"Look at a film like 'Hancock,'" he said. "Is he the hero or the villain? He seems like a little bit of both. And that's what made the film a hit. It turned the boring, tried-and-true superhero tale on its head. People could relate, because even the superhero had issues."
Similarly, Oscar winner Diablo Cody's next film after "Juno," the horror coming-of-age flick "Jennifer's Body," due in the spring, is about an evil cheerleader who goes on a boy-killing rampage.
"It's not black and white anymore," said Daniel Dubiecki, whose company, Hard C, produced the film with partner Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You for Smoking"). "This movie flips the script -- instead of the pretty cheerleader being the victim, she's the unexpected villain. There's more depth, more layers. And that's exciting."
"Heroes" creator/producer Kring calls it the "yin and yang of storytelling."
He said, "All of us have within us the good and the bad, the dark and the light. And our circumstances determine our choices. So if you're predisposed to good and you can walk through walls, you can walk through a wall to save somebody's life. But if you're predisposed to be bad, then you may walk through a wall to rob a bank. So it really comes down to free will."
This season, the villains' duality will be more fully explored on "Heroes," he said.
Entertainment Weekly's Vary points to baddies like the "X-Men's" Magneto, who's currently at the center of an "X-Men" script in development.
"He's a mutant like the others, but he leans in a different direction," Vary said. "So this project sort of focuses on how he got to be who he is."
Similarly, Vary added, "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince," due Nov. 21, explores the origins of Voldemort's negative behavior.
"It turns out he was abandoned as a child," explained Vary, who notes that the character is played by Oscar winner Ralph Fiennes. "So he carries all that baggage with him into adulthood. No wonder he's a villain."
Today, the villains have "more choices to make," Kring said.
"They're a lot more gray. In fact, they're sometimes more relatable than the heroes, because everyone's flawed, really. We live in a morally gray time," Kring said. "So the whole idea of who's good and who's corrupt is really blending. We can no longer see things as black and white. Take politics, for example. You just can't hide anything these days."
And a lot of "reel life" villains don't want to hide at all -- so they're showing their stripes on reality TV, said Damian Holbrook, a senior writer for TV Guide.
"Reality villains just pop," he said. "Look at Omorosa or Heidi and Spencer. I mean, really, what do they do? Nothing. But people can't get enough of them. They really know how to milk it."
Holbrook, who penned TV Guide's Top Reality Villains list, said he'd be keeping an eye on "The Hills'" Stephanie Pratt this season. Another recent character to follow is Ed Westwick's troublemaker Chuck Bass of "Gossip Girl."
"She stole Lauren's boyfriend, and she sold out her brother for screen time in a heartbeat. But she learned from the best with Spencer," Holbrook said. "I mean, you have to be really smart and really calculating to stay in the spotlight as long as he and Heidi have without really doing anything."