I want to see more bad people
June 10, 2009 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Please suggest movies, TV shows and books that feature unrepentant, amoral characters

I was a big fan of Seinfeld when it was on, and now love It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Eastbound & Down.

The common thread running through these shows is a character or group of characters who are often selfish at best, amoral at worst and unrepentant about it. Also, the characters don't seem to have an epiphany that makes them "good", like the case with many movies and books. For example, I loved the movie Roger Dodger until the ending.

I want more of this. I'd love suggestions on TV shows (except Weeds), movies, and nonfiction books or biographies. I've read about such characters in fiction, so don't need recs on those sorts of books.

posted by reenum to Media & Arts (70 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite



A Clockwork Orange


posted by Jaltcoh at 6:55 AM on June 10, 2009

No Country For Old Men is probably the best movie I've seen that depicts pure evil.
posted by smorange at 6:55 AM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

The entire Blackadder series is about an amoral cad trying to cheat and swindle himself into power and money (and usually failing in a humerous manner, although never learning his lesson). First season isn't as good as the rest.
For an amusing anti-epiphany, see the one-off Blackadder's Christmas Carol, which is like the normal one but in reverse.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:57 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

American Psycho
posted by pardonyou? at 6:59 AM on June 10, 2009

House of Cards for TV. A good political show.
posted by jadepearl at 7:02 AM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Almost the entire family in Arrested Development fits this description.
posted by bondcliff at 7:02 AM on June 10, 2009 [9 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you'll really like Curb Your Enthusiasm (tv show).
posted by k1ng at 7:04 AM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:05 AM on June 10, 2009

Patricia Highsmith's Mr. Ripley books.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Neil LaBute has a few movies like this in his repetoire, where even if characters experience an epiphany about their behavior, they aren't changing. In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, and The Shape of Things. Ignore his films that are based on other material, like Wicker Man or Possession.
posted by gladly at 7:07 AM on June 10, 2009

Whoops, missed the "nonfiction" bit. Well, change my suggestion to the movie, instead.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:07 AM on June 10, 2009

I was coming here to mention In the Company of Men, but gladly beat me to it. Great movie, and it really fits what you're looking for.
posted by inigo2 at 7:09 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can find it anywhere, the TV show Profit (which didn't last long). I'll second Clockwork Orange and anything by Neil LaBute.
posted by adamrice at 7:11 AM on June 10, 2009

Original Sin. Maybe Breaking Bad. Maybe also Pushing Daisies, though the PieMaker isn't exactly unrepentant, just tortured.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2009

Bad Lieutenant
posted by Joe Beese at 7:27 AM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: Not sure if you mean to include people who are not merely selfish but outright criminal, but if you are, I recommend Wiseguy, by Nicholas Pileggi, which was made into the movie Goodfellas.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:29 AM on June 10, 2009

Avon in Blakes Seven was a particular favourite of mine.
posted by itsjustanalias at 7:31 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to take a look at opera, go watch Mozart's Don Giovanni. It features a cast of unlikeable characters.
posted by rossination at 7:31 AM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: Bit of a reach, but we watched Blood Diamond last night, and the main character played by DiCaprio in that is an absolute scumbag, badly damaged by war and what he's seen and done, totally out for himself until it becomes completely clear to him that he's about to die, when he does the decent thing.

I was expecting a crash-bang action thriller with a Han Solo-esque rogue in DiCaprio's role, but it was surprisingly nuanced. Good film, check it out.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:32 AM on June 10, 2009

Silence of the Lambs comes to mind... the other Hannibal Lector films and books would fit in as well but none are as good.

Pitch Black has the character Riddick who is no angel.

Point Break (it's about cops trying to catch amoral characters)
posted by arniec at 7:32 AM on June 10, 2009

I always loved Danny DeVito's character on "Taxi" (Louis DePalma), but I never really understood how he could resonate with so many people when he was such a slimy, reprehensible, and unrepentant bastard. Then someone pointed out that he really wasn't all that different than Shakespeare's beloved Falstaff.
posted by RavinDave at 7:34 AM on June 10, 2009

If you can find it anywhere, the TV show Profit (which didn't last long).

Good call. Just started watching this one, and it fits.
posted by inigo2 at 7:34 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anything by Brett Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. "Choke" is a great example, although I haven't seen the movie yet.
posted by tryniti at 7:36 AM on June 10, 2009

The Last Seduction is a pretty good movie.
posted by Sailormom at 7:37 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dexter would probably fit.
posted by emilyd22222 at 7:37 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Bad Seed (1956). "An ideal housewife begins to suspect her loving adolescent daughter may be a heartless killer."
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:38 AM on June 10, 2009

definitely Breaking Bad.

They really play with the line at which the characters go from having good intentions but doing bad things... to just outright being bad, bad people.
posted by utsutsu at 7:38 AM on June 10, 2009

posted by HuronBob at 7:41 AM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

"The Quick and the Dead" - Gene Hackman is evil at it's best in this.
posted by HuronBob at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2009

Pretty much any Tarantino flick...

As for stuff I actually like, well, I can second House of Cards, which was a fabulous Richard III-style "vengeance of the scorned" setup. (Heck, Richard III almost fits your request. I liked the Ian McKellan version.)

There are several heist-movies that probably apply. The "Ocean's [number]" series, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, The Italian Job, etc.

What about Lord of War? The protagonist sort of has an "epiphany," I guess, but he doesn't repent or stop doing what he does.
posted by Scattercat at 7:47 AM on June 10, 2009

Basil in Fawlty Towers.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:47 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How I Met Your Mother has the best character ever in Patrick Harris' Barney. An un-repentant womanizer. The show is hilarious. Though lately they have this whole "barney falling in love with another main character" thing, which is kinda lame. So watch the first season instead.
posted by Grither at 7:50 AM on June 10, 2009

Shallow Grave.

Along similar lines as The Bad Seed, I recommend Alice Sweet Alice.
posted by 8dot3 at 7:50 AM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: The Sopranos should fit the bill, as should the excellent Breaking Bad.

This AV Club post has a few more suggestions about TV shows featuring morally questionable antiheros.
posted by frogpondian at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dog Day Afternoon.

The film could have taken any number of routes to show that Sonny was an 'amoral character' who needed to be stopped. Likewise, they could have easily shown that the cops are bastards. Instead, they stepped away from all that and allowed the viewer to form their own conclusion.

Dog Day Afternoon.
posted by hciadt at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2009

Thirding Profit. Also some of the characters in Deadwood are like this.
posted by phoenixy at 8:07 AM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: You know...in thinking about this I've thought of a bunch more, but the thing is with these amoral characters often you find them in crime films or horror films, and often as the villain if you want unrepentant characters. That said, any film ABOUT villains can make them the protagonist.

So I've come up with these:

Bonfire of the Vanities

Wall Street

It's been a while but I think the Interview with a Vampire, and more to the point, the Vampire Lestat also fit. The Lestat character being the one to focus on for this purpose.

If you haven't seen The Dark Knight, I think that Joker would be right up your alley.


Very Bad Things

A Fish Called Wanda

The War of the Roses


The Grifters

A Simple Plan

Training Day

Alpha Dog (based on true events)

Bad Santa (mostly...I can't really say if the end will disappoint)

Reanimator, Bride of Reanimator, Beyond Reanimator

Wag the Dog

The Cable Guy (though this may be more insanity than amorality..sometimes it';s a fine line)

Quentin Tarantino lived in moral ambiguity for a while:

True Romance

Natural Born Killers

Reservoir Dogs

Pulp Fiction


The Usual Suspects

Get Shorty

TV Shows:

Damages (though I have to admit I stopped watching midway through the first season)

Ohh, Nip/Tuck has a great amoral character in it...and it's fun and salacious

Sopranos as mentioned above.
posted by arniec at 8:09 AM on June 10, 2009

Another, often overlooked "Ripley" movie: Ripley's Game, with John Malkovic as Ripley. Excellent.
posted by griseus at 8:10 AM on June 10, 2009

Deadwood, the HBO television series available on DVD, is full of people like these. Especially the Cy Tolliver and, in the third season, the George Hearst characters.
posted by elder18 at 8:18 AM on June 10, 2009

Absolutely Fabulous (BBC sitcom)
posted by applemeat at 8:19 AM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Five Easy Pieces
Deadwood (tv) has many such characters with George Hearst being the prime example
Carnal Knowledge
Your Friends and Neighbors
Sexy Beast
Point Blank
Funny Games
Benny's Video
Mean Streets
Miller's Crossing
Laws of Gravity
Marathon Man
Prime Cut
Peeping Tom
The Third Man
Coup de Torchon (could be wrong; haven't seen it in 25 years)

On preview, maybe I misunderstand the question because I don't understand how Dog Day Afternoon fits the criteria. To me, it's the polar opposite of what you're asking for.
posted by dobbs at 8:23 AM on June 10, 2009

I typically don't like "seconding" in this type of request. However, if you haven't seen A Clockwork Orange (and can handle moderate (but not especially graphic) violence including a couple of rapes), it may be the best distillation of amorality ever put to film.

You will probably also like Mad Men.
posted by originalname37 at 8:24 AM on June 10, 2009

The Opposite of Sex is criminally underappreciated and begins with Christina Ricci's character narration (truthfully) saying: "I don't have a heart of gold and I don't grow one later."
posted by kittyprecious at 8:27 AM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

A few of these were mentioned before, but here's a list. Trailer Park Boys is a definite must.

Arrested Development
Black Books
Breaking Bad
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Father Ted
Get A Life
Moral Orel
The League Of Gentlemen
Trailer Park Boys
Venture Bros.
Wonder Showzen
posted by the biscuit man at 8:28 AM on June 10, 2009

Dangerous Liaisons, which is the story that Cruel Intentions was modeled after.
posted by hermitosis at 8:29 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Slightly (but not entirely) off topic, dobbs, you recommended "The Laws of Gravity". Do you know where one can find this fantastic film (besides late night cable circa 1995)? Thanks.
posted by originalname37 at 8:32 AM on June 10, 2009

Shameless (UK, Channel 4)
The name sums it up and it's hilarious. The lead character, Frank Gallagher, is exactly what you want although the cultural leap from the US to underclass Mancunian council estate might be a bit much.
posted by i_cola at 8:39 AM on June 10, 2009

No one's mentioned There Will Be Blood?

Also, I can't remember the ending of Election, but Reese Witherspoon's character was pretty amoral in that.
posted by yawper at 8:39 AM on June 10, 2009

I'm not a Nicole Kidman fan, but I loved her in To Die For.
posted by marsha56 at 8:40 AM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: In some respects Bottle Rocket features a meeting of a character who is becoming repentant, with his childhood friend who lacks any self-awareness and is intent on continuing, and dragging his friend into his destructive lifestyle.

I'd definitely second There Will be Blood, which I see as an exploration of unrepentant evil in the form of capitalism and the American Dream.

Insomnia (the original) perhaps? An unrepentantly corrupt cop story, as he falls apart.

And absolutely seconding Breaking Bad, which apart from that features a more than deservedly emmy winning performance from Cranston. Some ridiculously top notch acting!

If you're after something a little heavier perhaps, Once Were Warriors is a stunning portrayal of the kind of broken homes that sit in the Maori communities of New Zealand, led by a truly unrepetentant character.

Oh, which also reminds me of Chopper, the story of Chopper Read, one of Australia's most renowned violent convicts. A truly fucked up, but absolutely hypnotic movie. Directed by the guy who went on to do Assassination of Jesse James, which is also well worth watching and full of moral ambiguity.

I could no doubt find more, but for now I need to go away and stop saying unrepentant before it loses all meaning.
posted by opsin at 8:50 AM on June 10, 2009

Oh, and this post yesterday reminded me of Badlands with Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen, loosely based on these two.

Another great Terence Malick film with unrepentant main characters, Days of Heaven.
posted by marsha56 at 9:06 AM on June 10, 2009

Several characters on The Wire might count; if I had to choose one, it would be Marlo Stansfield. Or possibly Jimmy McNulty.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 9:08 AM on June 10, 2009

I can't believe we have this many suggestions and no one has mentioned The Shield.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 9:16 AM on June 10, 2009

Oh, slightly mortified to be first with it, but: Gossip Girl. Everyone sells someone out at least briefly, and Chuck Bass is probably the most amoral on the surface, but it's a bit more complicated than that. Also, quite fun to get nerdy about because it's so frothy.

Ditto The Wire for all shades of the spectrum. Marlo makes me shudder just thinking about him, especially on the rosemantic front.
posted by carbide at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2009

House +1
Larry Sanders
posted by dzot at 9:46 AM on June 10, 2009

Man Bites Dog

I Stand Alone
posted by orme at 9:57 AM on June 10, 2009

Absolutely, Nicole Kidman's character in "To Die For"
posted by Dolley at 10:13 AM on June 10, 2009

2nding The Shield

Also Action (you should still be able to find it on Netflix instant)
posted by cali59 at 10:40 AM on June 10, 2009

Gary Oldman in The Professional

Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element

Gary Oldman in Dracula

Hell, most things with Gary Oldman
posted by JaredSeth at 10:43 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

nth No Country For Old Men, though I'd call it a deptiction of a sociopath, not of evil.
posted by candyhammer at 11:01 AM on June 10, 2009

Connor and Murphy in The Boondock Saints. They start by killing members of the Russian Mafia and then decide to rid Boston of anyone that they consider to be "evil".

Great movie with Willem Dafoe playing the creepiest FBI agent in the history of the cinema (since Hoove anyway).
posted by 543DoublePlay at 11:02 AM on June 10, 2009

The Flashman Books by George McDonald Fraser are excellent for this type of Character. The bonus part is how flashman is percieved by those around him.
posted by bartonlong at 11:17 AM on June 10, 2009

Seeing someone mention Nicole Kidman made me think of Malice
posted by cali59 at 12:22 PM on June 10, 2009

For a canine take on this theme, there's always Baxter.
posted by Brody's chum at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2009

Mike Leigh's Naked is mentioned above, but deserves a strong second. The main character is about as shockingly unsympathetic, fascinatingly intelligent, witty and darkly humorous as a main character can be. David Thewlis plays him beautifully, and Leigh works the angles his character provides in a sharp, provocative and satisfying way.
posted by mediareport at 4:46 PM on June 10, 2009

Nthing House. I recently discovered it and have lost a few weekends catching up with my good friend TiVo. Brilliant acting, gripping plot lines, and thoroughly three dimensional & smart characters.

But it's the mad (and oftentimes rude) genius of House that makes the show.
posted by ohyouknow at 5:51 PM on June 10, 2009

I'm greatly surprised that nobody has mentioned Bender from Futurama yet.

Quite possibly the definition of an unrepentant bastard.
posted by phredgreen at 7:48 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Came here to say Curb your Enthusiasm, The Wire, Gossip Girl (Really! Not only Chuck Bass but Blair Waldorf, and Georgina Sparks OMG!) and really in that vein-- The Hills! It's sad and evil and empty...
posted by dearest at 12:24 PM on June 11, 2009

I'll add my support for:

- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Breaking Bad
- Dexter
- Arrested Development
posted by jmevius at 7:58 AM on June 14, 2009

Dig on Peep Show, a british TV series. Characters' self-centeredness comes through in their voice-overed internal dialogue (e.g., "sure I will"). The whole thing's pretty sick and funny. Not stuff you could show on US TV what with the sex and drugs.
posted by cps at 7:38 PM on June 26, 2009

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