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Wicked Pretentious

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Wanda: But you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?
Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes, they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.

A villain whose air of cultured good breeding serves to enhance their evilness, but they only put it on as an act. A Wicked Cultured villain is genuinely educated, sophisticated, refined, and well-mannered; this guy on the other hand, is crass, unrefined, and with mere delusions of class. Perhaps the soft-spoken "respectable" businessman never got out of the habit of carrying a switchblade, or the ruthless Rich Bitch trying to climb the social ladder can't help but drop cues as to her humble upbringing.

Sometimes this can be explained as lack of culture driving the character to villainy, as they can't find acceptance among high society and so decide to say Then Let Me Be Evil.

Compare and contrast with Wicked Cultured, of course, with Lower-Class Lout, and also The Upper Crass; Nouveau Riche characters who are outright evil are usually this trope, but nothing's stopping old money from also fitting it. See also Delusions of Eloquence, Delusions of Local Grandeur, Feigning Intelligence, Inferiority Superiority Complex.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Frieza from Dragon Ball is a businessman who drinks A Glass of Chianti and acts sophisticated and aristocratic. However, beneath that elegant personality lies a mood-swinging Psychopathic Manchild with anger issues.
  • In One Piece, ex-pirate captain Kuro plays the part of a well-dressed, urbane butler named Klahadore as part of his plan to murder a young girl and make off with her fortune. When his plan starts hitting roadblocks, he breaks out his Wolverine Claws and shows the bloodthirsty savage he actually is, frightening his right-hand man Django in the process.
    Django: To avoid scratching his face with his "Cat Claws"...he pushes his glasses up his nose [with his palms]. It's proof that he hasn't forgotten how to kill!
  • Sword Art Online: Sugou Nobuyuki acts sophisticated, and appears as such to most. Beneath the mask, however, he's a self-absorbed, arrogant psychopath who's nothing but a creepy Psychopathic Manchild, as those who've seen his true self can attest.

    Comic Books 
  • The Penguin from Batman is from an upper class family but is also a brutal gangster. Several stories show that he just doesn't fit in among Gotham's social elite despite his best attempts. This is Depending on the Writer though as sometimes he is shown as genuinely Wicked Cultured and sometimes even more refined (if also more murderous) than the elite he hobbles with.
    • In The Batman Adventures, one of the first things that the Penguin is shown doing is to encourage his personal gang to learn new words on their own, then — as an encouraging teacher — show that he's ahead of them by defining whatever they bring up... even if he doesn't actually know and has to make something up.
  • Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin, of Spider-Man and Daredevil fame, actively cultivates his image as a Self-Made Man and a philanthropist with refined tastes, hiding from the public at large the violent mobster he truly is.
  • In Starman (DC Comics), Simon Culp is a violent racketeer, cultist and murderer, delighting in taking his revenge on society, which has ostracized him for his proclivities and dwarfism. He makes it a point to dress immaculately and very much prefers to limit himself to talking in French, especially since he feels his own native Cockney makes him look vulgar.
  • Burt Schlubb and Douglas Klump from Sin City, who are described as having "Delusions of Eloquence", and who are nearly incapable of not peppering every sentence with pretentious twenty-dollar words delivered in the most stilted, wordy ways possible. This in spite of the fact that they're two no-name thugs who get no respect from anyone, least of all the story.

    Film — Animation 
  • An American Tail: Warren T. Rat pretends to be quite cultured, quoting Shakespeare and playing the violin... neither of which he's able to do correctly.
  • Coco: Ernesto de la Cruz is a musician, singer, and actor who's proficient with folk songs like "La Llorona" as well as modern ones, and he takes the time to admire Miguel's performance. However, he has no genuine appreciation for whatever art form he performs. Everything he does, he does to attract attention to himself and gain fame and wealth. Above all else, he is also a plagiarist, as he takes credit for works of other people.
  • The Great Mouse Detective has Professor Padraic Ratigan, a Moriarty Expy who tries to pass himself off as a Mouse of Wealth and Taste, but his Berserk Button, coupled with his Villainous Breakdown, only serve to show the audience how beastly he really is.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Batman Returns, the Penguin was born deformed due to inbreeding and his parents, to avoid scandal, quietly disposed of him. Growing up as a carnival freak, he returns to Gotham but doesn't fit in among the upper crust because of his atrocious manners.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: Richmond Valentine, who rolls in high-class circles but is an upstart tech mogul who dresses poorly and serves fast food at meetings. This contrasts with the protagonist, Eggsy, who is generally regarded as a street thug but whose journey is all about finding his own variety of class.
  • A Fish Called Wanda: Otto is a violent thug who thinks reading Friedrich Nietzsche makes him much more intelligent and cultured than he really is.
  • Django Unchained's main antagonist Calvin Candie thinks he is charming, intelligent and cultured, but is actually cruel, petty, stupid and disgusting. Despite presenting himself as a lover of French culture, insisting on being addressed as "Monsieur Candie", and naming one of his black slaves after the protagonist from The Three Musketeers, he doesn't actually speak French and is not even aware that Alexandre Dumas was part black himself. The greatest challenge facing Schultz and Django during their stay on Candie's plantation is flattering him and playing along with his hypocrisy without revealing their utter disgust.
  • The titular thief Albert Spica from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is a mafia boss that has taken control of the La Hollandais restaurant were he dines every day with his wife and crew. He fancies himself an intellectual and elite, ordering French food (while mispronouncing the words), musing about philosophy and shaming his group for using improper utensils. In reality, he is a gross, abusive, heartless man. He tortures and kills people he believes have crossed him (regardless of whether they actually did it or if it warranted the punishment), publicly brutalizes his wife and various patrons at the restaurant, harasses Michael for reading while at the dinner table, and this is just what we see on screen. He is so bad, that both the kitchen staff and his own men turn on him by the end of the film.
  • Santino, the Big Bad of John Wick: Chapter 2, fancies himself a sophisticate and the perfect candidate for a seat at The High Table, when really he just thinks he is above the rules that the Criminal Underworld has established and has earned few real friends for it. His father passed him for his sister to inherit the position and instead inherits an impressive collection of Renaissance art that is put on display at the Met, something he views as just "paint on canvas."
  • In Blood and Bone, the Big Bad James does everything he can to preserve his image (wearing fine suits, avoiding alcohol and swearing, owning a painting of Genghis Khan), but the mask slips every time he is inconvenienced or even contradicted. Other characters wind up dead soon after.
    Mob boss: I've heard you've become quite the golfer.
    James: Yes. But unfortunately, I've just lost my golfing partner.
  • Die Hard: Hans Gruber is sharply dressed and brags of his classical education, but mangles a quote about Alexander the Great badly enough to reverse the meaning, to say nothing of comparing himself to one of the world's most famous conquerors while he struggles to maintain control of a single office building long enough to rob the owners.
  • In The House That Jack Built, the titular Jack is a sadistic serial killer who likes to posture himself as a brilliant philosopher and "artist", framing his killings as justification for his pessimistic worldview, while also expressing admiration for fancy things like wine, Greco-Roman architecture, and the works of William Blake. However, Verge frequently cuts through the BS to remind Jack (and the audience) that not only is Jack very much still a monster, he's in fact nowhere near a diabolical genius as he thinks he is, very frequently exaggerating details of his stories to make everyone other than him seem stupid, with evidence showing that he avoided suspicion not because he was careful with his work, but because of police oversight or sheer dumb luck. Verge indirectly calls out Jack as putting on his "cultured" visage simply to impress him.

  • American Psycho presents this as the Running Gag of its Villain Protagonist, the yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman, who makes a pretense at being an aficionado of fine food, clothing, and music. Close inspection will reveal that he's only interested in these things because they're popular fads, and actually has little understanding of any of the subjects. Among other things, the Snooty Haute Cuisine he gushes about ranges from bizarre to inedible, his clothes are hopelessly mismatched, and all of the musicians he praises were seen at the time as ridiculously cheesy. Bret Easton Ellis came from a wealthy background, and this was his roundabout way of showing that off, writing Patrick as somebody whose tastes would sound impressive to an ordinary person but who would come across as a clown to somebody from that world.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces has protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly. While he is genuinely intelligent, he fancies himself as a peerless philosopher when all he really is is a fat, lazy slob.
  • The Godfather: It's noted that the oldest and most experienced wiseguys try to seem the most respectable but also wear the cheapest suits. This is deliberate on their part. They want you to know that they are accustomed to getting their hands dirty, and that respectability hasn't changed that.
  • Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter, like any good paparazzi, uses some very flowery vocabulary in her writings that does nothing however to hide either the gossipy nature of them or the cheap, petty mean-spiritedness that they possess.
  • The Hound of the D'Urbervilles makes Colonel Moran out to be a strange inversion. Despite being raised in a good family and famed for his distinguished military career, he just doesn't give a damn about his reputation and is quite happy living as a thug and a murderer who only feels at peace when his life is in danger.
  • James Bond villains get this treatment a lot. The average Bond villain is Nouveau Riche, vulgarly showy with his wealth, adorns himself with attractive female assistants a fraction of his age, has notable deformities that he calls attention to by trying to hide, and one or two of them even cheat at "gentlemen's" games.
  • Chrysler Peavy from Mortal Engines is a pirate leader who began having delusions of being an honorable mayor after seizing control of the suburb Tunbridge Wheels and now plans to turn it into the world's first respectable pirate suburb... a goal which he utterly fails to achieve since none of his crew share any of his ambitions, and he himself is still a ruthless pirate at heart.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Tywin Lannister is a variation; he makes a big deal about maintaining regal composure in public, but he can stray into hypocrisy sometimes, like when he arranges for his enemies to be killed over dinner, something that's the epitome of bad taste in the Sacred Hospitality culture of Westeros; plus, despite calling it unfitting, he's apparently been seeing whores secretly for some time. However, he ensures the former is carried out by another house (who do indeed get ostracized by their peers,) and he is so discreet about the latter that his own family are shocked to discover it, so unlike most examples on this page he is smart enough to both maintain appearances and avoid the backlash when convenience requires him to play dirty. His understanding of the pretenses necessary to stay in power fully fit with his reputation as "the king who never wore a crown."

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Horror Story
    • Freak Show has both halves of its Big Bad Ensemble:
      • Dandy Mott, a wealthy heir who attempts to present himself as a cultured gentleman to the people he's trying to charm, but it's all an act. It takes remarkably little resistance from the other party to make him lose his cool and cause his real personality, that of a murderous childish sociopath who throws temper tantrums the instant things stop going his way, to show through.
      • Stanley, who attempts to put on an air of a charming, worldly salesman type, but is actually a sleazy Con Man who will commit murder for a quick buck and spends much of his time in the company of male prostitutes.
    • 1984 gives us Margaret Booth. She displays shades of this early-on, but it's initially overshadowed by her faux-fundamentalist personality. She really dives headfirst into this trope following the timeskip, however. She cultivates the image of a stylish and fashionable businesswoman, but her modus operandi of buying up famous murder sites and turning them into tourist attractions is seen as in extremely poor taste even in-universe, as she's on the verge of losing money over it.
  • While adults in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017) are all Too Dumb to Live in one form or another, Count Olaf takes this to another level with his Delusions of Eloquence and sophistication. He believes himself to be a Master Actor when really people only fall for his disguises because they are all dumber than him, and he is considered terrible while on stage. He is terrible at math and grammar and he uses words incorrectly at a failed attempt to seem smart. Even his title - Count Olaf - is a title he gave himself to make him seem more impressive. In a lot of ways his home acts as a perfect visual metaphor for himself; a massive mansion that is clearly uninhabitable inside and out in plain sight of an otherwise lovely neighborhood. Ironically, later on in the series, it's suggested that much of his Wicked Pretentious status is, in itself, an act, as he is able to quote a Philip Larkin poem while bleeding to death. This suggests that Olaf fashions himself in opposition to the intellectual and cultured members of VFD, and therefore gives the outward impression of a Lower-Class Lout.
  • In the first season of Daredevil (2015), it's made clear that Wilson Fisk is a violent gangster despite his attempts to pass himself off as an upper-class philanthropist. He owns a closet full of suits with the same black color, owns a bunch of cufflinks he never wears, flips over a table with imported Chinese tea on it because a fellow mob boss insulted him, and his idea of "beautifying" Hell's Kitchen is forcing all the inhabitants out so he can bulldoze it to put up luxury condos. More subtly, he has to get a recommendation from James on what wine to bring on a date, and shows bad manners by smudging the glass with his fingers.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street: White supremacist and attempted Cop Killer Gordon Pratt attempts to present himself as a refined, educated revolutionary. He even owns a copy of The Republic in the original Greek, which he brags about whenever he isn't smugly mocking Lewis and Pembleton (who are black) with alleged "scientific evidence" of how black people are genetically inferior to white people. Pembleton manages to provoke him into a Villainous Breakdown by challenging him to read a passage; while he cannot, Pembleton can. Pembleton then dismantles his façade by revealing that he's actually a high school dropout who flunked all of his classes and mocks him for being such a pathetic failure.

  • Rob Cantor: Mr. Fluglemeyer in the unreleased song "Cuckoo" dreams of being in the upper class, but it's clear from the lyrics that he's a crude and horrible person who cheats his customers, uses child slaves, and just wants everyone to do his bidding. The song itself uses the tune of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fur Elise," just to hammer in how he attempts to appear cultured.
  • Jim Croce: The titular character of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" is a violent, womanizing thug who likes to make a show of himself with fancy clothes, diamond rings, and vintage cars.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Wild Red Berry grew up poor and had no formal education. He would habitually read poems and dictionaries in search of words he did not hear anyone using in an effort to confound listeners, but often did not grasp the full meaning of these words himself.
  • William Regal has historically tried to project the image of English dignity and sophistication whenever he manages to win an "international" contest or title belt. He will lightly clap at the accomplishments of other wrestlers, bow to ladies (if they are "English"), critique the cadence of others' speaking, but the man is a carney conman hooker who is at best "working class" when he tries to posh up, and is a self-admitted dirty rotten scoundrel with hate in his heart deep down.
  • Gentleman John Lynx, a manager in Prairie Wrestling Alliance tries to convince people he regularly consumes fine culture—he often apes an upper-class British accent (which he invariably fails to maintain), wears a nice suit (complete with cufflinks), and will sometimes recite poetry and make literary references. Those references betray his lowbrow taste in literature, and he's had more than one tantrum at ringside.
  • Allysin Kay is a militant gangster that likes blasting murder ballads on the radio and watching contact sports on television. Still, she wants people to think the is globally cultured and a regular consumer of the fine arts, which she attempts to accomplish by imitating wrestlers who are like Kazuchika Okada. These attempts have more than once fallen flat. Marti Belle, Kay's rival turned ally of convenience turned Tag Team partner comes from acting and fashion backgrounds, and is more culturally learned than Kay, but nonetheless tries to appear classier than she actually is in imitation of Kay.
  • Lady Chardonnay Darcy, the Queen Of Chavs...she learned chavs are considered low class so she dropped that claim and hired a butler named Savoy in attempt to look more regal, but didn't know how to react when Solo Darling scoffed at the idea of a chardonnay drink, much less as a title of royalty.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Nalfeshnee are a race of demons who often have delusions of grandeur and see themselves as a twisted form of aristocracy within their home plane, the Abyss. When not fighting against or bullying others, they host ritual banquets in a twisted mockery of those conducted by mortal nobles, eating the flesh of still-living creatures with rusted utensils.
  • In Nomine: Belial, the Prince of Fire, likes to think of himself as a suave, sophisticated villain. What he is is a half-mad brutish pyromaniac who occasionally puts on a nice suit.

    Video Games 
  • The Penguin once again:
    • In the Batman: Arkham Series, the Penguin is depicted as a pushy, rude, arrogant, petty, sadistic, openly bigoted London Gangster who is just as unrefined as the henchmen he looks down on, even ruining the exhibits of a natural history museum just to accommodate his criminal headquarters, yet nevertheless believes himself to be the height of sophistication and class because of his Old Money family. Interestingly, unlike most versions of the character that came from wealth or faded glory and now try to keep up appearances, Penguin refused to better himself when he had the opportunity sent to London by his parents to receive private schooling, he didn't fit in with his classmates and instead spent most of his time there with various street gangs, returning to Gotham with virtually no formal education, even worse etiquette, and a superiority complex as broad as the accent he picked up. He did make a sincere attempt to at least be admired by Gotham's wealthy elite when he unveiled the Iceberg Lounge, but Joker disfiguring a waitress the night of the grand opening humiliated Oswald and sparked their long-running feud. Even in terms of aesthetics, this Penguin is presented as a Darker and Edgier twist on tropes commonly employed by the character. For example... 
    • The version of Penguin from Batman: The Telltale Series is Affably Evil and superficially charismatic, but is nevertheless an Impoverished Patrician whose fall from grace turned him into a criminal mastermind bent on revenge against the Wayne family. Whether he's championing himself as a liberator of the downtrodden or enjoying the high life after taking over Wayne Enterprises, Penguin never stops being a brash, violent thug.
  • Bully: The prep clique are all like this. They come from privileged backgrounds and speak in fake "posh" accents, but are all spoiled, thuggish brutes.
  • Final Fantasy VII: Genesis Rhapsodos has this as a defining feature of his personality. He's one of the world's leading scholars on LOVELESS and is implied to have published writings about his theories to its meaning due to his obsession with it. Normally, this may make him come across as Wicked Cultured, but as his condition and sanity deteriorate and his desperation for a cure intensifies, he starts drawing parallels between the events of Crisis Core and LOVELESS, and becomes convinced it is some sort of holy prophecy or legend that he must fulfill, making him less cultured and more crazy. As for LOVELESS itself, several characters do not have a high opinion of it; Cid, Sephiroth, and Hojo all dismiss its quality at different times, and the NPCs who form its fanbase are largely portrayed as the in-universe equivalent of the more obsessive Final Fantasy fans.
  • Trade Prince Jastor Gallywix in World of Warcraft and it's spin-offs is considered greedy even amongst goblins who have greed as one of their racial personality quirks. He typically wears a top hat, dresses in fur-lined coats and capes, smokes fancy cigars and flaunts his wealth to all who are watching. He's more than happy to abuse his underlings and in the goblin starting tries to sell the player and other goblins to slavers. He speaks, like most goblins, with a heavy Brooklyn accent is is said to have backstabbed his way up society to reach the top of the Bilgewater Cartel from being pretty much a street thug so his classlessness often shows through.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Manfred von Karma, THE Amoral Attorney, is a so-called "god of prosecution" who has proven the defendant guilty in every trial he's prosecuted for his entire 40-year career. He's very respected (and feared) in his profession. He dresses like an eighteenth-century aristocrat. Why is he here and not Wicked Cultured? The second he opens his mouth, he brazenly intimidates the judge, and during cross-examination he can't go five seconds without interrupting or insulting Phoenix Wright in some way. And that's before you find out he murdered Gregory Edgeworth in cold blood for giving him a minor penalty on his otherwise perfect record.
    • Luke Atmey in Trials and Tribulations. An arrogant Attention Whore of a detective, he wears clothing just as fancy as the Von Karmas and attempts to come off as brilliant and urbane. He's both a thief and a murderer. For bonus points, his tuxedo, monocle, large nose and unusual yellow hairstyle make him resemble both (again) the Penguin and an actual (rockhopper) penguin.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Still more Penguin:
    • Batman: The Animated Series: Especially in the episode where, after a recent release from prison, he makes a genuine attempt at going straight and befriends a wealthy young socialite, only to learn that the whole thing was a Prank Date and her friends were laughing at his crass mannerisms the whole time. This leaves him so embittered and humiliated that he gets back into crime on the spot. Then flipped around after the retool; not only did he lose any similarity to the deformed Burton version, but as a fence and nightclub owner, he was a lot more Wicked Cultured, and lost any interest in avenging himself on high society. Although, in his words:
      "Living well is the best revenge."
    • The Batman: His Establishing Character Moment involves him crashing a gala he wasn't invited to, quickly making a spectacle of himself with bad manners, feigning offense when he's asked to pay the cover charge (which he can't really afford) and then sneaking off with the silverware. He has a Freudian Excuse; his family used to be eminent and influential in Gotham before the Waynes started overshadowing them. He's a Spoiled Brat who never grew up, even after losing the means to be spoiled.
    • Harley Quinn (2019): Despite wearing fancy clothes and running an upscale nightclub, the Penguin is an unapologetically ruthless and sadistic mobster with a decidedly boorish and unsophisticated demeanor. He abuses and kills his henchmen for petty reasons, takes his revenge against Harley Quinn in a flagrantly degrading and misogynistic way, and doesn't even try to pretend that he's not forcing his nephew Joshua to carry on the family business against his will. This is even reflected in his gang's dress code, as his male goons wear tuxedo-print t-shirts while his female minions wear skimpy leotards with bowler hats.
  • One-off villain Mad Dog from Courage the Cowardly Dog is a crude, unsophisticated, low-class thug who does dirty jobs for quick pay, yet nevertheless he has a high opinion of himself and his lifestyle.
  • King K. Rool, antagonist of Donkey Kong Country, uses large words in an attempt to be sophisticated, yet throws tantrums like a child.
  • South Park gives us Gerald Broflovski. As a lawyer, Gerald likes to drink A Glass of Chianti and acts smug and sophisticated. However, Season 20 reveals that Gerald is nothing more than an immature man who trolls women on the internet for his own twisted amusement.
  • The Cuphead Show!: Ribby and Croaks mention that they used to be rough-and-tumble fighters, but their mother helped them clean up their act, and now they're "respectable" types who wear pinstripe suits and run a high-class riverboat club. The problem is, Ribby and Croaks are still very prone to violence, and they have a Jerkass streak, making it clear that they're not quite as reformed or squeaky-clean as they think they are.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Gabriel Agreste presents himself as a stern, but respectable bigshot in the field of high fashion and lives in a large mansion. As the supervillain Hawk Moth, he presents a loud and bombastic personality and gives his minions gaudy costumes and names. It's revealed later on that his real name isn't even Gabriel Agreste, and that he used to be a young restaurant worker named Gabi Grassette who built his whole legend from the ground up to seem more impressive.


Video Example(s):


Pete Hutter

Pete Hutter is introduced giving a rant about his appreciation for classical art over the newer Impressionist movement as he observes a painter painting a mound as part of a Train Job, and then tells the painter that his landscape should have a sunset to complete the look. The painter remarks that it's in the middle of the day, so a sunset would ruin the illusion they're going for, whereupon Pete gets cranky over how he won't accept "constructive criticism." This tells us that Pete is nothing but your typical Western outlaw that think's he's smarter than he really is.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / EstablishingCharacterMoment

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