The Psychology Behind Evil Villains and Their Inevitable Failures

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Fictional villains are usually devious, brilliant, cunning and...very mistake prone.Sure, halfway through the plot, they've got it all. They've got the hero tied to a death trap or a doom laser pointed right at their enemy's headquarters. With just seconds before their victory, they can't help but make some epic blunder that cost them everything! EVERYTHING! *Pounds fist on control panel*

Why? Is it because of lazy writers who throw in some clumsy plotting that secures the protagonist's victory? Or could there be different, more grounded, reasons.

Here are some possible physiological conditions that could explain why Luke Skywalker, Lara Croft, Captain America, etc. are still alive.

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1. Delivering Epic Monologues Helps Justify Self Delusion

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Dr. Doom cannot just simply throw the switch that will fry Mr. Fantastic into molten rubber. He must, first, explain to Mr. Fantastic why his plan is so brilliant and how it will profit the entire world.

Maybe Victor Von Doom is not doing it for the Fantastic Four's benefit or to give the author a chance to buy time and deliver exposition. Maybe he is doing it to try and convince himself he's not the bad guy.

It is possible that many fictional villains suffer from self delusion (that would explain their fashion choices). Self delusion is mental/psychological process of deceiving one's self, possibly to justify their lifestyle and/or actions. It is a disorder that is maintained through a variety of practices, including getting others to approve of your line of thinking.

When Dr. No, The Evil Queen, Cobra Commander etc. pauses their plan to give a long diatribe to their prisoners, they might need to take the time to justify their actions to themselves. Even if the hero doesn't agree, just the practice of repeating their decisions out loud to an audience can help fuel their delusion and give them the ability to carry on with it.


"By persuading others, we convince ourselves" -Junius (Political writer in the 18th century who never revealed his/her real identity...Possible super villain?)

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2. Obsession with Some Prize Could be Objectum Sexuality

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Why does the villain risk his/her entire empire in pursuit of some inanimate object?

Sure....maybe the item has unlimited power or is very valuable but what about when they're not? Cruella Deville seems to be a woman of means who destroys her life in pursuit of a fancy coat. The Wicked Witch of The West melts to death because of shoes.

There is a sexual fetish called Objectum Sexuality. It is a sexual orientation that may cause an individual to be attracted to or fall in love with an inanimate object. In some cases they may even interpret the object to have feelings or "souls."

The antagonist isn't risking everything they have (their empire, their kingdom, wave after wave of lackeys) to try and steal some random object, they are fighting tooth and nail for a loved one.

So far, the only diagnosed cases, in the real world, have been women but some men seem to show traits. It could explain Cruella and the Wicked Witch, but perhaps it may also explain why Gollum is so in love with his Precious that he would dive into the fires of Mordor to try and save it (Spoiler Alert....I guess I should have put this before the spoiler).

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3. "Compulsive Need to Confess" Me This! Me That! Batman!

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Sometimes in a narrative, the villain very kindly delivers information about their crime to their pursuer.

Whether it's an enigmatic message delivered via sky writing (The Riddler) or ominous clues presented in person (The Usual Suspects), the culprit is giving the main character everything they need to catch them.

Some may reference the fact that real life serial killers send communications to the police. This is often written up as a need for attention, to spread their message. This doesn't quite explain fictional foes' seemingly suicidal habit of giving them EVERYTHING they need. Attention is one thing but why basically confess?

This brings us to the compulsive need to confess, a rarely discussed symptom of OCD. If one has this disorder, they feel the overwhelming urge to share any transgression they committed or have even thought about committing. This causes husbands to fess up to the fact that they find a co-worker attractive or causes students to admit to cheating even after they got off scot free.

So maybe it is the reason why so many serial killers send nursery rhyme themed confessions to Alex Cross.

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4. Movie Villains Act like Movie Villains Because Movies

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Alright, hold on to your sinister top hat because this might get complicated.

Recently, psychologists have been examining how the media affects crime. They found, in some cases, the way media portrays society may actually dictate criminal behaviors. For example, criminals might target a certain group of people, the media creates stories based on this action, and this makes future criminals more likely to target that group of people because television portrays them as victims.

(See..complicated)

So, villains might be more likely to use calling cards, wear costumes, etc. because this is what villains are portrayed as doing. We've had grandiose villains matching wits with epic heroes since Professor Moriarty first crossed swords with Sherlock Holmes. That's over a hundred years of stories for new villains to reference and therein lies their downfall.

The killers in Scream tried to perfectly recreate the roles of horror movie villains and they achieved their goal when they were bested by a tenacious female lead (Spoiler Alert...sorry again).

This could be the main psychological reason that fictional villains always lose: It's because fictional villains alway lose.

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