Which Movie Psychopaths Are the Most Realistic?

     February 1, 2016


What makes for the perfect movie psychopath? Is it the Norman Bateses, Hannibal Lecters, and/or Gordon Gekkos of cinema? According to a study first published in 2013, those kinds of killers are far from the clinically defined psychopaths.

Samuel J. Leistedt and Paul Linkowski authored the study “Psychopathy and the Cinema: Fact or Fiction?,” as pointed out by TechInsider. First published on December 13, 2013 before hitting the web the following January, the work “investigated the relationship between cinema and psychopathy to describe and analyze the portrayal of fictional psychopathic characters in popular films and over cinematic history.”

Four hundred films from 1915 to 2010 were analyzed over the course of three years, and the study yielded 126 fictional characters deemed truly psychopathic “based on the realism and clinical accuracy of their profiles.” A team of forensic psychiatrists and film critics analyzed the selection pool, which featured 21 female characters and 105 male ones.


Image via Criterion Collection

Via Science News, Leistedt, who’s interviewed and studied real-life psychopaths, described those under this classification as “cold-blooded” people who “don’t know what an emotion is.” That certainly describes the top three characters in the line-up.

Coming in at the number one spot was Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Peter Lorre’s Hans Beckert in M came in second, followed by Michael Rooker’s Henry Lee Lucas from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Bates, Lecter, and Gekko were cited as further away from the delegation. The study stated:

In our specific topic of interest, it appears that psychopathy in the cinema, despite a real clinical evolution remains fictional. Most of the psychopathic villains in popular fiction resemble international and universal boogeyman, almost as “villain archetypes.”

The study can be found here, though you’ll have to have to pay a small fee to read it in full.


Image via Disney

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