Ever watched a movie or read a book and thought, “Wait, she’s the villain?” Or wanted to yell “Twinning!” only to have everyone else in the theatre cheer when your girl gets shot in a bathtub? And for what? Boiling a bunny? Maybe she was paleo, you don’t know. Some fictional villains make being bad look so good, you can totally (though secretly) relate. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, here are my five favorite antagonists blurring the line between mean and misunderstood:
Amy Dunne, Gone Girl
Ever heard of the dead wife trope? A.k.a. the Lost Lenore trope? Or the stuffed in a fridge trope? It’s when writers create disposable women solely to give male characters juicy, dramatic storylines of revenge or redemption. Well, ladies, Amy Dunne is no disposable woman. And she’s certainly no victim as her husband learns the hard way when she discovers he’s cheating on her. Oh sure, Amy’s a little manipulative. A tad over the top. And that thing with the wine bottle … shudder. But there’s something endearing about her unapologetic self-awareness. (Must be all that journaling.) Surely you felt a stirring of “me too” recognition when she talks about how exhausting it is to fake being a “cool girl.”
“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
I mean, when you put it like that … almost putting your cheating husband on death row seems quite reasonable.
Once Amy makes up her mind to a course of action, you have to respect her utter commitment to the cause. And when she abandons the smothering standards (self-imposed or otherwise) of her old life the first thing she does is eat and eat and eat and eat. Praise God and pass the Cheetos – that’s my kind of crazy.
Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada
Speaking of tropes, what about the one where super successful women have to be toxic, humorless bitches who can only be softened by their manic pixie dream employee? (Working Girl, The Proposal, Bride Wars, The Nanny Diaries, Damages, Ugly Betty) Try making that case to Miranda Priestly and she’ll probably reply, “Details of your incompetence do not interest me.” In the cut-throat world of fashion, it’s surprisingly easy to feel sympathy for the Devil, even when she’s making Andy’s life miserable or stabbing the lovable Nigel (Stanly Tucci) in the back. Miranda’s commitment to beauty and excellence and solo elevator rides are admirable, as far as I’m concerned. (“Florals? For spring? Ground breaking.”) Like our other fictional villains, she’s earned her reputation as a boss and a bitch and she’s unapologetic about both.
Thanks to Shonda Rhimes, we’re getting more driven lady bosses at the top of their game, but we still have a long way to go. As Miranda would say, “By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.”
More an anti-hero than our other fictional villains, Nurse “Coffy” Coffin is “the baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town,” according to movie posters. As a ruthless vigilante nurse determined to avenge the death of her drug-addicted sister, she blows away mobsters, pimps and dealers, first with her sexuality, then with a sawed-off shotgun. And she gives a whole new meaning to concealed weapon by hiding razor blades in her hair.
Pam Grier’s gritty portrayal of a ruthless vigilante transcends Blaxploitation to give us a feminist icon that still resonates today. Coffy’s warning to one of her victims serves as a warning or anyone who underestimates the power of a badass woman on a mission. “It was easy for him, because he really didn’t believe it was coming. But it ain’t gonna be easy for you, because you better believe it’s coming!” Yep, “They call her Coffy and she’ll cream you.”
(Advanced reading: Pam Grier’s autobiography: Foxy: My Life in Three Acts)
Annie Wilkes, Misery
Everyone’s favorite fan-girl (from the book by Stephen King, played in the movie by Kathy Bates) is an avid reader who really just wants what we all want: One more chapter. A sequel. Shorter intervals between books. More time with a beloved character. I think we can all relate to Annie’s pain upon learning the protagonist of her favorite romance novels has been killed off. “YOU! YOU DIRTY BIRD, HOW COULD YOU! She can’t be dead, MISERY CHASTAIN CANNOT BE DEAD! I DON’T WANT HER SPIRIT! I WANT HER, AND YOU MURDERED HER! I thought you were good Paul, but you’re not good! You’re just another lying dirty birdy!” I had a similar reaction when I noticed Beth March’s scarlet fever wasn’t getting any better in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Since then, there have been other WTF deaths –(Dobby in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? I think that one hurt worse than Dumbledore) and I began to feel that Annie’s heart (if not her axe) were in the right place.
She knows how to keep a temperamental artist focused (hobbled) and motivated (terrified) so that the words keep flowing and the books keep coming. Yes, Annie is a little cray-cray and the pig noises she makes are … not cute … but her passion inspires Paul, the author she holds captive, to create some of his best work. Even he admits that. And readers of the new Misery novel will appreciate her dedication to the craft.
Kathryn Merteuil, Cruel Intentions
I know. I know. As fictional villains go, Kathryn was pure evil, an amoral monster that makes mean girl Regina George look like a Disney princess. I’m not even going to try to defend her, though I would point out that her step-brother Sebastian is equally evil and just as promiscuous but seems to get the “boys-will-be-boys” pass. “God forbid I exude confidence and enjoy sex,” Kathryn complains. “I’m Marcia-Fucking-Brady of the Upper East Side and sometimes I want to kill myself.” Based on the character of morally corrupt Marquise de Merteuil from Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, (also see the fantastic movie Dangerous Liaisons with Glenn Close in Kathryn’s role), Kathryn Merteuil is seductive and witty and can rock a severe side part like nobody’s business. Maybe I just admire her dedication to a cause, her over-the-top glamour and her willingness to own her own depravity. Whatever the reason, I related to her far more than the puritanical Annette (Reese Witherspoon) who turned out to be a hypocrite in her own right. (Virginity pledge, sex with cad she’s known for two weeks, even though she has a boyfriend? That’s ok, guys, she was in love.) Kathryn plays by her own rules and, like the other fictional villains on this list, is the more interesting character because of it.
What about you? Got any fictional villains you live vicariously through? Do you secretly cheer for the girls who refuse to be sugar and spice and everything nice? Sound off below.