Why Are We Addicted to Crime Shows and Criminals?

Why Are We Addicted to Crime Shows and Criminals?

Does crime pay in Hollywood? Do you ever cheer for the villain when you are watching a television series or a movie? Why do we do that? Is it the way Hollywood writes characters or something else? Are the characters good people doing bad things or bad people?

Crime Sells

Crime sells in Hollywood, especially when they represent criminals as self-confident, exciting, daring, and extremely intelligent. When they portray the bad guy/girl as a glamorous risk-taker or possibly “cool” as they commit crimes.

Sometimes we look at characters sympathetically as if they can justify their choices. For instance, committing a crime to save a loved one. Maybe they even have some justification or redeeming worthiness that makes their choices valid.

Jax Teller (Sons of Anarchy) shows a lot of remorse and internal conflict when he kills Agent Kohn in the first season, but by the final season he kills people left and right with no regret, but yet we are still on his side to the very end of the series.

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Crime Shows

Shows and movies about crime and criminals fascinate us. Crime stories are full of things we can’t do in actual life, but we can immerse ourselves in a character’s life and do something dangerous, without leaving the comfort of our couch.

We would never cook meth, but watching Walter White and Jesse Pinkman struggle through one chaotic situation after another is pure entertainment. Watching Jimmy McGill transform to Saul Goodman on Better Call Saul is spell-binding.

Top Ten Crime Shows

Stacker documents the top ten crime shows as:

  1. Breaking Bad
  2. The Wire
  3. The Sopranos
  4. Sherlock
  5. True Detective
  6. Fargo
  7. Peaky Blinders
  8. Narcos
  9. Twin Peaks
  10. Better Call Saul

Other notable shows on this list include the Boys and Justified. CSI, NCIS, and the Law & Order franchises have ruled the network airwaves for years.

Top Ten TV Villains

According to Screen Rant, these TV shows feature the villain as the principal character:

  1. Elliot Anderson (Mr. Robot)
  2. Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire)
  3. Norman Bates (Bates Motel)
  4. Tommy Shelby (Peaky Binders)
  5. Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
  6. Dexter (Dexter)
  7. Red Reddington (The Blacklist)
  8. Hannibal (Hannibal)
  9. Vic Mackey (The Shield)
  10. Walter White (Breaking Bad)

Would these shows be better if they wrote them from another perspective? I think not!

Heists and Thieves

Thieves are always gripping to watch. They form complex plans that never work out the way they want so they have to think fast and adjust to situations on the fly.

Movies like the Italian Job or the Ocean movies show crooks as ordinary everyday people other than when they are robbing places. Hollywood even romanticized Bonnie and Clyde, the machine gun bank robbers. The Good Girls show three ordinary moms, who rob a grocery store to feed their kids not knowing the snowball effect that one moment would have on their lives.

Top Ten Heist Movies

According to Vulture, these are the top ten Heist movies:

  1. The Killing (1956)
  2. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  3. Riffi (1955)
  4. Ocean’s 11 (2001)
  5. Inception (2010)
  6. Out of Sight (1998)
  7. Jackie Brown (1997)
  8. The Sting (1973)
  9. Three Kings (1999)
  10. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Other great movies on their list of 25 include Dog Day Afternoon, A Fish Called Wanda, and the Italian Job.

Top Ten Thieves on TV

SBS reports that these are the top ten thieves on TV:

  1. Salavatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Sopranos)
  2. Earl Hickey (My Name is Earl)
  3. Rosa “Miss Rosa” Cisneros (Orange is the New Black)
  4. Fernando Sucre (Prison Break)
  5. Snake Jailbird (Simpsons)
  6. Neal Caffrey (White Collar)
  7. Remington Steele (Remington Steele)
  8. Parker (Leverage)
  9. James “Jimmy Lishman” (Shameless)
  10. Doug Judy (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

What do you think are they criminals or victims of circumstance?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.


Hollywood has glamorized the mystery of fictional criminals from the cold reality of actual criminals. Real-life mobsters like Al Capone are not tenderhearted figures they are cruel, savage, cheating, and possibly murderous.

On the Sopranos every week someone got whacked. They laundered money and performed countless other unspeakable crimes. Yet, we saw the protagonist Tony Soprano as a son, father, and husband who goes to a psychiatrist. Is Tony written this way to connect to the audience?

Top Ten Crime Family TV Shows

IMBD lists the following as the top ten crime family TV shows:

  1. Peaky Binders
  2. Boardwalk Empire
  3. The Sopranos
  4. Godfather of Harlem
  5. Gangs of London
  6. ZeroZeroZero
  7. Capo Dei Capi
  8. Gomorra: La Serie
  9. Love/Hate
  10. McMafia

Coming in at number 11 is Animal Kingdom, one of my favorites. This family crime drama enthralls me.

Top Ten Mobsters on Screen

Gunaxin reports that these are the top ten mobsters in TV and movies:

  1. Vito Corleone (The Godfather)
  2. Anthony “Tony” Soprano (The Sopranos)
  3. Michael Corleone (The Godfather)
  4. Francis “Frank” Costello (The Departed)
  5. Tony Montana (Scarface)
  6. Keyser Suzo (The Usual Suspects)
  7. Marsellus Wallace (Pulp Fiction)
  8. Don Logan (Sexy Beast)
  9. Sonny LaSpecchio (A Bronx Tale)
  10. Wong Hoi (The Killer)

Other notables on this list include Vincenzo “Vincent” Coccotti (True Romance), Jabba the Hutt (Star Wars), and Fat Tony (The Simpsons).

Serial Killers and Murderers

Murder is another thing that obsesses us to keep watching. Perhaps because we have boring regular lives so people who ignore the law without getting caught attract us.

Even those characters that get caught are interesting. Orange Is the New Black, Oz and Wentworth show us interesting characters to binge-watch.

During the second season of Dexter when he has a problem killing we actually worry that he won’t be able to start again. How did the writers make us care about him?

Top Ten TV Shows About Serial Killers

Ranker reports the top ten TV shows about serial killers as:

  1. Dexter
  2. Mindhunter
  3. Hannibal
  4. The Fall
  5. True Detective
  6. Prodigal Son
  7. Criminal Minds
  8. Killing Eve
  9. You
  10. The Following

The thought that people could so vagrantly ignore the law in our society is engaging to watch.

Top Ten Fictional Serial Killers

According to Ranker, the greatest fictional serial killers are:

  1. Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal)
  2. Dexter Morgan (Dexter)
  3. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)
  4. Pennywise (It)
  5. Jigsaw (Saw)
  6. Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs)
  7. John Doe (Seven)
  8. Ghostface (Scream)
  9. Sweeney Todd (Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
  10. Mickey Knox (Natural Born Killers)

Other notable killers on this list are Skylar (Heroes), Red John (The Mentalist), Mallory Knox (Natural Born Killers), and Joe Caroll (The Following).

Final Thoughts

There are so many great TV shows and movies that allow us to experience another world with no threat to our own. What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.


Until next time



Feature image by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash.