A mainstay of the horror genre and the centerpiece to countless iconic thrillers- sociopaths are the characters you love to hate. Usually boasting deeply insidious intentions beneath carefully curated veneers, these personalities excel in providing an underlying tension throughout the course of a story.
Will the manufactured mask crack in tremendous fashion, unleashing a murderous, unhinged lunatic? Or will they keep their cool, becoming experts in manipulation and control? No matter which way your favourite sociopath leans, one thing is for sure – It’ll be one hell of a ride.
And with the release of the final installment of Netflix’s You season 4 just days away, it’s time to practice your scathing inner monologue and dead-eyed stare with 10 Sociopaths You Love To Hate.
Patrick Bateman – American Psycho (2000)
A wealthy New York City investment banking executive, Patrick Bateman, hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.
It wouldn’t be a sociopath list without the daddy of all charismatic sociopaths – the untenable Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). Whether Patrick is performing his rigorous skincare routine, delivering a scathing inner monologue or chasing sex workers with a chainsaw, it’s almost impossible to look away.
Christian Bale’s performance here is absolutely to blame, and he excels in balancing Bateman’s rigid, manufactured exterior with his depraved and unhinged inner workings. Watching the obsessively structured mask shatter explosively into unbridled violence is both horrifying *and* bizarrely satisfying at the same time.
Lucas Ward – Dismissed (2017)
A straight-edged teacher finds trouble when an honors student is willing to do anything to get an A.
A surprisingly adept turn from the underrated Sprouse twin, Dismissed’s Lucas is a hyper intelligent, remarkably structured and fiercely determined young man. Watching him crack over something as arbitrary as a school grade and descend into a world of manipulation, stalking and obsession is a tense, compelling ride into the darkest corners of the teenage character’s inner workings.
Dylan Sprouse’s expression and voice work here is particularly standout, with hints of the boy’s sociopathic rage slipping through his neat, pleasant outer shell. Giving notes of One Hour Photo and Gone Girl, Dismissed is a wildly overlooked and competent thriller, perfect for a first foray into the genre.
Kevin – We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly dangerous things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.
One of the more disturbing entries on this list, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a harrowing deconstruction of nature vs nurture, albeit one left ambiguous in it’s violent conclusion. Every single player here is bringing their A game, but it’s Ezra Miller’s turn as the twisted Kevin that takes centre stage as the titular sociopath. Kevin is every bit as charismatic as the others on this list, but there’s a deep-rooted lust for destruction that, when combined with an absolute absence of empathy or emotional connection, outweighs other, more horror-centric characters.
Kevin’s detached disdain for his mother comes at the behest of her dwindling mental health, ultimately culminating in a mother-son combo constantly locked in a damaging battle of wills. Having the entire affair overshadowed by the creeping dread of it’s unspoken final act puts a tension through the movie that borders on unbearable. Kevin leaves you crawling out of your skin but completely unable to look away while doing so.
Steve – Fresh (2022)
Fresh follows Noa, who meets the alluring Steve at a grocery store and – given her frustration with dating apps – takes a chance and gives him her number.
With Sebastian Stan behind Fresh’s Steve, you can’t help but fall in love with him as protagonist Noa does – He’s a breath of fresh air in a world of swipeable dating sites and chronically online political takes. He’s charming, handsome and avoids social media- something that pings a red flag for Noa’s bestie, but by the time you’ve seen him dance through his living room, you’re putty in his hands…
Which is why it makes it all the more darkly rewarding when his bleak ulterior motives come into play. What was once smooth and charismatic quickly becomes creepy, his penchant for fresh meat reminiscent of 2013’s take on Hannibal, aka. a little bit romantic, even if you’d never admit that out loud.
Evan Cole – Bloodline (2018)
Evan values family above all else, and anyone who gets between him, his wife, and newborn son learns that the hard way. But when it comes to violent tendencies, it seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
New fatherhood, a tragic past and aPamela Voorhees of a mother spurs Evan into the unthinkable.
Whilst his daytimes are filled with counselling abused teenagers, his nights soon descend into a blur of sociopathic vigilante justice. Tracking down the parents who have wronged their children, through physical, emotional and sexual assault, Evan balances the line between Dexter and Patrick Bateman by violently dispatching abusers. Seann William Scott, typically known for comedies like American Pie and Dude, Wheres My Car? is a genuinely inspired casting choice and takes a surprisingly adept turn as this protective father, successfully pulling off graphic kill scenes with a detached ease. A delight to behold, if only for the complete break of typical typecasting.
Martin (and arguably, Steven) – The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017)
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Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.
Have you ever tried being completely uncomfortable for 2 entire hours whilst also utterly enjoying it? Director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) truly accomplishes the impossible by delivering something deeply and innately unsettling, with a beauty and craftsmanship that leaves you unable to look away. Every aspect of the movie, from the dialogue and direction to the score and phenomenal performances, are completely deliberate in a way that somehow feels both remarkably genuine and incredibly structured.
The core family are an emotionally stunted, bizarre group, only made all the stranger by the mysterious appearance of Martin, an equally unusual young man. There’s a fantastic emphasis on subconsciously unsettling traits, from Steven’s (Colin Farrell) kinks, to the way the family interact with one another, to Martin’s (Barry Keoghan’s) slightly unusual, bizarrely captivating face. The unexplained events only add to the sense of unease, but the result is one of the most truly fantastic and unique movie experiences in the history of cinema.
John – I Am Not A Serial Killer (2016)
In a small Midwestern town, a troubled teen with homicidal tendencies must hunt down and destroy a supernatural killer while keeping his own inner demons at bay.
Thriller meets coming-of-age in this indie flick featuring the legendary Christopher Lloyd (Spirit Halloween: The Movie) and the rarely seen and hugely underrated Max Records (Where The Wild Things Are). I Am Not A Serial Killer’s John is an endearing take on the classic sociopath. He’s crushingly self-aware, in keeping with millennial and gen z teens, and tries his utmost to keep his sociopathic tendencies at bay. For once, the protagonist isn’t on a gory descent into madness but a journey of self-discovery, complete with the trials and tribulations of teenagerdom… and a genuinely surprising third act twist.
This is a neat little thriller, and while it’s infinitely fun to watch Christopher Lloyd play in this sort of space, Max Records gives one of the most captivating performances of his career. This could have easily fallen flat on lesser shoulders, but Records proves himself as a true talent, and one this writer would kill to see pop up more frequently.
Paul & Peter – Funny Games (2007)
Two violent young men take a mother, father, and son hostage in their vacation cabin and force them to play sadistic “games” with one another for their own amusement.
This near shot-for-shot remake of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, casts Michael Pitt (Murder By Numbers) and Brady Corbet (Mysterious Skin) as the unnerving Paul and Peter, the set of brothers(?) responsible for the movie’s core home invasion. Expertly playing in the space between innocent, if slightly unusual neighbours and sociopathic lunatics hellbent on torturing the central family, Pitt and Corbet dominate the movie with their unpredictable and unhinged personalities.
Similar enough to seem practiced in their madness, but different enough to forge unique characteristics between them, Paul and Peter take centre stage in the absolute worst way. Funny Games is not a casual watch by any means – it’s the sort of harrowing, bleak experience reserved for special occasions and a healing slew of puppy videos immediately afterwards.
Kurt Kunkle – Spree (2020)
Thirsty for a following, Kurt Kunkle is a rideshare driver who has figured out a deadly plan to go viral.
Joe Keery (Stranger Things), typically known for his endearing Steve Harrington role, lets loose with the cringe-tastic Kurt Kunkle. Combining all the drive and determination of a fame-hungry teenager with the misplaced embarrassment of a dorky, loner kid, Kurt Kunkle is the sort of car crash you can’t look away from.
The somewhat slow burn as he fails to build the audience he believes he deserves is tantalising, with Keery almost single-handedly driving the action throughout. Witnessing him finally snap in real-time is deeply satisfying and immensely fun, hugely in part to Keery’s stellar performance and an authenticity to the concept that borders on worryingly plausible. Spree is the sort of movie that’ll stick with you, purely because it’s such a damn good time.
Joe Goldberg – You (2018-Present)
A dangerously charming, intensely obsessive young man goes to extreme measures to insert himself into the lives of those he is transfixed by.
Boasting a wit and charm often removed from sociopathic characters, it’s clear why the Internet fell in love with You’sJoe Goldberg. He’s tall, dark and handsome, well-dressed, successful but not intimidatingly so. He runs a quirky bookshop, helping him maintain an artsy fartsy sort of background without straying into the American Psycho world of big bucks and pressed suits. He’s damaged, mysterious, and alluring with real ‘I can fix him’ vibes ebbing off of broad shoulders and knitted sweaters. Yet, underneath, he’s as insidious as the rest of them.
His inner monologue sways from cringey to genuinely unsettling, and his recurring obsessive tendencies both repulse and attract in equal measure. He’s a combination of the sociopaths who’ve come before him, but perhaps manages to manipulate more effectively than his more outwardly murderous counterparts, making him an arguably more dangerous animal to those around him.