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Being a movie villain is bad for your skin

Published: 06th April, 2017 at 14:00
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Do you suffer from a skin condition? According to a new study you could be just what Hollywood is looking for in their latest baddie.

Ever noticed how movie villains always seem to have something in common? No, it’s not an insatiable thirst for world domination but scars, warts and other unpleasant skin conditions all over their face. A new study from the University of Texas Medical Branch reckons this could be having a detrimental effect on people who also suffer from common skin conditions.


But aren’t baddies supposed to be ugly?

There is some research that suggests criminals have a tendency to be, let’s say, aesthetically challenged, but the study found that six of the top 10 movie villains on the American Film Institute (AFI) 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains List had dermatologic findings on their face. Only two heroes, Indiana Jones and Rick Blaine from the film Casablanca had facial scars, although even then they were much less marked than their foes.

Who are these "aesthetically challenged" enemies?

Although Norman Bates, Nurse Ratched, Alex Forrest, Phyllis Dietrichson don’t show any signs of skin conditions, the other six baddies in the top 10 showed at least one problem:


Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs)

Hannibal the cannibal is one of the scariest psychos in cinema, but maybe it's his alopecia that's making him cranky.


Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Poor old Anakin, he was once such a handsome hero but after falling into molten lava and with years of succumbing to the dark side under his belt, all this has left him with multiple facial scars, alopecia, wrinkles and periorbital hyperpigmentation, or dark circles under the eyes.


The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)

As if the unexpected arrival of a girl in fancy shoes, her pooch and her house onto the head of her sister wasn’t enough to worry about, the Wicked Witch of the West also had an unsightly wart on her chin (and green skin, of course).


Mr Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life)

Scrimping money from the poor and ruining Christmas for everybody (especially for George Bailey) means Frank Capra’s villainous banker had little time to worry about his alopecia.


Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist)

Poor little Regan, being possessed a demon had a terrible effect on her skin leaving her with scars and dark circles under the eyes (as well as making her a little bit vommy).


The Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

When not dressed as a haggard old woman the Queen is in fact quite beautiful, but her dark, dark soul shows itself in all manner of skin conditions; periorbital hyperpigmentation, deep rhytides, verruca vulgaris and rhinophyma - so dark eyes, deep wrinkles, warts and a bulbous nose. Scary stuff!

So what is it about these cinema meanies that makes our skin crawl?

"The practice of giving villains skin conditions in the movies takes root in the silent film age, when filmmakers were tasked with conveying character traits in the absence of the spoken word," Dr Julie Amthor tells us in an email. "Skin was prime real estate in this era. The skin bias has persisted to present day.

It's not just bad news for the villain is it?

Nope, seeing evil movie villains defined by skin conditions can have a knock on effect in real life. The report finds that targeting dermatologic minorities in cinema might lead to prejudice and facilitate misunderstanding among the general public.

"A more realistic representation of people with skin disease in roles other than the villain may help to dissolve discriminating opinions toward those with skin diseases," adds Amthor.


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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.


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