Most of the time your hero is a good guy and your villain is a bad guy, but sometimes those roles can be switched the other way around. In the 2004 movie “The Ladykillers” starring Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks plays a criminal mastermind who plans to tunnel into a vault, steal all the money, and escape with all the loot. To do this, he and his cohorts need to rent a basement from a kindly old lady who eventually discovers their plan. To keep her quiet, the criminals plot to kill her.
In this case, the “hero” is a criminal and his goal is to steal from others and kill the “villain,” who is actually a decent woman. Yet the dynamic is still the same.
The hero keeps pursuing a goal while the villain keeps threatening to undermine it. In a normal movie, the hero would triumph over the villain, but because the hero is a criminal and the villain is a decent woman, the ending gets reversed where the villain actually triumphs over the hero.
What makes this type of story touchy is that you normally root for the hero, but if the hero is a bad guy, it’s hard to want the hero to win. Also you normally want the villain to lose, but because the villain is a kindly old lady, you actually want her to win. In “The Ladykillers,” the audience actually roots for the villain.
This kind of topsy-turvy world makes it hard for the story to end on a satisfactory conclusion. If the hero wins, he achieves a horrible result by stealing money and killing an innocent woman. If the villain wins, then the story feels like a tragedy because the hero lost. In either case, the story can’t conclude with a definite emotional climactic ending because the audience’s emotions are divided.
In general, it’s easier to have a good hero and a bad villain. That way when the good hero wins, the story feels satisfying, and when the villain loses, then the ending feels doubly satisfying. With “The Ladykillers,” no matter how it ends, it still only satisfies one emotion. With most stories with a good hero and a bad villain, you get a double dose of emotion because you’re happy the good hero won and the bad villain lost.
Watch “The Ladykillers” to see how the ending feels emotionally muddled. In your own screenplay, watch out for duplicating this same muddled emotional ending by having a bad hero and a good villain. In most cases, a bad hero and a good villain is a tough way to write a good story.