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Tragic Villain / Film

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Tragic Villains in movies.


Animated

  • Prince Hans from Frozen, according to Word of God, had never been loved, and the way his father and his brothers, sans one, treated him was downright cruel. The only people who didn't mistreat him were his mother and one of his brothers, but they were unable to help him cope with life. The novelization clarifies he Used to Be a Sweet Kid who wanted to find happiness, but his issues slowly transformed him into a dour and cynical man bent on achieving fame and greatness no matter the cost. He's now trapped in the homeland he wanted to escape, unable to break free or seek redemption.
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  • Evelyn Deavor from Incredibles 2. Her parents, who she describes as "sweet and trusting", and was shown as being very close to, are revealed to have been killed through a knock-on consequence to the illegalization of superheroes. Her father tries to call the supers for help when their home is broken into, but there is no answer and he's shot dead. Her mother dies of grief within a week of this death. This leads Evelyn to conclude that supers are not to be relied on and believes that regular humans are kept weak and expectant on their help. She wants supers to remain illegal as a result.
  • Tai Lung, the villain of Kung Fu Panda, Used to Be a Sweet Kid before his foster-father built up his Pride and ambition to unrealistic heights. When Master Oogway refused to entrust the Dragon Scroll to an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy, his sense of entitlement and lack of self worth drove him to criminal violence. Emphasized at the climax of the film, when he repudiates Shifu's apology and can't accept the 'lesson' of the Scroll because he saw the scroll as the only thing that mattered and could not see the value within himself.
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  • Lord Shen from Kung Fu Panda 2. Neglected by his parents due to his poor health, Shen strove to make them proud but started down a dark path in his pursuit. When he heard a prophecy foretelling his defeat if he would not change his ways, Shen killed anyone that matched the description, thinking that averting his fate would make his parents proud. When they instead banished him, Shen saw it as a final sign that they didn't love him and swore retribution. His plan to conquer all of China is essentially an attempt to get over his issues and find some measure of happiness and fulfillment. Shen himself even admits that it probably won't be enough but to stop now would make all of his actions pointless.
  • King Haggard from The Last Unicorn. He's an old man who epitomizes The Eeyore in temperament, which is precisely why he's imprisoned the unicorns.
    King Haggard: I like to watch them. They fill me with joy. The first time I felt it, I thought I was going to die. I said to the Red Bull, "I must have them, all of them, all there are! For nothing makes me happy, but their shining and their grace." So the Red Bull caught them. Each time I see the unicorns, my unicorns, it is like that morning in the woods and I am truly young, in spite of myself!
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  • The Lion King has the Hyenas. Sure they may not look like it but in hindsight, they are treated with little to no respect by other animals of the Pride Lands and live in worst conditions in the lands forcing them to scavenge what little food they find or else they'd die from starvation. This allowed Scar to easily manipulate them, with the promise that they will be well fed and treated with the respect they deserve. Then they find out that Scar's rule over the Pride Land was far worse for them, plus hearing the fact that he would sell them out just to save his own skin, becoming disillusioned of him and decide to eat him as payback.
  • The Witch's Ghost aka Agatha Prenderghast, from ParaNorman, Used to Be a Sweet Kid before the townspeople accused her of witchcraft and executed her out of fear of her ability to speak to the dead. Her Witch Curse was not to make the town be attacked by the zombies, but to turn the judges into the zombies so they could go through the same thing she went through.
  • Rise of the Guardians has Pitch Black, the Boogyman, who is unhappy because unlike other fairytale characters, children fear him instead of loving him.
  • Stinky Pete from Toy Story 2. All his actions were evil because, for years, no child bought him and he had to watch every other toy be sold.

Live-Action

  • Ray Finkle aka Lois Einhorn from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He simply missed a 26-yard field goal that cost the Miami Dolphins a Super Bowl game, but it caused him to lose his place on the team and vilified him in his hometown, enough for him to blame the whole thing on quarterback Dan Marino and plot to kidnap him and the team's mascot for revenge years later. As Ace himself said, "Poor guy with a motive, baby."
  • The Amazing Spider-Man Series:
    • Dr. Connors in The Amazing Spider-Man. After losing his right arm, he tries to develop a cure that will make him regain the limb as well as cure every illness on earth. He only injects himself with it after his superiors threaten to use unwitting war veterans as human trials. It is his willingness to spare them the pain as well as his desire to simply be whole again that directly causes his Face–Monster Turn.
    • The Amazing Spider Man 2:
      • Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, played by Dane DeHaan. He was neglected and belittled by his obsessed, sickly father Norman and on top of that, inherits his own fatal disease. He begs Peter to help him get Spidey's blood in order to synthesize a cure. Peter suggests things could turn worse and tells him this as Spidey too, but Harry is desperate for anything that will save him, even if it kills him. When he finally does get the blood, since it's designed with Richard Parker's blood and thus why it only worked on Peter and failed with everyone else, it turns him into Green Goblin and he blames Peter/Spidey even more, especially when finding out about his dual identities. While what he wants throughout the movie makes him identifiable and understandable, it doesn't make causing Gwen's death easily forgivable.
      • Max Dillon/Electro. Abandoned and mistreated by nearly everyone (even his own mother who fails to remember his own birthday and interprets his humming hint as annoying singing in a deleted scene) and with just Spidey giving him encouragement, he got into an accident involving electric eels, and everyone either ignores him or treats him as a true menace (unlike Spidey who this time around is more accepted by the public), so he decides to lash out to humanity for all their mistreatment to him.
  • American Me: Montoya Santana, a Mexican gang leader, is portrayed mostly as a product of his environment. He was the product of rape himself, became acquainted with youth gangs in his neighborhood, was sent to Juvie where he was raped, murdered his attacker only to be convicted of murder, and has had to remain the top dog ever since simply to survive.
  • The titular vampire of Blacula. Once an African prince, the evil Dracula turned him into a vampire, sealed him in a coffin to starve for two hundred years, and killed his wife. Blacula hates being a vampire and is shown to feel remorse for his actions. Blacula only feeds on people because of his hunger, and clearly regrets it. At the end of the film, he ends up being Driven to Suicide.
  • The Candyman. After falling in love with a white woman, he was tortured and killed by her father and the cruel villagers, who cut off his hand, covered him in honey, and let him get stung to death by bees. Lessened in that after his death, he returns to kill innocent people unrelated to his death, even going as far as to target babies.
  • Kitty Galore from Cats & Dogs 2. A Fallen Hero, she was once an agent of a secret organization that fought for the rights of both cats and dogs. On one of her assignments, she was investigating a chemical plant. A dog scared her and made her fall into a vat of chemicals. She lost all her fur, was ridiculed by her fellow agents, and upon returning home, her owners threw her out on Christmas of all times.
  • Dogma: Bartleby, one of two exiled angels, goes from a morally grey Anti-Hero to this, Jumping Off the Slippery Slope when he learns that someone's been sent to kill the pair of them to prevent them from reentering Heaven, furiously lamenting how his kind was reduced to servants, banished from Heaven for one misdemeanor, while humanity received free will and infinite patience from the Lord. He's undoubtedly villainous after that point, but definitely tragic. He breaks down in Tears of Remorse when he meets God again.
  • Don't Breathe: Norman Nordstrom was a war hero who lost his sight in battle, and whose daughter was run over and killed by a careless motorist who got off because of Affluenza. Enraged, he decided to kidnap her and keep her trapped in his basement so he could forcefully impregnate her to get a new child.
  • Deleted scenes from Empire Records reveal Rex Manning to be this. He is a genuinely talented artist but he sold out and now he can't perform the music he wants. His attempt at redemption by joining in the rooftop concert in the climax ends with him getting arrested.
  • Friday the 13th:
    • Pamela, the mother of the infamous Jason Voorhees. A prequel comic shows that she gave birth to Jason as a teenager, and suffered much spousal abuse from husband Elias. She eventually murdered him and struggled to raise her disabled son on her own, which eventually led to his fatal drowning at Camp Crystal Lake. Losing her only family pushed her over the edge, and she went on a killing spree to ensure no child ever has to go through what Jason did.
    • Jason himself. Born deformed and mentally retarded and bullied for it. The only person who showed him any kindness was his mother. He nearly drowned in Crystal Lake after being pushed in by cruel children, who laughed as he struggled in the water, and decided to go into hiding because so many people hated him and he wanted to be left alone. He saw his mother, the only person who cared for him, get killed, and decided to kill anyone who entered Camp Crystal Lake, wanting to be left in peace.
  • The Godfather:
    • Don Vito fled to America after a mafia lord killed his family, only to become one himself.
    • Michael Corleone in The Godfather Saga. He starts as an independent minded War Hero, but he is gradually dragged into mob life to protect his father and his family. He fought his perceived enemies with cold ruthlessness for years while he struggles to achieve legitimacy, and by the time he gets there, he admits that it's too late and that he is too tired and past redemption, and passes the torch to a new Don.
  • Godzilla. The original 1954 film Gojira showed that he was as much a victim of the atomic bomb as everyone else. Nuclear testing destroyed his home, killed his family, and mutilated his body, and inevitably he emerged to retaliate against the humans who unknowingly took everything from him.
  • Peyton Flanders in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle didn't exactly plan to marry and start a family with a scumbag who ended up killing himself after his crimes were exposed, and the stress from this big revelation (not to mention losing her home to the lawsuits) also caused her to miscarry AND lose the ability to have any future children. It's no wonder she goes insane and sets out to ruin the life of the woman who exposed him.
  • The Villain Protagonist of The Headless Eyes, a burglar who loses his eye in the very first scene and slowly loses his mind as well, winds up becoming this by the end of the film, to the point where even after everything he's done in the course of the film, the audience still feels sorry for him as he freezes to death in a meat freezer without ever having found a real solution to his eye problem.
  • Gruagach from Hellboy (2019). As a changeling that was used by fairies to replace a human child they abducted (Alice, actually), his only "crime" was, well, being what he is. He hadn't actually done anything villainous by the time Hellboy came for him except weird out his adoptive parents with some unspecified behavior. One can't really fault him for wanting revenge on Hellboy, although the depths he stoops to in order to accomplish this squarely put him into villain territory.
  • In Inception, Mal really has no choice about being a psychotic, murderous, obsessed Femme Fatale. She just wants to be with Cobb forever, but the villainous Mal in Cobb's dreams isn't even his real wife, but a shade of the dead woman he can't bear to forget. The dead Mal herself was accidentally brainwashed by Cobb, but inadvertently became so obsessed with the notion of her world not being real that she killed herself and framed Cobb for it. All out of love.
  • While usually many James Bond villains tend to avoid this trope, being pure evil and lack of redeeming qualities, there are a few exceptions.
    • Alec Trevelyan/Janus from GoldenEye. He wants revenge on the British government after it betrayed his parents, Lienz Cossacks, and sent them back to the USSR where Joseph Stalin had them all executed. Though Trevelyan and his family manage to escape the execution, Trevelyan's father was ashamed to have liven his life as a Lienz Cossack, and he purposely killed Trevelyan's mother and himself out of survivor's guilt.
    • Elektra King from The World is Not Enough. She was kidnapped by the terrorist Renard and held for ransom, which her father refused to pay on the advice of M. Embittered by what she saw as her father's betrayal, she participated in Renard's scheme to milk money from her father.
    • Raoul Silva from Skyfall. He was turned over to the Chinese in exchange for four other agents. They tortured him, but he refused to give up his secrets. Upon learning it was M that gave him up, he tried to commit suicide, but the cyanide didn't work, and left him disfigured.
  • Judgment at Nuremberg: The concept itself is a major plot point, as it explores how the German people could be complicit in The Holocaust. Hans Rolfe argues that Ernst Janning, a once respectable jurist and legal expert, committed the crimes he did out of a sense of duty to a system that encouraged it. Judge Haywood does agree with Rolfe to a point- Janning was a tragic figure. But his defeat does not excuse him from the crimes against humanity he committed. The tragedy is that a respectable human being can be easily manipulated into committing mass murder.
  • Lucian Carr from Kill Your Darlings has the distinct ability to manipulate both the characters in the film and the audience into pitying him. Furthered by the revelation that he met David Kammerer, who he kills at the climax of the movie, when he was just 14 and had been stalked by him ever since.
  • Clyde Shelton of Law Abiding Citizen. His wife and daughter were killed in a robbery, and the more guilty robber got a slap on the wrist while the less guilty one got sentenced to death. Infuriated with the justice system, Clyde set out to destroy it, causing the deaths of hundreds of innocents in the process. Even after everything he has done, it is hard not to feel sorry for him.
  • Hans Beckert of M doesn't want to murder children, but just feels compelled to do so. His speech at the end (wherein he calls out the Mob hunting him down on their ruthlessness) reveals just how tortured and screwed up he really feels.
  • Maleficent tells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain of the original story, Maleficent, who seeks vengeance after her fairy wings are taken.
  • Mama/Edith in Mama. In the film, due to her mentality, her baby was taken from her, and she went through extreme measures to get her child back. She then commits suicide by jumping off a cliff and her baby ends up on the branch while she lands into the water. It's implied that she doesn't even know where her lost child is. She also kills and threatens people who she thinks wants to harm Victoria and Lily. All she ever wanted was to be a good mother.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Loki from Thor. He was motivated by a combination of sibling rivalry with Thor, the desire to impress his father, personal ambition, and a messed up sense of duty towards Asgard. There is also a fair dose of self-loathing, seeing as he found out that he was a Frost Giant and not an Asgardian. He is also portrayed as this in The Trials of Loki comic miniseries.
    • The Winter Soldier from Captain America: The Winter Soldier also known as "Bucky" Barnes, who has spent the past 70 years being tortured and brainwashed by HYDRA to become the ultimate assassin completely against his will. Despite being one of the most dangerous men on the planet, the scenes where he starts to regain some memories makes him come across more like a kicked and abandoned puppy.
    • Black Panther (2018): Erik Stevens/Killmonger. The son of younger brother N'Jobo, his father was killed when his uncle killed him defending another Wakandan. Orphaned and alone, he ingrained his father's more radical/racial views of the world. He was a natural fighter, becoming a talented Black Ops officer and member of the US Navy SEALS, and could've chosen to walk into a different life, but his hatred and bitterness lead him to reach Wakanda in order to kill his cousin to become the new king. He then had goals of using Wakandan power to start a new race war, something several people pointed out wouldn't necessarily end well for anyone. The ultimate tragedy is that none of this would've happened if his uncle had just chosen to bring him back to Wakanda. As T'Challa pointed out, "He is a monster of our own making". And even in death managed to go out on his own terms to the disappointment of the Black Panther.
    • Ghost from Ant-Man and the Wasp: She is probably the straightest example of this trope in the entire MCU of an evil-doing woobie. In a childhood accident with her father's tech, Ava lost both her parents and gained powerful but unstable abilities that leave her in constant pain and are slowly phasing her out of reality, with the only end possibilities being death or worse. Honed by black ops missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. (or maybe HYDRA), she was cast out following its fall, barely getting by with her foster protector. Every single action she undertakes in the film, even as they grow increasingly heinous and brutal, is exclusively devoted to fixing her condition. All of the good guys recognize her as a victim of circumstance, and she ultimately is allowed to leave in peace once they manage to heal her properly.
  • Mr. Brooks: Brooks vehemently tries to overcome his addiction to murder, with occasional periods of success.
  • Oz: The Great and Powerful reveals that the Wicked Witch of the West came to be because she was too naïve to realize that her sister was playing her and agreed to bite a magic apple that turned her into a merciless Axe-Crazy villain. Oz is partly to blame for that, as he flirted with Theodora like he does with any girl he meets, making it easy for Evanora to claim that Oz courted her too while showing pictures of Oz with Glinda. Even Evanora is disturbed as to how Axe-Crazy her sister has become.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Davy Jones falls into this category, since it was his love for Calypso and her betrayal that caused him to do the things he did, including telling the pirates how to lock her in a human body.
  • General Hummell from The Rock stole chemical weapons and took the city of San Francisco hostage unless reparations be paid to the families of his soldiers who he lead into a disastrous covert operation and were abandoned to die. His plan was a bluff and his remaining soldiers killed him.
  • Saw franchise:
    • John Kramer a.k.a. Jigsaw started out as a decent man, a loving husband and a soon to be father. His wife was mugged by one of her patients at the drug clinic she ran. She lost her child in a miscarriage during the mugging. The two went through a messy divorce and John later contacted cancer. It could've been caught earlier had his cranial X-ray not been accidentally mislabeled. His nephew also ended up dying in a motorcycle accident. After being denied health insurance and attempting suicide, John grew disgusted seeing people unappreciative of the gift of life he was being denied. He devoted himself to kidnapping people and placing them in life threatening situations to try and get them to appreciate life.
    • His apprentice, Amanda Young, also counts. When she was a little girl, her father would lock her in a dark closet and keep her there for hours. In her adult life, she was framed for a drug crime she did not commit, and became an actual drug addict in prison. She was later kidnapped by Jigsaw and placed in a situation where she had to kill to save her own life. She came to see Jigsaw as a mentor and father figure, and became his apprentice due to Stockholm Syndrome. Even after her Face–Heel Turn she still had it pretty rough, being thrown into a pit of needles and almost being killed by Xavier Chavez. Finally, she was blackmailed by her rival apprentice Mark Hoffman.
  • Soldier: Todd's nemesis Caine 607 is probably even more of a victim of the indoctrination of the future military as Todd himself is, as he was not only trained from birth to be a soldier like Todd himself but also genetically modified to be completely obedient. When Caine loses an eye in a fight with Todd and is dismissed by his commanding officer as almost useless now (being relegated to rear guard action from then on), there are strong parallels with Todd himself being dismissed as a relic.
  • Spider-Man Trilogy:
  • Star Trek:
    • An unsympathetic example is Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He has the central hallmark of a tragic character: he suffers a catastrophic event (i.e. a freak planetary disaster that leads to the deaths of his wife and most of his crew) that effectively drives him into committing evil......except given that he was already a ruthless evil dictator in the original TV series, he goes from being Affably Evil into a completely-deranged demagogue blinded by his desire to get revenge on James T. Kirk, who he blames solely for the deaths of his loved ones. Still, it's not completely hard to feel sorry for Khan when he's left to die in the exploding Reliant starship.
    • The alternate reality universe gives Khan a much better tragic representation in Star Trek Into Darkness. Although he is the same genocidal dictator as the prime universe, he and his people end up being exploited by Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus with the intent of drumming up war against the Klingons. Khan was against Marcus' scheme, but was forced to comply when Marcus threatened to kill his crew if he didn't comply. Thus, not everyone is disgusted at Khan when he crushes Marcus' skull in retaliation.
      • Krall in Star Trek Beyond. He was the captain of the USS Franklin, Balthazar Edison, when the MACOs were disbanded, and after being put out to pasture on an obsolete starship, he was left to go mad on Altamid as he watched his crew die and was abandoned by the Federation.
  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. Sure, he's pretty evil (although nowhere near as evil as Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious). Return of the Jedi has Vader sacrifice himself in order to save his son, but it is the Prequel Trilogy and that makes further use of this trope, as it is revealed that Anakin was manipulated by Emperor Palpatine and fell to the dark side out of a desire to save the lives of his wife and unborn children. To add insult to injury The Force Awakens reveals that Vader's only grandson, Ben Solo, developed an obsession with following in his foosteps, falling to the dark side, betraying Luke and murdering his own father.
    • Ben Solo, a.k.a. Kylo Ren, assumes this role in The Force Awakens. Though at first he is introduced as a ruthless dark sider, it quickly becomes apparent that he struggles to overcome the pull to the light side of the Force constantly, and even believed that killing his father would suppress it for good. When he does go through with it, the implication seems to be that he was dead wrong. Furthermore, it is heavily implied that Kylo was being watched by Supreme Leader Snoke from the time he was a child, but only fell to the dark side in his early 20's. The tie-in novel Bloodline (set six years before the film) reveals that his family kept his relation to Darth Vader from him. Actor Adam Driver and Director J.J. Abrams went into more detail about Kylo Ren's past in the featurette The Making of The Force Awakens:
      Adam Driver: If you really imagine the stakes of him, in his youth, having all these special powers and having your parents kind of be absent during that process on their own agendas, [being] equally as selfish, he's lost in the world that he was raised in, and feels that he was kind of abandoned by the people that he's closest with.
      J.J. Abrams: ... It's more than just having a 'bad seed' as a kid. Snoke had targeted this kid and knew that this kid was going to be incredibly powerful in the Force and wanted him as an ally.
  • Superhero Movie: The antagonist of the film, the Hourglass, is actually Lou Landers, the terminally ill President of a research lab. He invents a machine that is supposed to restore the body to perfect health. When he tries to use it on himself, the machine malfunctions, giving him the power to drain the life force from others, which regenerates his body for 24 hours. His assistant runs tests on him and informs him that he must kill each day to live each day.
  • Timeline: Decker was abandoned in the past by Gordon, with too many transcription errors to ever safely return. It's no wonder he became a ruthless knight to survive, or kills Gordon after seeing him. Gordon's plea about having a family enrages Decker, since he had a family too. His last words are "Take me home".
  • Unbreakable: Elijah Price is desperately looking for a purpose in life. He thinks that being a supervillain is better than being nothing, so he commits several acts of terrorism to find his antithesis, a real life superhero. He expresses deep remorse for what he has done to complete his life's work, but thinks he finally knows who he is.
  • Red, a.k.a. the real Adelaide in Us. She was kidnapped and replaced by her Tethered counterpart, a.k.a. the Adelaide we have been following for the entire movie, and forced to take her place underground while Tethered!Adelaide took her place aboveground and nobody suspected a thing. After decades of being forced to live out a grotesque parody of whatever her Tethered counterpart did aboveground (thanks to their Psychic Link), is it any wonder that she wanted to orchestrate an uprising to get revenge on her Tethered self for what she did to her?
    • All of the Tethered, including Tethered!Adelaide that was actually the protagonist this whole time, can be seen as this. They were clones created by the government and then abandoned when it was decided that they couldn't be used to fulfill their intended purpose. Is it any wonder that Tethered!Adelaide took Real!Adelaide's place at the beginning of the movie? The fact that Tethered!Adelaide was able to adapt to life aboveground and live a normal life, even starting a family, shows that the Tethered were capable of emotion and compassion just like real people, only circumstance and opportunity prevented them expressing those things.
  • Vantage Point
    • Enrique is a patsy of the terrorists because he's in love with one.
    • Javier is forced to help abduct the president because terrorists kidnapped his brother. They are both killed when they served their purpose.


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