Works of Fiction Where the Villain is the (or a) Main Character

Mrs. Homie and I were discussing this last night over some… medicine. What are some movies, novels, etc., where the villain is the main character? Here are a few we came up with:

[Some content will contain open spoilers]

The Phantom of the Opera: He’s pitiful, yes. But he’s also into kidnapping, murder and extortion. Definitely the villain in the story, although the hero who gives him his comeuppance is a secondary character.

The Silence of the Lambs: There’s no arguing about what a classic villain Hannibal Lecter is, and his evil seemingly knows no bounds. But he also has somewhat of a moral code- at least, inasmuch as it furthers his own needs. In this story he does some good, by helping Clarice to nab the actual villain in the story, Buffalo Bill.

What are some others?


Well, the Joker had his own short-lived comic book series.

Patricia Highsmith’s sociopathic murderer Ripley.

Do short stories count? Because I automatically thought of Poe.


The Day of the Jackal

At least as the book goes, I’m not sure I’d say he’s the ‘main’ character. The book certainly doesn’t follow him around the way it does Harkness and the others.

(after the first murder)

Pulp Fiction - at least parts of it. Butch may be a good guy (for some value thereof) but everybody else is a Bad Motherfucker.

Despicable Me.

The Flashman series.

A Princess of Roumania, by Paul Park, has a great villainess in Nicola Ceaucescu.

And, could we include Harold Hill in The Music Man? For a substantial chunk of the plot, he’s fully intending to swindle a town full of people.

In the movie Laura the narrator, also a significant character, was the murderer. Great movie!

The Usual Suspects springs immediately to mind.

Breaking Bad is turning towards that point - the protagonist becomes the antagonist.

With both The Phantom of the Opera and Dracula (original novel versions), the title character is the villain but spends little time “on screen”. I wouldn’t call either of them the main characters of the books. This isn’t true in all the various adaptations, though. For instance, Dracula has a bigger role in the 1992 film version.

There are two Agatha Christie novels where the killer turns out to be the narrator, so the entire story is told from the perspective of the villain. I’ll spoiler the titles, since in both cases the reader does not learn until the end that the narrator is the killer.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and the lesser known Endless Night.Depending on how one interprets the end of the movie, the amnesiac main character (Leonard) in Memento could be considered the villain. It depends largely on how much of Teddy’s account of Leonard’s backstory is true, and what Leonard’s motivations were when he decided to kill Teddy. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say Leonard does kill Teddy, as this happens in the first scene of the movie, but I’ll spoiler my thoughts on Leonard’s possible motives.[spoiler]At the time Leonard decided to kill Teddy, he is aware that Teddy has manipulated him into killing local drug dealer Dodd by leading him to believe that Dodd was responsible for the rape and murder of Leonard’s wife. Teddy admits that Dodd had nothing to do with this, and tells Leonard that his wife’s assailant is already dead. I can’t remember if this was clear to Leonard or not, but Teddy sent him after Dodd partially because he wanted to get ahold of Dodd’s drug money.

If Leonard decides to kill Teddy because he does not want Teddy to be able to continue manipulating him into killing other people for Teddy’s gain, then I’d say he’s not a villain. If Leonard kills Teddy because Leonard thinks Teddy is a liar who is interfering with his quest to avenge his wife’s murder, his decision is more questionable. If Leonard kills Teddy because Leonard doesn’t think Teddy is a liar but would prefer to hold on to his mistaken beliefs about the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death and the ultimate fate of her assailant, then he’s a villain.[/spoiler]

Peter Grimes has been staged where Grimes is a murderer.

What, no mentions of the Scottish play?

Also, Richard III.

Sweeny Todd.

House of Cards, and its sequels, To Play the King, and The Final Cut.