Movies and TV have had no shortage of bad boys. This weekend, a new one came into our midst: Hardin Scott, the troubled young man who woos innocent Tessa Young. Based on Anna Todd’s novel, After looks like another oh-so-cheesy YA romantic drama, with Hero Fiennes-Tiffin playing the hunky heartthrob who almost certainly is no good.
This got me thinking about other infamous fictional bad boys. I instantly flashed to J.D., the snarky outsider in the 1989 dark teen comedy Heathers. As played by Christian Slater, who exuded bad-boy vibes at this early stage of his career, J.D. was like a lot of high school kids who are smart and cynical and out of step with whatever dumb thing is popular. No wonder Veronica (Winona Ryder) quickly falls for the guy: In J.D., she sees a fellow malcontent.
Recently, The Wrap published a silly takedown of Heathers by a 24-year-old writer who had never seen the film before and didn’t realize that J.D. is meant to be a cautionary tale, not some sort of heroic rebel fighting against the system. Yes, lots of teenagers feel alienated and hate their classmates, but only J.D. decides to start murdering them. He’s a psychopath who draws Veronica into his web, and Slater’s Jack Nicholson-like creepiness starts to become insidious.
Heathers hit theaters long before Columbine, and watching the film now, it’s hard not to think of the school shootings that have occurred since. J.D. is a typical teen-movie bad boy at first, but eventually, we realize that he’s legitimately bad, as in deeply evil. Most viewers like the bad boy because he allows us to flirt with our dark side. J.D. takes us straight into that darkness, and it’s terrifying.
Below, other members of the MEL team offer their picks for the best/worst bad boys. As you’ll see, we have complicated feelings about these characters.
Sasuke Uchiha, Naruto Shippūden
Sasuke Uchiha is the perfect example of a conflicted bad boy who (arguably) has good intentions and (arguably) cannot be blamed for his malevolent actions, and therefore, he’s both the most beloved and hated character in Naruto Shippūden.
Long story short, Sasuke is forced to watch his older brother (Itachi) slaughter his parents and entire clan as a young child, and as a result, he makes it his life goal to enact revenge. He does so by essentially any means possible, which often involves joining forces with villainous characters and eliminating pretty much anyone who comes between him and his mission to kill his brother.
Yeah — this is some heavy shit right here.
However, while Sasuke and his choices might seem selfish — he puts his desire for revenge above everything else, including the many people who care for him the most — his motivation is, well, understandable. The dude is psychologically traumatized by the image of his brother killing his family, and it could be argued that his mission to kill that brother — someone who he views as an embodiment of evil — is done with the intent of making the world a better place.
In fact, there are many instances throughout the show where Sasuke and his actions suggest that he’s on something of a moral pilgrimage. (I won’t be listing any examples, because there are too many, and well, spoilers.) There are also times, however, where his actions seem reckless and without regard for anyone around him.
Now, a lot of things happen that change how Sasuke views his brother, and therefore, the life he built around killing him (again, no spoilers). But at the end of the day, Sasuke shows that people are oftentimes a product of their environment and that morals aren’t set in stone. In other words, his character reinforces the idea that someone can be both evil and good, depending on who’s watching.
So yeah — Sasuke Uchiha, a bad boy on a good (or possibly bad) mission. — Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer
Lip Gallagher, Shameless
The main things you need to know about Lip are:
- He’s very very attractive — like doesn’t try, will probably give you the best dick down of your life, boy-next-door attractive.
- He’s a mathematical genius, but because of his socioeconomic situation (and his massively dysfunctional family) he’s constantly struggling to actualize anything with regard to his education or his career.
- He’s a full-blown alcoholic just like his dad.
Such a classic bad-boy cocktail is impossible to ignore.
Plus, he still exudes charm, and a “I really just want to know this guy and be his friend” vibe. The progression of his character also reveals that he has a tendency to love the wrong people. Like, hard. To the point where he spirals down the alcoholism vortex and loses himself.
He’s the guy everyone wants to fuck, then punch in the face, then send to rehab, then fuck again once he’s out of rehab — and repeat. — Erin Taj, Art Director
Connie Nikas, Good Time
Good Time’s Connie Nikas is a piece of work.
First, he tries to rob a bank with his developmentally disabled brother, Nick (who is quickly picked up by police). Then, he breaks into a 16-year-old girl’s house and tries to have sex with her. Next, he beats a security guard unconscious and pours a bottle of LSD down his throat, a nice little preamble to the rest of the evening which includes, but is not limited to: getting said 16-year-old arrested, causing someone to jump off a 30-story balcony, and finally, getting shot himself.
Let me put it this way: If everything Midas touches turns to gold, everything Connie touches turns to shit. I mean, this guy fucking sucks — he can’t move three feet without grievously injuring an innocent person or ruining their life. He doesn’t care, either — he’s an actual bad boy; the bad-person kind and the rare protagonist whose “bad boy-ness” doesn’t come from owning a skateboard or breaking nice girls’ hearts at the big dance, but from a place of real sociopathy and a terrifying ruthlessness that makes you wonder what the hell happened to him as a child.
Given who he is — a snake, a manipulator — there’s really no reason you should be rooting for him as he blazes his trail of tears on the way to bail Nick out of jail. I mean, you’re better than that, right?
Wrong — you’re just as susceptible to Connie’s ways as the rest of the characters in the film. His charm, ingenuity and unstoppable devotion to protecting his brother come off as halfway likable, and midway through the film, you realize you’re actually on this motherfucker’s side. You want him to get the 10 grand he needs for bail. You want him to save poor, vulnerable Nick from certain demise. (It’s unclear what his developmental disability is, but it’s very clear prison isn’t the place for him.)
Somehow, as is the case with all bad bois, Connie’s wrongdoings are forgivable because he’s doing them for love. All this mayhem is in service of bailing Nick out of jail, and his frantic, stop-at-nothing loyalty to his brother provides a disarmingly gentle and confusingly attractive bandage to cover up the wound of his otherwise hellish behavior. In this way, all bad-boy stories are the same — we’re all too willing to forget their sins the moment they humanize themselves with love because it quells our fear that there are actual predators in our midst. As long as they’re doing bad things for the right reasons, we should be okay… right?
To complicate things further, this guy is Robert Pattinson in real life. It’s impossible to separate him from his vampiric halcyon days in Twilight, so the constant reminder that he’s capable of soft, storybook kisses and is dating FKA Twigs makes the cognitive dissonance between Connie’s mixture of “Hollywood bad boy” and “actual horrible person” all the stronger — and more delicious. — Isabelle Kohn, Staff Writer
Jake Ryan, Sixteen Candles
For every bad girl there is, presumably, a bad boy. But for every wallflower girl, there is a Jake Ryan. Or rather, thanks to the existence of fictional Jake Ryan, played by Michael Schoeffling in the John Hughes film Sixteen Candles, who, it should be noted, was also a GQ model, scores of Gen-X women everywhere were finally given a satisfying narrative and visual fantasy of the hot, aloof guy you’d never really get. Only this time, the popular, rich, good-looking jock not only does know you’re alive, but he actually wants to be your boyfriend.
Notably, Ryan gave that jock stereotype a sweetly sensitive boyfriend sheen. Instead of a leather jacket and a motorcycle, he wears a Fair Isle sweater vest with 501s and drives a red 944 Porsche. Instead of mindlessly boning his tan, blonde cheerleader girlfriend until he trades her in for another one in college, he grows bored with her shallow superficiality.
He’s not put off by Samantha’s (Molly Ringwald) crush in spite of her being a quirky nobody; he’s flattered and intrigued by it. He defends her by getting her panties back from the drooling nerd posse. And even though everyone forgot her birthday, he’ll be waiting outside the church where her sister just got married to take her out that night and make her forget all about it.
This slight variation on the dumb jock — depth, sensitivity, romance, integrity — paired with a rescue fantasy turned his character from dumb, hot jock to perfect dreamboat. So much so that women are still writing odes to Jake Ryan with headlines such as “How Jake Ryan Ruined My (And Every Heteronormative White Woman’s) Life.”
He ruined men’s lives, too, feeding their jealousy and frustration that this is the archetype women are holding in their heads when they look over at you and your last-minute grocery store bouquet with no concrete plans for dinner yet.
“Popular high school seniors don’t dump their cheerleader girlfriends with great bods so they can ask out a sophomore girl nobody notices,” jealous man Hank Stuever snidely notes at the Washington Post. “Jake did not actually do this, because he is not real.”
What is more believable is the dickish way Jake gets those panties back, which is why he’s still a cad, and where the revenge of the nerd girl fantasy peters out a bit. In a New Yorker piece about the film’s glaring problems, Molly Ringwald notes that “Jake essentially trades his drunk girlfriend, Caroline, to the Geek, to satisfy the latter’s sexual urges, in return for Samantha’s underwear.” (In the next scene, we’re led to believe she’s had sex with that geek while passed out.)
No perfect boyfriend could ever stoop so low. That not-so-minor flaw becomes increasingly harder to separate from the fantasy, and it’s no stretch of the imagination to conjure what he’ll do when it’s time to trade Samantha in for something more intriguing, too. Luckily, we never have to find out, because that guy never dumps the cheerleader for the weird girl anyway. — Tracy Moore, Staff Writer