The greatest villains in story are those who appear sympathetic and are complex; their goals and their ideals always appear reasonable. They make sense – even if they’re psychotic in their origin. The machinations of the villain always work against the protagonist(s), but not necessarily for worse.
In my novel Dead Reckoning – what or who is the actual villain? You have terror, you have evil, you have a darkness that threatens to destroy all good and light but … who is it? where is it?
If there was a SATAN – he would be the most sympathetic fellow around. Everyone would love him, and they wouldn’t realize the depths of his evil until the very end – when his goals come to fruition.
Annie Mitchell is a complex villain, and yet – she’s sympathetic. She’s reason too within her own psychosis. She’s the proagonist AND antagonist – at the same time.
The Joker (Dark Knight version) is a well-crafted villain. Yes he’s psychotic and there’s no doubt he’s a villain, yet – his motives are reasonable. They possess impact on a story that argues the point of altruism and heroics. The Joker is a catalyst for what the city of Gotham is already facing in it’s heart. His machinations change the landscape – for better or worse – for the entire milieu. He even has moments where his psychosis transcends reason.
Two complex and great literary villains (as well as cinematic) are Hannibal Lechter and Dracula. They possess style and regalia; they seem pure in their focus and their intentions. Both are inherently evil, and yet, the reader is drawn to them because they offer illumination in their way – as a candle flame for a moth. They are somehow perfect, even within their negative position. Hannibal is sympathetic within his cannabalism; Dracula is sexy even when he drains you of your blood. They are almost one and the same – and they draw the same type of fan.