Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My Top Ten Antagonists (Who are way more interesting than the protagonist)

This is not my list of Top Ten Villains, this is my list of antagonist characters who are more interesting than the designated hero of the story.  If it were my Top Ten Villains, it would likely be a very different list.  Characters who are more or less the main character of the story are not included, neither are characters who face a protagonist who is just as interesting.

The list is ordered of terms of how interesting the character is, rather than how villainous the character is.  It's also my personal opinion and I'm sure that people will disagree with me of think of other characters they think are more interesting, so I'd love to hear your opinion on this topic.

10.  Freddy Krueger  (A Nightmare on Elm street, film series)

With the exception of films which Nancy was in (because let's face it, Dream Warriors was awesome), no one really cares all that much who the protagonists are in a Freddy Krueger film.  You watch the movie to see Robert Englund be evil and awesome and make smart arse comments as he kills people.  He carries the franchise because he's a mysterious figure, we only ever learn just enough about him and never too much, because ultimately when you have to carry a franchise, you have to make your villain likeable even if he's murdering people.  (Note to Platinum Dunes, you do not come out and say that he's a child molester, your audience cannot cheer for a child molester, you idiots.)

9.  Xenomorph  (Aliens Franchise)

Ignoring the extra information provided by Ridley Scott and the Aliens books, only the information provided within the films, the xenomorphs are fascinating.  We have no idea where they've come from, who made them and for what purpose and how a species with such advanced tech as the kind of bio engineering which produced these creatures has completely disappeared.  The books explain some of this and since Prometheus isn't due out until next year, I can say that currently, there's no film canon explaining this information. 

For the curious, however, the Space Jockeys are aliens which created the xenomorphs.  You see a skeleton of one at the start of Alien and no, that isn't a trunk, it's a breathing tube, a trunk would rot.  The story goes that they were created as a weapon in a war against a predatory alien species and harvested from a planet known as Xenomorph Prime. 

As much as the franchise is about Ripley, if the alien Ripley was fighting was anything other than the mysterious xenomorph, would there have been sequels?  I'm guessing probably not. 

8.  The Sheriff of Nottingham  (Robin Hood Prince of Thieves)

 "Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas."

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, not a great film, had a terrible Robin Hood with an american accent, but Alan Rickman was awesome.  Rickman won the BAFTA for the role, and even Robin Hood Men in Tights didn't directly mock his performance.  (Men in Tights was hilarious though.)

When you've got an american Robin Hood, an american Will Scarlett, an american Friar Tuck and a Scottish King Richard, Rickman was left to head up the English performances in a film based on a famous English mythological figure.  Though to be fair most of the other actors accent's were acceptable to pretty good. 

Without a Prince John character, he's pretty much running the show, and I think the film is the better for it, because instead of splitting his screentime between another character, he gets to walk around the film, munching on the scenery. 

7.  Hannibal Lector  (The Silence of the Lambs)

You may have heard that Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for only 17 minutes of screen time, it's actually not quite true.  It's 17 minutes of speaking time, he actually appears for about 25 minutes, but that doesn't sound quite as impressive.  The character was so interesting that Harris wrote Hannibal, with more focus on Hannibal Lector, the book was quite good.  If you haven't read it, then spoiler alert, in the end, Clarice decides to run off with the Lector and they travel the world together.  The film was terrible, but that doesn't take away from Hopkins performance in Silence of the Lambs. 

6.  Annie Wilkes  (Misery, film)

I say the film version, rather than the book version as in the book it's narrated from Paul Sheldon's perspective and he's far more interesting than his film counterpart.  There's a reason Kathy Bates won the Oscar for her role in this movie.  She took the character of Annie Wilkes and made her iconic, the words 'Dirty Birdie' have never sounded so terrifying. 

She starts off as a sweet seeming nurse, who's a bit awkward, but seems caring and humble in front of Paul Sheldon.  That doesn't last long as she's seriously mentally ill and for the remainder of the movie we see her begin to break down and become more psychotic.  Her book counterpart is about ten times as crazy, and instead of hobbling Paul, she chops off his foot with an axe and saws off his thumb with an electric knife. 

5.  Spike  (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, tv series)

Spike's counterpart on Buffy is really Angel so it will be that character I'll compare him to.  Angel starts life as Liam, a drunkard who abuses the house hold staff and steals from his own family in order to get drunk and get thrown out of the local tavern.  After he meets Darla, he becomes Angelous, a sadist twat who not only enjoys killing everything in sight, the first thing being his own family and his neighbour's and their families, but he enjoys torturing people to the point of madness as well.  It is only when Angelous is cursed with a soul does he start to behave...  well, actually, not at first, he still hangs out with his vampire gang for a bit after that, before eventually trying to live amongst humans, then becoming homeless and he doesn't do anything useful until Buffy is made into the Slayer.  The soul is the only thing keeping Angel in check, the second he loses it he reverts to Angelous and starts trying to kill everything and torture everyone again.  Without the soul, Angel is a sadistic killer.

Spike starts life as William, sensitive poet type who loves a woman who doesn't love him back and writing terrible poetry.  He loves his mother dearly and she indulges him, but she's ill and dying from blood from the mouth syndrome.  After being rejected by Cecily, (who later became a vengeance called Hallie), he's found by Drusilla who sees something within him and turns him into a vampire.  His first act is turn to his beloved mother into a vampire, but she's not quite the same woman so he's forced to stake her.  He raises hell for a while and kills a whole lot of people before coming to Sunnydale.  Spike decides to become a good man after he falls in love with Buffy, even though he doesn't have a soul he tries to do good things and not kill people.  It becomes more than the chip stopping him from hurting people, he stops by his own choice.

When Spike realises that it isn't enough, he goes through trials which almost kill him in order to gain his soul.  It almost drives him insane with guilt, but he overcomes it and then sacrifices his life to save the world, but mostly for Buffy.  Without the soul, Spike is still a good man and a better man than Angel ever was.

4.  Draco Malfoy  (The Harry Potter books)

OK, I had a marvellous write up for Draco, but my browser ate it, so I'm going to start again.  The love that fans have for Draco is all JK Rowling's fault as she spectacularly failed with her author intent.  JK intended Draco to be a slimey character, to be disliked, but around the time Goblet had come out, Slytherin fans were on the rise, because JK had turned them into the underdogs.

Harry is a boring invincible hero, from the moment he arrives at Hogwarts the Gryffindors win everything, no matter how hard the other houses work.  Because the Slytherins are constantly treat as the scum of the universe, without very good reason I might add, so they gained a lot of sympathy from fans.  JK is under the misguided conception that this is all down to Tom Felton, but it simply isn't true, as a straight, male, Slytherin fan, who knows many other straight, male, Slytherin fans who do not fancy Tom Felton.

However I think that the numbers will speak for themselves on this, so these numbers come from the Harry Potter category on on the day of this writing, using the most popular pairings.
Total stories in the Harry Potter category:  523,480
Total Stories about Draco:  116,634
Stories about Harry/Hermione:  21,428 (General), 15,909 (Romantic)
Stories about Ron/Hermione:  20,364 (General), 16,879 (Romantic)
Stories about Snape/Hermione:  12,859 (General), 9,467 (Romantic)
Stories about Harry/Ginny:  19,212 (General), 14,247 (Romantic)
Stories about Draco/Hermione:  40,980 (General), 33,973 (Romantic)

Why are Draco/Hermione stories more popular?  Because there's conflict and conflict is interesting.  There's no conflict between Harry and Hermione or Ron and Hermione or Harry and Ginny, it's just not as interesting.  These numbers are purely based on what the author of the story picks as search terms, so I'm not claiming it to be 100% accurate, but it's a good idea.

3.  Gul Dukat  (Star Trek Deep Space Nine)

If this was my list of top ten villains, Gul Dukat would be straight at number 1.  Star Trek historically never had many recurring villains, one or two who would appear in a couple of episodes over the course of the show, but they never really had a lot of them due to the exploration nature of the show.  Because Deep Space Nine was stationary it allowed for a lot more recurring characters, including recurring villains.  The main cast of DS9 were excellent and very interesting, but Gul Dukat was just that good as an antagonist he deserves a place on this list.

Originally Gul Dukat was only intended to appear in the pilot episode, but the writers like him so much they kept bringing him back.  We saw everything about Dukat, his highs and lows, we saw his descent into insanity and we almost never saw his next move coming. 

My personal favourite arc for Dukat was the relationship with hsi daughter, Tora Ziyal.  He set out to kill her, but found that he simply couldn't bring himself to and took her in, knowing that his family would leave him.  They have a strained relationship, but really love each other and it's Ziyal's death at the hands of his friend and close confidant, Dumar, that drives him to insanity.

Dukat was intended to have a relationship with Kira, but Nana Visitor basically put her foot down and said no, it would never happen, so they changed it so that he had a relationship with her mother instead and they gave Kira a Cardassian father figure. 

2.  Steerpike  (Gormenghast, BBC Mini Series)

"Steerpike is possibly the only character in literature who never makes a single unambiguously truthful statement. "  ConsummateLair

Gormenghast, for the unfamiliar, is the title of the five mile castle and also the title of a trilogy of books by Mervyn Peake, the title of the second book and BBC Mini series.   The mini series focuses on the first two books, Titus Groan and Gormenghast, but not the third book for three very good reasons.  One, the book, Titus Alone, was unfinished and pieced together from the authors notes as he died before finishing it, two it takes place outside Gormenghast, three Steerpike wasn't in it because he was killed at the conclusion of the second book, and also he wasn't the main character.

Titus is the main character and some reason, which will forever remain unknown, the character that Mervyn Peake thought was the most interesting.  Titus spends the entirety of the first book as a baby, then the second book as a child and then teenager, moaning the entire time about being the poor little rich boy being in charge of a huge castle.  Titus doesn't want the job, Steerpike does, but Titus would never give it to Steerpike.

Steerpike is without doubt, nuttier than squirrel poo.  He was sent to the kitchens of Gormenghast Castle at the age of five (where it is heavily implied that he was abused by Abaitha Swelter the cook), he grows to hate everything about the kitchens and everything they stand for. He escapes and manages to gain favour with the Princess of the Castle, Fuchsia, who gets him a job with the Doctor, Prunesquallor.

He uses his position to learn about poisoning all the members of Gormenghast he doesn't like. He persuades the mentally inept twins Cora and Clarice to burn down the library which sends Lord Groan into madness, then ends up killing himself.  Steerpike then sets about trying to get himself moved up in position in the castle. He becomes the helper to the castle secretary and uses his position to manipulate and twist things to his liking (whilst trying his best to seduce Fuchsia.) In the meantime he locks the twins up, telling them that there's is a plague in the castle and he's protecting them, whilst in reality he's pinning the burning of the library on them. He ends up leaving them there to starve to death after they attempt to kill him but it takes him a few years to get around to actually checking if they were dead.

He decided to kill the secretary but the secretary puts up an unexpected fight leaving Steerpike burned and scarred from the experience and at that point, he starts going a bit loony.  Fuchsia gets pissy with him after he forgets to call her 'Lady Fuchsia' as they are having a secret tryst - she ends up killing herself and he gets the blame, sending the whole castle after him. This is of course the nice version from Steerpike from the BBC miniseries rather than the much worse version from the book, I'm not even going to get into what he gets up to.

1.  Prince Zuko  (Avatar: The Last Airbender, tv series)

I love the fact that I can't be accused of being a fangirl for this one.  Though the subtitle of Avatar may be, The Last Airbender and the main character Aang gets the most screen time, Zuko is the best character in the show.  Through the three seasons of the show Aang learns to use the four elements and has some adventures along the way.  He's the avatar, but being the avatar does not automatically make you interesting.

Zuko is a banished prince tasked with a mission his father thought was impossible, just to get rid of the son he physically scarred for speaking out of turn to a random guy.  Zuko sees Aang as his redemption and capturing him and regaining his honour is very important to him.  He's then betrayed by his sister and his father wants to actually throw him in prison, so he's forced into a peasant life, stealing just to get by and becoming a masked vigilante, hunted down by not only his own people, but his own family.  He turns his back on his uncle, the only real father figure he ever had when he's given a chance to come back to his family and he's miserable the entire time.  At one point he's thrown in prison.  He eventually sees the error of his ways and vows to teach Aang firebending and has to win the trust of the group, then eventually fight his own sister who very nearly kills him, before eventually with his father and sister defeated, he has to take up the mantle of King, all while he's only 15/16 years old (it's never really stated exactly how old he is, or if it was, I've totally forgotten.)

I can totally see what the Zutaraian shippers see in the pairing, aside from the fact that Katara/Aang, or Kataang if you will, is a little bit on the creepy side, Aang relentlessly pursues Katara and the biggest conflict they really have is that Aang kisses her when she's not really ready.  Conflict is what makes a story interesting.  Originally it was intended for there to be a love story between Katara and Zuko, but they changed their minds at the last minute.

Zuko is way more interesting than Aang, but his story is continually downplayed, maybe it worked out better for the character in the end though.  


  1. I was actually trying to find out if there was an article about how interesting Zuko as a character is. I then find this little gem that details some of the best characters from some of my favorite series. This was just a fun read.

  2. This is a great read! I agree, Zuko (and Iroh) are among my favourite characters. Aang was much more one-dimensional in comparison.

    And yes. Freddy Krueger. Ughhh. Nightmare.

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  6. Hannibal LectEr isn't a antagonist, he isn't an opposing force. He helps Clarice to find Buffalo Bill.

    1. Agree. Lecter acted as more of a mentor figure, one of the most unique I could name.

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