Ask this question around you, "Who is your favorite fictional villain?", and the reply will likely be "Hannibal Lecter", "Darth Vader", or "Norman Bates". At least, that's what many polls and studies (like this one) suggest.

In light of this, I'd characterize everyone's favorite villain as a person sharing some or many of these traits:
- reckless
- psychotic
- unashamed
- remorseless
- brutal
- manipulative
- proud of his/her evil deeds

To me, there's basically two kinds of villains, whose archetypes can be found in good ole Shakespeare's plays. Macbeth and Iago.

While Iago isn't a completely uninteresting character, I find him pretty one-dimensional and dull when compared to Macbeth (Aaron, a Iago-like villain, is even worse). Yet, despite all his deepness and rich complexity, Macbeth doesn't seem to appeal to the general public. As if people wanted to be thrilled and shocked before anything else. And what's best to achieve this goal than feeding them with villains who are best described as 'evil incarnate'?

Someone said "A movie is only as good as its villain". I'll only agree with this when Hollywood give us more Macbeths, and less Lecters or Vaders.

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By the way, I have a feeling that the general public's taste for embodiments of 'evil incarnate' is, well, somewhat religious in nature. What do you think?
What you are talking about here in modern times is the anti-hero, the villain we can't help but liking.

The difference between Aaron (whose character I kind of like in spite of being so evil) and Macbeth has a lot to do more with Shakespeare's maturity as a writer than anything else. Titus Andronicus was one of his first, or the first, I believe. The characters are absolute: the heroes are absolutely good, and the villains are absolutely evil. They never experience any inner turmoil or conflict. They are very unidimensional and very unsophisticated characterizations of human nature.

Macbeth is completely different, and much more human. Macbeth starts out being painted as a combat hero. He is noble, brave, and loyal, and when he is tempted into evil acts, he does not engage in them easily, or without regret. He is also the only person who heaps praise on King Duncan, in the scene prior to his murdering him. Macbeth is not a bad man. He is a conflicted man who tragically falls through evil acts. His character is much more nuanced than Aaron or Iago (and I just hate Iago). Throughout the entire play we are with Macbeth during his soliloquies and his asides, and we see first hand his inner struggle. He is for it, then agiainst it. He is on again, then off again. The story of Macbeth is one of human frailties, ambition, and greed. But it also a story about indecisiveness. Macbeth cannot make up his mind, and the tragedy of the play is that he had better options, more noble options, which he did not did not take.

Not so in Titus Andronicus and Othello. Both Aaron and Iago are just simply bad villains. They never experience any hesitation or leanings of goodness.

I would also say that Macbeth is a darker play than either of these two, as well.

Hollywood could never give us another Macbeth, because nuance or subtleness is lost in Hollywood.
What you are talking about here in modern times is the anti-hero, the villain we can't help but liking.

I have a strong feeling that, to most people, the modern anti-hero is basically a good minded protagonist whose motto is "the end justifies the means". Batman is often depicted as an anti-hero. Clint Eastwood is said to often play anti-heroes. The kind of character with pure motives, yet questionable modus operandi. Personally, I'd prefer them to be labelled 'dark heroes', and keep 'anti-hero' for characters whose moral codes conflicts with mainstream morals.

Like, say, the 'utilitarian' Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) from the Watchmen comics:

His motives? The greater good of humanity.
Does that sound good? At first sight, yes.
Did he achieve his goal? Maybe, although at a hideous cost - the death of thousands.
Did he enjoy the slaughter? There's at least some evidence he didn't. Maybe he even hated it.
Did he all of this for personal gain? No.
So is he a good hero? Certainly not. Quite the opposite.
Do we like him? I doubt anyone does.

Ozymandias, too, is (to quote myself) a good minded protagonist whose motto is "the end justifies the means". The difference with what people usually call an anti-hero, and it's a major one, is that his sense of 'good' doesn't match the public's.

Now, there are plenty of villains who, like Ozymandias, pretend to act for the greater good while sacrificing a part of humanity. Except, unlike Ozymandias, they're utterly unrepentant about the suffering they're causing (on the contrary they're often ecstatic when it happens). And they intend to rule what's left of the world. I'd have liked Ozymandias to show more empathy for his victims in the comics, and even (why not) sacrificing himself - either literally or figuratively ("I don't like what I do, yet noone else but me can do it, and it has to be done"). But as he is, he's still close to what I would call the quintessential anti-hero. Unfortunately there aren't many of his ilk in cinema or litterature.

(Now that I am thinking about it, all these religionists who want to convert us for our own good, they're kinda Ozymandias-like from an atheist perspective, aren't they ;-))

Macbeth is not a bad man. He is a conflicted man who tragically falls through evil acts.

I completely agree with your view of Macbeth's character, yet he still fits the 'villain' label in my opinion, because his fall (Lady M. or not) is ultimately the result of his own choices, however complex his inner struggles may be. Although I'd never label him a 'bad villain'. Nor a 'good villain'. Maybe a 'human, all too human villain'?

nuance or subtleness is lost in Hollywood.

Subtle Hollywood! The ultimate oxymoron.

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