realized that he was on the wrong side.

  25. I think Severus Snape should have made this list. He had a really bad childhood, and he loved Lily, and cared for Harry. He did what he did to protect people. He deserves a spot.
    (although I am all for the Phantom!)

  26. I agree with Teams Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape. I looked at this list with the intention of either fretting over who to choose out of the two, or spotting them as a single option because of how they were linked in Harry Potter, spazzing, and clicking the awesome.
    Seeing that NEITHER of them made the list is soul crushing.
    I love the person who moved to add Dr. Doof. I SECOND THE MOTION!
    Alas, I will just have to be Team Dr. Horrible.

  27. Um, very quick question…how the heck was Edward Scissorhands even REMOTELY a villian?! He was basically a modern day Pinocchio, so he was actually evil, concluding he couldn’t have been a villain. He didn’t kill his father. Also, the point of him killing the teenage boy wasn’t an evil intention really if you think about it.

  28. Don’t forget Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z- he did some horrible things but he was sweet really. And Crowley from Supernatural of course ;p

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