Monday, November 4, 2013

Movies with Evil Doctors and Mad Scientists

“She’s the Dr. Doom to my Mr. Fantastic, the Dr. Octopus to my Spider-Man, the Dr. Sivana to my Captain Marvel.  [pause as realization hits]  You know, it’s amazing how many supervillains have advanced degrees.  You’d think the Masters programs would do a better job of filtering them out.” – Dr. Sheldon Leonard, The Big Bang Theory

I’m doing this category only after a little bit of hesitation, and partially because I just really like the quote above.  I hesitated because as someone with an interest in science and knowledge it often bothers me in films when a similar character almost inevitably ends up being evil, or at least led astray and harmed by his/her thirst for knowledge.  The evil scientist is as much a stock character as the bad guy with a foreign accent.  Unlike the latter archetype, nobody is out there protesting when smart people turn out to be evil.  It’s apparently okay to dump on them because, well, they’re smart.  Beat them up in school, see them suffer in movies; it’s all connected. 

One of the reasons I like the film Contact (1997) so much is that it is the rare film that treats science and scientists with respect.  It’s also a rare film that treats faith with respect.  To have both together in one movie is nothing short of remarkable.  You can read my review of it here.

Films have used these kinds of evil characters almost from the first days of the invention of the movie camera and they have continued right up to the films that are still being released today.  That doesn’t mean that all movies that use it are bad, though; far from it.  I will be reviewing some of the classics of the genre.  And the fact that the mad scientist is such a cliché makes it ripe for parody and reinvention.  I will review a couple of those kinds of films, too.  In all, I will be posting ten new reviews.

I won’t be including any James Bond movies since almost all of them would qualify and this category would end up being one on Bond instead.  I also won’t be including Bond parodies like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) – starring Vincent Price and Frankie Avalon, no less!  I do like the title, though.

You will not find any torture porn horror movies such as The Human Centipede here.  I haven’t seen it, but I know what happens and you couldn’t pay me to watch that.

Finally, you may be expecting me to include the film Dr. Strangelove (1964), but Peter Sellers’ mugging for the camera as the title character is actually my least favorite part of that movie.  I will be including a film which references that character, though.

As I review the films I will come back and add the links for them here.

The City of Lost Children (1995) – posted January 11, 2011
X-Men: First Class (2011) – posted June 11, 2011
Iron Man 3 (2013) – posted May 3, 2013
Young Frankenstein (1974) – posted September 5, 2013

On to the reviews…


  1. Can we hope for Les Yeux sans Visage?

    1. Well, you can, but unfortunately that's not going to be one of them. While I didn't dislike it, it didn't have enough in it that grabbed me to make it a recommendable film. It falls into my middle road "it was okay" rating.

      The first one up will be in a somewhat similar vein as that, though.

  2. How about the father of all mad scientists: Dr. Frankenstein? I see you have Young Frankenstein, but I think it was the elder version that founded the trope.
    There are also a number of films that go the opposite way, who celebrate the scientist as the hero. Contact is one (though the book was far better) and there are a number of classic cases. Things to Come to mention one. The Day after Tomorrow to mention another. In fact when The Scientist is set up against The Capitalist as opposed to The Common Man he is usually the hero. Kim Stanley Robinson has been a champion of that cause for years (The Mars trilogy) and before him Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan.
    The problem usually is that science (real science) is complicated and never black and white. It is possible (though difficult) to get that through in a book, but almost impossible in a movie. Hollywood loves its "date movies" and people on a date are not terribly interested in complex scientific issues like protein metabolism or quantum mechanics. It is mumbo-jumbo and what we do not understand is dangerous and probably evil and hence the scientist becomes the evil wizard. That is a role the general public can understand.

    1. I completely agree with everything you wrote. To clarify, I feel it is films that usually make the scientist the bad guy, not literature. And it is for exactly the reasons you mention. As the famous quote goes, "Science has never promised us happiness, only truth." Another classic film that shows the scientist as hero is Madame Curie. It also shows all the hard work that goes into making discoveries. For every mold growing in a petri dish leading to penicillin and chocolate bar melted in a pocket leading to microwaves used for heating things, there are a dozen discoveries that involved years and years of hard work. Madame Curie perfectly encapsulates that.

      And as for Frankenstein, that is literally the one I have planned to go up today. The only reason it might not is that I am going to go see Thor on its opening today and if it fits into this category then that will give me an excuse to post a review of a current film.