1. Cliché: “I’ve got a magic pill!”
What it means: This is the part of the film where the villain gains the protagonist’s trust with a promise—do this one thing, and everything you’ve ever wanted will come true.
Other Villains who have used it: Ursula asks Ariel for her voice in The Little Mermaid. While Queen Narissa tells Giselle that one bite from her apple will take away all of her painful memories in Enchanted. And of course, in Snow White the Evil Queen offers the princess a wishing apple that will grant her every desire.
Why it should be retired: It seems to only be used on women who are so naïve that they blindly trust busted looking strangers promising them the world. It’s just not realistic.
2. Cliché: Maniacal laughter
What it means: After the villain has cooked up some nefarious plot, the tactic of cueing up the evil laugh track ensues. It’s creepy, sure, but is also used a lot.
Villains who have used it: The Joker, Cruella de Vil, Dr. Evil, and just about everyone who’s got crazy eyes.
Why it should be retired: I’d like to see a villain celebrate in a way that isn’t laughter—like, a bottle of wine, for example. (Come on, think of a drunk villain. Now THAT’S funny.)
3. Cliché: The villain is gay.
What it means: This one’s pretty self explanatory.
Villains who have used it: Buffalo Bill and his “woman suit” in Silence of the Lambs, Bruno Anthony from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Tom Ripley and his epic crush in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Miriam Blaylock in The Hunger, ex-Marine Frank Fitts in American Beauty, and Javier Bardem in Skyfall.
Should it be retired?: It depends on how it’s used. For a long time, being the gay villain certainly wasn’t seen as a positive. But in Bardem’s case, it’s probably his only redeeming quality. If the villain IS going to be gay, then let’s keep that part a positive, shall we?
4. Cliché: Let me gather my henchmen with terrible aim!
What it means: The bad guy isn’t just bad, he’s also got a bunch of willing cohorts to help with his devious plans.
Villains who have used it: Patrick has a whole cult in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and in The Matrix Agent Smith is the leader of a gaggle of other Secret Service agents. Plus, who can forget Gaston, and his band of torch-wielding villagers?!
Why it should be retired: The henchmen are always awful at their jobs. And if the hero’s ultimate triumph is going to mean anything, maybe the villain shouldn’t be able to dispatch an army of faceless bad guys who have terrible aim?
5. Cliché: The villain is horribly disfigured.
What it means: Something happened, usually involving a vat of acid, that created THIS MONSTER!!! Run for your lives! (And avoid acid, for that matter.)
Villains who have used it: Two-Face in the Batman series has, you guessed it, two faces—one that’s “normal” and one that’s clearly NOT. While Uncle Scar in The Lion King is named after his own facial disfigurement. Other notables include Richard III, Freddy Kreuger, Darth Vader, and Charlize Theron in Monster.
Why it should be retired: It’s beginning to feel like the only motivation for revenge is disfigurement, and that all disfigured people are evil by association. Surely Hollywood has a little more ingenuity than that…? No? OK.
6. Cliché: Black is the new bad boy.
What it means: For some reason—maybe the dark colors match their dark souls—villains almost exclusively wear black. Like a fashion calling card.
Villains who have used it: Cinderella’s evil stepmother, Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, Ursula, the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, and the scary gypsy witch in Drag Me To Hell.
Why it should be retired: It’s not a BAD idea in theory—it’s just been so overused at this point that you can almost tell who the bad guy is by what they’re wearing. Where’s the surprise in that?
7. Cliché: Redheads are all evil bitches.
(Full disclosure: I am a redhead.)
What it means: Apparently, going along with the stereotype that redheads have hot tempers, it also goes without saying that we are plotting everyone else’s demise. Yay!
Redhead villains: Poison Ivy AND The Joker in the Batman series, Hilly Holbrook in The Help, Syndrome from The Incredibles, Victoria in Twilight, Big Red in Bring It On, Van Pelt in Jumanji, and of course, Chuckie in the Child’s Play films. Look, it happens a lot.
Why it should be retired: In all fairness, plenty of heroines are redheads in film. But when it comes to depicting redhead males in film, it’s just a little offensive, at this point. In other words: stop picking on us, or I’ll kick your ass.
8. Cliché: Even my hair is crazy!
What it means: If you’ve got a funky little bowl cut, chances are high that you’re a serial killer.
Villains who have used it: Annie Wilkes’ religious bob in Misery, Keyser Söze’s weird little front curl in The Usual Suspects, and Heath Ledger’s green crimpy-curls in The Dark Knight.
Why it should be retired: Look, I get it, the weird hair adds to the crazy factor. But maybe a meticulous serial killer is a little LESS expected and a whole lot more fun? Let’s try it.
9. Cliché: The villain is a person of color in a largely white cast.
What it means: Racial inequality is a thing that still exists in film, you guys.
Villains who fit this description: Juno Skinner in True Lies, Sho Nuff in The Last Dragon, Tony Todd as the Candyman in Candyman, Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill: Vol 1, and Alonzo in Training Day.
Why it should be retired: Do I really have to explain this one?
10. Cliché: Bad people smoke.
What it means: Apparently, it’s not enough for a villain to have the nasty habit of being a terrible human being, but they also have a “thing” for nicotine.
Villains who have used it: Jim Phelps lights up in Mission Impossible, Cruella De Vil smokes around those poor puppies, and Sharon Stone blazes a trail, so to speak, in Basic Instinct.
Why it should be retired: Most everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. If you’ve ever gone through the D.A.R.E. program or seen those TRUTH ads on TV, then you know it’s not a good thing. No need to beat a dead smoking horse.
11. Cliché: The killer is dead!!!…. Just kidding!
What it means: Even though you’ve just watched the bad guy die, chances are that within 30 seconds they’ll be back and ready for more killing.
Villains who have used it: Pretty much any franchise film—think Friday the 13th or Scream—where the villain MUST return to keep the series going.
Why it should be retired: To be fair, the “I’M BACK, BITCHES!” gets me every single time. But I’m over franchise films. Let’s get some new blood on screen, so to speak.
12. Cliché: The villain has an accent.
What it means: Hollywood is being really on the nose about that whole idea of not trusting foreigners thing.
Villains who have used it: The Sheriff in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda, and Dr. Elsa Schneider in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Why it should be retired: It’s not that a bad guy can’t have an accent, but if I’ve learned anything from watching Homeland, it’s that some of the scariest bad guys are the ones living RIGHT NEXT DOOR. (They also have American accents.)
13. Cliché: The villain will give the good guy JUST enough time to escape from their clutches.
What it means: Even though it’s clear what the villain WANTS to do to the hero, they’ll spend a good five to ten minutes mucking it up with unnecessary dialogue. In that time, the hero will have concocted a plan for escape. And they will absolutely do just that.
Villains who have used it: Seriously, every villain ever.
Why it should be retired: It’s predictable and, I mean, a little foolish.
14. Cliché: The ultimate plan will be revealed in full detail.
What it means: Not only will the audience know exactly step-by-step what the villain plans to do, but typically the villain will also reveal it to the hero at some point. Even though they’ve spent all this time plotting, what’s the harm in telling everyone and their mother?
Villains who have used it: Dr. Evil, and pretty much any bad guy in the James Bond franchise.
Why it should be retired: I enjoy hearing the plots for world domination, but perhaps there’s a subtler, more sophisticated approach to the whole word vomit phenomena.