5 Fictional Bullies Who Were Just Misunderstood

5 Fictional Bullies Who Were Just Misunderstood

Nobody likes a bully. It’s an age-old adage that holds up in pop culture regardless of how much time the viewer personally spent staring out of the slats of a school locker. Show a classic schoolyard meanie kicking sand in the shrimpiest character’s face, and it won’t take much before the whole audience is fine with him getting knocked into a wheat thresher later on. Often, too, the moment in whatever media’s being ingested when the bully gets their just desserts is enough to warm the heart — a strange strain of wholesome violence.

Sometimes, though, the final form of the bully isn’t to be vaporized, either physically or emotionally, but to show a little bit of why they’re running so many underpants up flagpoles. It’s trickier, as a writer, to take someone that everyone would have been cool with catching a faceful of birdshot only 30 minutes before, and turn them into a pitiable character in their own right. I’m not going to go so far as curly-fonted Instagram posts and start saying “everyone is fighting their own battle you don’t see,” because some people just truly are assholes, but there’s definitely exceptions.

Here are five bullies from movies and television who were misunderstood, whether in canon or in culture…

Draco Malfoy

Warner Bros

The face of a child that will grow up to “not believe in tipping.”

Let’s be clear: Draco Malfoy is a class A dickhead. When they were casting him for the Harry Potter movies, they probably put “punchable” on the description. He’s a spoiled little asshole who makes life thoroughly unpleasant for those around him. As the books go on, though, we start to see the circumstances that turned him into a horrible amalgamation of bully and snitch.

If Draco is a dick, his dad Lucius is a massive, porn-worthy dong. He’s a magic racist, a murderer, and in all this, basically signed his own son up for the wizard KKK complete with tattoo. A lot of the hatred that’s coming out of Draco’s blond little noggin is ghostwritten by his dad. When the shit hits the fan, however, we start to see him shake off some of these secondhand thoughts.

Billy Hargrove


The earring. The hair. He's a Pontiac GTO brought to life.


If we want to talk daddy issues, Billy Hargrove from Stranger Things is pretty much a walking, flexing “fuck you dad!” One that’s entirely and completely deserved, given that his dad is a horrific, abusive man. In Season Two, Billy shows very little reason to do anything but blindly hate him, made easier when he becomes the host of the ACTUAL big bad. In Season Three, though, via the Mind Flayer themselves, we get some more insight into just how deeply, completely fucked Billy’s psyche is. Through his memories, we see the sort of childhood and adolescence that usually ends up with a Netflix docuseries on how the cops finally caught you. In the end, the same way he did for years with his sister Max, he bears the brunt of the assault so that others can escape intact.

Katsuki Bakugo


Calling someone a nerd: somehow never loses its sting.


In the anime My Hero Academia, almost as soon as we meet the shy, eminently likable Midoriya we’re also presented with his former best friend turned bully, Katsuki Bakugo. What makes his bullying ways even worse is Midoriya’s feelings not of anger toward him, but confusion. Things only get worse as they both end up at U.A. High School, the premier training ground for future superheroes, and Midoriya suddenly shows up inexplicably powerful.

A fight between Midoriya and Bakugo finally lances the boil that’s been festering, and we start to understand why exactly Bakugo is such an asshole. Two whole episodes, Deku vs. Kacchan Part 1 and 2, are basically an autopsy on Bakugo’s emotional state, including how Midoriya reminds himself of a version of himself he hated, how he always thought that Midoriya looked down on him, how much he secretly hates himself for his failures — all the hits. By the end of the two-parter, the word “bully” definitely feels hollow. It’s basically a 40-minute fight scene that explains why therapy is important.

Johnny Lawrence

Columbia Pictures

A strange world in which the kid obsessed with martial arts is the COOL kid.

The Karate Kid is a stone-cold cinema classic, and that territory comes with a heaping serving of scrutiny. Since it came out decades ago, a good portion of it has found itself questioning just how villainous famous crane-kick victim Johnny Lawrence was. Sure, he’s a bully, but when you start to look at his feud with Daniel with a wider field of view, you start to see two dudes who have a serious problem with each other. It’s a theory that’s been expounded on across the internet and even became a running gag in How I Met Your Mother.

If you need any more evidence that Johnny Lawrence can actually be an incredibly likable character once you get to know him, you’ve got five seasons of a spin-off that’s based on just that in Cobra Kai. They’ve even got a scene where Johnny lays out his own argument that Daniel-san is kind of a dick.

Jim Halpert


The face that launched a thousand GIFs.

For the last, let’s flip the angle to a beloved character who, in reality, is a massive shit. Namely, everyone’s favorite homewrecker, Jim Halpert. We’ll leave his self-absorbed infatuation for another time, however. Let’s just look at what’s one of the most-loved parts of The Office: Jim messing with Dwight

Specifically, Jim constantly antagonizing Dwight, who makes it clear at every opportunity that he does not enjoy it. Sure, Dwight’s a sushi-grade weirdo, but pull these pranks out of an office and place them in a middle school (where, honestly, they belong) and you’d probably feel weird laughing with the swoopy-haired dick who’s tormenting some nerd. Meanwhile, Pam’s giggling like the classic mean friend. You’re telling me if you saw a kid put another kid’s inhaler in Jell-O to impress a girl, you’d be like, “Clearly, he’s the good guy”? Get real. 

The only hero in The Office, as we all know, is Stanley.

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