Top 8 Movie Sociopaths

"Am I here to amuuz you?" Joe Pesci once menacingly asked in Goodfellas. Well, yes you are, to be honest.

It's hard to admit it, but we are always very entertained by sociopaths in movies. Maybe it's something in our DNA which finds nutters fascinating.

Now, at Hecklerspray we deplore violence. But, as we said before, violence in films is fine – because it's not real. As anyone who has been on public transport will testify, we all sometimes wish we were Tony Montana or Tony Soprano.

Somebody pushes past you without apologising? You hit them over the head with a fuck-off axe while shouting "You Goddamn cock-a-roach!" Someone cuts you up on the road? You pull him out of your car and kick the crap out of them.

Now, you would never actually do such a terrible thing. But, let's face it, we've all thought it. You haven't? What are you, a fucking boy scout? Anyway, the point is we have all thought of mindless violence in our head, but would never actually dream of doing it.

The sociopaths below, of course, would. And that's why we actually quite admire them.

Oh, and they shoot people and say cool things. So, say hello to our leetle friends!!

8. Hannibal Lector, Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Why do we like Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of a doctor who likes to eat his patients so much? Well, women like him because he is charming, a good cook, and, well, he's a doctor, which their mothers would approve of. And men like him because he is full of useless information (good for pub quizzes and chats) and can handle himself in a fight.

7. Harry Powell, Robert Mitcham in Night of the Hunter (1955)

Robert Mitcham is simply terrifying as the bible-bashing, misogynist preacher desperate to rid the world of 'perfume smelling things'. Imagine having him as your Sunday School teacher.

6. Begbie, Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting (1996)

The scary thing about Robert Carlyle's portrayal of Scottish nutcase Begbie is that it is clearly borne out of experience.If you like to go out for a drink with your mates in town quite a lot, chances are you have bumped into a Begbie. You know who we mean. He's the annoying bastard that pushes into you in the pub queue, and then demands you buy him a pint back. And if you don't, well, he'll glass you.

5. Tommy DeVito, Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (1990)

The clown prince of sociopaths, Joe Pesci's Tommy is as funny as he is terrifying. One moment he is making you laugh, the next he's gone totally nuts and shot you in the face. Does he amuuz us? Well, yes. Does he scare the shit out of us? Absolutely.

4. Tony Montana, Al Pacino in Scarface (1983)

Why do we like Al Pacino's portrayal of the Cuban sociopath Tony Montana so much? It's because he basically could not give a fuck about anyone or anything. Of course, polite society demands these people get their comeuppance, which Montana certainly does in a thrilling, blood-soaked finale. But there is something about him that we respect. Even when faced with having his limbs chopped off with a chainsaw he does not flinch. He sees a girl he likes; he gets her. Simple.

3. Han Gruber, Alan Rickman in Die Hard (1988)

Only Alan Rickman could make such a merciless and cold-bloodied killer so charming. He's so good, he almost upstages Bruce Willis – almost.

2. Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men (2007)

Forget the dodgy haircut, Javier Bardem's contract killer Anton Chigurh is possibly one of the scariest sociopaths ever to appear on the silver screen. He is calculating, creative, ruthless and, what makes it worse, he gets away with it.

1. Jack Torrance, Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980)

It's the shit-eating grin appearing though the door and shouting 'here's Johnny' that really sets Jack Nicholson apart from the rest. Chilling!

Honourable mentions:
Paddy Considine in Dead Man’s Shoes
Animal Mutha in Full Metal Jacket
Kathy Bates in Misery
Francis Dollarhyde in Manhunter
Don Logan from Sexy Beast

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Comments

  1. says

    Sorry. #1 goes to Ernest Cunnigham as the menacing stapler-repairman
    in Office Space. When he backs Milton into the corner and lisps
    “You know why it’s called a ‘Swingline’? Yes? No? Want to find out? No? Yes?”
    Classic. And the Marilyn wig just pushes it over the top.

  2. Rob Delaney says

    I’d go for Mr Shhhh in Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead (Steve Buscemi)

    And Gary Oldman in Leon. Awesome performance.

    And the ever reliable Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker.

    but some good calls there too

  3. Thomas says

    Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs?  "If they hadn’t-a done what i told ‘em not to do…they’d still be alive."  He’s the best.
    Also, i disagree with the Die Hard and The Shining picks.  Neither strikes me as a sociopath, the least of which is Jack in The Shining.  He was possessed by Grady, the former caretaker, or having schizophrenic delusions (talking to Grady in the Mens room and Floyd the bartender).   It seems much more like a supernatural happenstance versus anything pathological. 
     

  4. Zack says

    I cannot believe you didn’t include Vincent from Collateral. Also, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho should have been #1

  5. Irv Hara says

    You totally missed the most disarming sociopath of all time, or don’t you count black and white movies?Norman Bates, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

  6. scokid says

    Man, you could have used any number of David Lynch characters. How about Willem Defoe as Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart (in fact, there’s another half dozen sociopaths in that movie that could make this list), or Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet? Really enjoyed the scene from Trainspotting, though. Good work.

  7. gir says

    HEY WHAT ABOUT MILTON FROM AMERICAN PSYCHO LOL I STAPLED MY HUEY LEWIS RECORD WHAT A MAROON!!

  8. andrew says

    a big one for me is Kevin Spacey’s role as John Doe in the movie Se7en….should have made the list.

  9. Matt says

    ‘Blue Velvet anyone’? If you want to be a film critic, you should probably familiarize yourself with that film.

  10. Puck says

    I would also add Robert Mitchum AND Al Pacino’s as Max Cady in the Cape Fear movies.

  11. phil says

    Let’s not get our "paths" mixed up.  These people are all psychopaths especially Tommy DeVito.   A sociopath generally has an exterior whereby you’d never have a clue.  For example:  Norman Bates? He is number one.  What about Tom Ripley both the Damon one and the Malkovich one? I’m tempted to throw in Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)  Hey I’m no film buff but I think if you check Godard’s Breathless Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character is quite the sociopath.  While I’m thinking foreign flicks, check out the character Marcel from Belle de Jour by Bunel.  Rupert Pupkin (King of Comedy) has more elements of sociopathic behavior than half the people on this list..  Did anybody remember Tommy Udo?  Kiss of Death?  That’s just off the top of my head. 

  12. MBJester says

    No Christian Bale from American Psycho? That’s crazier than anything these characters have done..

  13. toolahroolahroolah says

    In no particular order, Richard Widmark, Peter Lorre, Jimmy Cagney.  Henry Fonda could play a mean whacko.  Mitchum makes DeNiro look like the Community Theater ham.  Either Bette Davis or Joan Crawford could scare the nuts off of King Kong.  Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Louise Fletcher, Robert Blake for In Cold Blood…

  14. jvvvv says

    the problem with you is you are extremely biased, and also fucking stupid. you would not hold up a proper argument with anyone due to the fact you cannot be persuaded, you are too stubborn and fucking stupid to see both sides. i cant say anything more, you are just plain fucking retarded. now dont bother writing back, i have nothing more to say to you. save some face, and dont write back, please.

  15. FreelanceCowboy says

    Wow… Kevin Spacey in Seven didn’t make this list? The man played the character like a genius and made me believe he was fucking crazy! Thought he was doing the world a favor and opening peoples eyes. THAT is a sociopath!

  16. SurferDoc says

    I don’t think some of you know what a sociopath is. Google it. A sociopath is narcissistic, charming, manipulative, ruthless, and lacks empathy for the people he exploits or hurts. Hans Gruber fits this. Kevin Spacey in the usual suspects is classic. Also, Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

    A psychopath is a more severe form of sociopath such as Hannibal Lecter or American Psycho.

  17. says

    Just for the record, Al Pacino was not in Cape Fear. The original starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, and the remake starred Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro.

  18. amin says

    a professional sociopath will never get into a fight with a man on the street they are very wise mentally.they just cant feel guilt.

  19. Chuck says

    Jack Torrence IS NOT a sociopath. He was driven to kill because he slowly became insane as a result of the spirits in the hotel. He does not meet the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder.

  20. jason says

    I think Patty McCormack as Rhoda Penmark deserves at least an honorable mention! Groundbreaking, from 1956, it might be the first honest attempt at sociopathology in cinema. She got an Oscar nomination, in fact.

  21. Maggie says

    Sorry, while I do like the list for the most part, I believe a few of the choices are not sociopaths but rather psychopaths. #1 in particular is a psychopath. There is actually a difference between both.

  22. Karina says

    Whoever created this list is retarded!!! Jack torrance lost his mind, moron! He’s not a psychopath! Hannibal lecter is not a sociopath! He became a serial killer because of a product of his traumatic childhood AND he loved Clarice in his own sick way! Sociopaths can’t love anybody!

    Those of you who say Christian Bale (or Bateman) was a psychopath completely lost the point of the movie… it was all in his mind! He is actually supposed to portray the protagonist in the movie, or the only one who is sane enough to realize how shallow and f-ed up everybody is!

    If you want to list a sociopath I suggest you start with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in the Dark Knight.

  23. Massimo says

    You need to re-examine Patrick Bateman’s character, and the movie for that matter, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to also brush up on what anti-social personality disorder really is because you basically got everything wrong in what you said in your comment aside from the joker being a sociopath, which he is.

  24. Mitchell says

    This List Is Ridiculous you left out probably the best performance of a sociopath ever which is angelina jolie in Girl Interrupted which she won an oscar for

  25. oj says

    In my opinion, Jeff Bridges’s character {Barney} in The Vanishing is, by far, the most realistic {& disturbing} portrayal of a sociopath Ive seen, other than perhaps Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. He really nailed it, and it makes the movie worth watching.

    PS, if you watch it, be sure to be skeptical of what Barney says (as he can’t experience empathy, much of how he presents himself is bullshizit)

  26. Crenshaw Pete says

    Jack Torrance is not a sociopath, he was possessed by supernatural forces.

    He does not fit the criteria.

    Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is practically synonymous with criminal behavior. It’s so synonymous, in fact, that practically all convicted criminals (65-75%) have it, with criminologists often referring to it as a “wastebasket” category. Psychologists consider it an adult version of juvenile conduct disorder. The main characteristic of it is a complete and utter disregard for the rights of others and the rules of society. They seldom show anxiety and don’t feel guilt. There’s really no effective treatment for them other than locking them up in a secure facility with such rigid rules that they cannot talk their way out. A full list of APD traits would include:

    Sense of entitlement; Unremorseful; Apathetic to others; Unconscionable behavior; Blameful of others; Manipulative and conning; Affectively cold; Disparate understanding; Socially irresponsible; Disregardful of obligations; Nonconforming to norms; Irresponsible

    whereas the DSM-IV “clinical” features of Antisocial Personality Disorder (with a person having at least three of these characteristics) are:

    1. Failure to conform to social norms; 2. Deceitfulness, manipulativeness; 3. Impulsivity, failure to plan ahead; 4. Irritability, aggressiveness; 5. Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others; 6. Consistent irresponsibility; 7. Lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person

    Sociopathy is chiefly characterized by something wrong with the person’s conscience. They either don’t have one, it’s full of holes like Swiss cheese, or they are somehow able to completely neutralize or negate any sense of conscience or future time perspective. Sociopaths only care about fulfilling their own needs and desires – selfishness and egocentricity to the extreme. Everything and everybody else is mentally twisted around in their minds as objects to be used in fulfilling their own needs and desires. They often believe they are doing something good for society, or at least nothing that bad. The term “sociopath” is frequently used by psychologists and sociologists alike in referring to persons whose unsocialized character is due primarily to parental failures (usually fatherlessness) rather than inherent features of temperament. However, this may only describe the “common sociopath”, as there are at least four (4) different subtypes — common, alienated, aggressive, and dyssocial. Commons are characterized mostly by their lack of conscience; the alienated by their inability to love or be loved; aggressives by a consistent sadistic streak; and dyssocials by an ability to abide by gang rules, as long as those rules are the wrong rules. Some common sociopathic traits include:

    Egocentricity; Callousness; Impulsivity; Conscience defect; Exaggerated sexuality; Excessive boasting; Risk taking; Inability to resist temptation; Antagonistic, deprecating attitude toward the opposite sex; Lack of interest in bonding with a mate

    Psychopathy is a concept subject to much debate, but is usually defined as a constellation of affective, interpersonal, and behavioral characteristics including egocentricity; impulsivity; irresponsibility; shallow emotions; lack of empathy, guilt, or remorse; pathological lying; manipulativeness; and the persistent violation of social norms and expectations (Cleckley 1976; Hare 1993). The crimes of psychopaths are usually stone-cold, remorseless killings for no apparent reason. They cold-bloodedly take what they want and do as they please without the slightest sense of guilt or regret. In many ways, they are natural-born intraspecies predators who satisfy their lust for power and control by charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence. While almost all societies would regard them as criminals (the exception being frontier or warlike societies where they might become heroes, patriots, or leaders), it’s important to distinguish their behavior from criminal behavior. As Prof. Hare is fond of pointing out, most psychopaths are antisocial but not all antisocial personalities are psychopaths. This is because APD is defined mainly by behaviors (Factor 2 antisocial behaviors) and doesn’t tap the affective/interpersonal dimensions (Factor 1 core psychopathic features, narcissism) of psychopathy. Further, criminals and APDs tend to “age out” of crime; psychopaths do not, and are at high risk of recidivism. Psychopaths love to intellectualize in treatment with their half-baked understanding of rules. Like the Star Trek character, Spock, their reasoning cannot handle any mix of cognition and emotion. They are calculating predators who, when trapped, will attempt escape, create a nuisance and danger to staff, be a disruptive influence on other patients or inmates, and fake symptoms to get transferred, bouncing back and forth between institutions. The common features of psychopathic traits (the PCL-R items) are:

    Glib and superficial charm; Grandiose sense of self-worth; Need for stimulation; Pathological lying; Conning and manipulativeness; Lack of remorse or guilt; Shallow affect; Callousness and lack of empathy; Parasitic lifestyle; Poor behavioral controls; Promiscuous sexual behavior; Early behavior problems; Lack of realistic, long-term goals; Impulsivity; Irresponsibility; Failure to accept responsibility for own actions; Many short-term marital relationships; Juvenile delinquency; Revocation of conditional release; Criminal versatility

  27. Seth says

    These sociopaths are all violent killers , but most are not.
    Some examples of famous non-killer, white collar sociopaths:

    Michael Brantley, Jim Young, Greg Weinstein and Ritchie O’Flaherty from “Boiler Room”
    Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street”
    Eddie Biasi and Jack Gross from” It Could Happen to You”
    Frank Abagnale from “Catch Me if You Can”
    Alfie from “Alfie” (1966)

  28. Kyle says

    Wow… this list is pathetic. Most realistic psychopaths on film are: Neil from Heat, Travis from Taxi Driver(though it wasn’t just that due to the horrors of vietnam), Jay from Kill List, 3 of the 4 leads in Trainspotting, Gordon Gecko from Wall Street, Todd from Go, Benny from Benny’s Video, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Kidman in To Die For, Vincent(Cruise)in Collateral, Manhunter obviously had two more realistic psychopaths than the overrated Silence of the Lambs, Josh Lucas in When Strangers Appear and Undertow… etc….

  29. Anthony says

    Stop mentioning Matt damon! He was fine as Ripley, but im a bit surprised no ones mentioned Hoppers performance as Ripley in The American Friend. Easily would make my top 5 sociopaths, right up there with Chigrue from NCFOM. A truly frightening and subtle performance from one of the worlds most shafted actors. BTW all you nerds need to stop taking this posting so serious, I read a lot comments and you all sound like a bunch of snobby wannabe critics who need to leave moms basement. Just relax, enjoy the movie and realize that no ones impressed with your bourgeoisie write-ups.

  30. House_M_D_ says

    at least someone knows what the hell the difference is between a psychopath and sociopath, and that most of them are non-violent. Gordon Gekko, Patty Hewes (Damages), House (House MD), Vic Mackey (The Shield), Dexter Morgan (he’s more schizoid though but he has some traits), The Joker who’s a fucking textbook example of a violent sociopath, Jack Bauer and Nina Myers (24) there’s a reason spec ops guys are so cold when doing their jobs, Norman Bates (American Psycho), Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs), Fucking Voldemort from Harry Potter is the definition of psychopath, Bellatrix Lestrange (HP again), antagonist neo-Nazi in the movie Sum of All Fears, Volturi in Twilight (yes I brought it in this conversation), Henry VIII (The Tudors), daughter of Mildred Pierce, steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire, Commodus (Gladiator), Augustus (HBOs Rome)…I can go on.

    the point is that most “bad guys” in movies, books and television and even heroes (like Jack Bauer) show at least three of the ASPD/psychopath Checklist traits on a consistent basis for a extended period of time. House for instance though I love him as a character is a sociopath/narcissist: on numerous occasions over a period of 8 years has violated his friends, colleagues, boss’s, laws on a consistent basis, complete lack of remorse and at times use fake charm and kindness to get what he wants, violates patient boundaries and wishes for selfish purposes, gets others to violate social norms and laws including perjury, sense of grandiosity because of his capabilities as a diagnostician. we love him because he is that way, but it’s all for the better because he saves lives and he isn’t violent most of the time. doesn’t make him any less a sociopath.

  31. Jordana says

    Where’s Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted? She may not have been a psychopathic killer like the listings above, but she was without a doubt a manipulative, frightening sociopathic child. She tortured people with words and was damn good at it. She deserves at least honorable mention.

  32. Jordana says

    THANK YOU. She truly was the best sociopath I’ve ever seen. At least someone has common sense.

  33. Greg says

    The most realistic portrayal of a sociopathic, manipulative bastard? “In the company of men”…not a killer but a soulless s.ob. Who in true sociopathic form sets out to destroy people just for fun.