Photo: The Mummy / Universal Pictures

People In History Who Were Unfairly Villainized

Voting Rules
Vote up the historic 'bad guys' who don't deserve their bad rap.

Separating the historic "good guys" from the historic "bad guys" is no easy task. Neither history nor humanity is black and white. And while some figures are easier to classify than others, the story is often complicated. In the cases of these historic figures, their bad reputation deserves a reevaluation. Whether it was Hollywood, propaganda from enemies, the media, or simply flawed public opinion of the time, their "villain edit" just wasn't fair.

Once in a while, history needs a rewrite, and these individuals deserve more than the negative light that was cast upon them. Vote up the people from history who are most deserving of a reputation reboot.

Photo: The Mummy / Universal Pictures

  • Richard Jewell
    Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair Use
    7,048 VOTES

    Richard Jewell

    The Villain Edit: While working as a security guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA, Richard Jewell discovered a suspicious backpack under a bench. He alerted officials, who found three pipe bombs inside. Jewell helped clear the vicinity, saving crowds of people from the bomb before it detonated. He was initially hailed as a hero. Until he wasn't. 

    The FBI began investigating Jewell as the potential culprit, and an inside source leaked this information to the press. A trial by media ensued, and their verdict was guilty. The New York Post called him the "Village Rambo" while it and other outlets made vicious comments about his weight. He was even compared to the suspected serial killer of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981. Meanwhile, the FBI hadn't even named him a suspect.

    Why It's Unfair: Jewell was cleared 88 days after the bombing, but by then the damage was done. His name was tarnished and tied to a crime he not only didn't commit, but also actively saved people from. 

    The real bomber was eventually caught in 2003, and Jewell at last went to town legally on the publications that slandered him. More recent productions have shined a new light on the injustice of Jewell's vilification, and he's definitely worthy of this recognition.

    Until his passing in 2007 from heart disease, every year on the bombing's anniversary, he secretly placed a rose and card on the spot where spectator Alice Hawthorne lost her life.

    • Age: Dec. at 44 (1962-2007)
    • Birthplace: Virginia
    7,048 votes
  • Max Baer
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    4,066 VOTES

    The Villain Edit: Every Cinderella story needs an evil stepmother. Or at least that must have been the thought process behind Cinderella Man, a hit piece on real-life boxer Max Baer.

    The film follows the mostly real rags-to-riches tale of James J. Braddock in the Depression-era US as he overcomes an injury to beat heavyweight champion Baer in the boxing ring. The movie's version of Baer isn't just a savage in the ring; he looms large as a terrifying bully who propositions Braddock's wife and takes glee from ending lives in his matches.

    Why It's Unfair: If you're going to make a biopic and advertise its "true story" basis, there's a higher expectation of accuracy, especially when it comes to portraying real people. While Braddock's underdog story is impressive, making his opponent an uber-violent sadist feels like a cheap and unnecessary jab - especially when the real Baer was anything but.

    According to those who knew him, Baer was a "likable clown," "the nicest guy," "as playful as a half-grown pup," and "a lover not a fighter." Baer was half Jewish, and chose to represent this side of his heritage by sporting a Star of David on his boxer shorts during a time of burgeoning anti-Semitism. He became a hero of Jewish Americans, especially after defeating Hitler's favorite boxer, Max Schmeling.

    One man, Frankie Campbell, succumbed to injuries sustained in the ring with Baer. But that wasn't something the real Baer would ever boast about. As his son, Max Baer Jr., put it, "My father cried about what happened to Frankie Campbell. He had nightmares. He helped put Frankie's children through college."

    • Age: Dec. at 50 (1909-1959)
    • Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska, USA
    4,066 votes
  • 3
    6,041 VOTES

    Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton

    The Villain Edit: Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was on a family camping trip in 1980 that included her 9-week-old baby Azaria in Uluru, Australia. She was enjoying a barbecue with other campers that August night when she heard a cry and went to check on her daughter. The baby was gone, with only blood remaining in the tent and paw prints leaving the entrance. Chamberlain-Creighton's subsequent shouts of "the dingo's got my baby!" would make her one of the most ridiculed and reviled figures in Australian history.

    Despite no body, no motive, and witness testimony of dingoes in the area, Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted of murdering her daughter. The dingo story just sounded... well... unbelievable, or as prosecutors put it, like "a calculated, fanciful lie." When Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted, people around the country applauded. She spent three years in prison for Azaria's murder and received frequent hate mail

    Why It's Unfair: Despite everyone insisting that a dingo couldn't and wouldn't nab a human child in the night, Chamberlain-Creighton was right all along. After a hiker accidentally fell off rocks in the area and perished, his body was found amidst dingo lairs, along with an article of Azaria's clothing that Chamberlain-Creighton had always insisted was missing.

    Much of the "forensic" evidence used to convict Chamberlain-Creighton was also determined to be erroneous. Still, it wasn't until 2012 that an Australian coroner finally ruled that a dingo was the culprit.

    While Chamberlain-Creighton was freed from prison, she'll never free herself from being "the dingo ate my baby" lady, the subsequent memes, or the tragedy of her daughter's passing.

    • Age: 75
    • Birthplace: DVD Region 4, Bay of Plenty, Whakatane, Oceania, Realm of New Zealand
    6,041 votes
  • William McMaster Murdoch
    Photo: / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    3,426 VOTES

    William McMaster Murdoch

    The Villain Edit: In a little film called Titanic, William Murdoch is the guy who ends up shooting two passengers as they swarm the lifeboats he's trying to board with women and children.

    Realizing what he's done, and perhaps acknowledging the impending doom either way, movie Murdoch shoots himself and falls overboard.

    Why It's Unfair: Unfortunately for the real Murdoch, the film that gave him his bad-guy portrayal turned out to be one of the most memorable and watched movies of all time. The actual Murdoch was an officer on RMS Titanic - first officer, to be exact. The Scottish seaman had a prolific career before he set sail on the ill-fated ship. 

    First-hand accounts from Titanic survivors do mention shots being fired as the lifeboats were loaded up, and some do mention Murdoch. But they also mention the shots going up into the air, rather than at people, and other reports say Murdoch was nowhere near them. The scene was obviously chaotic, and the truth will probably be forever lost at sea. 

    Murdoch's family took issue with director James Cameron's portrayal of their relative, specifically him taking his own life, when in fact he acted as a hero by saving passengers. Cameron has said he should have been more sensitive to Murdoch and his family when making the film, and that he was "thinking about the specific scene more as a storyteller and less as an historian."

    • Age: Dec. at 39 (1873-1912)
    • Birthplace: Dumfries and Galloway, United Kingdom
    3,426 votes
  • Imhotep
    Photo: The Mummy Returns / Universal Pictures
    2,724 VOTES

    The Villain Edit: Mummies have gotten a bad rap since Hollywood decided they'd make the perfect risen-from-the-dead monster to wreak havoc on the big screen. Unfortunately for Imhotep, he was elected as the inspiration for the main villain in the 1932 classic The Mummy, its 1999 remake, and subsequent sequels and prequels of the franchise.

    In the films, Imhotep is a vengeful sociopath with supernatural powers, determined to bring his long-deceased lover back to life.

    Why It's Unfair: Sure, most film viewers probably know this isn't a documentary, but the movies hardly attempt to have any respect or regard for the actual people and culture they pull from. Even so, the 1999 remake director Stephen Sommers claimed, "Most of this movie is based on real myths and real legends even though it’s a story about a 3,000-year-old walking, talking corpse."  

    Is it, though? Not much is known about the real Imhotep, but from what we do know, he sounds like the antithesis of the movie villain. He was a commoner who worked his way up to hold important government positions under two different pharaohs. He was also an accomplished physician, engineer, priest, and architect who saved Egypt from famine and came up with the idea for the first pyramid.

    Imhotep did have a continued legacy long after his passing, but not in a haunt-your-dreams kind of way. He was deified by the Egyptians (a big honor for a commoner) and later by the Greeks as a god of medicine.

    • Birthplace: Memphis, Egypt
    2,724 votes
  • Stella Liebeck
    Photo: Hot Coffee / HBO
    5,496 VOTES

    Stella Liebeck

    The Villain Edit: In 1994, Stella Liebeck accidentally spilled her cup of hot McDonald's coffee on herself and decided to take the company to court. She was quickly mocked as a bumbling idiot who carelessly spilled an obviously hot beverage and expected corporate America to pay for it.

    The case came to exemplify frivolous lawsuits in the US, where anyone would sue for anything if they thought they could make a quick buck. After all, it's coffee. It's supposed to be hot.

    Why It's Unfair: Sure, customers like their hot coffee to be hot - but undrinkably so? McDonald's coffee at the time was kept between 180 and 190 degrees Farenheit (about 82 to 88 degrees Celsius). Food carries a burn hazard if it's more than 140° F (60° C). According to a McDonald's quality assurance manager, the company kept their coffee at a level that would burn your throat if you were to drink it.

    For Liebeck, who was 79 at the time, spilling her coffee resulted in third-degree burns on her legs and groin area that required hospitalization, extensive surgery, and skin grafts. And this wasn't the first time McDonald's had heard about the issue. Prior to the Liebeck case, they'd recieved 700 complaints from people who'd burned themselves with the coffee.

    Liebeck's reputation as a greedy and overly litigous consumer was also undeserved. She didn't even want to sue McDonald's; she merely requested they pay for her $20,000 medical bills. The company refused, which caused Liebeck to sue.

    She ultimately settled for a combination of compensatory and punitive damages worth around $640,000; the jury that originally heard her case had thought the payout should be $2.9 million. The amount was later appealed by both parties, who later settled for an confidential sum. A judge presiding over the case described the corporation's actions as "reckless, callous, and willful."

    5,496 votes