Explore favorite female villains and what makes them so great
The anti-hero is having a moment. Now more than ever, maybe starting with Wicked—or could it have been The Sopranos?—readers are loving to hate the bad guy. Or, as the case would have it, the bad gal. What makes a female villain so much fun? Is it that they upend our expectations for women? Is it their mystery? Unpredictability? Willingness to do what we in polite society wouldn’t dare?
A lot goes into making a villain readers love to hate. Below are some of the key ingredients, backed up with examples of our fave female baddies!
In 1987, news magazine Time featured the thriller Fatal Attraction on its cover. The headline read, “Killer! Fatal Attraction strikes gold as a parable of sexual guilt.” The story is about Dan (played by Michael Douglas), a successful, happily married father of a precious daughter who isn’t satisfied with his great life. No, he just has to stray from his wonderful, attractive spouse. Why? Because he’s a rich, white man, and he can. Enter Alex Forrest, Glenn Close’s sexy character. She’s a career woman and femme fatale who Dan uses for one night of sexual bliss, but when he tries to shake her the morning after…well, she won’t be ignored.
Dan is up front before their fling that he’s married and not looking for another relationship. However, Alex doesn’t consider his candor to be any act of valor. When she won’t go quietly into that good night, they have this exchange:
Dan Gallagher: You’re so sad. You know that, Alex? Lonely and very sad.
Alex Forrest: Don’t you ever pity me, you smug bastard.
Dan Gallagher: I’ll pity you…I’ll pity you. I’ll pity you because you’re sick.
Alex Forrest: Why? Because I won’t allow you treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?
In my mind, this is what makes Alex a compelling villain. She’s not taking Dan’s crap and asking for seconds. Villains don’t put up with bad treatment. They do what we moral mortals wish we could in our darkest fantasies. They take their revenge. In this case, Alex progressively stalks Dan, then his family, until things end in a boiled pet bunny and bloody mess. Even though no one wants Dan’s family to be hurt by HIS poor judgment, I think most of us women feel for Alex to some degree. This is why we like her as a villain. She puts the fear of God in men and philanderers deserve it. Like Alex says, “Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!”
How’s this for villainous? Cersei forced her would-be daughter-in-law to witness her father being beheaded and his head placed on a pike. Then, she made a mother watch her daughter be poisoned (Cersei had her poisoned as revenge, but still). Cersei birthed three children, a result of a lifelong sexual relationship with her brother…and had multiple people murdered to keep the secret. Honestly, the list with Cersei is long. She’s one of the most villainous characters in the book/TV series Game of Thrones, and the competition there is steep. As she says, “I choose violence.”
Though Cersei’s actions are cruel, she is also a great villain. Why? First of all: power. Anyone who read or watched the series must concede that in a world dominated by men, she managed to obtain and hold the Iron Throne. Say what you want about the way she did it, this kingdom isn’t run by shrinking violets, and we begrudgingly have to give it to her for not letting anything or anyone stand in her way. However, she’s also clever, which is a trait we enjoy seeing. Unlike any of her predecessors, she managed to repay the kingdom’s debt to the Iron Bank and position it better for the future. So, she’s also a capable queen.
Cersei is a great character because she doesn’t always win. In fact, even though she becomes head monarch and exacts revenge on many, she doesn’t have it easy by any means. Getting into a villain’s background and seeing them have lows as well as highs makes them seem human. In Cersei’s case, she might have been born to royalty, but she had a hard go of it. She lost her mother at a tender age, her father was absentee, her husband doesn’t really love her, all of her children died, and she had to endure a very intense public display of humiliation in the infamous Walk of Shame scene. Showing a villain’s pain and weaker side rounds them out and makes them more interesting.
(Warning: spoilers ahead if you haven’t read or watched Gone Girl.)
“Nick Dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed. That’s murder. Let the punishment fit the crime.”
Or, so says Amy Dunne, one of the most unexpectedly sociopathic killers in modern literature. The book and movie were a sensation for one major reason: the twist at the end. That wonderful, crazy, unbelievable twist. Mousy, meek Amy, wife to lazy cheating loser Nick wasn’t going to take it anymore. And boy did she ever get her just desserts.
If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, the short version is that Amy is sick of her husband Nick’s shit, so like anyone would, she fakes a pregnancy, writes a dairy with BS entries, drains her own blood, spreads it, and cleans it up poorly—basically, she fakes her murder and pins it on Nick. Here she is in her own words:
“We were happy pretending to be other people. We were the happiest people we knew. And what’s the point of being together if you’re not the happiest. But Nick got lazy. He became someone I did not agree to marry. He actually expected me to love him unconditionally then he dragged me, penniless, to the naval of this great country and found himself a newer, younger, bouncier Cool Girl.
You think I’d let him destroy me and end up happier than ever? No fucking way. He doesn’t get to win!
My cute, charming, salt of the earth misery guy. He needed to learn. Grown ups work for things. Grown ups pay. Grown ups suffer consequences.”
What makes Amy a great villain? I think it’s her mix of Alex Forrest and Cersei Lannister. She’s smart and conniving like Cersei—none of us saw the twist coming, which is why the book was a bestseller. She outwitted us all, and for that, we must hand it to her. But she’s also delicious because she didn’t let that no good, hound dog of a man who was always beneath her get away with it. Villains let us live out our revenge fantasies, and nobody did better than Amy Dunne.
We can’t wait to read our next favorite female villains. Will you be the one to write her?
My favorite feminine villian is from the movie “Crush” with Alicia Sylverstone. As the “girl next door” she acts more than a woman when it came to her all man neighbor. Her role as a good girl/teenage brat while trying to be seductress was a perfect combination of bad girl to dislike.