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Top 10 Disturbing Films Featuring Sociopaths

by Jamie Frater
fact checked by Jamie Frater

A sociopath is a person (mostly male but sometimes female) who suffers from one of a number of mental illnesses such as borderline, histrionic, or antisocial personality disorder. They are often referred to as narcissists (and all sociopaths ARE narcissists though not all narcissists are sociopaths) or psychopaths and they are frequently found in movies and literature.

My enmity with Hollywood is no secret, but I have to admit that it has (perhaps due to introspection) managed to rather-well capture the evil face of sociopathy a number of times on film. This list looks at ten pictures that are particularly good at representing those inflicted with this illness and the carnage they leave behind them. WARNING: this list contains minor spoilers and offensive language.

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10 The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction is connected to the more well-known film American Psycho because the main characters in both movies are brothers (Sean Bateman in Rules of Attraction, and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho). This is briefly alluded to in the released film, but above is a fascinating longer clip of the two brothers which ended up on the cutting room floor. In The Rules of Attraction (which was written first), Sean is a vapid sophomoric teen who fucks his way through college with no regard for the young women he hurts and ultimately one of his victims cuts her wrists and bleeds to death in a gruesome and dangerously true-to-life scene. Sean, of course, doesn’t even realise the girl was in love with him. Whilst not as arty or well constructed a film as American Psycho, this close relative is well worth a watch, even if for no other reason than the hilarious drunken luncheon between the impossibly handsome secondary characters Dick and Paul and their socialite mothers (played by Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz). And you definitely don’t want to miss the awesome drug dealer scene featuring Clifton Collins Jr.

9 Pacific Heights

Pacific Heights 1990 Trailer | Melanie Griffith | Michael Keaton

What one thing does a sociopath love more than himself? Ruining people’s lives for the mere fun of it. And here we have the best film depiction of it. No one gets hurt (not in any meaningful way at least) but boy do lives get wrecked. Michael Keaton plays the dastardly sociopath Carter Hayes who becomes a tenant to the new homeowners Patty and Drake (Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine) who scrimp and save to buy their first “house and income” in Pacific Heights, San Francisco. In time it becomes clear that Carter makes a living out of ripping off young innocent landlords. Whilst slightly aged (it was released in 1990), this film is still a brilliant well-paced movie that is worth the time to watch. It is a once-a-year movie for me. The film opens with another realistic element: a sociopath being beaten by a former victim who has caught up with him. The movie also has a minor role for Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith’s mother and the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

8 The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Sociopaths don’t exist. By that I mean they are empty shells who, chameleon like, morph into a mirror image of their victims. During the initial phase of love-bombing, the sociopath questions the prey and adapts to mimic and complete them. This is called the “idealization” phase – the predator breaks down your defences and inserts himself into your life. In the chilling film The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, sociopath Peyton (Rebecca de Mornay) plays a twist on this theme by morphing into the wife of the man she hopes to seduce: right in front of the wife’s eyes! She becomes an essential part of the family’s life and then begins her twisted vengeance on the family whom she blames (with narcissistic rage) for the loss of her husband. This film, like so many films on this list, illustrates that the sociopath is really great fodder for the psychological thriller genre. Here’s a brilliant video analysis of the evil character Amy Dunne.

7 No Country For Old Men

The Most Intense Scene in Cinema History

Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) is a sociopath par excellence. He walks through this film unemotionally executing people with a weapon (a captive bolt pistol) which really sums up how the psychopath sees his fellow man: animals for the dispatching. This is a deeply disturbing film in the neo-western crime thriller genre (yes that exists). It is really like no other and was made by the Coen Brothers who are well known for their off-beat dark movies (such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski). Chigurh is probably the darkest character on this list – dripping with a sense of awfulness that is really seldom seen in a movie. And while this item ranks at number seven, it is by no means a suggestion that it is not one of the best made. You’ll probably need to take a shower after this one. With lysol.

6 Gone Girl

Gone Girl | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

David Fincher is one of the the best directors working right now and Gone Girl is one of his finest films. It tells the tale of Amy, a young woman raised by parents who were so focussed on their fictional book series based on the highly romanticised life of their daughter that they all but forget to actually raise the girl. This lack of attachment in childhood led Amy to become a sociopath (some sociopaths are born that way, others are made). The film portrays the deliberate and callous vengeance Amy enacts against her husband when she is thrown into a narcissistic rage after discovering that he has cheated on her. The film shows all three stages of sociopathy: idealization (the love-bombing and perfect start), the devaluing (destroying the self-worth of the prey), and the discard (the final termination of the relationship and the victim). It also shows, better than any other film on this list, how cunning the sociopath can be and how easily they can convince others to join them in their attacks on the victim. This is really one of the best films on this list so do watch it.

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5 American Psycho

American Psycho – Trailer

It’s in the title! Sociopath and psychopath are interchangeable terms, though it should be mentioned that some people consider psychopathy to be a more serious form of sociopathy (the disorder is on something of a spectrum like autism). Interestingly, neither term is listed in the DSM (the official US catalog of psychiatric disorders). In this rather beautifully filmed adaptation of the Brett Easton Ellis book, we follow the life of Patrick Bateman (as mentioned in item ten above) as he descends into psychosis. His character is perhaps the most realistic representation of the absence of empathy that typifies sociopathic insanity and any attempt to appearing to care is clearly fake (see, for example, Patrick’s feigned offence at the anti-Jewish comments made by his friends at dinner). By their nature, sociopaths cause intense confusion in those they prey upon. You are love-bombed but left with a feeling of insecurity. You are told you are beautiful but are left feeling ugly. American Psycho manages to invoke a similar confusion from the viewers when the film finishing leaving the audience wondering whether anything actually happened at all. A very clever considered manipulation by director Mary Harron.

4 Casino

Casino – Joe Pesci Angry Moments

Casino is a brilliant film; it fits well into many a list on Listverse and for those of you who have seen it, it is obvious why it is on this particular one: Joe Pesci’s characterisation of the sociopathic gangster Nicky Santoro (based on real life mob enforcer John Spilotro). A quote from the film will do more justice than I can to show you why this character and film is on the list: “You know, you’ve got the wrong impression about me. I think in all fairness, I should explain to you exactly what it is that I do. For instance tomorrow morning I’ll get up nice and early, take a walk down over to the bank and… walk in and see and, uh… if you don’t have my money for me, I’ll… crack your fuckin’ head wide open in front of everybody in the bank. And just about the time that I’m comin’ out of jail, hopefully, you’ll be coming out of your coma. And guess what? I’ll split your fuckin’ head open again. ‘Cause I’m fuckin’ stupid. I don’t give a fuck about jail. That’s my business. That’s what I do.” Sociopaths never forget. They keep coming back. Forever. That is why a total no-contact policy is essential when you part ways with one in your own life.

3 Goodfellas

“Goodfellas” Best Scene HD

Joe Pesci . . . again. Who can forget this line: “I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown?” He’s a monster in Casino, in Goodfellas he’s downright demonic! Joe Pesci really does bring the narcissistic sociopath to life in his gangster portrayals, in this case as Tommy DeVito. Thank God he represents only the most extreme end of the psychopathic scale considering than some estimates say that up to twelve percent of the population is a sociopath! This film is one of the best of its kind – in fact it is one of the best films period. It is gruesome and twisted but if you haven’t seen it, you really need to put it on your “to watch” list and get to it asap. Sociopaths or not, this is a must-see movie.

2 Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs – first meeting

Hannibal Lecter. One could easily believe that Anthony Hopkins was born for this role; in none other does he shine so bright and terrify so intensely. Here, as an imprisoned cannibal, the only departure from the majority of sociopaths is his very high IQ (sociopaths tend to be of middling intelligence – they can appear intellectual but like everything else in their lives it is all an illusion). Lecter is cold, calculating, deceitful, and emotionless. He derives a purely sadistic pleasure from his actions and even in helping the main character Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) it is entirely for his own ultimately benefit. Nothing Hannibal Lecter does is for the benefit of others. Pure narcissistic sociopathy.

1 Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction (1987) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

There can be no other film in position one. Fatal Attraction is THE sociopathic film. Glenn Close playing Alex is chilling. And here I end the main body of this list as I started it: early in the movie she slashes her wrists to keep married man Daniel (Michael Douglas) from leaving her. Most of us are familiar with the term “bunny boiler” – it is so common a term for a female sociopath that it even has an entry in the Collins dictionary! That phrase comes from this film in which Alex boils the pet bunny to cause distress to Daniel and his family. In preparing for the film, Glenn Close was uncomfortable with the bunny boiling scene thinking it too extreme, but she was assured by a number of psychotherapists she consulted that it was absolutely plausible for a sociopath to commit such a horrifying act. The relentless attacking of the victim in this film is certainly representative of the worst sociopaths, though in a lot of cases self-harm is more prevalent as a tool for manipulating those who have been loved-bombed into developing an abnormal attachment to the perpetrator.

+ Dirty John

DIRTY JOHN Official Trailer (HD) Eric Bana, Connie Britton Bravo Series

This is a bonus item as it is a TV Series not a film but it is an extremely good series based on the true story of John Meehan as recounted by the podcast of the same name. Typical for sociopaths, John convinced his prey Debra Newell to marry him within eight weeks of meeting. The story follows John’s drug addiction, abuse of Debra and her family, and his pursuit of many other women at the same time (another typical attribute of sociopaths who can have multiple victims all being worked at the same time). I highly recommend this Bravo TV series.

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fact checked by Jamie Frater
Jamie Frater

Jamie is the founder of Listverse. When he’s not doing research for new lists or collecting historical oddities, he can be found in the comments or on Facebook where he approves all friends requests!

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