Bring Evil Back to Hollywood

Evil. It’s everywhere in popular culture. Ours is the land of movie and TV heroes and superheroes, after all. As much as the entertainment press struggles against it, the depictions that truly resonate with an audience are based on the Christian concepts of good vs. evil.

Most of what Hollywood delivers these days features lowercase evil, not the terrifying, soul-threatening evil most fear, like demons and devils. For years, superheroes have dominated the box office and streaming services. Marvel’s Avengers fought Thanos while D.C.’s Justice League squared off against the low-rent version in Steppenwolf (no, not the “Born to Be Wild” band).

Neither of those villains, however, is supernaturally evil. Thanos, especially, was motivated by eco-insanity and the desire to prevent an over-populated universe from destroying itself. Marvel couldn’t resist humanizing him with his love for his “daughter” Gamora. These villains’ actions are still monstrous, but not truly terrifying. No viewer fears those villains in real life.

The top movies of 2023 further point to how Hollywood doesn’t know how to define evil. We get its modern incarnation—a mad scientist, a sea witch, and, yes, the patriarchy. Maybe we should count an evil nun who is actually a demon, but that movie ranked 26th for 2018, barely enough for the sequel. How many people were terrified by it? Probably none.

A popular “good guy” among today’s films is a retired assassin back to killing people in bulk. Four movies feature nearly 400 kills. How are we sure he’s a good guy (other than Keanu Reeves being the star)? They killed his dog.

The one film of this year’s top ten that targets real-life evil, The Sound of Freedom, was skewered by critics for going after child traffickers and pedophiles.

Fifty years ago, evil was much different. The top-grossing movie of 1973 was The Exorcist, and everyone who saw it knew it was a struggle between good and hell’s darkest evil. It gave audiences nightmares and not only because of what they saw on film. Many suddenly realized they lived in a world where tangible evil exists and must be stopped by good men of faith, especially Christian faith.

From there, years of biblical epics followed. God was openly on one side. That wasn’t a subtle era. Good guys dominated what we watched for decades.

Then came the rise of moral relativism. The media treated the West and East as two sides of the same coin in the Cold War. The Communists who eradicated freedom and purged religion were supposedly the same as the free nations that celebrated those virtues.

That stupidity brought us the rise of the anti-heroes like Dexter, a good guy serial killer; drug dealer Walter White; Mafia boss Tony Soprano; and hit man Omar Little. Even Lucifer had his own TV show for six seasons. Audiences are supposed to root for bad guys who get the best lines and often the best actors.

Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show based on the battle between good and evil, fell victim to blurring the lines. Buffy pitted a demon-slaying heroine of that name against a season-long list of bad-to-worse villains, but also cast demons who did good, often against humans who did bad.

Hollywood loves blurring the lines, creating confusion, and undermining the idea that there are moral absolutes. Still, when Buffy fought demons, she and the rest of her friends turned to crosses, holy water, and more—all the elements of Christianity when it battles evil. Good and evil didn’t change. The entertainment that fed our world did.

I recently wrote a piece about the battle between good and evil for Tuscany Bay Books, and it gave me much food for thought on this topic. Most authors will one day address this struggle. It’s in all the best books and, of course, the Good Book. The endless stream of similarly weak bad-guy movies and books won’t resonate long-term. Humans can certainly do horrible deeds, but they don’t endanger our immortal souls. That is the conflict good people must face.

My story tackled true, supernatural evil—the kind that forces us to stare into the void and imagine such things as, “How does evil think? How do you stop it?”

If you have supernatural evil, you naturally must have good to oppose it. In my story, just as in The Exorcist, faith became the battleground. A lapsed Catholic reporter turned to a local priest for help.

That interaction used to be common in movies and TV. Characters would seek moral guidance. Priests, reverends, and rabbis made regular positive appearances in pop culture. Hollywood changed the rules with a vengeance. Law & Order perfected the Hollywood trope of the villainous Christian. A cross necklace or a Bible verse helped the audience identify the real bad guys.

The question now is how to fix it. How do we influence culture and not merely whine about how bad it has become? The answer is simple: Do it ourselves. Writing stories of good triumphing over evil will not ingratiate ourselves to big publishers, but it can impact the society around us.

It’s easy to write what’s popular. Even if your book doesn’t sell, you offended no one. You also risked nothing and changed nothing. America and the world don’t need more of what is popular. We need more of what reminds people how to be good, do good, and stand up to evil. A much-needed movement exists to push so-called “superversive” (the opposite of subversive) stories.

One of the best arguments for this worldview comes from the Quentin Tarantino-written movie From Dusk Till Dawn. Star George Clooney played a thief and murderer who finally met a moral crisis when he encountered a nest of real-life vampires. The experience caused him to have a change of heart, as he explains when he tries to convince a “faithless preacher” to rediscover his belief (edited slightly because, again, it’s Tarantino.):

“I just changed my lifetime tune about 30 minutes ago. Because I know that whatever is out there, trying to get in, is pure evil straight from hell and if there is a hell and those SOBs are from it, then there has to be a heaven, Jacob. There’s got to be.”

Pure, supernatural evil fought by ordinary, sinful humans cannot often be found in Hollywood now. Yet, new voices are learning they can defy critics and reach ordinary readers and viewers.

Just as it took 50 years to arrive here, returning to sanity won’t happen overnight. It will take creators by the thousands—authors, artists, actors, directors, and more—to fix it. They could use your help. Either get involved in changing the culture, or at least vote with your wallets and help them do it.

Author: Dan Gainor

Dan Gainor is a veteran editor and writer known for media criticism and has been published in numerous outlets including Fox News, The Washington Times, New York Post and USA Today. Gainor is a former sci-fi/fantasy critic who is focusing now on his fiction career. He was recently published in “Mammon: Collateral,” a collection of stories tied to Rob Kroese’s three-book series, and “Amish Rule The World.”

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