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I was watching One Hour Photo, and was wondering what was the first movie or TV show that featured a character that was a villain that happened to be a normal person.

By 'normal', I mean normal in the sense that they could be like any average person (not crazy or a lunatic in their ideals), someone who may have just gotten the wrong facts about something to make them do the wrong thing, even though they may think from their point of view they are doing the right thing.

This can include characters that are situationally bad while still inherently good (they don't need to be fully bad).

Note: I hope this question isn't too open to interpretation because of what is considered good or bad, though this is confined to the movie or TV show that they appear in and not general modern ethics. If it is indeed the case please let me know so that I can delete it (if not closed earlier).

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  • So, what TV Tropes calls a "Villainy-Free Villain"? Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 15:22
  • @user56reinstatemonica8 I guess not completely, as I was looking for someone that the viewer could sympathize with (which is what the link says is not part of villainy-free), but I am not talking about a Designated Villain either as they still are doing something that deserves hate. I guess possibly someone that has a justifiable action, and hate resulting from that action because it was bad. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:01
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    You might need to qualify this even further - or at least, I'm not quite understanding the question. Inspector Javert in Les Misérables is probably an idealist, but not a lunatic - his pursuit of "justice" seems misguided, but not insane. There's a feature-length film version of Les Misérables from 1909, which is one of the first films ever produced. Is this a possible answer?
    – Juhasz
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 19:27
  • @Juhasz yes this would be a possible answer. Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 19:32

3 Answers 3

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L'Arroseur Arrosé (1895)

This is the first film ever made. It was shown to a select audience on June 10, 1895.

The plot is simple:

the film portrays a simple practical joke in which a gardener is tormented by a boy who steps on the hose that the gardener is using to water his plants, cutting off the water flow. When the gardener tilts the nozzle up to inspect it, the boy releases the hose, causing the water to spray him. The gardener is stunned and his hat is knocked off, but he soon catches on. A chase ensues... -- Wiki

It seems to fit the bill:

  • The boy is the film's villain.
  • The boy is "a normal person," who simply takes delight in tormenting others. (I suspect he's only "situationally" bad.)
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  • It is perhaps worth noting that this film is just 45 seconds long.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 3:24
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Cinderella (1899)

This was one of the earliest films ever made. Although it is a fantastical tale with a bona fide fairy godmother, the villain is not supernatural.

There have been several versions of this story (apparently it has ancient roots), and the identity of the villain(s) changes in different versions. In all the versions I'm familiar with, the villain is either:

  • Cinderella's spiteful sisters, who are regular human beings
  • Cinderella's cruel stepmother, who is a regular human being

In some versions, her stepfather is the villain, and he tries to marry her.

Wikipedia says that the 1899 version of the film is based on an 1896 stage play; I haven't been able to get details of that production, but since it is overwhelmingly the case that the villain of Cinderella is a member of her step-family, it seems safe to say this movie qualifies.

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  • Posted this answer in case OP does not want to count the Lumières' 45-second comedy as a "movie". Cinderella is not a modern 90-minute feature-length film (running time 6 mins), but it is a classic dramatic narrative with antagonists who are properly called villains.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 2:59
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Quo Vadis (1913)

With a running time of 90 minutes, this was the first movie of what we'd call "feature length." Also noteworthy, unlike most earlier films, Quo Vadis has multiple scenes and even extras.

According to Wikipedia, it's a story of two lovers whose future together is threatened by the Roman emperor Nero, who happens to be burning Rome and framing the Christian cult for it so he can kill them. One of the two lovers is a Christian, and she is sentenced to death.

Nero is the film's villain, and was a real historical person who was neither crazy nor a lunatic.

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  • Posted this answer in case OP is looking for something with the length and basic complexity of a modern-day feature-length film. Earlier films were either too short or had supernatural villains.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 3:23
  • I feel this stretches the definition of "normal person"? According to Wikipedia this is the "sings while Rome burns" caricature of a genocidal Nero ("...has his soldiers burn Rome and pins the blame on the Christians"). Seems like a mad-or-bad traditional villain, not a situationally-bad normal person. Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 13:30
  • Would the 1909 Les Miserables be a better example of the "basic complexity of a modern-day feature-length film"? IMDB call it "the first feature film made in the United States", its running time is a clear step up from the other answers, and Inspector Javert is a textbook "situationally bad" antagonist who is a normal (if tenacious) police officer doing his job enforcing the law, who is the antagonist not through any fault on his part but because we sympathise with the protagonist. Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 13:32

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