Maybe Hollywood is tapping into the ancestral female animal instinct to choose the mightiest, strongest, toughest genes for their offspring. Maybe it's just because Good Is Boring and Evil Is Sexy. Whatever the reason, in Hollywood, it's the bad boys the girls want.
The "bad boy" targets the strongest womanly instincts: the stoic, silent guy is a mystery waiting to be solved; the Troubled, but Cute youth with a tragic past is a woobie needing comfort; he's tough enough to be a girl's protector, but vulnerable enough to need her as well. Add to that the fact that Evil Is Cool, and the Anti-Hero ranks as Bachelor of the Month.
All this, of course, tends to gloss over the fact that bad boys are bad, meaning criminally inclined, self-centered, probably not too mentally stable, potentially abusive, might have trouble keeping a legal job, and will most likely be more interested in the physical (read: sexual) aspect of a relationship than anything else. He's probably not going to be all that concerned with fidelity, either. So what if he can't be trusted? It's an honor for girls in media to be chosen by him, to walk into prom night with him on her arm, to ride on the back of his motorcycle with her arms around his waist, to stick her tongue out at the Alpha Bitch from the passenger's seat of his stolen convertible.
Depending on the nature of the Bad Boy and whether he's redeemable or not, use of this trope may cause the viewer to question the character's sense or intelligence, particularly if it's immediately obvious to everyone from the outset of the relationship that the man is a thoroughly nasty piece of work. Don't count on Reformed Rakes if the bad boy is a One-Shot Character. If the bad boy and/or the girl are unimportant characters, they have a tendency to be Straw Characters.
This portrayal can sometimes be the product of Entitled to Have You, Standard Hero Reward or Nice Guys Finish Last on the part of a good guy we're supposed to root for or the audience or the author. This bad boy is made to be a foil and show how "undesirable" the other options are. This can backfire if there are female audience members who have something else in mind. Ironically, their Fix Fic is likely to 1) make the bad boy look better and 2) make the nice guy look worse.
Sometimes the badness is an Informed Attribute, such as with the Lovable Rogue. It all depends on what the author wants to use this trope for. It's entirely possible for someone to look like a bad boy but not fit the above description. Sometimes a supposed bad boy who really isn't has to deal with the advances of a hyperactive Fangirl who doesn't know when to cut it out, resulting in comedy at the "bad boy's" expense.
Interestingly, younger women are often portrayed as prone to this trope, whereas older, more mature, and wiser women (meaning 35 and older) seem much less receptive to "bad boy" vibes (maybe they learnt their lesson through painful experience or are simply mature enough to know better), although there are always exceptions (especially bored housewives with marital issues). Can be portrayed as being either savvy or, if the bad boy falls into the not really a bad boy category (especially if he is a main character), an overly protective but well meaning mother figure for the girl.
For really bad bad boys, the Girl (either intentionally or not) may find herself becoming a Monster Fangirl or a Love Martyr at worst. The girl may also go to the other end and find what they are looking for is the Nice Guy because Single Woman Seeks Good Man—particularly as a Second Love, and often via Just Friends, when they've been burned by their previous boyfriend.
See Single Woman Seeks Good Man for a typical inversion. A popular subversion is to make the guy look like a bad guy but reveal himself as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold with little to no criminal record.
Related to I Can Change My Beloved, which often follows after this, and Power Dynamics Kink. The fandom reaction version of this is Draco in Leather Pants. In high school settings, often found alongside All Guys Want Cheerleaders (its Spear Counterpart). A male Sexier Alter Ego will probably be one of these. When the bad boy is literally a monster, see You Sexy Beast. Contrast Endearingly Dorky and Weakness Turns Her On, where more timid, sweet, and "uncool" characters are seen as attractive. If the bad boy plays guitar, this will usually overlap with Artists Are Attractive.
Despite the gendered name, it can also be gender-inverted or applied to same-sex couples.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- An advertisement for a brand of high-heeled shoes said shoes were like men. "The ones you want to take home with you aren't the ones you can live with."
- This State Farm commercial implies this with one of the three young women featured. One of her companions leans towards Single Woman Seeks Good Man for good measure.
- In the DC Comics Deck-Building Game, Wonder Woman and Black Canary need Villains in order to trigger their Super Hero abilities. The card Princess Diana of Themiscyra, i.e., Wonder Woman, automatically gains all Villains in the Line-up. In Crisis Mode, Black Canary is the only character who can add Villains to her deck under normal circumstances.
- Jeff Foxworthy mocked and deconstructed this trope at the same time. He said that when women say they want a "dangerous" guy, they're usually thinking of some James Bond-type of dude, but if a woman did end up with a "dangerous" man, then the likeliest outcome would have them on an episode of Cops with her hanging out of the trailer in a tube top, screaming "Lock his ass up!"
- Bill Hicks has a routine about this trope in which the "bad boy" is Satan and the woman believes I Can Change My Beloved. He has also recorded a song about it: "Chicks Dig Jerks". Both have a decidedly bitter tone.
- Russell Kane calls it "Attracted to Bastard disease" after noticing the trope (becoming a cliche) on every reality dating TV show he's ever seen and is worried that it's seeping into real life (since he has a daughter), what with men in their twenties throughout the 2010s becoming arrogant and vain over getting a Heroic Build.
- Glen Foster, aka "That Canadian Guy", says that someone once told him that girls may be attracted to bad boys initially, but they don't stay with the bad boys. Glen interprets this as a double benefit.
- Funky Winkerbean: In the mid-1990s, the romance between then-high school sweethearts Wally Winkerbean and Becky Blackburn. Becky was heavily involved with music and drama, but her heart fell for a guy that struggled in school and often drank and partied on the weekends. Years later, in 2010, Becky reflects back on how she came to fall in love with Wally note and admits that it was his "bad boy" attitude that drew her to him.
- Played with in these two Dilbert comics.
- Ink Pen's Scrappy Lad spends a week trying go bad to win over Moxie. He and Hammock discuss the trope.
- The BBC documentary The Human Animal proposes a reason this trope exists in simple biological terms. The short of it is that the dangerous aspects of the target are sexual advertisements. According to the documentary, on a biological level, women are looking for signs of protective prowess (IE: who will help protect and rear offspring). Displays of aggressive behavior are then read as signs of this prowess (cultural signs of this vary greatly, but the intended messages are the same). Once partnered up, however, the female will actively work to prevent the male from displaying further (the "redeeming" aspect of this trope), so as to prevent the male from gathering further attention from the opposite sex. There's a lot more to human courtship, of course, mostly because, unlike other primates alive today, sex among humans lasts more than 8 seconds.
- The Haunted House: The Secret of the Ghost Ball: Kanglim is pursued by numerous girls despite his cold indifference towards them. The main characters even discuss it, saying the only reason he gets away with treating people so callously is because he's good-looking.
- Brought up in song in Lady and the Tramp:
He's a tramp
He's a scoundrel
He's a rounder
He's a cad
He's a tramp
But I love him
Yes, even I have got it really bad...
- In Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Cindy has the hots for local skateboarder Nick Dean...that is, until he encounters Poultra and Screams Like a Little Girl.
- In Wonder Woman (2009), Steve suspects this with Hippolyta and Ares. Hard to get badder than the God of War.
- Gender-Flipped in Hercules. The titular hero is sweet, innocent, clumsy and head over heels for the sexy, sarcastic, jaded Anti-Villainess Megara. The feeling turns out to be quite mutual, and Love Redeems in its classic form kicks in. Definitely something different, especially for a Disney movie.
- The Sword in the Stone: The cheerful red haired girl squirrel was already in love with Arthur/Wart in squirrel form the moment she laid eyes on him. When she wraps her tail around him and kisses him on the lips three times, he wipes his mouth, throws her tail over her head and pushes her. She chirps in an excited, flirtatious way suggesting this trope.
- In Shinbone Alley Mehitabel lusts after the roguish Big Bill even though he's treated her badly in the past. She even goes back to him in the end despite the fact he ran out on her when she gave birth to his litter.
- In Classical Mythology, Aphrodite's passionate (and lasting) affair with the dangerous, bloodthirsty war-god Ares makes this trope Older Than Feudalism. The fact that her husband Hephaestus was deformed and disabled and the marriage wasn't even her idea didn't help matters. Some versions have Hephaestus be a genuinely loving husband to her, in others he got his revenge by crafting an inescapable net and throwing it over the sleeping lovers then calling all the other deities to point-and-laugh.
- Romand myth gives Mars a kind of divine hero upgrade, making him more an icon of male fertility.
- Janel of Fat, French and Fabulous.
Janel: Saw Phantom of the Opera for the first time on Broadway today and now I'm exclusively sexually attracted to deformed psychopaths who live underneath opera houses, so that's something.
- Played for Laughs in the season one finale of Wooden Overcoats. Rude, misanthropic Rudyard is normally the least popular man in town... until he's falsely convicted of murder. Then he gets fan mail.
- If a woman in WWE ever undergoes a FaceHeel Turn, there are good odds that this is how she'll do it. Examples include:
- Stephanie McMahon, who turned heel after marrying Triple H. In her post-heel-turn promo, she admitted that she was always attracted to him, but her feelings were only spurred on by her desire to spite her father.
- Tori, when she ditched Kane for X-Pac.
- Years later, Lita would leave Kane for Edge. This mirrored her real life actions with Matt Hardy. This is at times gender-flipped, since alot of the male wrestlers seem to be interested in her.
- Trish Stratus, who turned on Chris Jericho in favor of Christian after Jericho did a HeelFace Turn for her sake.
- Layla choosing William Regal over Jamie Noble is another example, though she never really turned face in the first place.
- Subverted, though, by Molly Holly's heel turn in 2001. Despite the fact that it showed all the qualities of the above angles, the fact that she left Spike Dudley for The Hurricane undermines the "bad boy" aspect since he's...well, a superhero. It didn't help that neither of them really did anything heelish at all beyond disapproving of The APA drinking beer, and immediately turned out-and-out face after the WCW/ECW Invasion angle ended. A much more definitive heel turn occurred for Molly the following year, with no bad boy in sight.
- Played with in the case of Terri Runnels during WWE's Attitude Era. She made her debut as Marlena the valet of her real life husband's Goldust persona. Goldust was a heel. However, after his HeelFace Turn, Goldust lost Terri for a few days to heel Brian Pillman, but then initially refused to take her back. About a year later, Goldust broke character and appeared as a Born Again Christian Dustin Runnels, who was willing to forgive and forget and take Terri back. She however, blew him off for Val Venis, a playboy persona. However, when Venis started to reform, Runnels showed up again as Goldust and Terri came running to him. After he rejected her for good this time, she became a Straw Feminist who swore off men completely.
- A quite frankly, bizarre example is with AJ Lee, who pursued not one, but three men who each fit the bad boy criteria to different degrees. Her main interest focused on Anti-Hero CM Punk, wearing his shirts and mimicking his mannerism to a degree. Then there's Jerkass Daniel Bryan, her ex who she admitted she wasn't quite over yet, and was possibly just trying to make jealous. And finally there's Kane, who she made dreamy eyes at, and apparently thought he had a heart buried under his tormented soul, and who she notably kissed with considerably more passion than she showed towards the other two. The one thing all three men appeared to agree on is that AJ is out of her damn mind. After a stint as RAW GM, she began an on screen relationship with WWE's good boy, John Cena. Then she topples a ladder with him on top and ends up with bad boy Dolph Ziggler.
- Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
- Ivy is attracted towards broody, angsty boys, though downplayed in that she doesn't like ones that are actively dangerous or cruel. This has resulted in her developing a deep crush on the anti-social Simon.
- Similarly, Ivy's best friend Luna is attracted to local 'bad boy' and rockstar wannabe Hyeon, and has stated that she finds 'good' guys to be boring.
- In Survival of the Fittest, Rosa Fiametta's attraction to JJ Sturn, despite the fact that he's pretty much an asshat (whilst they're dating, at least). This backfires on her in a major way.
- Assassins plays this for laughs by having Lynette Froome wax lyrical about how amazingly smart and beautiful Charles Manson is. Based on Real Life, as she was infatuated with Manson and tried to kill the President in his name.
- Elisabeth: As far as bad boys go, it doesn't get worse than killing two of your children and saying point blank that he will own you in the end. In fact, it's after he did it the second time that Elisabeth breaks and begs Death to take her. The German tour and Raimund Theater revival amped it up by giving Death the Hell-Bent for Leather trope.note
- In Grease, the "cool" girls, especially Rizzo, are attracted to bad boys, and the male lead, Danny Zuko, is a bad boy who resembles Arthur Fonzarelli. The main conflict in the plot is over Danny's "badness" and the "goodness" of Sandy, the lead female. Eventually, they end up meeting somewhere in the middle.
- Deconstructed in Heathers. Veronica was very much attracted to bad boy J.D. when he was just a broody, intense bookworm with a troubled past that beat up Jerk Jocks in the cafeteria. Once he starts murdering people, however, their relationship goes south.
- In The Importance of Being Earnest, Cecily falls madly in love with Jack's wayward brother without ever having met him because "a man who is very much talked about is always very attractive. One feels there must be something in him after all."
- Genderswapped in Love In Hate Nation, where protagonist Susannah ends up falling for the bad girl instead, Sheila. She wears a leather jacket, doesn't care what other people think of her, and rides off on a motorcycle at the end of the show. Susannah is enraptured.
- The Mrs. Hawking play series: Subverted with Arthur the policeman. He's just about the sweetest, most straightforward guy you could imagine, and he's presented as a romantic and attractive figure for lead character Mary. Zig-zagged with Clara, who briefly dated the roguish playboy Justin Hawking before settling down with his more gentlemanly little brother Nathaniel.
- The Music Man:
- Mayor Shinn's daughter Zaneeta falls for the rebellious teen Tommy Djilas to the horror of her parents.
- Played with for Marian Paroo. Marian initially snubs Harold Hill's advances and dreams of being with an "honest man", though she eventually falls for him after seeing the joy and confidence he has sparked in the town's citizens with his idea for a band. Harold, in turn, decides not to ditch town and to stay with Marian.
- In Spring Awakening Thea declares, "Melchi Gabor, he's such a radical! You know what the whisper is? He doesn't believe in anything! Not in God, not in Heaven, not in a single thing in this world!" Cue the other girls on stage sighing dreamily.
- Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire chooses to stay with Stanley, who is violent, abusive, and beneath her social class. She reasons that what goes on between the sheets makes everything unimportant. Even her sister Blanche flirts with him.
- Sarah of Tanz Der Vampire is a lot more interested in the vampire Count von Krolock than she is in Alfred, the quintessential (human) Dogged Nice Guy. She spends the musical longing for the Count's bite even as Alfred sings of his love for her.
- "Mack The Knife" Macheath in Kurt Weills The Threepenny Opera is an all-out sociopathic criminal. But that does not stop at least four girls from going crazy over him.
- Zombie Prom sort of parodies this with The Hero, Jonny Warner. He has a motorcycle (like many bad boys), but the most rebellious thing he does is take the "h" out of his name, then tell Miss Strict he'd prefer to keep it out. Miss Strict and Toffee's parents still insist she break up with him. When she does, he is Driven to Suicide, then comes back as a zombie. Interestingly, once he does, it is suggested that he might have been a bit more rebellious than we thought (telling Miss Strict that he "used to hate [her]" and "could not be reached"), but, as a zombie, all he wants to do is return to school and take Toffee to the prom.
- Toyed with in Crescendo (JP). Ryo, the main character, is a gruff guy with a bad reputation and a troubled past who sleeps through school enough to put his graduation in jeopardy. However, the girls like him... because he's a kind-hearted guy who stands by them when they need support, not the fact that he can beat up 3 guys at once.
- In Demonheart, the two men Bright can go for are both evil. Raze is a demonspawn and fan of Murder Is the Best Solution, and Brash is a foulmouthed corrupt knight and rumored rapist.
- Diabolik Lovers is all about a girl who is abused by a group of Bishōnen vampire brothers. One of them even calls her 'Bitch-chan'. It's intended to be fanservice for girls who do want bad boys.
- Dream Daddy: Deconstructed. The player can try to start a relationship with the local Bad Dad Robert, but in the Good Ending, Robert will admit that he isn't in a good place, emotionally or psychologically and wants to focus on rebuilding the bridge between himself and his daughter, asking the player to give him time to fix himself up so they can start an actually healthy relationship in the future and staying Just Friends until there.
- In Ikemen Sengoku, several of the main character's potential love interests fit this trope, especially Nobunaga Oda who's known as the "Devil King of the Sixth Heaven" and Masamune Date who's wild, flirtatious, and more than a little dangerous. The main character even explicitly notes this trope on Masamune's route with her thoughts on how "I had become the princess in love with a bad boy, and I had no regrets."
- Deconstructed in Last Window. Margaret fell in love with her husband George knowing fully that he was an evil man. Eventually, he became a criminal and the only thing keeping them together was their shared guilt of his crimes. When he murdered a friend of theirs, she decided she'd had enough and planned to kill him, only to be beaten to the punch. Her knowledge of his crimes and the fact she allowed them to happen haunts her to this day. At one point, she describes herself as alternately loving and loathing him.
- Monster Prom: Among the dateable characters, Damien is actively described as a bad boy, he is a demon and an arsonist that loves to cause mayhem and destruction.
- Subverted in Shall We Date?: Ninja Shadow: two of Saori's potential love interests (Toru Nakagawa and Tsubaki Kusunoki) fit very well as bad boys in one way or another... but Saori, who tends to swear by the "Single Woman Seeks Good Man" principle, will only start looking their way when they show her their gentler, kinder sides. i.e., in Toru's younger brother Makoto's route, Saori will be repulsed by the "bad boy" Toru's Villainous Crush on her and remain firmly in love with Makoto... but Toru's own route will start with him showing his Anti-Villain chops right from the beginning and rescuing her at least twice from tight situations.
- Yo-Jin-Bo has Tatsunami Ittosai as one of your possible options. He actually betrays the heroine to the villains, becoming The Mole for a substantial section of the game, but can be redeemed courtesy of the Power of Trust, and has some of the most emotional endings in the game.
- Red vs. Blue: Played for Laughs in episode 7 of season 9, where Tucker gives love advice to Church for when Tex arrives.
Tucker: Church, say something rebellious.Church: Uh, okay, I think the working class should uprise against the rich people.Tucker: I said rebellious, not revolutionary.
- Gender-inverted case in RWBY. Yang's father Taiyang is a Nice Guy, a Bruiser with a Soft Center and a good father. Yang's mother Raven, on the other hand, is a ruthless bandit queen with a Social Darwinist streak. In Taiyang's words, he found a lot to admire in her otherwise prickly personality, namely her strength, determination and dedication to whatever cause she thought was right; it was only after Yang was produced that Raven's myriad other issues eventually caused the romance to fall apart.
- Anon: Twin brothers Tucker and Hunter are part of a VERY shady crime family and are notorious for their lying and manipulating ways, but they also have nearly almost every female character thirsting after them, including the two main female leads and a considerable portion of the fanbase.
- Averted with Tucker's son Connor, usually a good mannered but immature kid who goes through a bad boy phase during the first half of the eighth season. Most characters and fans of the show agree that they find the cute and cheerful Connor a lot more charming than bad boy Connor, who they mostly find just annoying and out of control.
- The website The Art of Manliness debunks this in a few articles and podcasts, explaining that women tend to go for confident guys and, often times, bad boys are more confident. It also mentions that those same bad boys don't last long and that a confident, yet well-mannered man is something for the guys to strive for. The site also criticizes the supposed Dogged Nice Guy for not being nearly as nice as he claims.
- "The Being a Jerk Method" of picking up women.
- Inverted in one article. One of the writers went undercover on a dating site, posing as a woman with model looks who spends "her" entire profile making racist jokes, displaying bad manners, admitting to breaking the law, gladly admitting she lies about being pregnant to get what she wants, and showing horrible grammar and spelling. Many men still messaged this person, asking for dates. The writer decided to up the ante by messaging them back, boasting about bullying young children, lying to a judge to avoid charges, and even making stupid demands of the men if they wanted to have sex with her, which included but was not limited to, allowing her to yank out one of their teeth. At one point, she freely explained that she only has sex with men so she can pretend to be pregnant and get money from them. Despite this, many men were gravitating toward her. And yes, it was all real.
- Subverted in an issue of The Descendants that goes so far as having the same name as this trope.
- The whole point of websites like Hot Chicks with Douchebags.
- This is a common plot on hundreds of stories on Wattpad, however, opinions are divided across the internet on whether the so-called "bad boys" the teen girl audience are swooning over are actual bad boys (brooding, tortured lovable rogues) or sociopaths wearing a bad boy disguise, who aren't against kidnapping and emotionally-abusing their girlfriends or beating people to death. It's so popular, typing "saved by the bad boy" or "the bad boy that saved me" into the website's search engine will lead to tons of books under those titles.
- In one Whateley Universe story, Loophole's student advisor warns her about Kodiak, pointing out that, no matter how romantic the bad boys seem, they're still bad, and it takes more than one girl's love to make them good—so if she's trying to change him, she needs to be bloody careful (especially considering that Kodiak is one of the most dangerous people at Whateley, at least among the student population). Loophole takes it to heart and later informs Kodiak that she knows he only really respects people who can stand up to him—and she proceeds to fight him and (almost) win so he'll really respect her. It works.
- In Broken Bonds, Li'lu and E'ar both want "hot demon boyfriends".
- This parody from CollegeHumor, showing what Zelda and Princess Peach discuss when the heroes aren't around. And again in this video with Adam, Eve, and the Snake.
- In I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC, Harley Quinn says that she wants a physically and emotionally abusive guy. She was trying to justify her canon love for the Joker, which is depicted as extremely unhealthy and, by the end of this season, ends up with the Green Goblin, who is an a-hole to everyone else but treats her well.
- Parodied in this Nigahiga video. It shows Ryan and Kevin trying to pick up girls by acting like total jerks.
- Channel Awesome:
- Gender-inverted with The Nostalgia Critic. He likes aggressive women so much that he would be happy for the prison characters of Chicago to kill him, he picked up a psycho Stalker with a Crush partner when he was a teenager because he broke up with them three times, his prom date ended up raping him, he has a complicated relationship with The Nostalgia Chick, and he keeps getting with Rapey!Spoony.
- And, now that we mentioned her, The Nostalgia Chick. She gets manipulated into sex with Spoony, can't stop dating drunk guys, has a "history" with the Critic, and keeps fawning over an asshole with no interest in her. Both of these can be considered deconstructed though, as the Critic's a "glutton for punishment" with very little power and the Chick herself is a Bastard Girlfriend with issues.
- Also shows up on her list of the top ten hottest animated guys: most of the list falls under this trope, whether the "brooding tortured loner" version or the "horrible, horrible person that may or may not have a heart of gold in there somewhere who girls can have 'fun' rehabilitating" version.
- Being an Anti-Role Model for fangirls, it's only fitting that Critic's stalker (Hyper Fangirl) shows this off. Critic's threatened to kill her a load of times for not leaving him alone and it just makes her more attracted to him.
- Reviewing the official Batman movie comic with Atop the Fourth Wall, the scene between Alicia and Jack Napier (not the Joker but a conceited A-1 nutball of a gangster) gets a comment from the Critic that it's Jack's "warm compassion" that draws her to him.
- Veronica of The Veronica Exclusive wants bad girls, specifically, Jane. This is deconstructed when Jane turns out to be less of a deep, mysterious loner and more of a vindictive, psychotic Serial Killer. At the end, Veronica outright states that everything she found attractive about Jane at first turned out to be a far harsher, more dangerous quality once you scratched the surface.