To put it mildly, heroes bore me to tears. I'm not quite sure when I changed allegiance to the bad guys but I've always preferred flawed heroes... the bad guy, in other words, whose motivations are at odds with many, who is obsessed with his goals, often isolating him from the rest of the world.
Dracula was the first, and yes, Gary Oldman's rendition is pretty darn spiffy but the first version of Dracula that saw me begin my love/hate relationship with antagonists was the Christopher Lee version. Damn, I used to get nightmares, and then some. That was the first time I remembered feeling sad that the bad guys lost. Just what was it that freaked me out? Well, nothing could stop him. There was this air of the forbidden about him. He wasn't sexy but women couldn't resist him. Or at least I didn't find him sexy. Perhaps as a child growing up he represented the fear of the unknown in men. Vampires don't freak me out like they used to.
My next antagonist I agonised over was Catwoman—the Tim Burton version starring Michelle Pfeiffer. She's daring and vengeful, and her doomed love of Bruce Wayne sees her at war with her impulse to be Catwoman, or relinquish her power to the man she loves. I like her because she stays true to herself. Batman would never have allowed Catwoman to roam and she had to make that choice—freedom or love. Maybe it's because none of us are able to have everything we want, that she appeals to me. Catwoman chooses the ideal that gives her the most power, though she sacrifices some joy in order to obtain it.
Anakin Skywalker will always be the true hero of the Star Wars saga, in my mind. As the menacing Darth Vader he's nearly every SF buff's favourite villain and the root of many of my childhood nightmares. But, beneath that gleaming black carapace there's a man, who suffered for his love and, although misled, believed he was doing the right thing at the time. Anakin is the ultimate in anti-hero and I love him for his tragedy. I'm not sure which episode the prophecy was mentioned stating that Anakin would "bring balance to the Force"... but in truth, he was the one who brought balance to the Force in the end when he tossed Emperor Palpatine to his death. It's just that the route he took to get there was a bit... erm... convoluted. Luke Skywalker is just a puling little wimp in comparison.
A special word for the very suave Hannibal Lecter, so ably portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. If ever there were a serial murderer I'd allow myself to be dined upon by, it would be Hannibal. Charming and cultured, he is the perfect gentleman and would probably provide some of the most witty conversation you could wish for yet... beneath that veneer of sophistication lies a ruthless killer, who suffers no remorse for ending a life. To me he is like a dangerous jungle cat, to be respected and feared, even, but to be appreciated for the way he has refined his art.
Last but not least, is my favourite real-life bad boy: Aleister Crowley. Known as the "wickedest man in the world" he really had no limits to his depravity, the depths of which are beyond the scope of this blog post. Yet, he was also resposible for being on the most influential minds responsible for kick-starting modern Western mysticism. Highly intelligent yet irreverent, he was also a classic case of "do what I say, but don't do what I do." He is often one of the most misunderstood villains, cropping up very often in works of fiction or film as the perfect antagonist. Gentleman, seducer, poet, author, mountaineer, junkie... He was a man of many facets.
There are loads of other villains out there but these are but the handful who remain my firm favourites. I would love to know who your favourite villain is and why.