Earlier this month, Twitter entered a new discourse on which character is the real villain of The Devil Wears Prada. The consensus? Nate (Adrien Grenier). He effectively makes Andrea (Anne Hathaway) quit her job because she’s not spending enough time with her boyfriend. The film tries to tell the story of a big, bad boss that is the antagonist, but Miranda (Meryl Streep) is just super driven and likes things the way she likes them. We can all relate.
Streep’s iconic character is not the only misunderstood “villain.” There are plenty of stories where a strong female lead who is assertive, dedicated, or simply over everyone’s bullshit is made out to be the bad guy. Sometimes they do bad things, but so does everyone. The villain, however, is specifically a mal-intentioned antagonist. Here are five examples where the big, scary woman we all thought was the villain actually isn't:
1. High School Musical
Movie villain: Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale)
Real villain: Literally everyone else
All three movies are the foundation of my childhood, so it took me some time to come to terms with this, but everyone in these movies sucks. Sharpay is kind of bratty, sure, but she values designer items and gives all the shits about the things she loves, namely theater. Meanwhile, Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) come out of nowhere and fully make a plan to ruin the spring musical for her. They and their friends go so far as to hack the school’s scoreboard. (Apparently flashing numbers are a fire hazard.) Talk about antagonists. And they gain nothing from it except extra time to flirt. Who’s the real bully at East High?
2. The Parent Trap
Movie villain: Meredith Blake (Elaine Hendrix)
Real villain: Again, everyone else
Again, the movie “villain” is still a relatively shitty person, but all of the other characters aren’t saints either. Nick (Dennis Quaid) and Elizabeth (Natasha Richardson) split up their TWIN DAUGHTERS. How many movies and TV shows have to be made for us to understand that the whole “switched at birth” or “separated at birth” trope leads to disaster? Like, who does that to kids? And then neither of the parents actually recognize their own kid. You’re going to try to tell me that Meredith is the villain because she’s upset her fiance is flirting with his ex-wife and is honest about the fact that she prefers Evian water to children? Absolutely not. There’s a damn vineyard on the line here. Also, the twins tried to drown her. Not cool.
3. The Emperor's New Groove
Movie villain: Yzma (Eartha Kitt)
Real villain: Emperor Kuzco (David Spade)
Does she attempt to murder the emperor? Yes. And I see how that is bad. But the emperor sucked. He wanted to build a fantasyland on top of a poor neighborhood. He was basically going to gentrify a cartoon world. And he whined so much. He also was objectively a bad emperor. Yzma probably would’ve done a better job. He didn’t care about anyone but himself—a bad character trait for someone responsible for a lot of people. He got what he had coming when she turned him into a llama. Yzma is written off as just another power-hungry sorceress, when in reality, she (and probably everyone else) is fed up with Kuzco’s bullshit and was the only one proactive enough to do something about it.
4. She's All That
Movie villain: Taylor Vaughan (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe)
Real villain: Zach Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.)
Here we have another bad person who is still mislabeled as the villain. Taylor is a bully, which is bad, but she never actually tries to stop Zach from messing with Laney’s (Rachel Leigh Cook) life. It’d be cooler if she did, but she’s not the antagonist; Zach is. Laney is shy but confident in what she’s doing. Then comes along some bumbling buffoon with a bet to “make her pretty.” And as all buffoons do, he ends up liking her but doesn’t tell her about the bet. When Laney finds out, Zach gets upset at her being upset. He’s being an ass to Laney all while still having a girlfriend. Granted, Taylor’s cheating on him—but she’s with a Real World star, so, like, who cares? Zach is still the bad guy, as well as his ass-hat friend who made the bet. Also, whoever thought the “she’s pretty once she takes the glasses off” thing was a good idea. is a villain in this movie. As a glasses-wearer, fuck you.
Movie villain: Betty Rizzo (Stockard Channing)
Real villain: Danny Zuko (John Travolta)
This is probably the only movie on this list where the “villain” never really did anything wrong. It’s not her fault she’s a sassy, sarcastic, realist queen. And when she thought she was pregnant, none of her friends were there for her. They spread rumors about her instead. Doesn’t that make her the victim? Danny, on the other hand, is an absolute piece of shit. He tries to grab Sandy’s (Olivia Newton-John) boobs without her consent and then sings the sappiest song complaining that he has a “prude” girlfriend. Shut up, horndog.
Header photo: screenshot via YouTube / Clips via GIPHY
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Stamatina Copulos graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications in May of 2021 and is now pursuing a master's of science in management, graduating in December of 2021. She is from Boca Raton, FL, but currently lives in Gainesville. She enjoys going to the beach, cooking mediterranean-style food, and responding to celebrities in the comments section as if they're friends. Follow her Instagram: @stam_copulos .