I think everyone has some favorite villains from television, movies, books, and the like. I certainly do. After all, nothing quite makes good fiction like a good villain. Villains can come in many varieties, and there are villains for everyone, but most of my villains tend to share a few traits.

I think I’ll illustrate those traits by using some examples. I have four favorite villains I’m going to highlight who each exemplify at least one of the traits I find most appealing in a great villain.

Favorite Villains #1: Locutus of Borg

I don’t know that you can deny that Locutus of Borg, during his single episode rampage was one of the most terrifying and effective villains in the whole of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is an iconic villain, and being played by Patrick Stewart makes him even better.

What makes Locutus, and the Borg as a whole so incredible as villains isn’t their ruthlessness. It isn’t the mechanical efficiency, or the awesome catchphrase. It’s that they are relentless. They never stop; they never slow down.

To me, the best villains aren’t the ones that you can simply defeat. They keep coming back. If they can’t achieve their goals in one way, they’ll try another one. Locutus of Borg wasn’t around long, but the impact Jean Luc Picard’s assimilation had on the series was palpable throughout every season and movie that followed.

Favorite Villains #2: Carl Elias 

I have favorite actors, and many of them become favorites as much for their work in playing villains as heroes. Enrico Colantoni is without a doubt, one of my favorite actors. Not only is he a stand-out villain in Person of Interest, he plays a great hero in Flashpoint.

The thing that I believe makes Carl Elias such a great villain is that he is unassuming. He doesn’t stand out. He blends in perfectly and can pass for a hero, or at least a victim until he decides to reveal his true motives. I truly believe that most of my favorite villains can pass as normal people, perhaps even heroic people.

Favorite Villains #3: Raymond Reddington

Raymond Reddington is something of an anti-hero in The Blacklist. Despite that fact, he is undoubtedly a villain and criminal. To be honest, I don’t think anyone could play Reddington as well as James Spader does.

The combination of arrogance and personability, combined with a hefty portion of calculation, these elements combine to create a complex and interesting villain. For me, while I love the way that James Spader plays Red’s arrogance, it comes second to the calculation the character displays.

Great villains have plans within plans. They think two or three steps ahead. They are calm, collected, and unflappable. A superb villain doesn’t just react. Even what seems like reaction is usually a considered contingency, and they know how to handle it.

Favorite Villians #4: The Swede

The Swede is a character on the show Hell on Wheels. He is played by Christopher Heyerdahl, who has become one of my favorite actors in anything he’s been in. The first show I ever recognized him in was Sanctuary, where he played another great villain.

The genius of the Swede, or of any of these villains I like so much, is that they are almost always kind and courteous on the surface. They have this good natured exterior that draws me in. It makes me want to like them. Christopher Heyerdahl said it best:

What I find interesting about a character like The Swede is that the menace is there because we assume he is capable of anything. Do we actually see him do anything? Rarely. But the more humane I play these characters, the more kind, the more generous, the more menacing they seem.

Christopher Heyerdahl

My Favorite Villains: The Top Qualities

I’ve given four examples of my favorite villains, along with some of the traits that I believe work together to create an exceptional villain. I’ll sum them up below, but if a villain has one or more of these traits, I can almost guarantee I’ll enjoy them.

  • My favorite villains are relentless.
  • My favorite villains are unassuming.
  • My favorite villains are calculating.
  • My favorite villains are unflappable.
  • My favorite villains are polite, kind, and considerate…when they’re not being nefarious. 

Oh, and although Christopher Heyerdahl had hair for most of his run as the Swede, he was bald in Sanctuary. Maybe it was a subconscious knowledge of my own impending hair loss, but it turns out that:

  • My favorite villains are bald.