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5 Great Movies About Horrible People

By Kurt Amacker     January 25, 2011

5 Great Movies About Horrible People
© Warner Bros/Robert Trate

If you paid attention in English class, you know that every story has a protagonist and an antagonist. To most of us, that translated into heroes and villains--case closed. But, we're all shameless movie buffs, Maniacs, and we know that's not always the situation. Plenty of movies have the bad guy at the helm, and we find ourselves rooting for jewel thieves, mobsters, and even serial killers. Good art can put us in the headspace of bad people, and make us see the world through some dark, dark eyes. Then again, in other cases, the heroes are as bad or worse than the villains they're fighting, such as...


5. The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy 

Wait, what!? 

Couple of things, first: yes, the Prequel Trilogy is three movies, not one; and yes, they're not exactly great (though I like Revenge of the Sith a lot). But, most of our heroes are pretty awful people, if you think about it--not through malice, but sheer ineptitude. 

Go on. 

In The Phantom Menace, the entire Jedi Council tells Qui-Gon Jinn that lil' orphan Ani is bad news. The Force told them so. That's good enough. You would think that their hundreds of years of collective wisdom and experience would be enough to convince Qui-Gon to do what he's told. But, no--he gets cut down by Darth Maul and his dying wish is for Obi Wan to carry out his bad idea. Even Yoda capitulates. By Attack of the Clones, it's obvious that Anakin is headed to a bad place--he's petulant, he's angry, and he leers at Senator Amidala like he wants to sniffs her panties. But, the real ineptitude comes when Amidala goes into hiding after an assassination attempt. She appoints the esteemed Senator Jar Jar Binks as her interim. The most hated character in Star Wars then moves to give Palpatine emergency powers to raise an army for the Republic. By the third film, you have to realize that we've watched a bunch of heroes screw the pooch from every direction. They've sealed the fate of the galaxy, leading to years of a brutal Imperial dictatorship. But, outside of Anakin, none of the cast really acts with the sort of malice you'll find in...


4. A Clockwork Orange

Wait, what!? 

Do you really have to ask? Alex DeLarge is a remorseless rapist and overall criminal. Yes, he's charming. Malcom McDowell does that to you. He drinks milk, listens to classical music like it's punk rock, and looks damn dapper with his bowler and walking stick. But, he goes to jail for killing an innocent woman in a home invasion. But, the brainwashing he undergoes makes him better by comparison than the government that warps him. After treating him with a combination of drugs and violent images, he can't even think about hurting anyone. If he does, he feels so ill that he doubles over. Then, ostensibly rehabilitated, he goes back into a world that won't have him. 

Go on. 

It's true that in the film, society is much worse than Alex. But, he's still a horrible person. The movie drives that home with more force than the novel. In the book, the 21st chapter shows an older, repentant Alex who has decided to choose goodness on his own. He looks back on his life with regret. But, the American version of the book excised the 21st chapter, leaving us with a sneering, unrepentant Alex whose reign of terror will likely continue. That's the version the film went with. All we're left with is knowing that Alex is back to his old self. But, consider this--he's a pretty violent guy, but he's only killed a person or two, unlike...


3. The Punisher (Every Version) 

Wait, what!? 

There are three different Punisher movies--two just called The Punisher, and then Punisher: War Zone. Hollywood can't seem to get a movie about a guy with a skull on his chest and bunch of guns right. The movies disagree on the details, but the gist is the same--Frank Castle's family was killed by the mob, so he uses his training from the NYPD/FBI/USMC (in each version, respectively) to brutally kill criminals. There's no judge or jury--only an executioner. In the Marvel Universe, he's an antihero that the regular heroes tolerate and occasionally work alongside. In the movies, he's a straight vigilante in the tradition of Death Wish and so many others. And, in every movie he's a driven, tormented, psychologically damaged killing machine--only marginally better than the criminals he hunts. 

Go on.

There's a reason why we have a judicial system. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in the good ol' U.S. of A. Reality can be a slippery thing in the courtroom, and many an innocent man has gone to jail on shaky circumstantial evidence. But, somehow Frank Castle always knows the right guy to gut. He never mixes up people or hits a civilian accidentally. Wait, even that's not true. He kills an undercover FBI agent in Punisher: War Zone
, and it's all but laughed off by the guy's wife at the end--"He always said you were one of the good guys!" And in the Thomas Jane version, he not only kills mobster Howard Saint but gleefully dissembles his life in a kind of modern Othello plot. There's a reason why we don't support gun-toting vigilantes in real life--everyone makes mistakes, and not every criminal deserves death. A real Punisher would've easily killed the wrong mark a few times, and everyone deserves a fair trial. But, at least Frank Castle doesn't hear voices, unlike...


2. The Boondock Saints 

Wait, what!? 

After they kill a few Russian mobsters in a scuffle, the MacManus brothers--Connor and Murphy--experience a divine revelation telling them to punish the wicked. They take on the Boston mob in a hail of bullets. They execute the patriarch "Papa Joe" Yakavetta with their father in the middle of a courtroom. Then, they flee to Ireland before returning in the sequel, All Saints Day. Sounds good, right? Operating with the full support of God Himself and the Catholic Church, the brothers act as angelic vigilantes. They even say a family prayer before putting two bullets through the eyes of their last target, then leaving coins on the eyes of their dead. Think about this, though. There's a phrase for people that hear God telling them to kill: "batshit insane." 

Go on. 

The Punisher is driven and remorseless, but he doesn't claim to have a divine mandate. The Saints think they're not only doing the right thing, but the holy thing. That's pretty scary. In the real world, we call people like that terrorists and serial killers. Nobody likes the mobsters they gun down, but we get back to the same problem that every vigilante has--not everyone is guilty, and not every criminal deserves to die. But hey--that prayer is really cool and they look badass swinging through windows with that sweet techno music playing. And, at least neither of them has killed their brother, unlike...


1. The Godfather   

Wait, what!? 

Everyone knows that Michael Corleone all but sells his soul to protect his family. He starts off as a United States Marine and a war hero. But, when he's pushed to the limit, he willingly becomes the very thing he sought to avoid. We all know that. But Jesus Christ, every guy out there wants to be like Mike. Everyone wants to be able to coldly say "Today I settled all family business." We sympathize with him, because on his road to damnation he does what a lot of us would--sides with and protects his family against those that would try to harm it. The other families conspired to kill his father and brother. His reaction is extreme, but that's what happens when you're born into the Mafia. 

Go on. 

At the end of the first film, Michael lies to Kay and Connie about killing the traitorous Carlo. We know he's all but sold his soul. But, Carlo had it coming and the other families practically asked for it. It's the second film that really seals Michael's fate. He has his brother Fredo killed after he orchestrated an attempt on his life. But, Michael does so after forgiving Fredo for their mother's sake before she dies. By all accounts, the matter is settled. But, Fredo is taken out to the middle of the lake at the Corleone compound and shot for his betrayal. Michael's commitment has extended past just his family to the life of crime he's chosen--so far that, in his mind, circumstances force him to kill his own brother. To carry that theme farther, by the third film all of his efforts to redeem himself are futile. He returns to that life and loses his daughter in the process. We all know that The Godfather is about Michael's fall from grace. But, we're made to like him and sympathize with him. The Corleone family is made to look like "the good family"--maybe not great people, but better by comparison to the other families. A lot of mob movies romanticize organized crime, but The Godfather is probably the worst offender.

There you have it, Maniacs. Movies are one of the venues in which we can safely root for horrible people without repercussions. Just don't get in that habit in real life. Sometimes, the real lesson is how not to act. 


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creamygnome 1/26/2011 2:34:48 AM

I recently watched all the Star Wars films and yes, while Revenge of the Sith was the least worst of the prequels...nearly every line of dialogue made me cringe.  Also, it might just be nostalgia, but I still love Return of the Jedi nearly as much as Empire.

SarcasticCaveman 1/26/2011 2:37:14 AM

You'll put the Star Wars PREQUELS on this list, but not Pulp Fiction?  Or Resevoir Dogs?  Or Scarface?  Or Goodfellas?  Or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?  Or ANY movie where people are truly HORRIBLE people as opposed to being terminally stupid?  REALLY?!!

"...evil will always triumph because good is dumb." ~ Dark Helmet

fenngibbon 1/26/2011 4:58:13 AM

 The thing you have to remember about the Star Wars prequels is that Obi-Wan and Yoda are, in fact, Sith Lords.  Think about it:  the entire Jedi Order is wiped out down to the last youngling, but those two manage to survive.  Just like Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, the latter of whom was, of course, the apprentice of... Obi-Wan.  And, of course, "only a Sith speaks in absolutes."  Like, say "Do or do not, there is no try?"

samurai1138 1/26/2011 6:07:42 AM

I'm with Caveman, this list must have been thought up on the crapper, because clearly no real thought went into it.

samurai1138 1/26/2011 6:08:33 AM

And I'd like to add The Professional to that list.

samurai1138 1/26/2011 6:09:47 AM

And while we're at it, this site is always condeming the Punisher movies. And now you say they are Great Movies about Horrible People. Make your damn mind up.

karas1 1/26/2011 7:38:52 AM

What about Dexter?  He's a homicidal sociopath.

The Star Wars prequels had Palpatine in them and Phantom Menace, pod races and such aside, was argueably about him.  It was his plan which succeeded.  He was a bad guy.

SarcasticCaveman 1/26/2011 8:18:28 AM

With all due respect, fenngibbon, that seems like an awful stretch.  And yes, Kara, Palpatine was a horrible person, but the entire argument offered here is the ineptitude of the heroes, somehow making them horrible people.  Good can't help it that it always hopes for the best, and that doesn't make them horrible people.  Just a stupid addition to the list, IMO.

monkeyfoot 1/26/2011 8:39:52 AM

@fenngibbon, geez, I never thought of it that way! Puts a whole new perspective on it. Those evil Jedi!


violator14 1/26/2011 8:54:54 AM

LoL @ Fenngibbon.

Caveman-are u being serious about what Fenngibbon said, or are you being sarcastic??haha

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