The Most Realistic Psychopath In Movie History

Carson Wells: “Do you have any idea how crazy you are?”
Anton Chigurh: “You mean the nature of this conversation?”
Carson Wells: “I mean the nature of you.” —No Country for Old Men (2005)

In A Nutshell

Everybody loves a psychopath . . . as long as he’s on the movie screen. Some of cinema’s greatest villains are psychos, but just how accurate are those characters? Forensic psychiatrist Samuel Leistedt decided to find out. Leistedt spent years watching hundreds of films and classifying movie psychopaths, ranking them from least realistic to terrifyingly accurate. Anton Chigurh, of No Country for Old Men, came out on top.

The Whole Bushel

Cinema is full of psychopaths, from Alex DeLarge to Alex Forrest, but they’re not all created equal. In fact, some are downright unrealistic. Psychos have been manipulating their way across the silver screen since the silent era, and as our understanding of psychology evolves, so does the onscreen portrayal of these manipulative monsters.

So which of these baddies are true-to-life and which are nothing more than Hollywood hooey? That’s a question forensic psychiatrist Samuel Leistedt wanted to answer. Originally, Leistedt planned on using movies to teach students about the traits of psychopaths, but over time, his quest turned into a full-fledged study. The good doctor teamed up with 10 other psychiatrists, and the group watched 400 movies over three years, analyzing antagonists and looking for emotionless villains who showed little remorse, controlled others, and showed no sympathy for their prey.

Unfortunately for fans of sci-fi and fantasy, Leistedt barred ghosts, gods, and evil wizards from consideration. (After all, this is supposed to be realistic.) Eventually, the team got down to 126 baddies: 105 men and 21 women. The scientists classified them according to various subtypes (as defined by Hugues Herve and Benjamin Karpman) and ranked the characters as accurate or inaccurate depictions.

For example, Michael Corleone from The Godfather movies is a secondary, macho psychopath which means he’s been shaped by his environment and intimidates others into doing his bidding. Gordon Gekko from Wall Street is a successful (or corporate) psychopath and manipulates poor Charlie Sheen into making his millions. And then there’s Annie Wilkes (of Misery) who’s actually a pseudopsychopath. This means she’s really a sociopath who displays antisocial behavior by tying up writers and doing very, very bad things to them.

However, the study concluded the most realistic psychopath of all time is none other than that cattle gun–carrying, bowl cut–sporting, coin-tossing hitman Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. According to Leistedt, Chigurh is a merciless killer who feels absolutely no remorse for blowing his victims apart with a shotgun. He’s very determined, has no empathy for his victims, and is incapable of emotions like love or shame. Leistedt wrote that Chigurh reminded of him actual contract killers he’d interviewed, and even compared Javier Bardem’s character to murderer Richard Kuklinski, the infamous “Ice Man.” Other extremely realistic psychos are Peter Lorre’s Hans Beckert from M and Michael Rooker’s Henry from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The study did offer a few surprises. For example, Norman Bates from Psycho isn’t actually a psychopath. Based on well-known serial killer Ed Gein, Bates is actually a psychotic—someone out of touch with reality. Most shockingly, Leistedt declared that Hannibal Lecter is actually quite unrealistic. The majority of psychopaths are nowhere near as intelligent as the liver-eating psychiatrist. While Hopkin’s Academy Award–winning performance is fantastic, the character just isn’t an accurate portrayal, especially when you factor in Hannibal’s fine taste and calm demeanor. But despite the Lecter letdown, Leistedt’s research is pretty interesting for profilers and cinephiles alike. Now if someone ever did some research on how many movie produces are psychopaths, that would be a truly terrifying study.

Show Me The Proof

cnet: How real are cinema psychos? New study finds out
ScienceNews: The most (and least) realistic movie psychopaths ever

  • Rijul Ballal

    It was the haircut.

  • Exiled Phoenix

    I found him to be a rather good employee.

  • Frank Booth!

    • Illuminati Recruitment Agency

      He is more of a sociopath though

      • Now it’s dark … well he does seem to have a disturbed social life.

        • JonF

          Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!

  • Nathaniel A.

    I would like to know how Heath Ledger in Batman ranked. R.I.P

    • Ranger3399

      Funny you said that… I was thinking the same thing. When I first saw that it scared me for a week! But then again I’m not big on horror and creepy killers lol

    • Nope

      You’re joking, right? That performance – while great for an action movie villain – was WAY to over-the-top for any other type of movie, let all to be considered as realistic, in any regard. And with all the inconsistencies in the writing, Joker the character, is something of pure fiction undeserving of any psychological assessment.

      • Ryo Shenmue

        Yeah…if it wasn’t for the fact that there aren’t inconsistencies in the writing and that The Dark Knight’s The Joker was inspired by Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which by the way was praised by a few psychologists(including a couple of criminal psychologists) back in 1988 for its somehow correct portrayal of a psychopath. So, while it would be correct to say the Heath Ledger’s Joker is not the most realistic example of a fictional psychopath, it would also be correct to say that what you have said is complete BS.

  • Chester

    How is michael corleone a psychopath? He has empathy he has remorse(cries about killing Fredo), he neither makes bold or dis-inhibited moves he is actually intelligent and calculating he is also not antisocial. Michael Corleone is a very intelligent business man, everything he does he does for his family, to protect them and allow them to prosper and grow, some of those things include manipulating and killing people, but it doesnt make him a psychopath it just makes him a product of his environment (being in the mob) no different then a general.

    • J K

      “he’s been shaped by his environment and intimidates others into doing his bidding”

      • Chester

        ya that doesnt make him a psychopath. It makes him a powerful goal driven person.

    • OC

      Wow Chester that’s 100% CRAZY and folks here AGREE with you!

      • Chester

        Explain how thats crazy?

        • OC

          Think, how we are so far removed that nothing I could say would ever make sense to you, or would ever matter to you.

          • Chester

            So you limited intelligence wont allow you to post a response to my simple question…ya sounds about right.

    • Sean

      I agree with Chester. Just because someone commits murder doesn’t necessarily make them a psychopath. I’m not saying that murder is justified by any means but there is a world of difference between a serial killer who selects victims at random and kills them in cold blood and a hot-blooded crime of passion, say for example if someone were to walk in on his wife in bed with another man and kill that man. That would not be a psychotic act and the killer would most likely feel remorse afterwards. Or in Michael Corleone’s case, the murder was planned and calculated, but he didn’t want to do it and he didn’t feel good about it. He did it because he felt it had to be done. On an emotional level, it’s similar to breaking up with someone you know isn’t good for you. It breaks your heart to do it, and you hate to see that person hurt by it, but you know it has to be done.

  • Vito Semion Defronzo

    im still trying to figure out how Hannibal is unrealistic, a serial killer and cannibal can’t be intelligent??

    • Nomsheep

      Psychopaths tend to be a product if a bad upbringing with little access to learning and poor relations to other people during childhood.

      • EvaAllard

        So while their book knowledge is typically low, they may have excellent problem solving skills which could be considered high intelligence. They are crafty in other words.

        • Nomsheep

          Pretty much.

      • OC

        I disagree.

  • Breton

    I’m not so sure about the whole Hannibal as being quite unrealistic thing, there has been quite a few highly intelligent serial killers that put on excellent facades. Ted Bundy, for example, was awarded a medal for saving a drowning child and defended himself in court so aptly that the judge told him that he could have easily made a good lawyer if he wasn’t a raging psychopath.

    Other notables include Edmund Kemper who had 145 IQ, Dr. H.H. Holmes, and Dr. Harold Shipman. You could also possibly add in serial killers that have eluded the police such as the Zodiac Killer, Jack the Ripper, and a current at large serial killer in the Long Island Serial Killer (un-sub), which some authorities believe to be an intelligent person in the law enforcement field due to his knowledge of police procedures. Also, Charles Manson, a proposed serial killer that never physically killed anyone could be considered quite intelligent, hell he even wrote a song for the Beach Boys.

    • Wes Johson

      the major issue with Hannibal is he’s just too damn much. Brilliant psychiatrist, artist, musician, writer, cook…perfect memory. He isn’t just a ruthless killer, he has super powers – he’s faster, stronger, meaner, immune to pain, fear…

      He’s a cartoon. On the other hand – I’d be interested to see where Valmont and Glenn Close’s character from Dangerous Liasons rated.

    • klogram

      H.H. Holmes wasn’t really a doctor.

  • Rick

    I just gotta say, if you haven’t read/seen “No Country For Old Men (the movie follows the book very closely w/the book going into a bit more detail)”, DO IT!! Javier Bardem’s portayal of Anton Chigurh won him an Oscar & if you watch it you’ll know why. The only thing Chigurh cares about is not getting his boots soiled with his victims blood. He lives by a very strickt code of perverted ethics & loyalty to whomever it was that hired him (which is a bit unclear). There’s one classic “coin toss” scene @ a gas station that no matter how many times I watch it, it still makes me squirm.

    • Mindy McIndy

      **Spoiler Alert**

      My only beef with the movie is that they changed the coin toss at the end with Llewelyn’s wife. In the book, she relented and called it, only to call it wrong, and get shot in the head. In the movie, she refused to call it at all, sealing her fate and taking away her one chance at survival. I can say that she was just resigned to die at that point, knowing she had nothing left, but that still sort of bugged me. It would have added even more suspense to that great film.

      • Rick

        Another **SPOILER ALERT**
        Well, I have 1 small beef w/the book myself. @ the end of the book, Chigurh has a sit down w/the person who originally hired him. In the movie, after the car accident, he just walks away & we never know what happened to him adding to the mystique & leaving it to yor imagination. I liked that ending better.

        • Mindy McIndy

          **Spoiler Alert**

          That is quite a legit beef. I also like how the movie cut out the storyline of Llewelyn picking up the young hitchhiker only to have both be killed by Chigur. That scene with Llewelyn and the pool girl who wanted to share beer with him was a better way to go. We didn’t know her, yet that was some really sad collateral damage.

          I’ve seen this movie way too many times, and even wrote a term paper about how “No Country for Old Men” is the best movie of all time. I titled it “No Country for Bad Movies.” I got an A. It was either that or “The Big Lebowski”, but since I could reference the book to compare and contrast with the movie, NCfOM was the most logical choice.

          • Rick

            & yet another **SPOILER ALERT*
            I very rarely buy movies that I rent, but this 1 was a “gotta have” primarily due to Javier Bardem’s performance. Didn’t the movie also win an Oscar for best ensemble cast as well? I can’t think if a single character I didn’t think was well written. Especially the shopkeeper in the gas station coin toss scene. His obvious discomfort with what was going on added to the squirm factor that made that scene so riviting.
            I also think that Llewellyn’s demise as collateral damage himself added to the irony of the book/movie.

          • Mindy McIndy

            It was a SAG award for best ensemble class. I am the opposite of you, in that I am a huge DVD/Blu-Ray buyer, but when I bought this, I bought two copies. One for me, and one to lend out to other people. It really is a perfect movie, with every little shot having meaning. It can also be very darkly funny at times. While it had the Coen Brothers’ obvious touch, it was still completely unlike anything they’ve ever done, or any movie I have ever seen. And in my 27 years, I have probably seen way more movies than I should have.

          • Gavin Wainwright

            Brilliant film. I love Anton’s Service station dialogue. So ice cold.

          • lbatfish

            If you ever decide to follow through with your literary analysis of The Dude, please post it here. At such time as the movie pops up in an article or the comments, anyway, which is fairly often.

          • Mindy McIndy

            Oh I definitely will. I just wish my computer hadn’t crashed and I still had my “No Country for Old Men” analysis.

  • Keith Taylor

    Wonder what the outcome would be if Anton Chighur bumped into Judge Holden (Another Cormack McCarthy psycho) cattle gun versus man portable howitzer cannon hmm!

  • Ian Macleod

    Bradpitt ,in Kalifornia..? I heard somewhere that some women who works with actually psychopaths, and sociopaths, said that his potrait of a psychopath in the movie was unlike anything she’s ever seen, he was apparently really realistic

  • Mindy McIndy

    Glad to see Anton Chigur as the most accurate psychopath. I’ve read the book and seen the movie dozens of times, and he sends a chill down my spine every single time. Javier Bardem was absolutely brilliant in the role.

    • OC

      Almost a little too brilliant. I could not watch that movie more than once, Yikes.

  • pseudo fiche

    What about john doe from se7en?

  • Andy West
  • MariettaMyricks

    wow its was Ancient History for the Ancient Movie.

  • OC

    Increasingly the challenge is becoming, how NOT to meet a psychopath. THEY are becoming the norm.

    • Chester

      Thats not being a psychopath thats abuses of authority and those people being scumbags.

      • OC

        I have to respectfully disagree Chester. An encounter with one of these psychopaths will alter God’s plan for your life from then on too. I find the devil is in the details.

  • Hestie Barnard Gerber

    Excellent piece!!

  • Kristi Lindley

    None of them can compare to some of the bosses Ive had -lol

  • Errkism

    He made the movie.

  • Steven Radke

    Wondering if any Keanu Reeves movies were watched?

  • Rick Cooley

    Bardem is absolutely rivetting as Anton Chigurh in that movie. Scary as all hell. The scene in the gas station was brilliantly diabolical by him and the gas attendant. Rutger Hauer in “The Hitcher” is another scary than hell bad guy. Cold, calculating, with not an ounce of love, compassion, or remorse in their veins. Hearts of iron. I could bring up Vincent in “Collateral” as another cold-blooded assassin who has ZERO regard for human life. In my opinion, Tom Cruise’s best performance in a movie.