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Bad Guys Play Pool

"Ya got trouble
Right here in River City!
With a capital 'T'
And that rhymes with 'P'
And that stands for Pool!'"

"Ya Got Trouble", The Music Man

Billiards. Doesn't seem like a particularly evil game, right? Despite accusations that the cueball is "possessed," "cursed," or "hates me personally," pool typically isn't what comes to mind when you say "things a bad guy would enjoy." In fact, its image has softened by now to be considered a respectable game of skill for any age, and even used in kid's Edutainment Shows like Beakmans World to illustrate rebound trajectories.

Unless, of course, you're in the movies, where if you see someone playing pool, there's a 90% chance they're planning some dastardly deed at the same time. Whether it's due to negative connotations regarding the term "pool shark", or possibly due to the fact that pool is associated with illegal betting rings (which also serves as a convenient motive for a cash-starved antagonist to do any feats of nastiness the story requires), the image of a group of Big Bads and thuggish Mooks shooting eight-ball seems to be engraved in the minds of filmmakers. The Anti-Hero and others may also play pool, to emphasize how cool, dangerous, and outside the norm they are.

For the Femme Fatale and The Vamp, it's also a free excuse to get them to bend and sway in a variety of manners, showing off their body and especially their legs, and it gives them three ways to end the scene: keep on flirting and end on sexy; humiliate the mooks by beating them at their own game; or just start a Bar Brawl.

Part of the origin of this trope is in pool halls having been The New Rock & Roll once upon a time, like bowling before them and video arcades afterwards. Its continuing popularity now is likely due to a pool table's ability to fit nicely inside a Bad-Guy Bar or a family-friendly Den of Iniquity. If a Fight Scene ensues, as it inevitably will, expect the cues to be used as clubs, swords, or broken in half and used to stab people, not to mention the balls themselves are really effective to throw at people.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Possibly used in Fullmetal Alchemist; Greed was playing pool in a bar...
  • One of the players in Princess Nine is recruited at a pool-hall. Yes, she's the delinquent of the group.
  • In Black Butler, there is a scene of people playing pool. The protagonist (Who is sort of an Anti-Hero at that point, though a full-on Villain Protagonist later in the series) is among them, as well as the bad-guy for that chapter. There's also a metaphor involving getting rid of evil, being evil, and some other things involving the pool table.
  • Code Geass: a bunch of antagonist-ish characters play pool right after nuking Tokyo. Something of a subversion as all of them were rather put off by the guy who actually did it (who incidentally wasn't playing). This, however, wasn't so much because of the act being carried out, but rather his sudden change in behavior, when he volunteered to assassinate The Emperor.
  • Although the Sinners of Chrono Crusade are never shown playing pool, they definitely at least have a knowledge of the game—when Viede chases after Aion during a battle to give him his sword, they have this exchange:
    Aion: What did you come here for? To ruin my game?
    Viede: You can't play pool without a cue stick, Aion.
  • The Amazoness Quartet from Sailor Moon aren't shown playing pool for fun, but their main method of retrieving someone's Dream Mirror involves shooting a ball at the victim with a pool cue.
  • In Weiß Kreuz, when Omi has a nightmare about being a murderer just like his older brothers, he imagines the three of them playing pool.

    Comic Books 
  • The villainous 8-Ball, the first supervillain battled by Sleepwalker, took this trope to its logical conclusion when he not only proved to be a master pool player, but went so far as to base his whole criminal schtick on the game.
  • Bullseye can be seen playing pool from time to time. Since he has nearly superhuman aim, he's quite good. Also inverted as heroes who also possess superhuman aim (Hawkeye, Cyclops, etc) are also frequently seen playing pool in their spare time.

    Film 
  • The idiot redneck Joe Pesci fights in My Cousin Vinny hangs out in a bar playing pool.
    • The reason for the fight was that the redneck refused to pay up after Marisa Tomei's character hustled him, indicating that she's no stranger to the game, either.
  • Done in The Dark Knight, where one major gangster is shown playing pool with his goons. Then the Joker comes in and kills him horribly.
  • Not a villain, but Heath Ledger's character in 10 Things I Hate About You hangs out in a bar playing pool to emphasize his mysteriousness and show how outside the norm he is compared to the other students.
  • Superman Returns, although this is slightly played with since the pool table is on Lex Luthor's yacht.
  • In That Was Then This Is Now, there's no fight scene in the bar/pool hall itself, but the protagonist and his friend end up getting mugged by a couple of thugs outside, after winning a considerable amount of money off of them playing pool. The bartender shows up, shotgun in hand, to drive the goons off, and the boys walk away unharmed. The bartender himself, however, gets a bullet in the head for his troubles.
  • The pool hall where Jackie Chan makes his famously ill-advised attempt to learn Afro-American slang in Rush Hour is a pretty rough place, if not actually criminal (in most cases).
  • Taking a cue from Pinocchio, below, the headquarters for the Foot Clan in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action movie has a huge game room filled with typical '80s/'90s delinquent kid activities to keep their underage Unwitting Pawns Ninja Mooks pacified, including a series of pool tables.
  • The famous bar scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
  • Shown in Four Brothers with the corrupt cop, shortly before he kills the good one.
  • Pretty much every North American direct-to-video B-martial arts flick of the 80s and 90s. More often than not, the pool hall scene is used early on to show how bad ass the protagonist is.
  • In Brighton Beach Memoirs, Eugene's brother Stanley loses all his money in a rough pool hall, made somewhat less intimidating by the fact that the hustler is Jason Alexander.
  • In Bedazzled (1967), the devil himself plays pool. This borders on subversion, however, seeing as this devil isn't so bad.
  • In All the King's Men, the corrupt commissioners of Konoma County (…Wow, that wasn't even intentional) all hang out at the local pool hall.
  • The gang members at the evil bar in Steel.
  • They never get around to actually playing in the movie, but the young ladies who play hostess to The Warriors have a pool table in their hangout. And a Bar Brawl does break out, including a fine display of shooting.
  • In The Da Vinci Code Bishop Aringarosa plays pool with one of the cardinals while discussing Silas.
  • Inspector Clouseau does this with Benjamin Ballon (the "bad guy" in this case) in A Shot in the Dark, interrogating Ballon, innocent at the time but eventually one of the four murderers in the case he is on, in the process.
  • In The Boondock Saints, when ambushing a mafia hitman at his house, said hitman and his friends were playing billiards. Rocko even kills the hitman with the cue ball.
  • Of course, The Hustler (and the sequel, The Color of Money) was about "Fast Eddie" Felson, a Con Artist whose gig was hustling pool.

    Literature 
  • In Horatio Alger, Jr.'s The Erie Train Boy, the hero Fred is sent into a seedy bar in Canada where he plays pool with a robber to endear himself to him and get access to his stolen loot.
  • Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "We Real Cool", subtitled "The Pool Players: 7 at the Golden Shovel".
    We real cool. We
    Left school. We

    Lurk late. We
    Strike straight. We

    Sing sin. We
    Thin gin. We

    Jazz June. We
    Die soon.
    • Brooks—during a reading at the Guggenheim—said the poem has been "...banned here and there because of the word 'Jazz'," the line frequently having been interpreted as a euphemism for sex. Not intentional, she averred: but also remarked, "I have no objection if it helps anybody."
  • In Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, Harriet, believing a local boy is responsible for the death of her brother, sends her friend to spy on him in the pool hall.
  • In Time Scout, Kit Carson has been trying for years to beat Goldie Moran at pool.
  • Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush loves this trope, having several characters say that the Designated Love Interest, Patch, is a bad person simply because he plays pool. It's true, but for a whole lot of other reasons.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has an episode where Philip has to go up against a villainous pool shark. And completely kicks ass.
  • One episode of Firefly starts with the discussion of slave-trading over a game of holographic billiards. Mal even tells Inara to get out, since there's a thief about. Mal Reynolds, of course. Once the slaver victim finds out, cue Bar Brawl. Note that as far as Mal's concerned, his presence is playing the trope straight.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In the episode "Fool for Love," Spike shoots pool while telling Buffy how he killed two other Slayers.
    • Willy's Bar.
    • The billard table at The Bronze is usually an indicator that someone's up to no good. Xander is angrily playing a game by himself when Faith approaches him with a plan to dust Angel. ("Revelations")
    • Percy, the basketball jock who exploits Willow to pass his tests, is cockily shooting pool when Vampire Willow (from the Wishverse) strolls in. ("Doppelgangland")
    • The Wishverse Bronze also has a pool table, but a hapless human victim is strapped to it.
  • Merrick Baliton of Power Rangers Wild Force plays pool as a way of practicing his special attack. While not a bad guy by the time he picked up the habit, he's certainly a bad ass.
  • In Boy Meets World, Frankie "The Enforcer" is a noted pool champion at Chubbies. Subverted in that so is Eric.
  • The Aryan Brotherhood from Oz (at least, the members residing in Unit B) will often be seen playing pool during their scenes.
  • Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire is depicted playing pool in about half of his appearances on the show. Beyond simply playing the game, Rothstein also tells a particularly chilling anecdote about a man and a billiard ball trick...
  • Kilo, a gangster in the Season One episode "Confidence Man" of LOST, threatens Sawyer who borrowed money from him while playing pool.
  • An episode of Law & Order played with this trope. Lenny Briscoe posed as a guy asking for a hit while playing pool with a Mafioso. The Mafia guy was dumbfounded that the guy who could play pool that well was a cop.
  • The Sopranos crew are often found shooting pool in the Bing's back room.
  • Comically subverted on Gossip Girl where Chuck Bass owns a pool table, but the only person who ever uses it is his goody-two-shoes best friend Nate.
  • In Smallville, Lex Luthor is either doing this, playing the piano or drinking whiskey. If he does all three within the space of a single episode then he's being particularly evil.
  • On Intelligence (2006), the Disciples biker gang operates out of a poolhall.
  • In Kamen Rider Double, one scene has The Dragon use pool to illustrate a metaphor to the Second Rider. It also works as an alternative to Chess Motifs that's more appropriate to the hard-boiled detective story feel of the series.
  • On the pilot of Leverage, Nate and Eliot play pool while discussing being the bad guys for a change.
  • The Get Smart episode, "The Dead Spy Scrawls," had Smart learning to play pool to get close to a KAOS agent in his pool hall. Unfortunately, Smart is so hopelessly clumsy at the game that 99 has to use a special remote control cue ball to help him play.
  • The BBC sports show Pot Black was a deliberate aversion of this trope, with the intent of restoring respectability to the game of pool as a professional televised sport.
  • In the classic Hawaii Five-O, a few Mooks are scrambling to cover up when they hear Five-O coming. Before our heroes leave, Danno quips, "One of you sank the cue ball."
  • Mission: Impossible: "Break!" is all about this as Jim poses as a pool shark in order to locate microfilm in a dead agent's wristwatch.
  • Seen a couple of times in MacGyver, with Nicholas Helman in "Halloween Knights", and a gang of mooks in "The Wasteland".

    Music 
  • The 1980's hit Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce features the line: "Mama used to say don't stay out-a late with the bad-a boys, always shoot-a pool, Giuseppe going to flunk-a school."
  • The video for Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" has a bunch of gangsters paying pool in the back of the bar, before being interrupted by Jackson snatching up the cue ball and crushing it in his bare hand. The players are understandably annoyed.
  • Shooting pool is among the unproper things Eartha Kitt sings about wanting to do in "I Want To Be Evil."
  • The music video for "Bad to the Bone" by George Thorogood and the Destroyers has George in a pool match against Bo Diddley.
  • The video for AC/DC's "Sink The Pink" deals with a hot female pool shark named Suzy Cue.

     New Media 
  • I Love Bees has antagonist Thin play Action Girl protagonist Jan for a man's life. As it's set in the future, the game is called moons, but it's basically pool with pinball sound effects.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • When the CHIKARA tag team 2.0 went under the Paper-Thin Disguise of the Badd Boyz, they cut a promo proclaiming their toughness in the most stereotypical way possible. Of course, they were shooting pool the entire time.

    Theatre 
  • In The Music Man, Harold Hill gets River City riled up over the idea that pool, just recently introduced to the town, will corrupt their children. He makes excuses for billiards, which River City already has, saying that it's the pockets in a pool table "that mark the difference between a gentleman and a bum."

    Video Games 
  • Venom from Guilty Gear takes this Up to Eleven with a fighting style based on pool.
  • The Pool minigame in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV. You can place bets- and if you lose, simply mug the winner and take your stuff back.
  • Luigi's Mansion: Slim Bankshot, one of the escaped ghosts, is a billiards prodigy. Subverted, as he is an optional ghost and does not attack Luigi unless Luigi attacks first.
  • Nick Isn't evil, but he's had a very troublesome past and really isn't a nice guy. He's even got a line in there "God I love pool."

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Pool is used as an example of "vice" in Disney's Pinocchio, leading to a somewhat Hilarious in Hindsight moment where Jiminy Cricket chastises Pinocchio for "Drinking! Smoking! Playing pool!''"
  • In the Looney Tunes short "The Dover Boys", a spoof of turn of the 20th Century "Mellerdramas", bad guy Dan Backslide "that coward, bully, cad and thief of Roquefort Hall" is first seen playing pool in "a tavern of unsavory repute" so vile that the Boys and their lady love have to avert their eyes as they bicycle past.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man has a pool hall (the "Big Sky Billiard Room") that, other than the bar, is quite literally nothing but at least a dozen pool tables. Some rather unsavory characters hang out here. Gamblers frequently are seen here, too, as Blacky Gackston works from this hall. It's explicitly noted that the bar belongs to Montana, leader of one of the show's two Quirky Miniboss Squads. (It was later destroyed in the fight between Spider-Man and Molten Man) His superior, Tombstone also has a pool table in his office, and is seen playing. Green Goblin also plays pool, getting every ball in the pocket but one, and he blows up the one remaining.
  • There's a pool table in the Bad-Guy Bar for Flash villains in Justice League Unlimited. The players flee when Batman enters the bar and it's later melted by a deflected shot from Trickster's snot gun.
  • An episode of Gargoyles had Elisa playing pool with some gangsters in an attempt to convince them she had gone crooked.
  • Our first (and, for all intents and purposes, last) look at the Ts' lair in Batman Beyond is of their leader playing some kind of futuristic pool that involves the ball exploding when it lands in the corner pocket. Then Batman drops in, at which point Fat T promptly attacks him with the cue. It doesn't take.
  • There's also a pool table in the villain's club in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, surrounded by very colourful and very silly villains. Someone in the DC animation team must like this trope. Actually, they're playing billiards.
  • School House Rock and Naughty Number Niiiiiine
  • Featured in the bar Puff and Onyx hang out at in the Static Shock episode "Consequences".
  • Averted in Aladdin: The Return of Jafar; Genie and Carpet play pool, as part of a Running Gag that no matter what game they play, Carpet will always win.
    Genie: "Pool's a man's game, so being a rug he'll be at a disadvan..."
    (Carpet breaks and sinks all the balls at once, finishing with the eight-ball)
    Genie: "... eh, pool's a dumb game anyway."
    • Well, the Genie technically isn't a "man" either so that must be the reason...
  • In the Mr. Bogus episode "Bogus Private Eye", the Wicked Weasel mobster pair that Bogus and Brattus are after are briefly seen playing pool in the Billiard Hall.
  • An episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids involved Rudy encountering a pool shark at the pool table of the local bowling alley, which led to a lesson about avoiding gambling.

    Real Life 
  • Back in the early 1990s, when London's Slimelight was a Hell's Angels hangout, they could usually be found playing pool on the top floor. When there were drug dealers about, they would also pick that spot. These days, the pool tables are situated on the ground and first floor seating areas and not the exclusive domains of "bad guys".


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