How can screenwriters create movie villains that are more compelling and engaging? Enter thought-provoking villain monologues.
Merriam-Webster defines thought-provoking as causing people to think seriously about something.
To think seriously about something, we need to come at the subject or situation at hand from every possible angle. And to accomplish that, we need to learn the different perspectives that can be attributed to whatever the subject may be.
In movies and television, we generally have the protagonist's perspective and the antagonist's perspective. And villains are on the extreme end of the antagonist spectrum. They usually graduate from antagonist to villain by having evil intentions.
Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) from The Fugitive is clearly the antagonist — he is in opposition to Richard Kimble’s (Harrison Ford) escape — but he is not the villain because there are no evil intentions. He's just doing his job trying to track down a convicted murderer.
This is most evident in the exchange between Kimble and Gerard.
"I didn't kill my wife."
"I don't care."
But let's be honest — villains are more fun to write. Their evil intentions raise the stakes. And raising the stakes should be every screenwriter's goal on every single page of the script.
However, villains often become one-note ponies in that respect. They have evil intentions and want to harm the hero at all costs. It ends up being a very black-and-white situation.
The hero is good.
The villain is bad.
But what if you could blur those lines a bit — or at the very least, what if you could make the reader and the audience see the villain's point of view? And in the more disturbing cases (see below with the truly evil Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds), what if you could understand the evil just a bit more when you learn the unreasonable reasoning behind their horrific intentions and actions?
That is the key to writing better villains. And to do that, you may need that thought-provoking villain monologue. The moment where you make the reader and the audience see the world through the villain's perspective. And even better, the moment where you make them empathize with the villain because of that perspective — even if it's for just a brief moment (except for those truly evil characters like Hans Landa).
Here we present the ten best and most thought-provoking villain monologues that accomplish that kind of cathartic moment.
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1. General Hummel in The Rock
"Twenty of those men were left to rot outside Baghdad after the conflict ended. No benefits were paid to their families. No medals conferred. These men died for their country and they weren't even given a goddamn military burial. This situation is unacceptable."
General Hummel isn't a terrorist. And while his "evil" intentions are defined through the threat of unleashing chemical weapons on the innocent citizens of San Francisco while holding even more citizens hostage on Alcatraz, through this monologue (and others within the script) we see his point of view. We understand it.
He wants to honor the eighty-three Special Forces operatives that lost their lives during Operation Desert Storm. No benefits were paid to their families. No medals were given. His men died for their country and they weren't even given a military burial.
We may not agree with his implementation of honoring those fallen warriors, but his reasoning is thought-provoking. And because of that, General Hummel has more depth and is more engaging as a villain.
2. Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds
Landa's monologue offers us a haunting look into the utter evil of the Nazi mindset. He goes on about rats, questioning the farmer on why there is such instant disdain for the rodent.
The farmer mentions the fact that rats spread diseases, which is why one would be disgusted by them. However, Landa points out that a squirrel could very well spread the same diseases, yet the farmer would likely not have the same disdain for a squirrel as he would for a rat.
Which leads to the chilling conclusion that Landa comes to.
"You don't really know why you don't like them, all you know is you find them repulsive."
And at that moment, we know that he's talking about Jews and how he feels about them. And it chills the audience to the bone.
This perspective stays with us throughout the duration of the film. We certainly don't empathize with him — far from it. But we understand the root of his evil and how it drives his intentions and actions.
The monologue provokes disturbing thoughts that keep the tension going throughout the whole film in every single scene he is in. He's charming. He's funny. He's well-spoken. He's cunning. He's intelligent. And he's utterly terrifying once we know the evil behind that smile.
3. Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now
"I’ve seen horrors, horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me."
Kurtz is giving Willard the reasoning behind his actions. We as an audience see behind his madness. But we also see the horror of war and what it can do to man. Kurtz even showcases praise towards his adversary, the Viet Cong.
It's a peek into yet another disturbing individual's mind. And we even learn that Kurtz isn't just some evil villain. He's a husband. He has a son. That doesn't excuse his actions, but it humanizes him. We're left wondering how a husband and father can go to war and become what Kurtz became.
4. Gordon Gekko in Wall Street
"Greed, for lack of a better term, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms. Greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind."
Gordon Gekko's speech to stockholders of a company he is about to dissolve makes the tough sell of the single character trait that dominates each cinematic moment when he is onscreen — greed.
Without this monologue, Gekko is nothing more than a one-note villain that is greedy for more money, no matter how many lives he ruins in the process.
And while his speech may be nothing more than a smokescreen to get stockholders to vote his way, it's a compelling and thought-provoking perspective.
5. Roy Batty in Blade Runner
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die."
Batty is seen throughout most of the story as a powerful and ruthless replicant that will let no man stand in his way. But as we witness his final moments before death, we see the human in him, despite the fact that he's an android.
The monologue provokes thoughts about life, death, memories, and what happens when humans play God. And we understand the villain and why he was as ruthless as he was throughout the story.
6. Satan in The Devil's Advocate
"Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do, I swear for His own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It's the goof of all time. Look but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, don't swallow. And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is He doing? He's laughin' His sick, fuckin' ass off! He's a tight-ass! He's a SADIST! He's an absentee landlord! Worship that? NEVER!"
The ultimate villain. The ultimate example of evil. Satan. The Devil himself.
Satan unleashes a thought-provoking monologue filled with his own reasoning of why he is the one who is the true "fan of man." It's a compelling perspective that most have never really thought about. And the tirade forces us to see his point of view. We don't dare sympathize, but we understand his stance in the whole scheme of things.
7. Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York
"You know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all on the streets can see. That's what preserves the order of things. Fear."
It's difficult to sympathize or empathize with a brutal character like Bill the Butcher. But this monologue manages to do so, even for the briefest of moments.
At first, we learn to understand his brutality. It's about survival. You invoke fear in others so that you may live another day. And in New York during that time period, it was a necessity for many. You were either a victim or a master of it. You either died a terrible death, caused the death of your opposition, or invoked enough fear to avoid as much confrontation as you could.
Later on in the monologue, we learn of his admiration for his greatest enemy — the father of Amsterdam (Leo DiCaprio). And we learn that despite Bill the Butcher's brutality, there's honor in him. It may be misused and misplaced, but there's honor behind that fear-evoking face.
8. Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men
"You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know; that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!"
You have to watch the build-up to the monologue to capture the full effect.
What he says is truly thought-provoking. While Santiago’s death was tragic, it probably saved lives. And while we believe Jessup was in the wrong, he has a strange point. It’s not easy protecting a country as a military leader. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And while most hopefully don’t think he’s in the right, it’s an interesting look into his perspective and how he sees things. And how he truly believes that he’s done nothing wrong.
9. The Joker in The Dark Knight
"Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair!"
We never understood the man behind the makeup — The Joker. At least not on television or cinematically. Until this film.
A supervillain is usually nothing more than an evil character that is looking to take over the world and destroy his or her counterpart, the superhero. Needless to say, it grows a little tiresome.
Joker's monologue gives us a unique perspective on things. We learn about what drives him. It's not about money. It's not about defeating Batman. It's about introducing anarchy into the status quo. And the thought that chaos is fair is intriguing.
This thought-provoking monologue elevated the otherwise cartoonish character that we saw in previous incarnations in movies and television.
10. Lorne Malvo in Fargo (TV Series)
"Your problem is you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren't. We used to be gorillas."
This monologue is a short but compelling observation about what it takes to survive in this world. And in his eyes, what it takes is to step up and be not just a man, but an ape — drawing from our most primal instincts to survive.
Malvo is offering Lester what he believes is sound advice. Lester, a character that has been bossed around his whole life. And the words Malvo uses are thought-provoking because there's truth to them.
We understand Malvo's essence — his way of life. He's an ape. He has tapped into his primal instincts of survival. And that information informs us about why he talks, walks, and kills the way he does.
Writing thought-provoking monologues is an easy way to inform the reader and audience on the inner-workings of the villains you create. They breathe life into what may otherwise by lifeless caricatures. They show the disturbing — yet thought-provoking — method behind one's madness and evil. And for some villains, they make us empathize with their perspective.
So when you're writing a script that has a villain wreaking havoc, don't forget to include that all-powerful and thought-provoking monologue to make your script even better.
What other great villain monologues did we miss?
Read ScreenCraft's 15 Types of Villains Screenwriters Need to Know!
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies