This trend of turning iconic symbols of evil into morally complex anti-heroes kicked off with the Broadway hit Wicked, which explored the secret history of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West. Wicked is one of the few examples in which fleshing out the backstory of an over-the-top villainess actually improved the original source material, and Dallas audiences will get to experience the acclaimed stage show (albeit nearly 20 years after its Broadway run) when it runs as part of Dallas Summer Musicals from August to September.
Perhaps storytelling has evolved to a point in which we need our villains to feel more realistic, and the character who is evil just for kicks might not have the same appeal. As Broadway, Hollywood and Netflix search for more fearsome villains for whom to craft tragic origin stories, we’ve picked out a few that could justify an in-depth character study.
Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men)
The Coen Brothers, the filmmakers behind No Country For Old Men, once said they deliberately offered no explanation for Anton Chigurh's evil nature, because he "just is." But we're dying to know. This wordless assassin has to be staying silent for a reason, right? While generally considered to be a personification of consequence, we think the right backstory could shed some insight on Javier Bardem’s Oscar-winning role. “Call it.”
The Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood)
We’ve got so many damn Robin Hood adaptations that the “hero of the people” has started to get on our nerves. Maybe the guy trying to lock him up wasn’t so bad? We don’t want to sympathize too much with a corrupt law enforcement officer, but generally the sheriff is merely the underling of Prince John, so perhaps there’s more going on.
OK, so here’s a Disney live-action reboot that could actually work because the Hercules story has never translated to the big screen very well. Remember when there were not one, but two bad Hercules movies in one year? Zeus and Poseidon’s younger brother has thousands of years of history well worth exploring. If you became a God and then found out you had to rule over the dead, you might not be so peachy either.
Mr. Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life)
The ultimate warning of the evils of capitalism might have a Citizen Kane worthy origin tale. Someone who literally names a town “Pottersville” after himself has to be compensating for something, right?
The Shark (Jaws)
Yeah, this one probably hits differently in 2021. In a post-Blackfish world, we may want to reconsider the consequences of blowing up the member of an endangered species.
The Martians (War of the Worlds)
Adaptations of H.G. Wells’ famous planetary invasion story never consider things from the perspective of the Martians, but it's implied that the aliens seek a new home after their own planet fell to environmental collapse. Sound timely?
Imagine this: Joker, but he’s a mailman.
The iconic Saturday morning cartoon villain never seems to concoct a plot clever enough to trap He-Man, even with an army of loyal warriors and a crystal ball. Maybe he needs to take the time to sit back and do some reflecting?
Dr. Doom (Fantastic Four)
There have been four separate attempts at bringing Marvel’s “First Family” to the big screen, and none of them have worked. Maybe the upcoming reboot set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe should try putting Victor Von Doom at the center? A family of superheroes isn’t as interesting as the guy that gets left out.
Hans Gruber (Die Hard)
Bruce Willis dropped out of a potential Die Hard 6, which is probably a good thing considering he’s starred in mostly straight-to-Redbox low-budget fare for the past decade. It’s probably best that John McClane quits while he’s ahead, but the criminal mastermind whoe takes Nakatomi Plaza hostage? There’s a story worth exploring.