Villains Who Would Make Great Protagonists

I love, love, love a good dark character. I think most people do. There’s a reason why some of the show-stealing characters in our favorite stories tend to be the shadowy ones. However, there’s also a reason why most of these folks tend to not be the protagonist: even with complex character development, it is simply not easy to relate to a baddie.

In general, we need to be inside the mind of the one who is wholly good in order to feel comfortable looking at the one who is bad. As the audience, we want to think we’re the hero. We want to think that we’re the ones vanquishing the Joker—we don’t actually want to be the Joker. At the end of the day, we want to be fascinated and disturbed by that other guy and then go home safe in the knowledge that we are the wholesome, good ones. “Man, that Joker is batshit insane! Good thing I’m living in the mind of a self-sacrificing vigilante who cares about others above himself. Fetch my robe, Alfred.”

Dark protagonists are tricky to do well, but there are some villains out there who would make fascinating, fantastic leads. These are the folks who hint at more behind their facades. They have that thread of empathy in them for the audience to latch on to—and they are also characters that would not be lessened by having their aura of mystery taken away. (The Joker, in my opinion, would make a terrible protagonist. We love him because we know so little about him. I don’t want to hear about the Joker’s dark past—I want him to stay elusive and thus terrifying, with his constantly shifting stories.)

So, without further ado, here are some baddies that I wish were protagonists:


Ravenna, aka the Evil Queen (Snow White and the Huntsman): One thing that pleasantly surprised me about this thoroughly enjoyable movie was the Evil Queen. She was more than Snow White’s muhaha tormenter—there was something deeper in this woman’s brief, tragic flashback and the heartwrenching look she gave Snow White at the very end, even as she lay dying. Can you imagine how amazing a movie this would be if it had been told from the Queen’s point of view? If we’d started at the beginning, in her youth, and seen her journey from innocent girl to king’s wife to ruling queen, how her heart became dark with bitterness and power, how she feared a young princess would take away her immortality, and then end with her tragic demise? What was the world like from inside her head? I would’ve loved to know. (I hear rumors that Once Upon a Time also depicts a sympathetic Evil Queen.)


Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter): Well, obviously others have had the same idea, because Draco makes for the best Harry Potter fanfiction. Yet another baddie with a morally conflicted heart. The Harry Potter series would be deliciously darker from Draco’s point of view—the split story we’d get from his interactions with his family’s Death Eater connections and his conflicts with Harry from inside his head. It’d be interesting to see a story from a young bully’s POV, and his ultimate redemption. (And yes, I am purposely choosing a quibbly-lipped emo photo.)


The Darkling (The Grisha Trilogy): Yeah, I know, he’s like the Joker in that he’s fascinating partly because of his mysterious nature. Also his utter hotness. But screw that, I don’t care. I’d love a story from the Young Darkling’s point of view. Was he once hotheaded and optimistic? When did he veer into bleakitude? How did he react when he first used his powers? Did he struggle with it, like Alina is now struggling with hers? Many more questions that are spoilery so I won’t post? I have a feeling some of these things will be covered gloriously in book 3, Ruin & Rising. Still, Darkling POV book ftw.

Those are a few of my choices for baddies that would make great dark protagonists. Do you have some of your own in mind?


13 Responses to Villains Who Would Make Great Protagonists

  1. Ellie Sep 13 2013 at 10:02 am #

    I love really good villains that you can’t hate completely. I always end up wishing there would be a spin-off about them or something 😛

    • Kristen L. Sep 22 2013 at 11:44 am #

      I absolutely agree! There’s many villains out there that I see lots of potential in or wonder how they would be different if one thing in their past changed. I’d like to think that they could have been with a certain character (cause I ship some non-canon ones) or become friends with another if only they didn’t do this one thing or believe so much in something.

  2. Snady Sep 13 2013 at 10:21 am #

    About Once Upon a Time, the creators do love showing where their villains started from and how they became the way they are now – The Evil Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, The Queen of Hearts. In fact two of their villains are main characters. All of them have done terrible things but they all have their own legion of fans and people who understand or sympathise with them. Its has its flaws but I love this show and definitely recommend it.

  3. stephanie garber Sep 13 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Great post! If you hadn’t said you’d love the Darkling as a protagonist I’d probably use that one. I also agree with Snady, I love the villains from the show Once Upon A Time–Captain Hook is one of my favorites.

  4. Natalie Aguirre Sep 13 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    So agree that villains need to be complex and a bit sympathetic. Because no one is truly evil. Agree with the others on the villains in Once Upon A Time. I love that show. You should check it out. I bet you’d like it.

  5. nonsensicalteddybear Sep 13 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Maybe if we’re lucky there will be a movie focusing on Ravenna. In my opinion, she was the only interesting main character. Charlize Theron did a great job portraying her. I can’t think of a book antagonist turned protagonist but I think it would be interesting to see Venom from Spiderman as a dark protagonist. He’s one of the most interesting Spiderman villains to me.

  6. FOX-Dragon Sep 14 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Loki would make the best protagonist

  7. Anita Sep 15 2013 at 9:09 am #

    I think what you are talking about was done quite well with Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies. How in the 80s you just wanted to hate him, and then a decade or so later in the newly released prequels we fall in love with Anakin. And then when he turns to the dark side we’re like noooo….we love you Anakin….don’t do it. But then deep inside you know he has to do it or he wouldn’t become one of the most complicated villains of all time!

    • Marie Lu Sep 15 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      Haha. 🙂 See, I thought about listing Vader/Anakin as one, but I hated those new prequels sooo much! I thought they kind of butchered his past storyline, imho. But I love Vader as a character, and he’s definitely complicated!

  8. Ameriie Sep 19 2013 at 1:03 am #

    Great post, Marie! You’re right, all three of those would make excellent protags (I’ve got a thing for anti-heroes and misunderstood people/characters). And my heart went out to Ravenna. I was all, “But no one understands how she feeeels!”

  9. Ameriie Sep 19 2013 at 1:05 am #

    Oh, one of my fave misunderstoods is Pizazz. Remember Pizazz of the Misfits (Jem and the Holograms)?

  10. A. Barone Sep 20 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Oh Regina (aka the evil queen on Once Upon a Time) has such a tragic-ally wonderful backstory that as soon as you learn about WHY she hates Snow so much, you feel so much sympathy for her. The same is true for Rumplestilstkin. You don’t like his character either, until you find out about his origin, then he’s a tragic character too. If anyone isn’t watching Once Upon a Time you really must watch it! ^_^

  11. Gina Sep 28 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    I’m querying a novel where Snow White’s evil queen is the protagonist. It’s also the first in the series of companion novels- next up is Sleeping Beauty’s evil fairy 😉

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