In real life, if someone is unpleasant—a criminal, a stalker or just simply too creepy for words—we run away from them. However, we are very forgiving of these traits when it comes to fictional characters. Instead of calling characters evil or insane, we call them “complex” and “misunderstood.”
Here is my list of some of the most beloved “misunderstood” characters who are actually just terrible people:
The Phantom from “The Phantom of the Opera”
While it pains my 14-year-old self to admit it, The Phantom (also known as Erik if you’ve read the book) is one of the most terrible people to ever grace the page, screen and stage. He’s a fascinating character to be sure, a tragically deformed musical genius, both mysterious and dangerous, but he’s also a completely insane stalker/murderer. Women love this guy, but if they met him in real life, I don’t think they’d be so enthusiastic. Once you get past his mysterious allure, the idea of a man twice your age watching you through a two-way mirror while pretending to be a spirit sent by your dead father and eventually kidnapping you is nothing short of horrifying.
Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean”
This is also pains me to admit, but what person thinks to themselves “You know what I want in a romantic partner? A constantly drunk, egotistic womanizer who steals, lies and cheats, all while never bathing or changing their clothes.” Yes, he’s entertaining and has moments of heroism, and yes, he’s played by the beautifully eccentric Johnny Depp, but Captain Jack is not a guy you want to hang around with. He’s always stealing things (i.e. ships, money, Davy Jones’ heart) and getting everyone around him into near-death situations. Plus, he’s always losing his ship, and who wants to be stranded with a drunk guy who has no means of transportation except some alleged sea turtles?
Draco Malfoy from the “Harry Potter” series
J.K. Rowling, the queen of the Wizarding World herself, has expressed recent concern as to why girls love Draco Malfoy so much. She admitted that it was likely based on the casting of Tom Felton in the film franchise, but aside from that Draco is just a cruel, spoiled brat who could have redeemed himself but was too cowardly. He spends five books tormenting everyone and then in book six he has a slight character arc. Everyone felt bad for Draco suddenly and slapped that label of “misunderstood” on him. In the end, when he has a chance to fight against Lord Voldemort he doesn’t and instead remains the same rich, arrogant coward he always was.
Heathcliff from “Wuthering Heights”
Every time someone calls this novel a great love story, I think Emily Bronte rolls over in her grave. This is a Gothic novel, not a romance, and all of the characters are terrible people, but none are more terrible than the principle male character Heathcliff. Heathcliff has been confused as a brooding hero for decades, when really he just a psychotic beast. He physically abuses animals as a child, and as an adult he physically abuses humans. Readers often feel sorry for Heathcliff and blame his actions on the fact that he is miserably pining for the love of Catherine Earnshaw. If you’re looking for a romantic male hero who is actually a decent human being, stay clear of the Bronte sisters.
Count Dracula from “Dracula”
I love vampires, but upon reading Bram Stoker’s original novel, I realized there’s nothing appealing about the world’s most famous vampire (except the fact that he owns a gigantic castle in Transylvania). The film versions typically turn Dracula into a tall, dark, handsome, aristocratic man in his mid-30s, but Stoker’s original Dracula is completely different. He is old, ugly, extremely hairy and he only wants to drink your blood or turn you into one of his slaves. Modern culture has been fixated on vampires for decades, but if these undead creatures actually existed I doubt we’d want to be anywhere near them, much less select them for romantic partners.