The following is a small overview look at good and bad guys throughout cinematic history.
The Classic Bad Guy: This bad guy existed in movies since movies existed. This bad guy is more of an English Gentleman then an evil criminal, preferring to spend more time talking about his exploits and exploring the deeper meaning behind his actions then actually acting on them. This bad guy usually has a code of honor (although warped), believes he is justified and generally doesn’t hurt people physically if there is another way to achieve the same result. An example would be the aged, giant balloon explorer, voiced by Dick Van Dyke, in UP!
The Edgy Classic Bad Guy: Same as the “Classic Bad Guy”, but this guy hurts people without spending to much time struggling with it. This particular bad guy is usually more moody and almost fanatical in his beliefs. He was brought into movies because people were growing tired of the “Classic Bad Guy” because there are not many of them in reality and they wanted to watch an evil mastermind they could more relate to. An example of this bad guy would be Don Rafael Montero from “The Mask of Zorro”.
The Low Life: This bad guy usually acts as a henchman to both the “Classic “ and “Edgy Classic” bad guy. He was introduced when people became fed up with clean shaved and nicely dressed bad guys and wanted to see the same bad guy that was mugging them on the streets. This bad guy evolved from henchman to main character over time where he turned into….
The Standard Criminal: This type of bad guy comes in all shapes and forms; clean shaven to sewer lurker. These are mob bosses, hitmen, loan sharks, car jackers and the like. They tend to deal more with each other in there criminal underworld then with the rest of society which allows them to be portrayed as humorous and even in some cases, the good guy. There is, however, only so many places you can take the standard criminal (you can see great examples of them in movies like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”). So to explore the darker sides of humanity he was combined with the “Edgy Classic Bad Guy” to create…..
The Emotional Bad Guy: This groups is comprised of gangsters and drug dealers. They tend to act violently on impulse and more often then not blame others for their actions. Movies like “American History X” shocked audiences with the real portrayal of the chaos and complete dis-regard for others these villain’s showed. These villains are usually beyond fanatical and tend to act in a way that defies reason, ways that are purely emotional; using nothing but the Id part of the subconscious. With the advent of these bad guys and the continued use of the “Standard Criminal” Studio’s settled down in there quest for bad guy kingdom, it seems they had done it, for American audiences at least. But….the world will always remind you who lives in it and terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center. American’s were suddenly re-aquainted with a new class of bad guy and two new classes of bad guys emerged. The Religious Nut and the World Burner. Hold on to your seats. This is where it gets complicated.
Hollywood has yet to actually produce the Religious Nut. This has not happened for a couple of reasons. 1. Hollywood, for the most part, likes to hate America. 2. They believe that their super-sized surfer craniums are smarter then the average human and they can find ways to combat these poor confused people without offending Muslims. 3. They tried to make religious nuts out of other religions but nothing has happened recently that even compares to what the Muslims have done and 4. They don’t understand them. They keep trying to portray them as “Emotional Bad Guys” with stronger back stories and that is just not who they are. But it doesn’t really matter, because this group in actuality is small and people started to realize on their own that most terrorists are not religious nuts. They were something else, a different kind of Villain that was attracted to the freedom that could be found in a terrorist group.
The World Burner: These evil people have always been a part of movies. They are the freaks that start shooting randomly when a city is burning. They are the serial killers that no one understands, they were hidden in the ranks of the Low Life, Standard and Emotional Criminals and as it turns out they are our next door neighbors. These villains have no agenda’s, no story, no purpose. They have embrased evil because it embraced them and they will do as much evil as they believe they can get away with. Probably the best example of this villain in recent movies is Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in “The Dark Knight”.
The Classic Good Guy: Just like the “Classic Bad Guy” were usually portrayed as English Gentlemen (even when they were Americans). They were usually based on humor because for them, beating the bad guy was easy and was usually just a distraction from being very gentlemanly to some women. These men were polished, good at everything and generally had little to fear. A modern day example of this kind of good guy can be found in James Bond movies (if you remove all the sex of course). However, these good guys were usually from a well-to-do family and audiences could not relate to them very well so we were all introduced to the Swashbuckler.
The Cowboy: This is the final type of good guys. It is able to handle any of the bad guys because of one simple fact. They Cowboy does what needs to be done. It does not matter why or how the bad guy does things, the Cowboy will stop it or die trying. The Cowboy also does not get all emotional over killing the bad guys, he doesn’t sit around and stew about what he has done. He knows what he believes and is confident in himself. This allows the Cowboy not to be based in humor, although often times the character has a funny streak and makes jokes. For example: Bruce Willis in Die Hard. The Cowboy is the only one that can successfully deal with a World Burner as the evil would be too much for the swashbuckler.These are all generalizations of course and there are exceptions to most rules like Vin Diesel in Pitch Black. Just remember to not always assume violence equals evil because generally violence is all that can conquer it.