20 Problematic Fictional Characters from Famous Movies & TV Shows

20 Characters from Movies & TV Shows Who Are Actually Problematic

All the characters we used to love but now, we realise they’re kinda awful...

There’s a famous line from the 2008 film The Dark Knight that goes, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The same could apply to some fictional characters who were supposed to be the ‘good guys,’ but actually might not be. Or to put it more accurately — those whose questionable behaviour didn’t age well amid the current era of accountability. It then makes you wonder how these crowd faves have gotten away with it for so long; but hey, let’s chalk it up to not knowing any better back then. 

That said, we’ve re-examined some of the most popular fictional characters from movies and TV shows — and whether or not they were actually decent enough human beings. In other words, would these be people we would actually like if we met them IRL? Or would they be someone we’d rather not be in the same room with? So, don’t expect this list to include characters who are already deemed antiheroes or villains, to begin with. (Looking at you, Don Draper, Anakin Skywalker, and Cersei Lannister.) 

Writer’s note: I made it a point not to include living characters from movies with potential sequels and currently running TV shows! At the end of the day, I still believe in possible character development and redemption, no matter how long overdue. 

Problematic fictional characters from popular TV shows

1. Chuck Bass – Gossip Girl

Granted, nobody in the show was actually a good person and — despite their impeccable taste and style — they all had more issues than Vogue. But this guy’s record is hard to beat: multiple attempts at forcing himself on women, manipulation, and even trying to sell his girlfriend for a hotel. And sure, you might say that he eventually redeemed himself in the end. But while we’re all for character development, none of his misdeeds was ever really addressed. Which begs the question: what was the point, really?

2. Rory Gilmore – Gilmore Girls and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

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As much as we’re all for flawed yet complex characters, there just aren’t enough reasons to excuse Rory’s terrible behaviour. She starts out as a straight-A do-gooder with so much potential… only to throw it all away! Honestly, it was quite disappointing to watch her make one questionable decision after another on the Netflix spin-off; from acting all entitled with her dream job, to having an affair with her engaged ex-boyfriend. And to think that this is someone who had all the privilege and connections to set her up for success.

3. Ezra Fitz – Pretty Little Liars

Not gonna lie, he was arguably the best-looking male love interest in the show. In fact, many teenagers who watched it would say that he and Aria Montgomery were such an adorable couple. Uhm, sure, I guess if you don’t factor in that he knew she was a high school student from the very start and went through with their relationship anyway. It’s predatory no matter how you look at it. And if this were IRL, he would probably be locked up in prison for preying on teenagers, rather than actually marrying them later on.

4. Olivia Pope – Scandal

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Let it be known that I actually used to look up to her, especially when I watched the series during my uni days. But looking back on it now, she’s the epitome of the Toxic #GirlBoss with blatant disregard for her staff’s feelings. Oh, and the fact that she would move heaven and earth (and ruin lives) for someone as unremarkable as Fitz? Sure, he was the President, but let’s be real — she was way too good for him.

5. Barney Stinson – How I Met Your Mother

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At first, he might seem like that really funny and cool guy that you’d love to be friends with. If anything, many would say he’s the most entertaining one in the show — until you realise just how gross his actions are. For starters, he lies to and tricks nearly every woman he meets just to get laid… and even wrote an entire playbook on it! This dude is as misogynistic as they come, and while Robin Scherbatsky was far from the best character, she certainly deserved better.

6. Rachel Berry – Glee

As early as season one, she has always been the worst kind of a young diva who felt entitled to the spotlight. Seriously, if we had a dollar for every time she whined about her talents being ‘wasted’ and how her star ‘shines too bright’ — we’d have enough to buy COVID-19 vaccines for even the most remote parts of the globe! Unfortunately, she never grew out of this bratty mindset even in season 6, when she impulsively skipped a Broadway performance for an audition in Los Angeles.

7. Zack Morris – Saved by the Bell

Among the problematic fictional characters we’ve listed so far, this dude is basically the epitome of white male privilege. The fact that he got into Yale — despite barely applying himself in school — is seriously one of the worst messages to send to kids. He was also quite nonchalant about cultural appropriation and emotionally abusive towards Kelly Kapowski. And to top it all off, he was a terrible friend who was either constantly competing with them or trying to date them.

8. Carrie Bradshaw – Sex and the City

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As much as I love her style (most of the time), she was the absolute worst among the four leads. Not only is she messy with both her love life (who in their right mind chooses Big over Aidan?) and her bank account, but she’s also a terrible friend. Remember that time when she got mad at Charlotte for not lending her rent money? Or when she sent Aidan to help an injured Miranda? And these are just the tip of the iceberg — that is, her failing to see how insignificant her problems are in the grand scheme of things.

9. Daenerys Targaryen – Game of Thrones 

Of course, how can I leave out the most divisive of fictional characters in recent TV history? Anyway, here’s my take: her eventual descent into madness was no shocker. Sure, the show presented her as a sympathetic underdog for a long time. But even then, she has always exhibited a sense of entitlement to the Iron Throne, while masking her mission in righteousness and ‘freeing’ the Westerosi. Yep, never mind the fact that the father she’s trying to avenge was a tyrant who, frankly, had it coming.

Also read: 7 Airbnbs That Were Featured in Movies & TV Shows

Fictional characters from movies who aren’t really the ‘good guys’

10. Rose – Titanic

Let’s keep this short and simple: there was totally enough space for both her and Jack on that floating door.

11. Edward Cullen – Twilight Saga

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Bella Swan might have gotten a lot of flack for being utterly bland (hey, not her fault she was written that way), but at least she wasn’t a centuries-old vampire who went for a literal 17-year-old. Not only was Edward a creepy stalker (pre-dating Bella), but he was also clingy with zero boundaries (once they were together). Oh, and remember how he tried to restrict her friend group, just because he didn’t get along with or approve of them? Yep, the ‘00s were clearly the heyday of the cold and brooding bro kinda fictional characters…

12. Gabriella Montez – High School Musical

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Can we talk about how her being the supposed smart girl barely even manifested, save for her wearing a lab coat in the first movie and getting into Stanford in the finale? Seriously, she spent most of the time just whining and depending on Troy. And, of course, let’s not forget about her constantly stealing roles from Sharpay — someone who basically dedicated her entire life to theatre!

13. Ferris Bueller – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The ’80s was obviously the era of mean and inconsiderate teenage guys starring in high school-set movies. It didn’t help that these fictional characters don’t even have any justification (you know, at least a backstory) for why they act like that; something that probably wouldn’t fly as well in 2021. But yes, Ferris seems like the cool and fun-loving rebel, but later on, you realise that he was plain selfish. Have you seen the way he treats his girlfriend, Sloane, and his supposed best friend, Cameron?

14. Ariel – The Little Mermaid

Now, let’s move on to Disney characters who totally gave the wrong message to many young children. But okay, where do we even begin with this particular Disney princess? From giving up her voice just to be with someone she hasn’t met, to trying to trick him so they’d live happily ever after; these are just the tip of the iceberg. Suffice to say, good ol’ King Triton had every reason to be concerned!

15. Prince Phillip – Sleeping Beauty / Prince Florian – Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

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Yes, I definitely did just lump these two in the same item. Come on, anyone who says it’s easy to tell them apart is lying. Anyway, back to the matter of problematic fictional characters — ever noticed that the ‘true love’s kiss’ was a recurring theme in early Disney movies? This would have been perfectly fine if not for the fact that these two dude-bros literally kissed an unconscious woman. Hence, the dangerous message it sends: consent doesn’t matter if you’re rich and handsome.

16. Peter Pan – Peter Pan

He technically kidnaps children, he cut Captain Hook’s hand off and fed it to a crocodile, and he just laughed when the mermaids tried to drown Wendy. And he’s still supposed to be the good guy? Well, okay then…

17. Janis Ian – Mean Girls

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Some of you have already heard of this, but for the benefit of those who haven’t: Janis is the real villain, not Regina George. The latter is obviously a horrible human being, but at least she was self-aware. Janis, on the other hand, is the fake-woke type who would talk about social justice and then slut-shame someone in the same breath. She’s in total denial about her manipulative behaviour and unfortunately, she wasn’t a good friend either! Remember when she outed Damien to Cady literally a few seconds after introducing themselves? Or how she basically used the unassuming Cady as a pawn? Not cool.

18. Noah Calhoun – The Notebook

You guys, he literally threatened to kill himself if Allie doesn’t go on a date with him. I don’t know about you, but I think if this were someone who wasn’t as cute as Ryan Gosling, it would definitely be deemed as downright manipulative.

19. Sophie Sheridan – Mamma Mia! 

Personally, I’m a fan of both the musical and the movie adaptation. Yet I still can’t wrap my head around how her actions could be justified. Who invites three men (none of whom she has ever met) to her wedding, just because one of them could be her biological dad? And the fact that she did this after reading private entries from her mom’s diary and never bothered giving anyone a heads up! Let’s be real — IRL, this would’ve been an absolute disaster.

20. Sutter Keely – The Spectacular Now

Personal story time: Miles Teller is one of my all-time celebrity crushes, and yet I still wanted to strangle this character throughout the movie. So, you know, he’s that insufferable. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to sympathise with someone who nearly killed his girlfriend due to drunk driving and leaving her in the middle of the road. Oh, and to top it all off, he straight up ghosted her after all that. Way to go, my dude.

Also read: 47 Upcoming Movies We Can’t Wait to See in 2021

Are there any other problematic fictional characters that you believe should be on this list? If so, we’d love to hear your own ‘hot takes’ on our Facebook page

On a different note, we’ve also previously written about movies and TV shows whose characters aren’t such lost causes. You know, just in case this piece has got you jaded or something…

All images are credited to IMDb.

About Author

Marcy Miniano
Marcy Miniano

A fast-talking caffeine-dependent wordsmith, Marcy has never been one to shy away from sharing a good story or two. If she’s not in a quiet coffee shop somewhere, she enjoys spending afternoons in a museum or art gallery — whether it’s around Metro Manila or a foreign city she’s visiting. She wishes to retire in a winter village someday, so she can fulfil her lifelong dream of wearing turtlenecks all year round and owning a pet penguin.