What is the upside of being a henchman?

The current thread on movie villain cliches got me musing on the movie character staple of the henchman, especially as represented in the James Bond model of henchman armies.

It seems to me that there couldn’t be much incentive or upside to being a member of one of those armies. You’d have to work for a despotic leader who might kill you at any time for any perceived failure. There doesn’t seem to be much if any access to family or outside relationships. I can’t imagine there would be anything in the way of medical, retirement or vacation benefits. There’s a good chance you might be ordered to take some pretty large risks to life or liberty if you had to carry out an assassination or break-in. You’d have to live in dorm conditions in the villain’s secret fortress. You might have to wear a stupid jumpsuit.

The only obvious benefit would be the pay, but how much pay would be sufficient to make it worth enduring the other conditions of employment? When would you even get a chance to spend any of it? How do henchmen armies receive their pay? Do they have direct deposit? Do they get checks? If they get cash, where do they keep it?

Also, what are the requirements for becoming a henchmen? How do the villains find these guys? Do they put ads in the paper? Is there an application and interview process? Do these villains have their own HR departments to keep track of all the henchmen and their pay? What are the logistics of all this?

It just doesn’t seem like there could be much real world incentive for anyone to want to be in a henchman army, so how do the villains maintain them so easily?

My guess has always been that henchmen consist almost entirely of legions of guys with serious gambling debts, or who otherwise owe the despots some kind of ‘your ass is mine now’ favour.


Rape. Lots and lots of rape. Both the sexual and the financial varieties.

I’m not jesting, nor I am jesting that I’m not jesting. I imagine if you’re, say, an orc in Sauron or Saruman’s army, you’re not restricted by anything approaching the rules of civilized warfare. Eru only knows how many fair Eorlingas maidens got gangbanged when the Westfold fold, and there’s plenty of opportunities to pocket nice bits of gold & silver during the general pillage. It’s not as if they’re doing an inventory on the spot.

“Henchman” is what happens to people who don’t pay attention on Career Day.

Sounds like the ideal career choice for a masochist.

Excellent movie pitch though: “The Henchman”. How did he get there, why is he prepared to put up with such bullshit and expendability and (because it’s Hollywood) how does he take his revenge either a) moralistically, or b) to become the king pin - or c) both.

Evil Overlord: “When I take over the world (Ahahahaha!) I shall rape and pillage and do whatever I want! However, if you’re my henchman, you’ll be doing the bad instead of* recieving* it. Any questions?”

There’s a scene in “The spy who shagged me” where Austin Powers kills a typical evil henchman. You know, the average James Bond-shoves-the-henchman-he falls in-the-water-below-and-gets-his-head-bitten-off-by-an-oversized-shark-five second movie scene.

The movie’s next shot is a friendly neighbourhood British pub. We see a cheerful crowd of friends and family. They’re waiting for Brian to turn up, as he is getting married next week and they’re throwing him a surprise party. They’re waiting for Brian to get back from his job; apparently he got called away suddenly. There’s jokes, camaderie, Brians little nieces running around, etc.
Then a phone rings. Brians’ dad answers it. He turns white as a sheet. All fall silent and look at him anxiously. Brian’s dad puts the phone down. His hands are shaking. “Brian got his head bitten off by a shark”, he says.

I hear the dental plan is excellent.

By the same token, I don’t know why these guys all fight to the death when the hero
and his buddies start kicking butt. A trained and indoctrinated soldier might very well
start thinking of running like hell when a few of his buddies buy it, but these
henchmen, who have nothing but the prospect of getting a few illicit funds funneled
their way to keep them on the job, will stand there and all die to the last man
without breaking.

I guess what the Evil Overlord MIGHT do to a cowardly henchmen perhaps IS worse
than death, and that weighs heavily on their minds as the hero’s gang mows them

The only thing that might make sense is that the henchman thinks he can kill the overlord and take his place.

After all, that’s often how the overlord gets his position.

What’s the difference between the henchman and the hero?

Both are sworn to protect a higher power (henchman gets Evil Overload, hero gets Queen and Country.)

Both are expected to carry out dangerous actions and are, quite frankly, expendable.

Heroes have to be completely anonymous, so they can continue to work undercover. Henchmen, at least, can build up a reputation among both their peers and their enemies.

Heroes have to work for a government salary. Henchman not only probably earn more (the private sector, and all that) but I’m sure a lot of Evil Overlords have a very good incentive program. Once you hold up the nations of the world for one hundred trillion dollars you may as well spread the botty around.

As noted, henchmen can always aspire to overthrow the Evil Overlord or, at least, be spun off into their own regimes (Clemenza and Tessio in The Godfather.) What does the hero get to hope for – a knighthood and being made director of an agency so secret no one knows it exists.

And that’s only for the very top level of heroes. Your run of the mill hero can only hope to get promoted to Chief of Detectives.

Granted, the hero tends to have a little more latitude in performing his job, but I think becoming a successful henchman appeals to many smart, ambitious, entreprenurial types.

Realistically, how many henchmen ever actually get killed? Of course, all we see are the ones who encounter a hero but there are probably hundreds of thousands of henchmen who spend their entire lives without meeting a single hero. I bet if you added up the numbers, being a henchman is far less dangerous that factory work.

And the potential for reward is huge. Sure, not all evil plans suceed, but if this one does, then you’ve hit the paydirt. You were part of the loyal core so you get to share in all the bounty of world domination. If it doesn’t work, then you just shrug and find the next evil genius who looks promising.

Not to interject any sort of reality into this, but I’d guess that henchmen (like most soldiers) think that death is something that happens to the other guys.

Also, consider the suicide bombers. There seems to be no problem recruiting people who are willing to actually kill themselves for a cause, so why have wouldn’t it be easy to recruit people into an “army” – you’d just need (a) good pay and (b) to convince them that they’re fighting for a cause. The mastermind criminals all seem to have plenty of money (you ever try to buy an island fortress?) so they must offer a nice pay package, and presumably some sort of “cause” such as “Help me to rule the world, I’ll make it a better place.” Again on the serious side, even a cause like “Let’s destroy the imperialist Americans/Brits/whatever” seems to work in the real world, why not in the Bond world?

Sure. I mean, the kid needs medical attention, rent must be paid…and how much tax do you have to pay on “booty”, anyway?
Fun book on the subject: Hench

Hey, aren’t Administrators and Moderators just Cecil’s henchmen? :wink:

A semi-relevant link : The Evil Henchman’s Guide

Your own bunk, no sad seven percent. And all the Joss deadpan you can mumble!

Little known privilege: get to approve/disapprove of boss’s evil villain laugh (and associated gestures). It’s more important than you think, and it’s not just MWAHAHAHAH vs. BWAHAHAHAH. Gestures? Pencil thin moustache twirling, chin stroking, oh, I could go on…

For one thing, many of them get to live in a far-off and exotic place, like inside a Japanese volcano. (OTOH, sometimes you get posted on a mosquito-infested Caribbean island with nothing but an industrial-scale guano mining facility on it.)

Then there’s the highly unusual career skills you may get to learn (all of which make for impressive “bullet point” items on your resume):

Helping to establish, maintain, man, and defend (with anything from martial arts to machine guns and RPGs) the overlord’s headquarters
Operating a state-of-the-art military (and weaponized) satellite – either your overlord’s, or one hijacked by him
Assisting in events which nearly triggered WWIII between the Russians and the Americans, either directly or through proxy states like the Koreas
Helping to build or hijack, and/or deploy a nuclear weapon
Helping to build or hijack, and operate, ships, submarines, aircraft, and their accompanying missile or torpedo weapons systems
Disrupting the communications networks of the Free World
Waging biological or chemical warfare against western countries (or even the whole planet, from outer space)
Disrupting international communications networks or financial systems Assassinating government or corporate leaders
Kidnapping the above-mentioned leaders, and/or a really beautiful woman with a personal connection to a western-government spy