Top 10 Sympathetic Movie Villains

Script written by Nathan Sharp We're not saying we condone their actions, but we can't help but have a soft spot in our hearts for these bad guys. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Sympathetic Movie Villains. For this list, we're looking at those villains that we come to empathize with and care for, in many cases due to a tragic backstory. Special thanks to our users Maia Hatton, emrumsch@cox.net, grayknight121, Jamesfan1991, Chris Hernandez, nathansharp28, Startrekpug and Headjelly475 for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Sympathetic Movie Villains


We’re not saying we condone their actions, but we can’t help but have a soft spot in our hearts for these bad guys. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 sympathetic movie villains.

For this list, we’re looking at those villains that we come to empathize with and care for, in many cases due to a tragic backstory. We’re excluding antiheroes from this list, as they have to be full-fledged villains in order to be eligible. Also, let this serve as your SPOILER ALERT.

#10: BGen Francis X. ‘Frank’ Hummel
“The Rock” (1996)

Frank Hummel is without question a terrorist and a villain, but one with a tragic history and a surprising amount of heart. Hummel takes over Alcatraz and holds tourists hostage, but he’s not out to get money for himself: he wants the $100 million in government ransom he’s demanded to go to the families of soldiers he worked with who died and were never compensated. However, Hummel was unfortunately unable to hire men as altruistic as himself, and a mutiny ensues. It’s a heartbreaking and selfless story that makes us feel emotionally invested in the outcome, even if his method of obtaining the money is a little less than orthodox.

#9: Andrew Detmer
“Chronicle” (2012)

This underrated sci-fi gem boasts one of the most unique movie villains in a while, one who is just as relatable and sympathetic as the heroes. When three teenagers mysteriously inherit superpowers, Andrew lets it negatively influence him, using them for destruction and murder. But his motivation for these actions can in some ways be explained by the sad nature of his home life, with his mother dying of cancer, his father an abusive drunk and school bullies tormenting him the rest of the time. While he originally uses his powers to defend himself, he lets things get out of hand; but that only demonstrates his flawed humanity.

#8: Khan Noonien Singh
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)

This film’s exalted standing is bolstered by Khan’s strength as a formidable and sympathetic villain. He was first introduced to TV audiences in “TOS” episode “Space Seed,” where the genetically engineered superman awakes after centuries in suspended animation, attempts to overtake the Enterprise crew, and is ultimately exiled by Kirk on a distant planet. Between the events of the episode and the film, however, a massive planetary shift results in the deaths of Khan’s wife and others – and Khan places the blame squarely on Kirk. While we don’t condone his actions, we can certainly appreciate why he’d want revenge. However, Khan’s villainy leads to Spock’s death, and there’s only one thing to say about that: Khaaaan!

#7: Gollum
“The Lord of the Rings” franchise (2001-03)

On the page or onscreen, the creature formerly known as Sméagol was once a hobbit like any other. But thanks to a fateful fishing trip, his life immediately began spiraling into obsession. Falling under the immense power of the One Ring, Sméagol slowly but surely regressed into a barely recognizable monster pushed to deceive and murder for his “Precious.” Seeing the internal struggle between Sméagol and his alter ego Gollum is as heartbreaking as it is pathetic, as this same destiny could’ve befallen anyone; it was simply an unlucky twist of fate. But, not everyone could’ve helped in the quest to destroy the ring and its power, meaning Gollum was a conflicted and sympathetic villain.

#6: The Phantom
“The Phantom of the Opera” (1925 / 2004)

Another oldie but goodie, this classic villain has been terrifying and moving film audiences for almost one hundred years. While the deformed face beneath The Phantom’s mask is certainly scary, we can’t help but feel bad for this tragic figure, as he’s forced to conceal himself for his own personal comfort and security. He also deeply and sincerely loves Christine Daaé, a performer at the opera and his muse. True, he does murder innocent people in order to make her a star, but his blind devotion to her is quite charming in its own twisted way.

#5: Koba
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014)

What do you think would happen if the lab animals we experimented on suddenly developed extreme intelligence and escaped? After spending his life being tortured for the advancement of science, Koba became cruel and aggressive. When exposed to ALZ-113, his intellect skyrocketed, making sure that this pissed off ape had the brains to escape and fight the humans who had brutalized him for so long. When with his kind, Koba is a good friend who will fight to save lives. When faced with his human tormenters – or any ape dissenters – it’s a different story. But can you really blame him? By the end, you’re barely sure who to root for.

#4: Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader
“Star Wars” franchise (1977-)

One of the most iconic villains ever, Darth Vader is both terrifying and intensely tragic. In the original trilogy, Vader is the catalyst for most of the action, destroying planets, warping Luke’s morality and causing havoc across the galaxy. While he has a change of heart at the end, his backstory is even more heartbreaking: Once a hero, Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side to save his wife’s life. But when he suspects Padme of plotting against him, the death he tried so hard to prevent happens at his own hand. Losing his love leads Anakin to truly embrace the Dark Side, making him one of the film’s most brutal characters and one of its most human.

#3: Doctor Octopus
“Spider-Man 2” (2004)

Arguably the greatest villain in arguably the great “Spider-Man” movie, Dr. Otto Octavius was once a lovable dork who couldn’t understand T.S. Eliot. But that was before his accident affected not only his physical being, but also his mental health. During an experiment, the good loses his wife when the test goes wrong and has four mechanical arms grafted onto his body at the same time. To know that your own creation led to your loving wife’s death is sure to bring anyone into dark territory. While he gives Spider-Man a good fight, we can’t help but feel sorry for him as he’s doing it.

#2: Roy Batty
“Blade Runner” (1982)

It’s hard to believe that this Ridley Scott masterpiece was disliked in its time, especially with an iconic villain like Roy Batty. Possessing exceptional strength and smarts, Roy comes to Earth hoping to extend his extremely short lifespan, as he’s a replicant and will die within four years, leaving him with only a couple of months. As mortality is one of the most relatable sources of anxiety, we can easily identify with Batty, who offers up one of cinema’s greatest soliloquies to muse on his impending demise. This fantastic philosophical argument regarding death cements Roy’s status as one of cinema’s most sympathetic villains.

Before we shed a tear for our most sympathetic movie villain, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Sandman
“Spider-Man 3” (2007)
- Two-Face
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
- Loki
Marvel Cinematic Universe (2011-)
- Winter Soldier
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)

#1: Magneto
“X-Men” franchise (2000-)

When a character is portrayed by talented actors like Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, he gets automatic sympathy points. But to delve deeper: Erik Lensherr is a Holocaust survivor deeply affected by the atrocities he witnessed. Becoming something of a civil rights activist along the lines of a Malcolm X, Magneto goes further than his real-life counterpart when faced with persecution, wishing to have mutants take their rightful place in control of the world. With his single-mindedness ultimately leading to the paralysis of his good friend-turned-mortal enemy, Lensherr makes the transition from Erik to Magneto, a supervillain of the highest order. He’s a dark character, but a sympathetic one in the context of his motivations.

Do you agree with our list? What movie villain do you sympathize with? For more heartbreaking top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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