Look at the differences between movies geared for women towards those geared for men. That can help you see how different movies handle villains.
In a typical guy-movie, there’s always a bad guy who has no reason to exist other than to do something evil so the hero can be the good guy and save the world from the villain’s selfish, greedy, and utterly depraved goals. In a typical chick-movie, the bad guys aren’t completely bad and the good guys aren’t completely good. In fact, there’s often no real villain after all.
To see this difference, look at a typical guy movie such as any of the bad James Bond movies. That’s when you’ll see that there’s a villain who has no purpose other than to kill people for no apparent reason. To stop the villain, James Bond has to do plenty of physical fighting involving punching, guns, and gadgets. With most guy movies, there’s always an outside villain as evil as Hitler who the hero must physically defeat by punching, shooting, or blowing him up.
Now look at a typical girl movie such the movie “The Intern,” which is about a 70-year old widower who gets a job as an intern with an Internet company founded and run by a young woman. What makes “The Intern” interesting is that there’s no outside villain. Instead, the major characters have problems so their problems can’t be solved by beating someone up, but by changing their lives somehow. Where guy movies focus on external villains, girl movies focus more on internal problems within the characters themselves.
In “The Intern,” the hero’s main problem is that he needs to find a new life for himself after his wife has died, (so he’s lonely), he’s retired (so feels like his life has no direction or meaning), and he has no sense of belonging anywhere. There’s nobody the hero can beat up or kill to solve his problems. Instead, he has to take action and find ways to resolve his multiple problems on his own by changing.
The other main character in “The Intern” is the woman running her company. Her problem is that she feels overwhelmed running her company, which is taking her away from her husband and daughter. Once again, there’s no one she can punch or shoot to solve her problems. Instead, she too must take action to fix her own life by changing.
For many woman, guy movies are boring because all that physical action means nothing if it’s only to kill or beat up a lot of totally evil villains. For many guys, girl movies are boring because there’s nothing happening but characters trying to solve problems that are too complicated to be solved by a gun, bomb, or a fist smashing into someone’s face. The key is to combine these different goals to make a movie that everyone can enjoy.
“Die Hard” is initially a guy movie with the hero trying to defeat a terrorist group. Yet if you look beyond this action premise, “Die Hard” is really about the hero trying to get back with his wife. He can’t get back with his wife by killing someone. He can only get back to his wife by changing, but he does need to kill lots of people so he can show his wife that he’s changed.
Another movie that uses internal and external conflict is “The Blind Side.” The real story is about a woman trying to help a homeless kid. The action side of the story is about the homeless kid learning to play football. So while the woman is helping the homeless kid feel wanted, the homeless kid is learning to excel in football and defeat the other football players who are trying to humiliate him.
So if you want to broaden the appeal of your story, look for both internal and external conflict. External conflict means your hero needs to defeat someone to solve all of his or her problems. Internal conflict means your hero must find a way to change to solve problems that can’t be resolved by killing someone. Both types of conflict creates a strong, appealing movie. Having only one type of conflict creates either a guy or a girl movie, and that cuts your story’s appeal in half right away.