Breaking Down the Cinematic Bully. (Updated)

The “Bully” is a modern archetype that everyone is familiar with. We need Bullies. We need them so the main character can stand up to them. We need to see them get their comeuppance.

I get especially giddy when I see a “good bully” in movies or television but what exactly makes a “good bully”?

We will examine some of Cinema’s “Best Bullies” and see what common threads we can pull. Are there perhaps “sub archetypes” within the bully community? I think so.

The “Cool Bully” – The “Cool Bully” is probably my favorite Bully. Usually, this guy has what our main character wants…more often than not this is manifested by a female, but that’s often not the only difference. The Cool Bully usually derives much of his coolness from his possessions…the “Cool Bully” is usually (not always) from a rich family. He is thought of as superior by himself but also by the people around him. “Cool Bullies” have massive egos.

Examples of a “Cool Bully”

William Zabka – Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid

Who’s life do want? Daniel LaRusso’s living with his single mom in a shack in Reseda, riding his Huffy bike to school? Or Johnny Lawrence’s life, which from what I can tell consists of:

  • Driving around in a convertible or dirtbike depending on what the situation calls for.
  • Going to country club fancy dinners where other hot country club coeds are hanging out.
  • Rolling doobies in the bathroom at the school dance.
  • Rocking leather jackets and sweet headbands that you pull off in a wildly successful fashion.
  • Dominating the High School Soccer & Karate scene.

I’ll go ahead and take Johnny’s life…even after he loses to Daniel. He may have not won the girl or the trophy but Johnny Lawrence is gonna be just fine. There will be hundreds of Elizabeth Shoes when you get to USC or wherever he ended up going to college. Johnny wasn’t just the “Cool Bully” he was the alpha male among the Cobra Kai’s

Observe how he doesn’t even lower himself to bully Daniel before the tourney, he let’s one of his cronies send Danny to the BURN WARD:

“Mommy not here to dress ya?”….. There’s no comeback in that situation, Just let a perfect insult wash over you.

Bradley Cooper – Sack Lodge in Wedding Crashers.

Also a “Cool Bully” The Sackmaster seems to have it all, looks, money, the girl. He is also country club rich. Bullies love Country Clubs, Mar-a-lago included. “Big Tree Fall Hard” gets me every time.

Dacre Montgomery – Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things.

Here we see the “Cool Bully” of 2017, Billy Hargrove. Billy is the “Cool Bully” explained. We get to see the source of his anger, his father’s a bully himself. We see how the “Cool Bully” can turn on his Eddie Haskell routine like flipping a switch. The problem is, that switch flips just as fast when he’s angry. Billy isn’t a rich “Cool Bully” but if you’re in a small town just having your own car makes you royalty.

Bill Murray – Ernie McCracken in Kingpin. 

Bill Murray gives us one of the all-time great sports bullies with his performance in Kingpin. Sure he’s a huge scumbag, but damn if you don’t admire his swagger. Nobody else can look badass with his comb-over hair flailing in the air except for Big Ern. It’s tough to pull off the “Cool Bully” at such an advanced age.

Bottom Line: Chicks dig the “Cool Bully” 

The cinematic “Cool Bully” is the hardest to overcome for a protagonist. Often it involves using his own rage against him to reveal to the world what a dip-shit he really is. Other times the protagonist has to straight up defeat the cool bully at his own game like Daniel Larusso. My favorite is when the “Cool Bully” has his true nature revealed through his own hubris…Bragging about his bullying and having it broadcast to the wrong crowd. Such is the comeuppance of the “Cool Bullies”

Sub-Category of  the “Cool Bully”:

I think in my investigation I uncovered a subcategory of the “Cool Bully” It came about trying to fit Happy Gilmore’s Shooter McGavin into a “Bully” category. He’s definitely not cool, not in the way guys like Billy Hardgrove or Ernie McCracken are. Shooter doesn’t have the charisma. He’s not cool but he sure THINKS that he’s cool. To him success = cool. Enter the: “Thinks he’s Cool Bully” or THC Bully (nothing to do with marijuana just shortening it up) This guy is more popular than cool, popularity and success have inflated the ego of the typical “THC Bully”. They think that their success will last forever and they ruthlessly undermine any successor to their throne. Matt Lauer is a real life THC Bully.

Shooter Shines as a THC Bully in Happy Gilmore:

The “Douche Bully” The “Douche Bully” is a much different species of Bully than the “Cool Bully” The Douche Bully usually only has one or two friends at the most and he’s not popular. The Douche Bully doesn’t have the girl or the car or the looks that the “Cool Bully” possesses.

In the “Cool Bully” dynamic the “Cool Bully” will often have what the protagonists wants e.g. the girl etc, with the “Douche Bully” that dynamic is flipped, the “Douche Bully” wants what the Protagonist has as often as not. This “Douche Bully” dynamic takes two forms.

SubDouche Bullies:

The “Imposing Douche”: The imposing douche uses his physical prowess to dominate. Upstairs he is an empty vessel. The “Dumb Jock” bully, The kid who takes the protagonist’s lunch money. The Imposing Douche will take many forms. Sometimes he’s a gym teacher out to humiliate or an 8th grader with a temper. He’s got a chip on his shoulder in a way that the “Cool Bullies” don’t have. This is usually because the “Imposing Douche” isn’t accepted the same way a “Cool Bully” is.

Bringing us to our case study:

Thomas F. Wilson – Biff Tannen in Back to the Future.

A fool might try to say that Biff is a “Cool Bully” because of his car and his posse. Don’t be fooled this guy is an “imposing douche” Biff imposed himself on those three assholes he’s friends with. He broke them, probably before elementary school was over. They have been his cronies ever since. Biff lives with his grandma, he has to use brute force to try and get women. This guy isn’t the cool Bully, he has nothing you want. Protagonists usually have no problem outwitting the “imposing douche” this guy is usually a speed bump as opposed to the main antagonist.

Martin Kove – John Kreese in The Karate Kid.

John Kreese was without a doubt a “imposing douche” a bully of the worst kind who infected his students with the bully bug. If Johnny Lawrence and the other Cobra Kai had a more chilled out karate teacher then they probably aren’t “Cool Bullies” but just cool dudes.

Bill Paxton – Chet Donnelly in Weird Science.

Dumb as rocks Chet, the poster boy for the “imposing douche” Bully. He checks all the boxes.

But what if you have the urge to be a bully but your target is both cooler and tougher than you? Does this mean that you have no hope? Absolutely not. Enter

The “Calculating Douche.” This bully isn’t cool and can’t use force to intimidate, instead, he connives and manipulates the protagonist into traps of his own design. Sometimes the “Calculating Douche” is in a position of power over the protagonist or wishes to be. The problem is that the “calculating douche” is never as clever as they think they are and they slip up along the way.

Hart Bochner – Harry Ellis in Die Hard.

“I can give’em to ya.” LOL Ellis. The “Calculating douche” is the worst, but in the case of Ellis we have a “calculating douche” that thinks he’s The “Cool Bully.” Then Hans show up and Ellis gets a taste of what a “Cool Bully” becomes when he’s in an action movie. AKA a “Proper Villain.” Nobody shed a tear for Harry Ellis, nobody likes the “calculating douche.”

 

Jason Schwartzman – Ethan Dulles in Slackers.

Blackmail is often a weapon of the calculating douche, he gets the protagonist to bend to his will, less damaging information will be revealed. This is Ethan in Slackers. Jason Schwartzman gives an A+ performance of the “calculating douche”

But what about the Bully who seemingly fits into two categories? What do we call this magical shapeshifter? A “Hybrid Bully?” I don’t hate it.

Hybrid Bully:

Rachel McAdams – Regina George in Mean Girls.

Regina is a “Cool Bully” without a doubt, but stripped of her looks and popularity she adapted into the “calculating douche” in order to re-establish herself at the top of the social food chain. A true shapeshifter she deserves her title of Hybrid Bully and she’s proof that women can bully JUST AS GOOD as men!

Hart Bochner – Harry Ellis in Die Hard.

“I can give’em to ya.” LOL Ellis. The “Calculating douche” is the worst, but in the case of Ellis we have a “calculating douche” that thinks he’s The “Cool Bully.” Then Hans show up and Ellis gets a taste of what a “Cool Bully” becomes when he’s in an action movie. AKA a “Proper Villain.” Nobody shed a tear for Harry Ellis, nobody likes the “calculating douche.”

(Update: With the creation of the THC Bully subcategory I feel the need to move Ellis from “Calculating Douche” to the “Hybrid” category. He is an equal mix of thinks he is cool and calculating douche.) Just like our next case study:

Ted Knight as Judge Smails in Caddyshack

He’s definitely a “calculating douche”,  and his position of power and success inflate his ego and he actually thinks that he is cool despite being a huge square.

To Conclude: Good Bullies certainly fit a profile they are like serial killers in that regard. The most infamous bullies bring their own flare but still follow the same tried and true script. For me the “Cool Bully” is king. Cool bullies provide the biggest challenge in my mind. They are the Alpha Bully. The “imposing douche” is the worst and the easiest to get past. The wild card is the “calculating douche” they have the most range as far as bully types go. Hybrids are rare and require great character development more than most bullies get.

Update: We added THC Bullies as a subcategory to the Cool Bully.

Further Musings on Bullies: Now that I’m looking back on this, I have left out several bully concepts I would like to explore. I have been basing these bullies on certain criteria but what if my thinking is flawed? What if motivation is a more important factor? I was thinking about Shooter McGavin and Judge Smails…ironically both golfers. They were both motivated to “keep the status quo” things are one way and they aim to keep it that way. It really makes me wonder if I look hard how many bullies motivation falls into this pattern. How often are they motivated by greed, lust, power, inferiority complex and which motivations are the most/least forgivable? We will explore this again soon I promise.

 

A-Train Out.

 

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