Watch Smarter

Why Do So Many Hollywood Villains Look Like Cancer Patients?

The reasons are disturbing—but they can be fixed.

Watch Smarter is Slate’s series that teaches you to spot hidden tropes in pop culture and beyond. Watch all episodes.

A couple of years ago, when my best friend was being treated for terminal cancer, he was rewatching the Star Wars movies with his wife for the last time. They got to the scene where Darth Vader finally takes his helmet off. And my friend turned to his wife and said, “Why do all Villains looks like fucking cancer patients?”

He was onto something: Voldemort, Gollum, Count Orlok, Dr. Evil. And this phenomenon is bigger than just cancer: A ridiculous percentage of movie villains appear to have some kind of sickness or disability. In this episode of Watch Smarter, I explain why—and what we can we do about it.

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