Tragic and misunderstood, a good villain is a complex character who is created not only to pull apart a hero’s worst tendencies, but to poke holes in human nature itself. They have their own rules and beliefs, working within a system they have either created or sworn fealty to. And no matter how monstrous they can be, they always have an underlying shred of recognizable humanity.
Wrapped within every personality type is a set of strengths along with a myriad of weaknesses. This balance gives us depth, allowing us to thrive and giving us room to grow. These are the traits we recognize within villains — our own rationales and base tendencies. If heroes allow us to see the strength of our personalities, villains give us an unabashed warning. This is why we love to hate them.
Let us examine some of the biggest villains in the fictional worlds. The men and women who entertain us with their antic and keep us on the edge of our seats, while forcing us to realize that the distance between good and bad, right and wrong, is always an ambiguous shade of grey.
The Visionary Villain
Charming with a lethal edge, The Joker is one of the most infamous villains around. Even those not familiar with the Batman world recognize his nihilistic personality along with his jagged grin. An ENTP to the core, his personality traits have remained fairly consistent regardless of whether captured in movie, comic or fiction form.
As a villain, The Joker is sympathetic. Always Thinking, he’s the man with many plans. He makes good points, his iNtuition picking up on detail and nuance, and his vivacious love of life stems from a combination of extraverted spontaneity highlighted by his Perceptive flexibility.
This razor sharp Perception means he’s able to improvise and adapt based on new information that comes his way. It’s his extraverted nature that pulls him into the world. Through banter and charm, he wants to challenge Gotham — but not for dominance, or not entirely. He’s striving for connections; to see and be seen in return. To find someone who can match his wit and see the world in the same way he does. It’s this need for connection that drives his villainy as opposed to villainy itself, which makes him appealing to a wide audience.
What makes The Joker so charismatic is how he leans into the stronger aspects of his personality rather than succumb to the weaknesses. He’s fearless and innovative, adaptable and confident. That isn’t to say he doesn’t fall victim to his whims. He does, but it’s more that he dances on the edge of insane and logical; testing and teasing the world of Gotham with his philosophical musings. The Joker is logical in his illogicality. He’s cunning but playful, scattered but organized. And while he’s deadly, he seems just as frustrated with death as the good guys.
He’ll kill, but murder is rarely the point with The Joker. He has a bigger story to tell, a larger point to make. He’s there for the challenge, which is why he’s such a good sport, even when he loses. And that’s the thing. We all know he’ll somehow fall victim to his own tendencies, making him easy to superficially root for, knowing that in the end, he’ll always be his own path to destruction.
While The Joker is on the villainous side of the ENTP spectrum, there is a joyous deviousness in this personality type that makes them fun to watch, regardless of what side you, or they, are on. Captain Jack Sparrow is a classic ENTP, changing sides not based on morality but how he’s adapting to situations and information around him. Peter Baelish, the conniving spymaster from Game Of Thrones, who famously said, “Chaos is a ladder.” And don’t forget the ultimate fighter against social norms, the elusive Tyler Durden from Fight Club.
The Protective Villain
Whether you’re familiar with the Star Wars fandom or not, most people recognize and associate the daunting opening notes of The Imperial March with the man in the black cape, mechanical mask, and chilling synthesized voice. Darth Vader is a tough personality to track if you start at the original trilogy. He can come across as cold and violent, seemingly ensconced in a dominant Thinking and Perceiving personality. But dig a little deeper and it’s easy to spot his ISFJ tendencies.
The methodical approach hiding behind a mechanical mask makes it easy to misinterpret Vader as a Thinker over a Feeler. But watch how he flies into rages and follows his emotions with reckless abandon, and it’s clear he is driven by his larger-than-life Feelings. It’s his Feelings that drive him to the Dark Side, but for an interesting reason. He is in conflict with himself, Judging extreme value in the system of the Jedi and the order of the Empire, but his forbidden Feelings to Padme are impossible for him to ignore. In fact, conflict on all levels is what makes him so appealing. He’s conflicted internally, making him blind to the machinations around him. But because he believes so strongly in his sense of order and justice, he fails to see his own mistakes and false judgements.
Describing Darth Vader as a protector personality may seem counter-intuitive, but that is exactly what he is. He fervently upholds what he believes to be the true and just order of the Galaxy, wrapping himself so tightly in this sense of duty and in what he judges to be in the rightness of the Order, that he fails to see how the Emperor manipulates him. After being betrayed by his mentor and rejected by his lover, Darth Vader makes a choice to hide from his Feelings. He uses his Sensing preference for facts and truth rather than face the hurt he has inflicted on himself and the Galaxy.
This all makes Darth Vader a heartbreakingly tragic figure. Once the mask is removed, we see Vader for who he really is — a delicate man, wronged by his Sensing nature and warped by his Feelings. As we make an effort to peel back his layers, we see his true nature, which makes him sympathetic in death and understandable in life.
The ISFJ makes a complex and complicated villain. They protect, even if their motivations can be skewed or misunderstood. On the mild end, Morticia Addams embodies the more misunderstood side. Her sense of duty is to her family and her devotion of Feeling has no limits. Of course, we see this same drive in Norman Bates, although his reality is far more skewed to the murderous and insane. His emotion warps his reality but drives his behavior.
The Mastermind Villain
One of the most iconic villains haunting us through the ages is none other than her evil self, The Wicked Witch Of The West. With her own chilling theme song, a one-of-a-kind cackle, and her entourage of flying monkeys, she never lets us forget that she’s going to get us, and our little dog too.
There have been numerous depictions of the Wicked Witch, however, her core traits mark her as an INTJ. On the surface she appears full of Feeling. But as we pull apart her inner motivations, we see that her actions are driven by her Thoughts, no matter how emotional they seem to be. It’s the magical shoes she’s after more than vengeance over her sister’s death. Her Thinking self is further highlighted in her methodical strategy. She plots for multiple outcomes, always having a plan within a plan but her true Thinking nature shines when combined with Judging tendencies. She likes to be in control and feels she is the only one capable of making decisions she trusts.
Her introverted nature may make her seem isolated and firm in her beliefs, but in her own mind she is open to exploring new options and seeking out information. Even her isolation isn’t entirely because of her introversion but from her lack of emotional availability. She values work over relationships, preferring the company of her creations over people. This is her iNtuition at play, and her creations are these pieces of her personality brought to life. She is curious about how things work, but more than that, she wants to understand how to change the world and all that is in it to benefit her own aims.
As with all villains, the Wicked Witch uses her strengths to her advantage while not realizing that her weaknesses hold her back. It’s her lack of emotional relatability that — in the literary rendition — cause Dorothy’s heartfelt apology to catch her so off-guard, she loses her composure and lights herself on fire. This makes her tragic, a figure who could be mystical in her greatness if only she hadn’t stood in her own way.
As a mastermind villain, the Wicked Witch is in good INTJ company. The cunning and twisted Hannibal Lecter, pulled so inward with his thoughts and abstractions that he becomes the warped version of his fantasied reality. Tywin Lannister, the head Lannister in Game Of Thrones, so wrapped in his Introverted strategy and iNtuitive potential futures that he doesn’t see death at his own doorstep. And of course, Lord Voldemort, a misunderstood wizard the Wicked Witch probably relates to the most.
An iconic villain tests our emotional boundaries, pushing at our perceptions while pulling at our moral limits. They don’t lose their humanity, no matter how depraved their actions may be. This allows us to relate, on however fine a line, to the human beneath the villainy. In the end, villains show us who we could be, and who we don’t want to be. And that’s what makes them irresistible to watch and even more compelling to examine.