5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

These cartoonish, over-the-top evil schemes that are still less horrifying than their real-world counterparts.
5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

Movies often show us a caricature of reality. Heroes are more heroic, kisses are more passionate, children are even more unbearable, etc. The one place where this breaks down is that villains often aren't more villainous than they are in real life. When it comes to being terrible, actual human behavior can run laps around the human imagination (or at least what we want to see on the screen). Here are five examples of cartoonish, over-the-top evil schemes that are still less horrifying than their real-world counterparts.

Price Gouging A Basic Necessity

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

The Movie Version

The villain of Quantum Of Solace is Dominic Greene, who calls himself an "environmentalist entrepreneur." We immediately know he's a force to be reckoned with, because anyone who can bill themselves as an "environmentalist entrepreneur" without being choked to death must know what they're doing. Greene is helping a Bolivian general overthrow the government in exchange for a large swath of desert which everyone assumes he wants for oil. That's why every third sentence of this movie is "But there's no oil there!" He buys drills, pipelines ... basically everything but a ten-gallon hat. But there's no oil on his land! Then the twist comes that Greene is actually after the most precious substance of them all: water. Presumably because you need to stay hydrated when everyone is trying to beat you up for being an "environmentalist entrepreneur."

Greene is actually interested in the land for its water rights, creating a Bolivian water monopoly. While Bolivian Water Monopoly would make a crazy fun slip n' slide board game, it is a decidedly less fun economic entity. Greene plans to extort the poor people of Bolivia, who will have to pay double for their water or die of thirst. That is some serious Bond-level evil.

The Real Version

The actual company that tried basically this exact same plan was the Aguas del Tunari consortium, primarily funded by the largest civil engineering company in the US, the Bechtel Corporation. They won the bid to privatize the water system in Cochabamba, a dismally under-serviced Bolivian city. They planned to come in, reduce inefficiencies, build out infrastructure, and make a healthy profit for the foreseeable future. At first blush, that doesn't sound too evil at all.

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

"Profits will increase as we cut waste and I continue to develop my lumenomancy"

Unfortunately, in order to win the bid, they had to agree to build Mayor Reyes Villa's pet project: an ill-conceived and expensive dam that would primarily profit his backers. Bechtel was willing to build the dam, but obviously the cost wasn't going to come out of their end. They used their newfound monopoly status to pass the cost of the stupid satin-laced dam on to consumers. After all, what were they going to do? Not pay for water?!

They did not pay for water. The increases passed on to poorer customers were too much to bear, and riots broke out, in what is known as the Cochabamba Water War. Bechtel had bitten off more than it could chew.

Protests brought the nation to a standstill and forced the government to rescind the deal with Bechtel and co. That's when Bechtel decided to really go above and beyond in the field of being giant assholes. In true villain form, the company sued Bolivia for $25 million for lost profits that they thought they should have earned if they hadn't legitimized a huge waste of public money, thereby inciting a riot. They wanted the people so poor they couldn't pay for water to foot the bill for their bad wager.

Why The Real One's Worse

In terms of their overall business plan, Bechtel did everything Greene did in Quantum Of Solace, but then also tried to shake down the country to pay for their board's mistakes. That makes them evil with a final note of cowardly bureaucratic pettiness. I don't think that makes them any more evil, but it does somehow make them 30 times more punchable.

Laundering Money For Criminal Organizations

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened
Paramount Pictures

The Movie Version

The villain in The Firm is the unscrupulous law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke. The firm does a lot of villainous things, like overcharging their clients, blackmailing their employees, and decorating their law offices like a library inside a Caesar's Palace. While all these things made them assholes, what makes them rich is laundering money for a mafia family from Chicago.

I know that these days, we are all painfully aware of the many, many evil things people in the financial services can do, like defrauding investors, gambling with teachers' pensions, or supporting the musical career of Chris Brown. But laundering money for the mob is right up there. In order to get filthy rich, this cartoonishly evil law firm runs the books for the mafia so they can better bully, rob, extort, and sometimes even kill innocent people.

The Real Version

In the real world, prestigious Memphis law firms don't typically launder money for the mob. They would be risking their entire lives in jail (or worse) for a get-rich-quick scheme. Instead, huge multinational banks launder money for far, far worse organizations.

In 2012 the Senate released a report which found that the enormous, venerable bank HSBC had been laundering money for groups associated with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and directly for the Sinaloa Cartel. That means the fourth-largest bank in the world was laundering the money of "the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in the world." Which means there's a promotion in store for whoever came up with the cashback system that lured them away from the other three biggest banks in the world.

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

"What am I going to do with $12.6 million at Red Lobster?"

Why The Real One's Worse

A) Clientele: Comparing even the toughest of mafia families to any of the groups HSBC was dealing with is like comparing a boxer to a silverback gorilla. The Sinaloa Cartel, for example, are known for both the brutality and the sheer number of their killings (they are suspected in tens of thousands of murders in just the past 10 years). HSBC also aided rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran. That means they assisted in mass murder, terrorism, and treason. If any of that had been in The Firm, John Grisham would have received a thousand simultaneous phone calls asking if he needed a hug.

B) Scale: While it certainly looks like the Memphis-based accounting firm did very well for itself, its profits didn't appear to be the GDP of California. HSBC laundered at least $1.5 billion for cartels and sanctioned countries like Iran, Sudan, and North Korea.

C) Impunity: They were caught, and nobody went to jail. As connected and sleazy as the lawyers in The Firm were, you get the sense that when they get arrested, that's going to have real consequences for them. HSBC and all its employees, however, were deemed "too big to jail." For helping run the back end of criminal organizations that have killed many thousands of people, HSBC was fined approximately five weeks' profit, and none of its employees spent a night in prison.

At least in The Firm, they were overcharging the mob.

Experimenting On Unwilling Subjects

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened
Columbia Pictures

The Movie Version

Extreme Measures is a 1996 medical thriller with a message. As you can see from the trailer below, the message is clearly meant to be that Hugh Grant is physically incapable of being intimidating.

In the movie, Grant discovers that another doctor (Gene Hackman) is abducting homeless people for secret experiments in an effort to cure paralysis. Thus far, it appears that Hackman's methods have cured paralysis zero percent of the time and caused excruciating death 100 percent of the time, but he's a doctor, not a statistician. He is convinced that his forced experimentation on humans will one day be vindicated by a breakthrough. Either that or he'll go down as the worst person in history at the "saw a guy in half" trick.

The Real Version

These days, it's easy to take for granted that the field of medicine is governed by a sacred trust between patients and doctors and the biotech reps who bribe them. But it wasn't so long ago that doctors were tacking experiments onto your regular procedures like extra features at a car dealership.

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

"Hey, your wife says you can't have unnecessary procedures, I guess ... I didn't know who held the purse strings."

Doctors used to experiment on people without their consent all the time. One such experiment was a study at Sonoma State Hospital from 1955 to 1960. Just like in Extreme Measures, doctors subjected patients to experiments that were of no direct benefit to them, and were terribly painful and often lethal. Just like in Extreme Measures, doctors never got proper consent. That's already venturing into Nazi-level evil territory. But what made this study different from Extreme Measures was that all the patients at Sonoma State Hospital were ...

Why The Real One's Worse

... disabled children. Yes, what makes reality so much worse than the movie in this case is that the subjects were the absolute most defenseless group imaginable. They were subjected to painful procedures, like spinal taps, pneumoencelphalograms (in which air is injected into the brain), and lethal doses of radiation.

If Extreme Measures had its villain performing those procedures on kids with cerebral palsy, it would have lost all stakes for being too unbelievable. That is what would have brought our suspended disbelief crashing down around us, even in a movie in which Hugh Grant plays a character whom people respect. These experiments are literally unbelievably evil.

Covering Up The Dangerous Side Effects Of A Drug

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened
Warner Brothers

The Movie Version

The Fugitive is primarily about Dr. Richard Kimble running from the law and performing death-defying stunts using the public works of the Midwest. He also finds time in there to search for whoever murdered his wife, but let's be honest, we're all in it for the close calls with trains, light rails, drainage systems, monorails, bridges, and more trains!

When Dr. Kimble does finally catch up to his wife's one-armed killer, he realizes that this mystery is bigger than he could have imagined. The one-armed man is just a pawn, and the real killer is inside all of us ... because the real killer is the pharmaceutical industry.

Kimble had figured out early in the movie that RDU-90, a new drug, had the very unfortunate side effect of giving people hepatitis. The manufacturer, Devlin MacGregor Pharmaceutical Company, didn't want Kimble to ruin their chances at FDA approval. So they employed the one-armed man to kill Kimble's wife and frame him for the murder, thereby taking him out of the picture in the most error-prone and convoluted way possible. The again, if they were good problem solvers, they might not have made a drug that gave people hepatitis in the first place.

The Real Version

Now, you're probably thinking to yourself, "'Would a huge pharmaceutical company really kill thousands of people just to turn a profit?' sure is a naive question." And you're right. Of course they would.

In 1999, on the cusp of the Willennium, Merck & Co. released a pain medication called Vioxx. Vioxx was supposed to be a new miracle drug that would be as strong a pain reliever as aspirin without potentially damaging the stomach, as aspirin (rarely) does. To me, that sounds like the same effectiveness as taking nothing and cussing quietly to yourself, but the pill people were very excited.

Unfortunately, Merck's wild aspirin-strength painkiller party was about to be busted up by the narcs known as "doing science." In 2001, Merck learned from an internal study that Vioxx made users three times as likely to have a goddamn heart attack. Meaning that taking Vioxx because it wasn't as bad for your stomach was a bit like spraying yourself down with bear pheromones to ward off elk attacks.

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

"I took that Vioxx, and my chest got really tight." "Don't worry, we have more Vioxx."

Every day that Vioxx remained available, it was causing untold heart attacks. That's why Merck had no choice but to pull the drug from the market ... four years later. For four years, they denied or downplayed the risk of heart attack, massaged the data, and dragged their feet about running more tests, all while their product was killing tens of thousands of people.

In defense of Vioxx, however, dying from a heart attack does offer 100 percent pain relief.

Why The Real One's Worse

The fictitious Devlin MacGregor Pharmaceutical did everything that Merck did. Both disregarded their customers' safety for the sake of profits. Both tried to cover up the scandal. The company in The Fugitive even threw in a bonus murder and framing. I still maintain that Merck is the more terrible, depressing case. That's because they did all that for slightly safer aspirin. At least RDU-90 is some kind of miracle drug that the entire medical profession is losing their minds over. Every time we hear doctors talk about it, they're floored by what it can do. (It's gotta be dick pills, right?) The people that got sick from RDU-90 were at least healed in some other vital way. In the real world, Merck's drug was prescribed for aspirin-level arthritis relief and killed an estimated 60,000 people. Killing people to sell more New Aspirin (TM) -- now that is next-generation evil.

Displacing An Entire Tribe To Mine Their Land

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened
20th Century Fox

The Movie Version

The events in Avatar are kicked off by a corporate expedition to mine unobtanium on a planet called Pandora. No one sees any problem with this plan, because nobody has even a sixth-grade understanding of etymology and the metal is valued at $20 million per kilogram.

The trouble for the mining company is that the main deposit of unobtanium is underneath the homes of the indigenous people, called Na'vi. What takes them from typical slash-and-burn capitalism into downright evil is their willingness to put assets over aliens: They are ready to use military force against a native population if that's what it takes to get at their objective.

The Real Version

The plot of Avatar is kind of a prototypical story about colonialism, so it parallels a lot of other stories about colonialism: Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, Ernest Goes To Camp, etc. So it wouldn't be surprising to find out that an actual company did something like this a few hundred years ago. But it might be surprising that this kind of thing was still going down in the very modern era of the 1960s.

5 Evil Movie Plots You Won't Believe Actually Happened

"We claim all this land in the name of England. Groovy?"

The story mirrors Avatar remarkably closely, only humans are shown to be even bigger assholes. A mining company, Rio Tinto, discovered a rich deposit of ore in a foreign land -- on Bougainville Island, then part of Papua New Guinea. And just as in Avatar, Rio Tinto displaced the Bougainvilleans to build a mine, gave them virtually nothing (0.5-1.25 percent of the profit) in return, and when they tried to stick up for themselves, Rio Tinto unleashed the military against them.

Why The Real One's Worse

Rio Tinto wasn't in control of a mercenary army. The army they sicced on the Bougainvilleans was that of the neighboring larger island of Papua New Guinea. While Rio Tinto was paying Bougainville virtually nothing, they were paying Papua New Guinea rather well. They pressured Papua New Guinea to secure the mine by force, and allegedly even supplied them with military equipment to do so. So rather than a skirmish in which the miners were either repulsed or the locals were subdued, Rio Tinto ignited a ten-year civil war between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.

For an extra helping of terrible, it's important to note that the war went on so long and caused so much destruction that the mine has long been inoperable. Experts believe no one will spend the capital to modernize the mine, making this whole thing nearly pointless. Nearly pointless, that is, until the recent announcement by Rio Tinto that they are giving the mine back to the people: half of their controlling share to (now-independent) Bougainville and half to Papua New Guinea. There, now all that bloodshed was completely pointless.

Well, I hope you've learned a powerful lesson here: When it comes to being evil, your imagination isn't the limit. Things can get so much worse than we ever realize -- and if we just let history take its course, they usually do.

Aaron Kheifets is an occasionally-mustachioed comedian, writer, and director. You are allowed to follow him on Twitter.

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