I love stories, be they on the screen or across the printed page. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to see one glaring issue, and that issue is how often in stories we kill the bad guy. Don’t get me wrong, some of the greatest villains of all time have had amazing and memorable deaths, and I’m not going to say that no bad guy should ever die, but have you ever stopped to think how often storytellers kill the villain at the end? Is is possible that more interesting things could be done with these villains?
I know why we do it. It provides a natural stopping point for the story and it serves as a moment of catharsis as the villains, who we’ve seen commit horrible acts, get their comeuppance. It’s karma, and we dig that, but it’s a tad too predictable at this point, and it’s too often used as a lazy finish when there are so many other ways to conclude a villain’s story. Take a look back to the last few films you’ve watched where the villain dies and ask yourself if that was the best ending, or instead the easiest. I bet with some thought, you’ll be amazed by what you can come up with.
Leaving the villain alive leaves you with so many options. Perhaps they can come back later as an even bigger threat, receive their own redemption arc, or get their own spin-off. Want proof where letting the villain live was to a franchise’s benefit? There are three particular character that instantly jump to mind…
1. Imagine if Star Trek had killed off Khan in back in Space Seed? We never would have gotten The Wrath of Khan, one of the most beloved Star Trek and sci-fi movies ever made.
2. Imagine what the Dragon Ball franchise would be if they had Krillin finish off Vegeta at the end of the Saiyan arc. Dragon Ball, as we understand it today, would be severely different from top to bottom, and would be devoid of one of its most popular characters.
3. Imagine what Star Wars would look like if Vader had bit it at the end of A New Hope.
You might notice that two of these villains died in later stories (Vegeta died as well, but it was under different circumstances and death doesn’t work the same in Dragon Ball anyway), but by not killing them off in their first appearances allowed for even greater stories to be told. Even with standalone stories, leaving the bad guy alive provides many interesting avenues to explore. All we need is more people to play with the established formula and hit us with something a little different every now and again.
I’m not saying that killing the villain should never be done. The reason why I chose the featured image of Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber is because it is one of the best and most iconic deaths ever put to film. A good villain death can take an otherwise mediocre story (not that I’m calling Die Hard mediocre) and make it great. I only ask creators to be willing to explore their options instead of jumping right to killing the baddie. I think it would be fun and exciting to not be sure if the villain is going to die at the end of the story. It would provide creators with more chances to do the one thing they are supposed to be doing anyway: Being creative.