The Top 5 Screenplay Villain Introductions

Monday 20 May 2019

Today's Guest Post covers some of the best ways our most favourite cinematic villains are introduced - AND with the script examples available to download and read (click the title), from films such as Cape Fear, The Little Mermaid, The Shawshank Redemption and Die Hard.

So - with all that to bear in mind, let's hand over to today's guest blogger - Ben Taylor who is going to show you exactly HOW to introduce your villain!

The essence of great stories is conflict, and conflict is often personified by an intimidating and entertaining villain. These five villain introductions in classic screenplays show how an unforgettable debut can perfectly sum up your antagonist – including what makes them such a formidable threat – and have your reader eager to find out what they do next.
Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
By the time we meet Hannibal Lecter in Ted Tally’s screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs, we’ve know of Lecter’s crimes.
We’re aware that he’s a masterful manipulator, a nine-time killer, and of course a cannibal. But when we first meet him, at the end of that terrifying prison hallway, one might expect somebody less... sophisticated?
The Silence of the Lambs (source)

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is lounging on his bunk, in white pajamas, reading an Italian Vogue. He turns, considers her... A face so long out of the sun, it seems almost leached - except for the glittering eyes, and the wet red mouth. He rises smoothly, crossing to stand before her; the gracious host. His voice is cultured, soft.

Good morning.
Lecter’s introduction is so unsettling precisely because the details don’t add up. White pyjamas? Impeccable manners? Vogue?
We remember Silence for its more sordid chapters, but we don’t see Lecter committing any atrocities until much later in the film. Juxtaposed with his more stereotypically psychopathic cellmates, Tally defines Lecter’s character here in his very first scene – suave, urbane and creepy.
Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988)
Page 15 of Jeb Stuart’s screenplay for the action classic Die Hard introduces us to one of cinema’s smartest schemers:

Die Hard (source)

The doors to a service elevator open TO REVEAL HANS GRUBER, impeccably dressed, lean and handsome, he steps out into the lobby like he owns the building -- and in a way he does.
Theo steps to the door of the control room and tosses Hans a COMPUTER CARD.
Hans goes to the front door, waves the card over a magnetic plate. An LED BLINKS and the door LOCKS with a THUD.
Hans Gruber, as played by Alan Rickman, became an immortal screen villain by under-playing his cards – not with screaming or violence, but by quietly commanding each a room. Gruber’s intro on the page sets the tone; he arrives on the scene without a word, locks the doors to Nakatomi Plaza behind him, and immediately begins to execute his plan.
Warden Norton, The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

In The Shawshank Redemption, scripted by director Frank Darabont, Andy Dufresne enters a violent world overseen by the indifferent and cruel Warden Norton. Darabont characterises Norton as a man who “looks like he could piss ice water”.
The Shawshank Redemption (source)

WARDEN SAMUEL NORTON strolls forth, a colorless man in a gray suit and a church pin in his lapel. He looks like he could piss ice water. He appraises the newcomers with flinty eyes.

This is Mr. Hadley, captain of the guard. I am Mr. Norton, the warden. You are sinners and scum, that's why they sent you to me. Rule number one: no blaspheming. I'll not have the Lord's name taken in vain in my prison. The other rules you'll figure out as you go along. Any questions?
Norton’s terse, Hemingway-esque dialogue illustrates that he considers himself burdened by a divine mission: to keep sinners away from the good folk outside.

That the prison rules (besides blasphemy) don’t warrant a mention from Norton is a perfect character detail.

We can deduce that the warden is a man who has taken responsibility for his flock into his own hands.
Ursula, The Little Mermaid (1989)

One of Disney’s most lovable antagonists, Ursula is motivated by resentment and jealousy, expressed as delicious scorn for our hero Ariel (and, indeed, everyone else). If there’s one thing scarier than a sea-dwelling octo-witch, it’s a sea-dwelling octo-witch with sass. She’s introduced in Ron Clements and John Musker’s screenplay with these immortal lines:
The Little Mermaid (source)

(We hear a dark, malevolent, female voice, one that positively ripples with evil.)

(offstage) Holiday, my blow hole! (Lights rise on URSULA, the gal who put the “fatal” in “femme fatale”. She has a Super-8 figure, and eight floating tentacles. She’s ripe with bitterness.) It’s the day my brother Triton got greedy, that’s all! The day he stole my half of the Kingdom!
Immediately, we know three things about Ursula; she’s sassy, she’s salty, and she wants revenge. In a few words, we know everything we need to about her.
Max Cady, Cape Fear (1991)
Another prison cell introduction? Well, we are talking about villains. Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, a remake of the original which starred Robert Mitchum, introduces us to Max Cady as he’s finishing a long sentence for a violent crime. He’s used that time to prepare a terrible revenge for his former lawyer.
Cape Fear (source)

CAMERA LANDS on MAX CADY’s cell as, grunting, Cady does the last of a set of fifty Marine-style pushups.

Cady is a weathered but fit-looking forty. Not thin, but you couldn’t find a gram of fat on his compact frame. His eyes have a sharp glint; prison has neither dazed nor dulled him.

Three C.D.’s enter. One is here to escort him out. Two are here to carry his books.

Cady has piles of books -- not a comic book or magazine in sight. The Art of War, Eat Right To Stay Fit, 100 Days to an Impressive Vocabulary, Nietzsche’s Will to Power, the Bible.

But mostly there are law books: Legal Method, Criminal Law and Its Processes, Selected Statutes, Rules & Forms, Black’s Law Dictionary and more.
Wesley Strick’s screenplay doesn’t need to show us a montage of Cady becoming an even more dangerous man: the evidence is there, in one cell! Cady’s leaner and stronger than when he entered prison, but he’s smarter too. His first line, “I’m ready”, seems almost redundant: here’s a villain who is on the brink of creating chaos.

Ben Taylor is a freelance writer and screenwriter based in London, UK. He is the lead writer for Electric Theater and has contributed to Film Stories magazine. 

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