If there’s one element of storytelling that movie fans love to pick apart, it’s the elaborate scheme the hero is trying to stop. Every major movie antagonist has a plan, but some have been torn apart over the years while others don’t get the positive attention they deserve.
Movie villains are often valued more than heroes. Savage agents of chaos, coldly calculating geniuses, superhuman physical menaces, cunning manipulative masterminds, or unimaginable monsters have become fan-favorite villain characters. Unfortunately, it’s often a lot easier to write a lovable villain than it is to dream up the methodology they’ll use. This makes the convincing examples even more interesting. Spoiler alert for each film mentioned.
Magnet – X-Men
Although completely drowned out by the sequel and ongoing franchise, Bryan Singer’s first take on the iconic Marvel franchise was a decent film. This film came nearly a decade before the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, making it one of the earliest superhero films in the modern model. The 2000 original stars Sir Ian McKellen as Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, as the main villain.
As so often, Magneto’s motivations are sympathetic. He was persecuted as a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany and sees the treatment of his fellow mutants as a similar crime. Magneto and company strive to stop the passage of the Mutant Registration Act, which aims to force every mutant to self-identify and be tracked. Magneto’s plan to solve this problem isn’t to kill everyone involved or bomb the White House. Instead, he seeks to turn the anti-mutant lawmakers into mutants, forcing them to confront an identity that, like their new peers, they have never demanded. This plan fails due to the unstable functioning of the machine, but it is a brilliant move to turn biased lawmakers into the target of its systemic oppression.
Alonzo Harris – training day
Denzel Washington’s corrupt LAPD detective doesn’t get much credit for his success as a master manipulator. Sure, the way Harris gets into the situation that drives the film’s narrative isn’t particularly smart, but the way he tries to get out of it is very smart.
Harris is heavily in debt to the Russian mafia and his life will be at stake if he can’t raise $1 million in 24 hours. Harris plans his one day with Ethan Hawke’s Jake Hoyt to get away with the money and leave his subordinate dead. Harris forces Jake to smoke marijuana at gunpoint to extort materials. He forges search warrants to steal from drug dealers, then turns the money around to hunt a more valuable target. After stealing the money he needs, he shoots his victim with the help of other corrupt cops. Eventually he leaves Hoyt to die at the hands of a criminal. Hoyt survives only because he saved the criminal’s family member earlier that day, a completely chance encounter. Harris’s plan was almost perfect, but Hoyt’s good nature and luck got him into it.
Dalton Russell – insider
Denzel Washington returns, but this time he’s on the other side of the cunning conspiracy. Spike Lee’s 2006 heist film is almost entirely about a feature-length bank robbery. The heist in question is one of the more complex of the genre. Over 24 hours, Dalton Russell and his fleet of conspirators stage a massive hostage deal to find a single mysterious locker.
Russell and company dress hostages in appropriate robes to blend in, stage fake executions, detonate smoke bombs, and exit as a group. The cops arrest hostages and perpetrators alike, but release everyone because they can’t tell the difference and don’t know if it’s a crime. Russell’s final revelation sees him hiding behind a false wall in the vault, only stealing the incriminating box the bank owner intended to hide. This is a master heist film and a perfectly executed plan.
Simon Gruber – Die hard with all your might
Hans Gruber’s son shares his father’s talent for excellent plans. While the third film in the franchise is undeniably inferior to the original, Simon’s plan is holding up very well. Gruber challenges the NYPD and threatens to bomb an elementary school if ignored. This keeps John McClane and the rest of the squad from either obeying his orders or searching every school.
Meanwhile, Simon busily raids the Federal Reserve Bank and loots hundreds of billions in gold from a schoolless area. He even scavenges cash in dump trucks to remain inconspicuous. The only thing he got wrong was including John McClane, whose knowledge of his family and his plot-relevant cop superpowers allow him to guess Simon’s master plan.
HYDRA – The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Everyone has already heard all the great things about Thanos, but an alien born to fight the Hulk has a slightly less impressive rise to power. In the MCU, HYDRA is responsible for virtually everything bad between 1941 and today.
Nazis were hired by the US government thanks to the very real 1949 American intelligence program Operation Paperclip. This allowed HYDRA to embed its agents in the highest government offices worldwide. The ultimate end of this plan would have resulted in around 20 million deaths. They were only stopped by the efforts of Captain America and his allies. Were it not for a handful of heroes, the entire world military infrastructure would be to blame for countless innocent deaths.
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