The villain character has evolved greatly throughout American cinema. Post World War II, the evolution is most striking by comparing films from the 1950s, 1970s, and 2000s. With a selection of four movies from each respective decade, the villains will be contrasted to identify any similarities and differences across decades to determine if the political environment has an impact on the way in which the villain character is portrayed.
The purpose of this project was for me to determine if villains were constructed based on views of the American people at the times in which the films were created. This would mean that the foreign entanglements at the time of production had a direct impact on the villain character as far as casting and racially biased portrayals.
To choose a majority of my movies, first I used a list of the Top 100 Domestic Grossing List (in America) and cross referenced it with those that won an Oscar for best picture. Then, since only one movie from the 2000s fit the primary criteria, I chose three other movies. These three other movies were on the Top 100 Grossing list as well as had a definable villain character. Additionally, I chose a different movie than the ones that originally qualified from both the 1950s and the 70s in order to have films with a more concrete villain because there was one from each decade that focused more on the hero and his villainous attributes as opposed to a villain character that stood on his own. After these films were selected, I had them approved by both my faculty advisor and personal librarian. Second, the decades that I chose to focus on all had very impactful foreign involvements that altered the way in which the US viewed others and was viewed by others. For the 1950s, this was the start of the Cold War as well as the ending of World War II. In the 1970s, Vietnam caused a lot of controversy with the draft and Nixon destroyed any trust Americans had in the government with the Watergate Scandal. Then by the 2000s, terroristic plots seemed to be on the news daily after September 11th, which opened up the floodgates of entanglements in the Middle East. Third, I compiled sources that related to my project by narrowing the scope to books addressing evil and villainy, the decades which I was focusing on, and the individual movies which I watched. Lastly, I brought together what I gathered about the villain characters from viewing the films first-hand and reading the literature to determine if the evil actor was, in fact, representative of that time in American history.
In almost every movie, the villain was a white male, usually in his thirties, of either Italian or Irish decent (if their heritage was made known throughout the course of the film).
The findings that came from my primary and secondary research disproved my hypothesis. I was under the impression that not only would the films be discriminatory against the villain through racial undertones, but also that the villain would be radically different amongst each decade. While the decade did impact certain facets of the villain’s creation, such as their complexity, the actual representation of evil never strayed too far from the derived archetype. Additionally, Hollywood is a functioning business and therefore tries to steer clear of political turmoil and the alienation of a particular group for fear of monetary backlash. This was a variable I had not considered in my original formation of the hypothesis.
Recommended CitationMcClure, Kelsey, "The Evolution of the Villain in American Cinema" (2014). Honors Projects in English and Cultural Studies. Paper 6.