Cinema would be nothing without its villains. Not every story has one, of course, but from ordinary antagonists to world-conquering super villains, there’s usually someone to root against, and it’s often these characters that entertain us most, or most effectively drive a story forward. And almost always, these characters lose.
Generally, this is what moviegoers want. We want to see compelling antagonists who are ultimately defeated by more relatable or morally admirable heroes. But that doesn’t change the fact that there have been a lot of movie villains over the years who seemed to have about 99.9 percent chances of triumphing in their respective conflicts. Here are seven such villains who never had any business losing, but graciously did so for narrative convenience.
(Naturally, some spoilers follow for the relevant films)
Johnny Lawrence – The Karate Kid
Yep, that Johnny Lawrence—as in, “sweep the leg.” I’m not sure I ever would have thought of this one, but in doing some research to make sure I didn’t miss anybody I came across a list in Complex’s pop culture section that listed their 50 greatest movie villains of all time and put Johnny at number 50. This guy was billed as a total karate master, He was strong, athletic, ruthless, and possibly soulless, but he lost to a gimmicky move by the hastily trained, decidedly less physically imposing Daniel Larusso. Crane technique looks cool, but there’s just no way this happens in real life.
Darth Maul – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
This one isn’t as inherently ridiculous. Sure, Maul has a fancy double-edged lightsaber, but his battle is against two Jedi, so really the odds were against him. However, the way things turn out he has no excuse for losing. Maul did away with the more experienced of the Jedi and then had the other dangling from a ledge without his weapon, and he still found a way to blow it.
Smaug – The Hobbit Trilogy
OK, so the obvious thing is that he’s a gigantic dragon going up against dwarves. That’s probably enough. But the other thing that’s a little more subtle is that Smaug has one of the biggest assets in cinematic history and decides not to use it. That asset is his heap of gold, worth about £42.2 billion (close to $55 billion) according to a fun little estimate of fictional characters’ wealth drawn up by Irish lottery hub Lottoland. The site meant it as a display of lucrative riches to its user base, but the article also serves to expose Smaug as a moron. He could have hired any army or band of mercenaries he wanted to help stave off adversaries, but he chose to do the classic dragon thing and hoard his gold instead.
Ivan Drago – Rocky IV
Boxing movies exist to give actors a good excuse to spend seven months in the gym and get ripped. But Ivan Drago was on another level. “Carved from Soviet granite” is how he was described by GamesRadar in its own list of great movie villains, and that about says it. The guy killed Apollo Creed and looks like a statue of a Greek god—he had no business losing to Rocky.
Jafar – Aladdin
Jafar was a sorcerer. Aladdin was not. That about says it all, even if Aladdin had the Genie on his side.
Commodus – Gladiator
Granted, Commodus lost in the court of public opinion simply because Maximus was awesome. The execution of Maximus could have been smoother, and he always could have had the gladiator killed in the pits. However, it’s semi-understandable how Commodus landed in a tough spot against his former rival. What’s ridiculous is that he allowed himself to die by Maximus’s sword out of pure pride. All he had to do was not go down into the arena, which seems like Rule #1 for an emperor watching gladiator battles.
Sauron – The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
We’ve already touched on Tolkien’s work, but Sauron may represent the most impressive failure in cinema villain history, so he has to be mentioned as well. Granted, The Lord Of The Rings is one of the best good vs. evil stories in fiction, and sometimes you need a tremendous underdog to succeed. But when was the last time you stopped and thought about the circumstances? This guy (or sorcerer, or spirit, or wraith, or whatever) could grow armies out of the ground, and his only Achilles heel was a single ring being tossed into a pool of lava inside a mountain so heavily saturated in evil it’s perpetually mired in apocalyptic thunderstorms. Sauron losing was less likely than Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls going 0-30 in a middle school league.
Who would you add to the list?