Top 20 Movie Villains With Justifiable Motives

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Top 20 Movie Villains With Justifiable Motives

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Francesca LaMantia
Turns out these movie villains ain't all bad. For this list, we'll be looking at villains who actually had some good points. Our countdown includes "The Matrix", "Looper", “Captain America: Civil War”, “The Rock”, "Black Panther", and more!
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Top 20 Film Villains Who Had Justifiable Motives


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Film Villains Who Had Justifiable Motives.

For this list, we’ll be looking at villains who actually had some good points. We’re talking official canon, so no characters with retconned prequels or lore. Sorry Elphaba. To be clear, we’re not claiming that these villains’ actions were justified, just that we can sympathize with the thoughts or difficulties that led to them.

Did we miss your favorite sympathetic villain? Let us know in the comments.

#20: Cypher

“The Matrix” (1999)
Wanting to return to blissful ignorance in the Matrix, Cypher betrays the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar. We’re definitely not defending those actions! He turns on his friends and smiles while doing it. But we do understand where he’s coming from. Morpheus doesn’t really paint a clear picture of what you’re getting into by taking the red pill. He romanticizes it, making it seem cool and badass that you’re going down the rabbit hole. He doesn’t mention the part where he’s actually recruiting you to join a war that you otherwise could have remained blissfully unaware of. Cypher deserved a real choice in the matter.


#19: Sandman

“Spider-Man 3” (2007)
For all of its shortcomings, one thing that the third installment in Sam Raimi’s trilogy does well is tell the heartbreaking story of Flint Marko. Who could have ever predicted that we would be feeling for the guy that killed Uncle Ben? But that’s just what happens. Flint is more a victim of circumstance than a straight up villain. Yes, he is a criminal, but he turned to a life of crime to try to take care of his sick daughter. Who among us can’t sympathize with that? If the story was told from his point of view, we might even regard him as a hero, fighting for his family in an unjust world. Even Peter eventually forgives him.


#18: Zemo

“Captain America: Civil War” (2016)
While there was already a rift forming between the Avengers over the Sokovia Accords, Zemo tore it right open by framing Bucky for murdering King T’Chaka. A major narrative thread throughout the MCU involves the Avengers dealing with the consequences of their actions, and Zemo plays an important role. Yes, the Avengers saved everyone they could in Sokovia when they took on Ultron. But who created Ultron in the first place? Oh yeah, Tony Stark. The battle destroyed Zemo’s home and left his family dead. It’s not difficult to understand why he holds a bit of a grudge.


#17: Precrime Department

“Minority Report” (2002)
This may be an unpopular opinion. Obviously, the Precrime Department proved to be flawed when it was revealed that the Precogs’ visions aren’t as authoritative as they seemed. The inhumane way in which the Precogs were treated was also a horrible abuse of power. But there were some good intentions behind the idea. Imagine you’re about to be attacked on the street, and just in the nick of time a team of agents descends on the scene and saves your life. Ideally, such a department wouldn’t just prevent crimes before they happen, but also deter crime. Who would decide to plan a murder or a robbery when they could be arrested before it even happened?


#16: Viktor Drago

“Creed II” (2018)
For fans of the original Rocky movies, this is the match of a lifetime: the son of Apollo Creed fighting the son of the man that killed his dad. But while Viktor Drago’s father Ivan certainly deserves every bit of shade thrown his way, Viktor deserves better. When you look at things from his perspective, all the anger and darkness he has built up inside of him is understandable. His father came home, disgraced, to a country that pretty much disowned him. Viktor’s mother abandoned him, and his father … let’s just say tough love was his preferred method of parenting. No wonder Viktor was so driven not just to defeat Creed, but to destroy him.


#15: Jobu Tupaki

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022)
Jobu Tupaki is a terrifying figure who wants to destroy the entire multiverse. However, deep down, she’s also the daughter of a woman who pushed her too hard, splintering her mind and leading to a hopeless, nihilistic worldview. After her mother Alpha Evelyn discovered verse-jumping, she experimented using her own child. Jobu jumps through universes searching for meaning, but a foot in all worlds is a foot in none. She creates the blackhole-like Everything Bagel, not with the primary aim of ending the multiverse, but of ending her own suffering. Knowing her story, it’s easy to sympathize with her. Who doesn’t want to find a place where we belong?


#14: The Tethered

“Us” (2019)
If you were experimented on by the government, then abandoned in an underground facility, you’d probably be pretty angry too. Now, of course, we aren’t condoning all the brutal killing and whatnot, but we definitely understand the Tethered’s motives. They just want to live their own lives and enjoy the world like we do. Can you imagine spending your whole life linked to another, unable to fully control your own actions? In order to escape this fate, the Tethered revolt against their unwitting captors. It’s not their fault that the only way to become untethered is to kill their counterparts.

#13: Barbossa

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003)
It’s not easy to sympathize with the murderous, kidnapping captain of a ship that he stole from his former friend, leaving him for dead on a deserted island. But we do get Barbossa. After years of never feeling anything and not being able to die, anyone would go a little bit mad. His speech to Elizabeth Swan might be terrifying, but it is also insightful. Now of course, all the plundering and the murdering still seems like a bit of overkill. Yet, we do understand. Barbossa just wants to be a real boy again.


#12: Khan

“Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013)
Khan is easily one of the most formidable villains the crew of the Enterprise has ever faced. He’s basically superhuman. And nothing motivates someone, whether they’re a villain or a hero, more than friends in peril. Kirk and Spock probably understand that better than anyone. They go to extreme lengths to save each other, as well as the rest of the crew. That’s really all Khan is doing too. His people had been pretty much held captive, or more like held hostage by Star Fleet. Khan’s means might be brutal, but he’s doing what he thinks is necessary to free his people.


#11: Wilford

“Snowpiercer” (2013)
Okay, yes, Wilford is a tyrannical leader who keeps himself in power by controlling the population and teaching children that he’s practically a god. Not good. But the dude did kind of save all of humanity, at least what was left of it. When the new ice age occurred, he was the only person with the means to survive. He opened up his train to other people. Granted he segregated the haves from the have nots, and ruled with an iron fist. And the way he keeps the training running is absolutely heinous. But without him, everyone would be dead. That’s got to count for something right?

#10: Thanos

“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
A common theme in many movies is that humans are a threat to themselves and the Earth in general. Along comes a villain who believes that humans should be controlled or even culled. The Mad Titan operates on this premise except on a much larger scale. In Thanos’ mind he’s the hero, a savior who’ll rescue advanced species from themselves. The snap is a quick fix. Of course, fortunately, not all of us want to commit mass murder to resolve the issue. The end here doesn’t justify the means. He did get one thing right though: we do seem to be destroying our own environment, and something’s gotta give. Just not, you know, half of all life.

#9: Old Joe

“Looper” (2012)
So, trying to slay a young person is impossible to defend. However, let’s look for a moment at Old Joe’s motivation. It harks back to that old question: if you could go back in time and kill someone responsible for countless deaths, before they committed any wrongs, would you? Old Joe is trying to stop the Rainmaker, who will become a criminal boss, kill all the Loopers, and murder Joe’s wife. Even if you don’t agree with his actions, it’s easy to understand his reasons. Ending the Rainmaker’s life before he becomes the Rainmaker will save a lot of lives.

#8 Lab Employees

“The Cabin in the Woods” (2011)
Though the college students are attacked by all sorts of monsters, the true villains here are the lab employees pulling all the strings from their underground facility. And it certainly seems cruel to lure people into their sacrificial ritual, especially given their callous attitude towards it all. However, when you think about what’s at stake, you can kind of understand where they’re coming from. Without the ritual, the world will literally end. The lab employees, along with other organizations around the world, are tasked with keeping ancient gods at bay. In fact, it could be argued that these gods are actually the true villains, more than the lab employees.

#7: Magua

“The Last of the Mohicans” (1992)
Sometimes things are all about perspective. From Magua’s perspective, he is at war with the British and Colonel Munro specifically. And when you think about how Magua was kidnapped by the Mohawks, tortured by Munro, and basically had his life ruined, it’s no surprise why the guy is so upset. It’s not great that he pretends to be friends with our main characters only to ultimately betray them. And that part about him making one of Munro’s daughters his wife is also pretty grim. But there are causes for all that hate inside.


#6: Ozymandias

“Watchmen” (2009)
Nothing brings people together like a common enemy. And nobody knows that better than Ozymandias. That’s his whole plan. In the Watchmen universe, the Cold War has reached the point where nuclear war is imminent and mutually assured destruction is just around the corner. Ozymandias believes that the only way to stop us from fighting each other is by giving us someone else to fight together. He puts in motion a devastating attack on several cities, blaming it on Doctor Manhattan. And it actually works: the US and USSR do forge an alliance. It’s another messed up case where the end clearly doesn’t justify the means, but we do understand Ozymandias’ motives.


#5: General Francis Hummel

“The Rock” (1996)
It’s hard to believe that Hummel is considered the villain of this story at all. All he wants is for the families of his fallen comrades to be fairly compensated for their deaths. The US government sent them to war with the promise that their families would be taken care of, and then broke that promise. Hummel tries to do things the right way again and again, but eventually takes things into his own hands. Yes, he holds many innocent people hostage and threatens worse. But he doesn’t actually intend on following through. He just wants the government to make good on its promises.

#4: Roy Batty

“Blade Runner” (1982)
Similar to Khan, this is another villain that is really just trying to fight for his people. Replicants are created to be worked as slaves, and programmed with a built in four year life span. Batty’s main goal isn’t to hurt anyone, although he’s willing to - it’s to prolong his life and fight for replicant rights. Imagine being used up for four years only to be discarded like trash. The Tyrell company designed them to be as human as possible. Why are they surprised when they suddenly want to fight for their fundamental rights?


#3: Killmonger

“Black Panther” (2018)
While Killmonger might seem power hungry at first glance, his motivations are truly honorable. He is of Wakandan descent, but abandoned by his own people. And then he grew up in a world that viewed him as a second class citizen. We understand why Wakanda wants to keep their technology secret. Historically, humans abuse power. But sitting back and watching people hurt when you have the power to help … well that doesn’t really fly either. Yes, Killkmonger does horrible things to get what he wants. But it’s easy to see where he’s coming from.


#2: Koba

“Planet of the Apes” franchise (1968-)
This is another villain who goes to extreme lengths to achieve his goal. But you can see why. Caesar’s goal of peace between apes and humans is admirable, but Koba hasn’t had the same experiences. Whereas Caesar became the adoptive son of a sympathetic human, Will Rodman, Koba was abused, tormented, and experimented on. Once Koba was given the intelligence to understand what had happened to him and to escape, his response was to fight back in self-defense and in defense of all apes. Why would he trust humans after all that?


#1: Magneto

“X-Men” franchise (2000-20)
Given his past in internment during WWII, Erik Lehnsherr doesn’t exactly have fond memories of being put on lists or seen as dangerous. Magneto wants mutants to fight back against oppression and to have the same basic rights and freedoms. Granted, his methods cross a line. Using your powers to control and hurt people isn’t a great way to prove that you’re not scary. But why should he have to diminish himself to make others more comfortable? If you watch the movies in chronological order, you can see how his motives change over the years into a kind of mutant elitism. But at his core, he is just a guy fighting for his people.
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