Everyone loves a good movie psycho.
They can be strange, terrifying, violent, unpredictable and thoroughly engaging to watch. But have you ever wondered just how accurate Hollywood understanding of psychopathic behaviour really is?
PhD students and psychiatrists Samuel J, Leistedt and Paul Linkowski have, which is why they went ahead and explored the concept and accuracy of movie psychopaths as part of a new study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
From 400 films, they analysed 126 fiction psychopathic characters both male and female to come up with what they believe represents the most and least realistic of each type. Here are the results.
The Best Movie Psychopaths
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) — Wall Street (1987)
“Gordon Gekko from Wall Street is probably one of the most interesting, manipulative, psychopathic fictional characters to date. Manipulative psychopathic characters are increasingly appearing in films and series.”
Henry (Michael Rooker) — Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
“In this film, the main, interesting theme is the chaos and instability in the life of the psychopath, Henry’s lack of insight, a powerful lack of empathy, emotional poverty, and a well-illustrated failure to plan ahead.”
Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) — No Country for Old Men (2007)
“We lack information concerning his childhood, but there are sufficient arguments and detailed information about his behavior in the film to obtain a diagnosis of active, primary, idiopathic psychopathy, incapacity for love, absence of shame or remorse, lack of psychological insight, inability to learn from past experience, cold-blooded attitude, ruthlessness, total determination, and lack of empathy.”
George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) — The Lovely Bones (2009)
“He has a house, is socially competent and seems like the average man on the street. Through the film, we learn that he is in fact an organized paraphilic [sexually violent predator]. Here, the false self is well illustrated.”
The Worst Movie Psychopaths
Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) — Basic Instinct (1992)
“As in reality, film female psychopaths are rare (and not well known and studied), and when used, they often serve as scheming manipulators whose main weapons are sexual.”
Jason Voorhees — Friday the 13th Series (1980-2009)
“In these slasher films, psychopathic characters are generally unrealistic, accumulating many traits and characteristics, such as sadism, intelligence, and the ability to predict the plan that the future victims will use to escape. Today, these are more iconic popular evil representations of fictional killers than of interesting psychopaths.”
Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) — Kiss of Death (1947)
“Early representations of psychopaths in film were often created with a poor or incomplete understanding of psychopathic personalities or, as they are usually labeled today, psychopathic syndrome. They were often caricatured as sadistic, unpredictable,sexually depraved, and emotionally unstable with a compulsion to engage in random violence, murders, and destruction, usually presenting with a series of bizarre mannerisms, such as giggling, laughing, or facial tics, often creating famous and unreal characters.”
Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) — The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
“The traditional ‘Hollywood psychopath,’ generally found before 2000, is likely to exhibit some or all of the following traits, which make them ‘ideal villains/superhuman’: high intelligence and a preference for intellectual stimulation (e.g., music, fine art); a somewhat vain, stylish, almost “cat-like” demeanor; prestige or a successful career or position; a calm, calculating and always-in-control attitude; and unrealistic, exceptional skill at killing people, especially with blades or household objects (sometimes overpowering multiple assailants with superior armament). These traits, especially in combination, are generally not present in real psychopaths.”
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