At three years old, somewhat to the concern of my mother, I was fascinated by characters like Scar and Darth Vader. I wasn’t drawn to villains because I wanted to rule the world (as my mother feared), but because they move the audience to consider deep questions: Why do people commit atrocities? Are villains really evil or do they just have a different point of view? I still often find villains to be the most compelling part of a film. I like movies that feature villains with clear, understandable, even compassion-inducing motives. An excellent example is X-Men‘s Magneto, a holocaust survivor who wants to protect mutants from suffering the same fate as his Jewish brethren. In rare cases it can be a villain’s lack of motive that makes them intriguing—think Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Specific genres, such as sci-fi, can also be thought provoking, by imagining what humanity’s future will look like and by envisioning the human condition in the harshest and remotest of environments. Shows like Star Trek are responsible for sparking my interest in space and motivating me to major in Astrophysics. I especially like sci-fi with hints of mystery or elements of satire. Animated movies can fall into this category (WALL-E), but I generally find space exploration in live-action movies like Interstellar more gripping.
Fictional universes themselves can be intriguing when they are sufficiently intricate and inventive. I’m very excited about the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), and particularly impressed that they are able to plan so many movies so far in the future to create an unprecedentedly complex fictional world. Rarely (if ever) has a film franchise been so successful that it can confidently schedule its movies over five years in advance. This strategy enables Marvel to foreshadow events long before they actually take place and to introduce and develop villains over many years and many films before featuring them as the main antagonist (Thanos).
In general, I am most drawn to movies that don’t make it immediately clear how everything fits together, sometimes not even by the end. Whether they present a compelling villain, futuristic technology, or a fascinating fictional world, I like movies that keep audiences thinking long after they leave the theater.