Mad scientist

Mad scientist (also mad doctor or mad professor) is a caricature of a scientist who is described as "mad" or "insane" owing to a combination of unusual or unsettling personality traits and the unabashedly ambitious, taboo or hubristic nature of their experiments. As a motif in fiction, the mad scientist may be villainous (evil genius) or antagonistic, benign or neutral; may be insane, eccentric, or clumsy; and often works with fictional technology or fails to recognize or value common human objections to attempting to play God. Some may have benevolent or good-spirited intentions, even if their actions are dangerous or questionable, which can make them accidental villains.

Mad scientist
One popular stereotype of a mad scientist: white male, aging, crooked teeth, messy hair, lab coat, effervescent test tube, goggles, gloves, and striking a dramatic pose while cackling evilly



The prototypical fictional mad scientist was Victor Frankenstein, creator of his eponymous monster,[1][2][3] who made his first appearance in 1818, in the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Though the novel's title character, Victor Frankenstein, is a sympathetic character, the critical element of conducting experiments that cross "boundaries that ought not to be crossed", heedless of the consequences, is present in Shelley's novel. Frankenstein was trained as both an alchemist and a modern scientist, which makes him the bridge between two eras of an evolving archetype. The book is said to be a precursor of a new genre, science fiction,[4][5] although as an example of gothic horror[6][7][8][9] it is connected with other antecedents as well.

The year 1896 saw the publication of H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau, in which the titular doctor—a controversial vivisectionist—has isolated himself entirely from civilisation in order to continue his experiments in surgically reshaping animals into humanoid forms, heedless of the suffering he causes.[10]

Cinema depictions

Horace B. Carpenter as Dr. Meirschultz, a scientist attempting to bring the dead back to life in the 1934 film Maniac.

Fritz Lang's movie Metropolis (1927) brought the archetypical mad scientist to the screen in the form of Rotwang, the evil genius whose machines had originally given life to the dystopian city of the title.[11] Rotwang's laboratory influenced many subsequent movie sets with its electrical arcs, bubbling apparatus, and bizarrely complicated arrays of dials and controls. Portrayed by actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Rotwang himself is the prototypically conflicted mad scientist; though he is master of almost mystical scientific power, he remains a slave to his own desires for power and revenge. Rotwang's appearance was also influential—the character's shock of flyaway hair, wild-eyed demeanor, and his quasi-fascist laboratory garb have all been adopted as shorthand for the mad scientist "look." Even his mechanical right hand has become a mark of twisted scientific power, echoed notably in Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove, Or--How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb and in the novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) by Philip K. Dick.

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Paul Carruthers, the mad scientist protagonist of the poverty row horror film The Devil Bat (1940). Slighted at his workplace, the chemist Carruthers breeds giant bats to attack his wealthy employers.

A recent survey of 1,000 horror films distributed in the UK between the 1930s and 1980s reveals mad scientists or their creations have been the villains of 30 percent of the films; scientific research has produced 39 percent of the threats; and, by contrast, scientists have been the heroes of a mere 11 percent.[12]

Post–World War II depictions

Mad scientists were most conspicuous in popular culture after World War II. The sadistic human experimentation conducted under the auspices of the Nazis, especially those of Josef Mengele, and the invention of the atomic bomb, gave rise in this period to genuine fears that science and technology had gone out of control. That the scientific and technological build-up during the Cold War brought about increasing threats of unparalleled destruction of the human species did not lessen the impression. Mad scientists frequently figure in science fiction and motion pictures from the period.[13]

See also


  1. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica - Frankenstein". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  2. ^ Clemens, Valdine. Return of the Repressed, The: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien. p. 93. ISBN 9780791499276. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  3. ^ Wilson, Daniel H.; Long, Anna C. (2008-08-01). The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame. p. 100. ISBN 978-0806528793. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  4. ^ Abrams, M. H.; Harpham, Geoffrey (2014-01-01). A Glossary of Literary Terms. p. 355. ISBN 9781285974514. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  5. ^ Corbett, Robert (2001). "Romanticism and Science Fictions". Romanticism on the Net (21): 0. doi:10.7202/005970ar.
  6. ^ Tweg, Sue; Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft; Edwards, Kim (August 2011). Frankenstein. p. 13. ISBN 9781921411397. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  7. ^ Jelinek, Kenneth P. (1997). Gothic Horror and Scientific Education in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
  8. ^ "Frankenstein as a Gothic Novel". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Frankenstein as a Gothic Fiction". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  10. ^ "Novels: The Island of Doctor Moreau". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  11. ^ Geraghty, Lincoln (2009-10-01). American Science Fiction Film and Television. ISBN 9780857850768. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  12. ^ Christopher Frayling, New Scientist, 24 September 2005.
  13. ^ G., Fraser (1998-01-01). The Particle Century. ISBN 9781420050332. Retrieved 24 January 2017.


  • Allen, Glen Scott (2009). Master Mechanics and Wicked Wizards: Images of the American Scientist from Colonial Times to the Present. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-1-55849-703-0.
  • Frayling, ChristopherMad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema (Reaktion Books, 2005) ISBN 1-86189-255-1
  • Garboden, Nick (2007). Mad Scientist or Angry Lab Tech: How to Spot Insanity. Portland: Doctored Papers. ISBN 1-56363-660-3.
  • Haynes, Roslynn Doris (1994). From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-4801-6.
  • Junge, Torsten; Doerthe Ohlhoff (2004). Wahnsinnig genial: Der Mad Scientist Reader. Aschaffenburg: Alibri. ISBN 3-932710-79-7.
  • Norton, Trevor (2010). Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth. (A witty celebration of the great eccentrics...). Century. ISBN 978-1-84605-569-0.
  • Schlesinger, Judith (2012). The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius. Ardsley-on-Hudson, N.Y. Shrinktunes Media ISBN 978-0-98369-824-1.
  • James T. Webb, Ph.D. (September 12, 2012). "A Book Review of The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius". The National Psychologist. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  • Schneider, Reto U. (2008). The Mad Science Book. 100 Amazing Experiments from the History of Science. London: Quercus. ISBN 978-1-84724-494-9.
  • Tudor, Andrew (1989). Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-15279-2.
  • Weart, Spencer R. (1988). Nuclear Fear: A History of Images. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

External links

Alraune (1918 film)

Alraune is a 1918 Hungarian science fiction horror film directed by Michael Curtiz and Edmund Fritz and starring Géza Erdélyi. Little is known about this film which is now believed to be lost. It is a variation on the original legend of Alraune in which a Mad Scientist creates a beautiful but demonic child from the forced union between a woman and a mandrake root.

Black Friday (1940 film)

Black Friday is a 1940 American science fiction film starring Boris Karloff. Béla Lugosi, although second-billed, has only a small part in the film and does not appear with Karloff.

Writer Curt Siodmak would revisit this theme again in Donovan's Brain (1953) and Hauser's Memory (1970).


Counterblast is a 1948 British thriller film directed by Paul L. Stein and starring Robert Beatty, Mervyn Johns and Nova Pilbeam. It was made by British National Films at Elstree Studios.

Habeas Corpus (1928 film)

Habeas Corpus is a 1928 short comedy silent film starring Laurel and Hardy as grave-robbers hired by a mad scientist. It was shot in July 1928 and released by M-G-M on December 1. Although technically a silent film—having intertitles and no synchronized dialogue—it was the inaugural Roach film released with a synchronized music and sounds effects track for theatres wired for sound. The Victor sound discs were long thought lost until a lone set surfaced in the 1990s and was reunited with the film elements.

Igor (character)

Igor, or sometimes Ygor, is a stock character lab assistant to many types of Gothic villains, such as Count Dracula or Dr. Victor Frankenstein, familiar from many horror movies and horror movie parodies. Although Dr. Frankenstein had a hunchbacked assistant in the 1931 film Frankenstein, his name was Fritz; in the original Mary Shelley novel, Dr. Frankenstein has no lab assistant nor does a character named Igor appear.

Mechanical Man

Mechanical Man is a cartoon short by Walter Lantz that features Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It is the 54th Oswald short by Lantz and the 107th in the entire series.

Raptor (film)

Raptor is a 2001 direct-to-video horror film directed by Jim Wynorski. It often reuses stock footage from the three Carnosaur films and follows the same basic premise of cloned dinosaurs running amok. It is the unofficial sequel to Carnosaur 3: Primal Species.

Sonic the Hedgehog (film)

Sonic the Hedgehog is an upcoming 2019 live-action animated film based on the video game franchise published by Sega. It is directed by Jeff Fowler in his directorial debut and written by Patrick Casey, Josh Miller and Oren Uziel, from a story by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser. The film stars Ben Schwartz as Sonic the Hedgehog and Jim Carrey as Sonic's nemesis Dr. Robotnik, alongside James Marsden as Tom Wachowski, Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally, and Neal McDonough.

The film is an American–Japanese joint venture between Paramount Animation, Original Film, Sega, Blur Studio and Marza Animation Planet and is set to be released on November 8, 2019 by Paramount Pictures.

Spook Busters

Spook Busters is a 1946 film directed by William Beaudine and starring the comedy team of The Bowery Boys. It is the fourth film in the series of forty eight.

Superman (1941 film)

Superman (1941) is the first installment in a series of seventeen animated Technicolor short films based upon the DC Comics character Superman. Also known as The Mad Scientist, Superman was produced by Fleischer Studios and released to theaters by Paramount Pictures on September 26, 1941. Superman ranked number 33 in a list of the fifty greatest cartoons of all time sourced from a 1994 poll of 1000 animation professionals, and was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject.

The Ape Man

The Ape Man is a 1943 horror-science fiction film starring Bela Lugosi and directed by William Beaudine. The film follows the tale of a part human part ape.

An in-title-only sequel Return of the Ape Man followed in 1944 and starred Lugosi, John Carradine and George Zucco.

The Avengers (1998 film)

The Avengers is a 1998 American action spy film adaptation of the British television series of the same name directed by Jeremiah Chechik. It stars Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman as secret agents John Steed and Emma Peel, and Sean Connery as Sir August de Wynter, a mad scientist bent on controlling the world's weather. Patrick Macnee, who played John Steed on the original series, makes a vocal cameo as the voice of Invisible Jones. The film was a box office bomb, only grossing $48 million of its $60 million budget, and received negative reviews from critics. It is often considered one of the worst films ever made.

The Corpse Vanishes

The Corpse Vanishes is a 1942 American mystery and horror film starring Bela Lugosi, directed by Wallace Fox, and written by Harvey Gates. Lugosi portrays a mad scientist who injects his aging wife (played by Elizabeth Russell) with fluids from virginal young brides in order to preserve her beauty. Luana Walters as a journalist and Tristram Coffin as a small town doctor investigate and solve the disappearances of the brides.

The film was later the subject of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in 1989.

The Face of Marble

The Face of Marble is a 1946 American horror film directed by William Beaudine and starring John Carradine, Claudia Drake and Robert Shayne.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street

The Mad Doctor of Market Street is a 1942 American horror film produced by Universal Pictures starring Lionel Atwill. The film was a low-budget project that utilized the studio's contract players and gave rising director Joseph H. Lewis an opportunity to demonstrate his versatility with little production money.

The Mad Monster

The Mad Monster is an American horror film produced and distributed in 1942 by "Poverty Row" studio Producers Releasing Corporation, directed by Sam Newfield, written by Fred Myton, and starring George Zucco, Glenn Strange, Johnny Downs and Anne Nagel. The plot involves a mad scientist who has been discredited by his peers. He attempts to kill them off after he develops a secret formula that transforms his gardener into a murderous wolfman.

The Monster Maker

The Monster Maker is a 1944 science-fiction horror film starring J. Carrol Naish and Ralph Morgan. Albert Glasser supplied the film score, his first, an assignment for which he was paid US$250.

Water, Water Every Hare

Water, Water Every Hare is a Looney Tunes cartoon released in 1952 featuring Bugs Bunny and Gossamer, with a similar premise to Hair-Raising Hare. The title is a pun on the line "Water, water, everywhere / Nor any drop to drink" from the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The cartoon is available on Disc 1 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1.

Zombies on Broadway

Zombies on Broadway (or Loonies on Broadway in the UK) is a 1945 American zombie comedy film directed by Gordon Douglas. It stars RKO's imitation Abbott and Costello Alan Carney and Wally Brown as a pair of men who are tasked with finding a real zombie for a zombie-themed nightclub. Sheldon Leonard, as a former mobster turned nightclub owner, and Bela Lugosi, as the mad scientist who created the zombies, also appear.

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