Movies or stories with sympathetic monsters/villains?
March 18, 2013 7:20 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to compile a list of sympathetic monsters/villains, portrayed in any medium--film, fiction, art, music, myth.

So I watched the original Godzilla tonight and in the commentary a film critic talked about how the Hollywood remake fails in that it makes Godzilla speedy when his lumbering, labored slowness and clear effort (as well as his back story) is part of what makes him sympathetic enough that at his demise even "small children can understand his feelings." This lead to a discussion with my partner about stories (depicted in film or any other medium) with a focus on a sympathetic monster or destructive force. Off the top of our heads we came up with HAL, Grendel, Moby Dick, Frankenstein, Mary Timony's persona on the Pirate Prude E.P., and possibly the shark in Jaws (I almost added Golem but really, he isn't poised as the villain at all, just a victim from the get-go, so...). Can you think of others?
posted by ifjuly to Society & Culture (44 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Related, previously (my question!)

Also, TV tropes has an entry on this: Sympathetic Villain
posted by phoenixy at 7:24 PM on March 18, 2013

No Such Thing
Swamp Thing
(Not necessarily villains, but pretty monstery)
posted by puritycontrol at 7:25 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost -- if he's not exactly sympathetic, he's certainly the most interesting and nuanced character.
posted by scody at 7:26 PM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

King Kong
Medusa is sympathetic when viewed through a feminist light
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:27 PM on March 18, 2013

King Kong.
Maybe Phantom of the Opera?
posted by michellenoel at 7:27 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

In Jurassic Park 3, the raptors (which, in previous films had been depicted as bloodthirsty, ruthless killers) were only hunting Alessandro Nivola and his buddies because he had stolen their eggs. Once he returned the eggs to the mama, the raptors backed off.

Humans intruding on nature and all that.
posted by phunniemee at 7:28 PM on March 18, 2013

Bizarro is this sometimes.
posted by Garm at 7:32 PM on March 18, 2013

The Toxic Avenger
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:33 PM on March 18, 2013

Screamers (can't go into detail because of spoilers).
posted by gudrun at 7:42 PM on March 18, 2013

Best answer: 9 movie villains who were right all along.
I agree with the ones I recognized, especially the Wicked Witch of West and the Lion King's hyenas.
posted by bleep at 7:43 PM on March 18, 2013

Best answer: Lo Pan
Dr. Doom
Magneto (many Marvel villains, actually)
posted by Tanizaki at 7:45 PM on March 18, 2013

This is a common trope, and here's a really interesting anecdote -- the Will Smith film version of I Am Legend has two endings. The theatrical release, and the (spoilers) alternate ending that is closer to the book's original vision.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:00 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Blade Runner (Harrison Ford or Rutger Hauer's character, depending on how you look at it)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:04 PM on March 18, 2013

The Ice King from Adventure Time.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:05 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Darth Vader when he takes his helmet off.
posted by cairdeas at 8:10 PM on March 18, 2013

John Gardner's Grendel?
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:12 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Frankenstein's monster, in the Universal horror classic, Bride of Frankestein. The scene with the blind man is tragic.

Please forgive the stupid intro/outro some person added, but here is a clip of the pertinent scene.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:13 PM on March 18, 2013

Edward Scissorhands
posted by tamitang at 8:19 PM on March 18, 2013

Also, it was hard to tell, but I think Sgt. Werner Rachtman (one of the Nazis) in Inglorious Basterds was written to be in a kind of grey area of being sympathetic/honorable.
posted by cairdeas at 8:26 PM on March 18, 2013

The beast in Beauty and the Beast.
posted by aldebaran at 8:27 PM on March 18, 2013

The film May by Lucky McKee

Hellboy II: The Golden Army


The novel Red Dragon, but not the movie so much.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:32 PM on March 18, 2013

Bub the zombie.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:36 PM on March 18, 2013

Ben Linus in Lost.
posted by littlesq at 8:56 PM on March 18, 2013

A Monster in Paris was the first thing that sprang to mind - the monster, obviously. I guess this is kind of a variation on Beauty and the Beast, but also different.

Wile E. Coyote.

Sesshomaru in Inuyasha.

Dracula, particularly in Francis Ford Coppola's version.

J.D. in Heathers.

Okay, stopping now, but fun!
posted by Athanassiel at 9:10 PM on March 18, 2013

Dexter is a television series in which the main character is a serial killer.
posted by XMLicious at 9:28 PM on March 18, 2013

posted by Francolin at 10:00 PM on March 18, 2013

Best answer: Mr Freeze in the '90s Batman: The Animated Series episode, "Heart of Ice." Often considered one of the series' best.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:28 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

song Skullcrusher Mountain - what a super villain will do for love
posted by Sophont at 11:38 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The movie Nightbreed, based on the Clive Barker novella "Cabal", is pretty much MADE of this.
posted by mephron at 12:02 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I didn't see Cloverfield, but my understanding is that the monster is basically a terrified newborn leviathan without a mama, and that's scary but pretty sad too.

I've always found Frank's big I'm Going Home number in Rocky Horror pretty amazing, because up to that point he's been this sexy and charming but undeniably evil and destructive creature, and then out of nowhere we get this absolutely heartbreaking musical number about how he just wants to go home, and it shouldn't work at all but it does.

Spike on Buffy was a funny, likeable, sometimes even rather pitiable character, even when he had no soul and was still regularly feeding on coeds.

Also, Norman Bates. Very scary, but also strangely sympathetic when he's not murdering people.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:41 AM on March 19, 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
posted by eleslie at 5:30 AM on March 19, 2013

It's been a long time since I saw it but I remember the Bond villain played by Robert Carlyle in The World Is Not Enough was rather sad and sympathetic.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:50 AM on March 19, 2013

Grendel, in 2007's Beowulf.
posted by General Tonic at 7:44 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shylock. Caliban. Heathcliffe.

Carrie (Stephen King)!

The Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg) in Barbarella.

Oo, ooh! Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian. Well maybe not sympathy but certainly admiration. Ok I'm weird.

Gollum. Also, the Operative in Firefly. I was rooting for him. Also I was totally on the side of the Oogie Boogie in Nightmare Before Christmas.

There's an essay to be written on race and ethnicity issues and the concept of the boogie man (first three above, NBC) but better done by scholars, eh? It's one reason why these figures can be so sympathetic.

Also in film it's something about the quality of the actors that get to play these antagonists. I mean, James Earl Jones. Voice alone would could make his enemies dissolve! I think there should be a film with Patrick Stewart, James Earl Jones and Christopher Lee having a conflict totally carried out by the power of the voice....
posted by glasseyes at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2013

King Lear. See Kurosawa's version (Ran). It's gorgeous.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 10:27 AM on March 19, 2013

If old video games count, I always thought the Ur-Quan backstory from Star Control II was pretty sad, right up to the point where they start enslaving/killing the galaxy.
posted by ckape at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2013

Can I just say how awesome it is that in that original list you came up with stuff like Godzilla, Frankenstein, Grendel, and.. Mary Timony on the Pirate Prude EP?

(I adore Helium, what a great band - and there's some other stuff on Dirt of Luck and the b-sides that would also qualify - "Skeleton" "I Am a Witch")
posted by citron at 3:06 PM on March 19, 2013

Response by poster: citron, ha! High five. I'm a big fan of "repressed woman goes apeshit" monster stories, so...and you're totally right about how that sort of thing bled into more than just that E.P.

The Great Tyrant in Barberella is a good catch; I never would've thought of that. A friend mentioned last night that in some productions of The Nutcracker, after the big battle when the armies leave the stage a mouse stays, mourning over the death of a friend, and that it's pretty sad. Thought it was another great example.

I think some novels in particular set it up where the world within the story, or the protagonist themself, *think* of that person as a monster BUT the novel and its readership is meant to know right away they are not in fact (good examples are The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, or Violette Leduc's narrator in La Batarde). To me that isn't quite what I'm looking for (though it's an interesting thing too, granted). Husband mentioned last night the surprise at the end of Full Metal Jacket, but I think that's more a sudden plot-driven "now feel bad!!!" twist thing than a developed character study, you know?
posted by ifjuly at 4:03 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To be honest, TVTropes rarely helps me as much as it seems to for most Mefites because I'm usually not familiar with 80% of the examples. That said, just seeing the video game category under "Sympathetic Villain" reminded me to consider them and that lead me to thinking of Giygas from Earthbound.
posted by ifjuly at 4:11 PM on March 19, 2013

Javert from Les Miserables (forgive the lack of proper punctuation)
Any animal from a movie in which an ordinary animal is the villain, assuming that the viewer is inclined to be sympathetic toward even "monstrous" animals like snakes, sharks, etc.

Late, I know.
posted by Urban Winter at 7:55 AM on March 20, 2013

Magneto definitely; also on the Marvel kick, Loki from the recent Thor movie (Loki in The Avengers not so much.)

In Thor, Loki's whole story is basically driven by internalized racism and he's a very sympathetic/tragic figure. It's an almost Shakespearean sort of plot at its bones, which I suppose makes sense when you note that Branagh directed it.
posted by oblique red at 10:22 AM on March 20, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah, Shakespeare has a ton, I reckon. Which reminds me of Updike's exercise at highlighting the wonderful ambiguity in Hamlet by giving us "the villain's side of the story" in Gertrude and Claudius. I guess that's sort of a tangent, not quite the original premise I was asking for, but I am totally interested in more works that do that sort of thing, highlight "this person culture assumes is evil from art/history/myth could definitely be read another way; here's my example..." I haven't read/seen Wicked but my vague impression is it's one of those too.
posted by ifjuly at 12:23 PM on March 20, 2013

Best answer: The Game of Thrones books have plenty of sympathetic villains.
posted by norm at 7:08 AM on February 6, 2014

« Older I'm only 27. How can I keep my hair from thinning...   |   Taking Suggestions for Library of Low Stakes... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.