Look around the room you're in. Notice anyone with particularly prominent, exaggerated, or high cheekbones? Yes? Chances are, he or she is the one out to get you.
Villains seem to have a tendency toward quite noticeable cheekbones. It's far more common in animated works, as facial features are often exaggerated. This trope is quite often seen on The Baroness
or the Dragon Lady
. It's perhaps because sharper cheekbones lend a face a sharper, more angular look, which can convey intense emotion more easily sometimes, or (as with Lean and Mean
) because of the unsettlingly skeletal, deathly appearance it can give you. It's also the opposite of the kind of smoother, softer face known as "baby-faced"—and since a baby-faced person looks like an innocent child, it follows that the prominent bone structure will look like the opposite of this.
Compare Lean and Mean
and Evil Is Sexy
, if you so desire. Contrast with the Lantern Jaw of Justice
, for the good guys.
Anime and Manga
Film - Live Action
- Jareth from Labyrinth. Pretty much inevitable when you're played by David Bowie, and it's appropriate that the villain in a child's fantasy would have such a classically evil-looking trait.
- Jackson Rippner in Red Eye has cheekbones made more prominent by shadows and lighting effects.
- Cillian Murphy and his cheekbones also make an excellent Scarecrow in Batman Begins.
- Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean has his high cheekbones despite being an Anti-Hero, not a full villain.
- Grand Moff Tarkin of A New Hope first appears in a position of authority over Darth Vader, so his villainous credentials would be pretty clear already, but he's still got this trope going in spades. Happily averted with Peter Cushing himself.
- Played straight all the other times Cushing played the villain, but averted with many of his roles in the Hammer Horror series; he would often play the hero, opposite Christopher Lee's villain.
- Discussed in Unbreakable, where Elijah notes the fact that comic-book villains tend to have sharp and pointy feature, and heroes are lantern-jawed.
- The Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger, especially after he loses his Latex Perfection. He looks like a skull so it's not all that surprising that he lacks much flesh to smooth them.
- Harry Potter:
- In Star Trek Into Darkness, the villain is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
- In Sam Raini's first Spider-Man film, the Green Goblin is played by Willem Dafoe, who is able to pull off some truly disturbing leers in no small part because of this trope.
- Joseph Goebbels in Downfall. He's one of Hitler's closest associates - need we say more?
- Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tom Hiddleston's already prominent cheekbones are further emphasized with makeup, leading his face to go from "friendly and lanky" to "skull-like".
- The T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day makes good use of Robert Patrick's cheekbones to make him look sinister.
- In X-Men: First Class, Erik has more prominent cheekbones than the rather baby-faced Charles. Guess which one slides off the slippery slope into villainy by the end of the film.
- All illustrations of Lord Vetinari, the not quite benevolent ruler of Ankh-Morpork, portray him with very sharp features, including these.
- Some of the elves from Lords and Ladies made themselves appear to have high cheekbones.
- Crowley from Good Omens. But he's only technically evil, and given his position in the universe's moral spectrum, lacking a certain villainous appearance would be unbecoming. Not that it's stopped him being considered Mr. Fanservice by many fans.
- Averted by Duck the Great Western Engine. He has high cheekbones, but he's in no way shape or form evil.
- Averted in Galaxy of Fear. Hoole has a gaunt face, and he's The Atoner. The Big Bad, who is of the same species as Hoole, has a rounder, softer face.
- Kate O'Mara as the Rani in old-school Doctor Who. The Weeping Angels, from the new series, have faces that look like traditional angel statues when they're relaxed, but their features become sharper and more savage when they attack.
- Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (although he makes a Heel-Face Turn) Most of the characters that James Marsters plays are villainous, and his cheekbones are very, very sharp.
- Thomas from Downton Abbey.
- The title character from NBC's Hannibal. Of course, thanks to being played by Mads Mikkelsen, it's hardly surprising.
- Freddie Lounds, an amoral tabloid blogger, has some pretty severe cheekbones of her own.
- Thomas from Downton Abbey.
- David Bowie (who played Jareth in Film/Labyrinth) put his high cheekbones, which were further accentuated by his near-bony appearance at the time, to good use for the sinister stage persona of The Thin White Duke in The Seventies.
- Cirque du Soleil examples, often accomplished with the help of makeup or masks, include Fleur and some of the Nostalgic Old Birds in Alegria and the Counselor and his equally wicked son in KA. However, in Cirque prominent cheekbones are not exclusively for the evil, but sometimes used for Tricksters (KOOZA) or similarly mysterious-but-good characters (the Great Chamberlain in Nouvelle Experience).
- Voldemort in A Very Potter Musical, via lots of makeup.
- Klogg from The Neverhood, the Big Bad who imprisoned the god-like ruler and creator of the game world.
- Diablo, full stop◊
- BioShock 2: Sofia Lamb. Not cartoonishly exaggerated, but hers are by far the most prominent of the entire cast. All of Rapture hangs off those cheekbones.
- The G-Man from the Half-Life series. He is an enigmatic man in a black suit who follows you around and watches you from obscure vantage points, making finding him a kind of dark Easter Egg hunt. From what the player can puzzle out from his sparse interactions with him, and from what other characters say, it is likely that he is neither human nor benevolent.
- Count Veger from  Jak 3 is very thin in general, so naturally he has very gaunt features.
- Megatron from Transformers Animated seems to have this going on. They even manage to stand out in a series where the good guys are also robots so have very angular features.
- Norman Osborn in The Spectacular Spider-Man. Tombstone also has them, in keeping with his generally cadaverous face, and making the contrast with his extremely bulky body more pronounced.
- The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, as in virtually all of his appearances. The fact that he manages to have visible cheekbones even when the flesh of his cheeks has been stretched into his trademark smile is quite impressive.
- Mr. Freeze as well, especially after the show's revamp.
- During his introduction, Jeremiah Surd of Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures had ridiculously exaggerated cheekbones that made him look almost goofy. During later appearances, he became gradually more realistic (and more menacing).
- Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender has some impressive cheekbones. Both his children have high cheekbones, but they're the somewhat softer kind of classical prettiness, while Ozai's are much sharper.