Apr 2nd, 2021, 12:00 AM

Why Are We So Attracted To Movie Villains?

By Aylar Reimova
Image credit: Unsplash/Erik Witsoe
Everything bad has some good, right?

Have you ever felt like you were drawn to an evil movie character? You know that it is wrong, but you still cannot help it. Eleonora Marcone, a junior at AUP, explains her take on this strange attraction. "It is not so much about the character, it is the attraction to something that you know you are not supposed to be doing," she says. "And those characters who still commit terrible things come off as courageous and strong-minded in our brains because they do not play by a rule-book. They have their own rules, and they do not care about anyone's opinion. Courage and a strong mind are some things that we all usually want and look for when choosing a friend/partner. It takes a strong will to do something terrible, and don't we all want to have it at the end of the day?" she asks. But what do researchers have to say about this unusual attraction, and why does physical attractiveness sometimes overshadows evil personality traits?

Image credit: CreativeCommons/Lauren Close

Some findings suggest that the reasoning behind our attraction is it allows us to explore our personality's darker side without betraying our moral beliefs and convictions. Interestingly, the study showed that we favor characters whose traits are similar to ours. This becomes alarming when I think about most people's attraction to Joe Goldberg, a stalker and murderer from Netflix's ongoing series, You. When asked about the weird attraction to his complex character, Penn Badgley told Insider, "It says something about how much we are willing to be patient and forgive someone who inhabits a body that looks something like mine, the color of my skin, my gender, these sorts of things, these sorts of privileges."

Indeed, most of us are attracted, not so much to the evil mess that our beloved characters do, but for how they look and behave. As long as their wrongdoing is romanticized or justified, we are ready to accept it and even grow to like it. This answer also provoked various thoughts on racism and how most of us perceive characters depending on their socio-economic status. Nickesia Gordon, a Professor of Media Studies, also points out that race plays an important role in how we react to villains. More often than not, evil yet attractive characters are played by white men who are intelligent and audiences feel deserve to be forgiven. On the contrary, people of color are usually portrayed as simply bad whose actions do not deserve sympathy.  

Another way of looking at attraction toward evil characters is scientific. We are interested in "bad" because it is exciting and it instills fear.  Elise Banfield, a Professor of Psychology, states that sometimes people confuse fear with attraction because they provoke the same rush of chemicals into our bodies. This misattribution of arousal may serve as one of the explanations of why we dearly favor evil characters. The feeling of fear produces chemicals such as endorphins and adrenaline, which are usually associated with love. We understand that what our characters do is evil, and we might fear it subconsciously, but we attribute the feeling of fear to attraction due to all the crazy rush of chemicals in our bodies.

Our attraction can also be explained through the activation of friendship mechanisms when it comes to TV series. Dr. Margrethe Bruun Vaage, a lecturer at the University of Kent, says, "In real life, we turn a blind eye to a friend’s moral flaws because we feel we have a connection to them, and we can develop affection for television characters in the same way when we see them week after week." She continues, "Rationally, we do not condone what they do, but intuitively we engage with them. Besides, we’re all morally flawed in some sense, so it can be reassuring to see someone onscreen who’s even more morally flawed than we are!"

Let's admit it, there is just something more charming about an "evil" character rather than a "good" one. But is it really about fictional characters or us? According to Freud, people are antisocial creatures who are inherently bad but held back by society, meaning that all of us would gladly try on a role of a villain. But we cannot do that, so we fulfill our desire to be evil through appropriate movie characters. 

Image credit: Unsplash/Rhii Photography

Villains are a necessity in the movie industry. Without them, we would not like characters such as Batman or Harry Potter as much because there is nothing for them to fight and there would definitely be nothing special about them. Great heroes need great villains. It is just important to remember that they are villains, after all, and an attraction should not lead to committing the same evil deeds in order to, "feel closer," to your beloved character.