The Dirty Half Dozen

The Six Best Psychopaths of Film & Literature
Kevin Dutton

Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)

If you thought Gordon Gekko was the undisputed champion of corporate psychopathy, then think again because Bateman makes Gekko look like the angst-ridden, self-harming treasurer of a Mormon prayer group. Impeccably well versed in business couture, Bateman’s Achilles’ heel is his penchant for prostitutes and chainsaws — and for his “unchivalrous” amalgamation of the two. (That and his predilection for Huey Lewis.)


God (The Bible)

C.E.O. of Everything. Arch-manipulator: insists on totalitarian social contracts and ball-breaking exclusivity clauses such that undivided attention and absolute loyalty receive preferential treatment. Prone to impulsive mood swings: the boss from hell one minute, your best buddy the next. Claims to have created the universe but seems disproportionately preoccupied with sexual orientation. Textbook Messiah complex.


James Bond (created by Ian Fleming)

He’s skied off the edge of a mountain, used crocodiles as stepping stones, bungee jumped in the dead of night off of the world’s highest dam, and killed a man bathing in his tub by throwing him an electric fan– “shocking!” Bond is a secret service vampire. He throws no reflection in the looking glass of guilt and casts no shadow in the glare of mortal danger. He is an icon of icy ingenuity and lord of the beatifically brutal. All in a day’s work for this coolest of “double Os” whose Union Jack brain possesses some of the most functionally psychopathic neurochemistry in cinematic history.


Meursault (From The Stranger by Albert Camus)

In a recent appeal hearing, child killer Ian Brady declared that his crimes (he abducted, tortured, and murdered five young children in the 1960s) formed part of an “existential exercise,” a willfully controlled intellectual interpretation of life. Perhaps he’d been reading Albert Camus’ The Stranger prior to taking the stand (if not, he’ll have plenty of time to do so: he’ll be spending the rest of his life on the wards of a secure hospital). Meursault is the poster boy for existential psychopathy. For him, caring (or not caring) about others is a choice. And he chooses not to. He slurps coffee by his mother’s coffin like he’s got a window seat in Starbucks; takes a leisurely stroll along a beach and randomly smokes a passer-by with a pistol; and, generally speaking, would have trouble bonding with Superglue. Last wish? A big crowd at his execution.


Zeus (Greek Mythology)

Murder, rape, arson…you name it, this guy’s been there, done it, and got the tee shirt. Commissions a giant eagle to devour Prometheus’ liver for bequeathing the Flames of Olympus to us mere mortals and then chucks his newborn son off a cliff because he doesn’t like the look of him. If you’re out for a drive and happen to get caught in a thunderstorm with him, remember: keep him away from the lightning at all costs.


Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)

Lecter tries so hard to be a psychopath it would simply be “impolite” not to include him in the list. But actually, he tries too hard.  Fava beans? Chianti? Give me a break. And even Zeus had trouble with liver. Genuine psychopathic geniuses are difficult to walk away from. They are mesmerizing – but subtle – manipulators. Lecter, in contrast, is about as subtle as Donald Trump paying his bar tab. He is a caricature of a psychopath. Full marks for effort though. Heart rate of 85 while eating a nurse’s tongue? You’ve got to hand it to him.


Dr. Kevin Dutton – the author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths – is a research psychologist at the Calleva Research Centre for Evolution and Human Science, Magdalen College, University of Oxford. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy. Dutton is the author of Split-Second Persuasion. His writing and research have been featured in Scientific American MindNew ScientistThe GuardianPsychology Today, and USA Today. Find him online at @profkevindutton.