Why People Love Villainous Characters


Why are we drawn to the bad guy? Be honest: there’s definitely at least one villainous character that you have a soft spot for; despite the character being absolutely despicable.

For example, Joker from The Dark Knight or Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe – these characters are murderous, conniving villains and yet, there are multitudes of people who practically worship them.

Associate Professor of Film Studies and Director of the Film Studies Program at the University of Sydney, Dr Bruce Issacs, thinks there are a few reasons as to why people love the bad guys… One of them is because they do what we’re desperate to do but aren’t brave enough to: rebel.

“The ‘bad’ figure – say, an anti-hero – is attractive because they’re rebellious by their nature – they run against the grain of the norm and challenge systems of authority… So there’s a very ‘cool’ kind of deviance, I think, underpinning this ‘bad’ figure.”

Another reason? Bad guys get to have more fun; they get the killer (pun intended) lines, interesting & bold costumes, and are just way more exciting in comparison to the vanilla, by-the-book protagonists.

“The anti-hero is always the more colourful, flamboyant, zany, expressive [one] – and this is almost always the case, especially in mainstream studio movies. So, think Ledger’s Joker vs Bale’s Batman; or Alex in A Clockwork Orange.”

Dr Bruce Issacs

Plus, according to research published in ​​Psychological Science, it’s proven that we are drawn to villains who share similar character traits to us – for example, if you see yourself as chaotic at times, the Joker and Loki will resonate with you; likewise, if you see yourself as overly ambitious you may relate to Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter.

However, because the villain is fictional, loving them or relating to them allows us to acknowledge those ‘darker’ characteristics we may have without tarnishing our self-image; we obviously would never idolise real-life murderers, even if we shared some traits with them, because at a fundamental level we don’t want to be associated with them in any way.

But because villains are fictional and – as Dr Issacs pointed out – eccentric and fun, it’s alluring and enticing to share similarities with them.

So, if there is a villainous character (or two) that sprang to mind when you first started reading this article, it turns out you probably share some traits with that character and enjoy seeing those aspects of your personality in a character that’s also rebellious and exciting…

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