Quick giveaway announcement before we get to the Top Ten list: Starting today, you can enter into a raffle to win one of two of my novels: The War for Yokendale or Mordecai – Episode One: Bloodthirsty. To enter, just give this post a like and comment with which of the two books you’d like to win. Winners will be chosen the second week of November, and if you want to throw your name in the hat more than once, head over to one of my social media pages and give the announcement video a comment as well (social links available on my contact page). Also, shout out to RooReads for doing a wonderful review of Mordecai, which she won from my last giveaway raffle. Give that a read, too; the link will be at the bottom of the page.
Starting this month, I’ll be doing monthly Top Tens! Since it’s October, the month of tricks and treats, what better to start out with than a top ten antagonist list. Here are my top picks, in both book and film, and in no particular order. And fair warning, there might be some spoilers ahead:
1. Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem
Any top ten antagonist list would be remiss if the Professor Moriarty was excluded. While in his initial appearance in the Sherlock Holmes canon he wasn’t, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mind, an archenemy, that’s what he became in the eyes of the readers. I mean, he had a major hand in the death of Sherlock Holmes! However, in reference to Holmes, death is a term used lightly.
2. Darth Vader, Star Wars
Duh. Darth Vader is a keynote villain, and not just in the original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes 3-6). I mostly want to ignore the prequels, but one has to admit that, beneath all of the strange story and creative decision, there’s an extremely dark origin for a villain crippled with regret–and by lava. Darth Vader continues even today to be plot twist goals, and his recent appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story only furthers the depth of how powerful and frightening Vader is as an adversary.
3. Prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird
Most who read To Kill A Mockingbird would pick Bob Ewell out as the antagonist, because Bob is falsely accusing an African American man of raping his daughter. But I think Harper Lee was leaning on a much bigger villain: prejudice. To Kill A Mockingbird is first and foremost a great story, but it’s also an incredible narrative on the cost of assumptions and prejudice that, looking at our world then and now, seems to be a timeless and unmeasurably important topic. The price of prejudice, hate, rape culture, and violence are all put on trial in Harper Lee’s masterpiece.
4. Ego the Living Planet, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn was an indie director until he stepped into the iron boots over at Marvel and flew tail a’waggin’ into the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The first film was spectacular, but fell prey to the commonly known Marvel villain problem. The sequel had no such issue as it introduced the most devastating villain twist since Darth Vader himself. Ego the Living Planet was far and away the highlight of the Guardians’ second outing, and made us laugh and cry before we hated everything about everything to do with him (but, you know, in a good way). Props to Marvel and Gunn for making me cry…again.
5. President Snow, The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games trilogy is a great series for a lot of reasons, and one of them is President Snow. Like most influential authors, Suzanne Collins knew how to intertwine harsh political commentary into a great and usually riveting story. President Snow was at the heart of this commentary, showing us how deep into the dark places a government can sink to maintain power over its people, bleeding from the mouth while seducing us with flowers.
6. Heath Ledger’s The Joker, The Dark Knight
This is a hard one for me to cover for two reasons: firstly because The Dark Knight is my favorite film for far more reasons than it being a superhero flick, emotionally affecting me if I’m being honest, and secondly because Heath Ledger gave his life to what I believe was his finest performance. The Joker, outside of Christopher Nolan’s run with the Batman franchise, is one of history’s marquee bad guys, but Ledger brought to the character something that no other live-action adaptation could: He brought The Joker a sense of natural, frightening realism. The Joker featured in The Dark Knight is more than a clown; he’s a man broken yet carrying an immense amount of purpose.
7. Temptation, Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien unleashed quite the cultural phenomenon when he wrote the stories of Middle Earth, affecting literature and film for decades to come. This tale of Hobbits going on an adventure has a lot of villains, but the connecting thread is the intangible evil of temptation. Even the villains, including the wizard Saruman, are pawns of the temptations put forth by greed, power, and the hunger for knowledge. Some of the most profound antagonists are the ones we can’t touch, see, or smell, but the ones we can only feel.
8. Loneliness, Lost in Translation
Speaking of intangible antagonists, Sofia Coppola’s beautifully crafted film, Lost In Translation, pits two Americans traveling abroad against the oppressing loneliness that comes with being alone in a foreign country. An antagonist, when done correctly, is someone or something that drives the plot forward, forcing our heroes to make decisions, and that’s what this loneliness does here with Bill Murray’s Bob Harris and Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte. It’s a melancholy romance that takes sharp turns at a slow pace, so that we feel every ounce of the nuance.
9. Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë’s first and last novel was published way back in 1847, but Wuthering Heights packs all of the punch as a modern day, theatrical tear wrencher. It’s a dark, lumbering romance that spoke heavily about the classism and sexism that was all too present at time of the novel’s writing–and still today, though not to nearly the same degree. Heathcliff is both a villain and the leading man of the story, being an angry, passive-aggressive person. He causes his own problems and then wallows in them, bantering with Catherine, whom he loves, enough to drive her away. In the end, he gains almost all he ever desired, but loses so much more. He’s an important kind of antagonist, because he is his own enemy.
10. Scar, The Lion King
If you didn’t cry when Scar flung Mufasa to his death, then I don’t even know you anymore. Scar is a great villain for two reasons: His motives are bullet proof, and his anger is justified. While the movie doesn’t reveal it, Scar’s real name is Taka–a Swahili word meaning trash–according to The Lion King book A Tale of Two Brothers. Scar’s parents actually named him after garbage, and then he was forced to live in his brother’s shadow and obey his brother’s rule. It’s a classic Shakespearean tale of hate and revenge.
Bonus: Voldemort, Harry Potter
You didn’t think I was going to leave him out, did you? He who shall not be named is the pinnacle of a great villain. A perfect match. Driven and understandable. Connected in every way to the protagonist. He was, in short, created for greatness. Well done, J.K. Rowling.
That’s my picks! Do you agree, or can you think of another great antagonist? Sound off in the comments and let me know!
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Weekly writing prompt: He held the orb in his hand, having finally bested this “hero.” And there, upon that precipice, he remembered his first encounter with the mutt…
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