Fiction is littered with male characters who are inexplicably portrayed as being, or claiming to be, “nice guys.” In this context, we’re using the more modern interpretation of the phrase, which basically means a guy who believes he is nice to women. In reality, he’s often a total jerk who thinks treating a woman with basic decency and respect is enough to entitle him to her, as if she is an object to be won. Here’s our list of 10 such characters, whose interactions with the women in their lives (and, in one case, the man), when viewed objectively, show them to be total turds who are just awful human beings and even worse relationship material, starting with…
10. Batman: The Dark Knight Trilogy
In the Dark Knight series, before the eponymous gravelly voiced hero ends up taking Catwoman to Europe for what we assume is some kinky cosplay fun, his primary love interest is Rachel Dawes. A woman so plain, they replaced the actress from the first movie and nobody really noticed.
In the series, it’s shown that Dawes and Bruce Wayne, the alter ego of Batman (a fact precisely 0% of you needed explaining), are childhood friends and that Dawes has genuine affection for Wayne. However, in Batman Begins, when Bruce reveals that he’s Batman, Dawes explains that she can’t be with him as long as he continues to dress as a bat and beat up gangsters. Wayne is unwilling to give up the mantle of Batman, and the two part ways.
Despite this sounding fairly clear cut, in The Dark Knight, Wayne continues to act as if Dawes is just, well, waiting for him to stop being Batman. Even after she starts dating the ridiculously well-chiseled Harvey Dent – a man so idealistic and good that even Bruce begins to believe in him as the real savior of Gotham – Wayne never once questions the idea that Dawes would continue to display anything other than utter devotion to him. He seems to believe that she’d be willing to break up with Dent whenever he got around to ending his life-long mission to stop all crime forever. Even after Dawes writes a letter explicitly spelling out her desire to move on and marry a man who doesn’t dress like a giant bat, Wayne still doesn’t get the message because his butler burns it. Way to enable a potentially dangerous stalker, Alfred. Alfred does this because, apparently, it’s better to let Bruce continue to believe that Dawes would have waited for him for as long as it took, and would have dutifully broken up with Dent the second he asked her to, instead of letting him know that being Batman comes at the cost of things like human relationships. On second thought, maybe we need to make a little extra room in this entry for Alfred kind of being a jerk, too.
9. Ross: Friends
Ross is one of the more notable entries on this list because the show Friends is largely credited with coining the term “Nice Guy” as we’re using it today. If you somehow avoided the cultural juggernaut that was Friends, Ross spends about 60% of the show’s first 3 seasons lamenting the fact his friend Rachel won’t date him, because she can’t see how much better he is for her than anyone else. Because we all know, genuinely nice people are dishonest about their feelings for others and talk about people behind their backs for not being psychic.
The thing is, Ross isn’t a nice guy. Like, at all. He’s whiny, possessive, and acts smugly superior to anyone he thinks he’s smarter than. He belittles Joey for not being as smart as him, fires a male nanny because the idea of a man in a traditionally female role is “weird,” freaks out when his son plays with a doll instead of an action figure, and never misses a chance the belittle the idea of his ex-wife being in a lesbian relationship.
When he gets together with Rachel, because this is TV and things that would get him punched in real life are seen as “quirky,” he acts like every guy she meets is trying to sleep with her. For him, it’s as if she has no agency of her own and is incapable of not sleeping with random guys who are nice to her. He tells her that getting her dream job isn’t as important as paying attention to him, and makes a list of all her flaws and acts like he’s a good guy for overlooking them. Ross is such an objectively awful, repugnant human being that even BuzzFeed had an article detailing all the terrible things he’s done, and you know when BuzzFeed writes an article about something, it wasn’t difficult to research.
8. Snape: The Harry Potter Series
Throughout the first few Harry Potter books and films, Severus Snape is the closest thing the series has to a villain behind Voldemort himself. He’s constantly angry, always wears black, and seems to show nothing but contempt for Harry, his friends, and the rules of basic hygiene. In the last book (and movie), though, it’s revealed that Snape was actually a nice guy all along and had in fact secretly been undermining Voldemort from the moment he made the decision to kill Harry’s mother.
But here’s the thing: flashbacks to Snape’s childhood show that he and Harry’s mother, Lily, were childhood friends until he called her a “filthy mudblood,” essentially the wizarding equivalent of the N-word. When Lily understandably tells Snape to shove a Firebolt straight up his Chamber of Secrets, he gets angry at her for having the nerve to not forgive him for being a giant wizard racist. He also resents her choice to eventually marry and have a child with James Potter, a guy who notably, isn’t a wizard racist.
But that’s all okay because he eventually redeems himself by trying to save her, right? Well, if you read the books again you may notice that Snape specifically only asks Voldemort to spare Lily in return for selling out her husband and son. Newsflash, Snape: you can’t really claim to love someone if you’re willing to have her son and husband killed so that you won’t be sad. When Voldemort mocks this offer and notes the unusualness of the request, Snape decides to switch sides and agrees to be a double agent for Dumbledore on the grounds that, you guessed it, keeps Lily safe. It’s only when Dumbledore gets super pissed about Snape being selfish that he thinks about someone other than himself, and suggests that maybe saving Lily’s family would be a good idea, too. Despite Harry literally reading Snape’s mind and figuring out that he was initially willing to hand him to the Dark Lord in return for a chance to maybe one day hook up with his mother, Harry still considers Snape to be a hero, and names one of his son’s after him instead of, oh, we don’t know…maybe someone who actually cared about him, like Hagrid or Dobby?
7. Malcolm: Malcolm in the Middle
The eponymous Malcom from Malcom in the Middle is portrayed as being nothing short of a genius throughout the show’s run, and he constantly laments to us, the audience (through a giant hole in the fourth wall) about how nice he is whenever he gets a girlfriend.
The thing is, Malcolm is awful to every girl who shows him any affection in the show. In the episode Malcolm gets a Girlfriend, he’s so distrustful of his girlfriend that he beats up another kid and then buys her a walkie-talkie so she can check in with him 24/7. Okay, so maybe that was just hormones, and he got better when he grew up. We mean, it’s not like he ever considered raping anyone, right?
Yeah, about that. In the show’s Thanksgiving episode, Malcolm makes out with a drunk girl who then offers to have sex with him seconds before passing out. Malcolm considers it for a moment before leaving, feeling conflicted about why he didn’t just “man-up” and do the deed. Malcolm actually thinks that he might be gay up until his brother Francis explains to him that not taking advantage of a drunk chick – better known as “rape” – was the right thing to do. In other words, Malcolm, who is supposed to be a genius, genuinely thought not raping someone made him gay until his older brother, who never finished high school, sets him straight in the literal and metaphorical sense.
6. Ted: How I Met Your Mother
As the central plot of How I Met Your Mother is Ted Mosby’s journey to finding his soulmate, he understandably dates a lot of women during the show’s run. He also spends a considerable amount of screentime wondering aloud why he’s never lucky in love despite being so nice, never once thinking that maybe it has something to do with the fact he’s clearly a terrible person.
The list of awful things Ted does to women during the show’s run is insane so we’ll just list a few of the more egregious examples. He hits on women with boyfriends and husbands, breaks up with a girl on her birthday (twice), cheats on women all the time, forgets a girl’s name despite sleeping with her, gets angry when he’s set up with a girl someone thinks is right for him because she’s ugly, goes back to his exes for sex while talking about how awful they are to his friends, talks about his sex life in front of his ex, and assumes women are going to sleep with him by just getting naked in their apartment and standing there. This wouldn’t be as bad if Ted didn’t absolutely refuse to change, because it’s not about growing as a person, it’s about finding a woman willing to overlook the flaws that have already put off all the other women he’s ever dated.
This isn’t even mentioning the fact that as an old man, he’s asked by his children how he met their mother and responds by telling them about literally every other woman he’d ever slept with.
5. Marge: The Simpsons
Let’s take a short break from nice “guys” and talk about a female character with some flaws in her “nice” persona, shall we? Despite Homer being portrayed as an arrogant oaf with the mental fortitude of a beached whale with its blowhole stuffed full of creationist textbooks, he is unequivocally shown to be a good husband who loves his wife. With the exception of one episode where Homer thinks he’s in love with his co-worker Mindy and dismisses the idea because he knows he loves his wife, he never entertains the thought of betraying Marge’s trust or his marital vows, being completely oblivious to the advances of women like Lurleen Lumpkin. In regards to Lurleen, Homer breaks off his relationship with her the moment he realizes she is attracted to him and comes clean to Marge, and every time she is ever mentioned in the series again, Marge gets angry.
Which makes it kind of rich that in the show’s very first season, Marge was this close to cheating on Homer with a French guy called Jacques. Something she never admits to on screen and is never alluded to again. Seriously, Marge is literally driving to Jacques’ house for an affair in the closing moments of the episode before changing her mind, and spends the runtime of the episode emotionally connecting with Jacques, which we’re guessing about 80% of the people reading this would consider cheating in some way, shape, or form. In contrast, in the episode where Homer meets Mindy, he does everything he can to avoid her, and when he’s shown that if he cheated on Marge with Mindy he’d become rich and successful by Sir Isaac Newton’s ghost (yeah, that happens), he still decides not to do it because he can’t bring himself to betray his wife.
4. Fry: Futurama
Now, we know what you’re thinking: Futurama protagonist Fry is a nice guy, and we’ll admit for the most part he’s a loveable idiot who genuinely tries to do right by people. However, his relationship with Leela throughout the show’s run reveals some rather unsavory aspects of his character, mainly that he feels that he deserves Leela.
For example, whenever Leela dates another guy in the show, Fry gets annoyed because he feels like he’d make a much better boyfriend, even though he refuses to grow up or make any effort to improve himself. When he gets worms in that one episode and it’s shown that if he acted more confidently and made a concerted effort to be thoughtful, Leela would fall in love with him. But the only thing Fry takes from the experience is that the worms made him into something he wasn’t, even though the version of him with worms was entirely attainable if he just tried slightly harder than “not at all.”
In another episode, Leela gets surgery to give herself two eyes, which Fry absolutely disagrees with, saying he loved her when she had one eye. Which ordinarily would be sweet, if it was a cute mole or something, but this is a physical abnormality we’re talking about. It’s a literal mutation that has caused Leela problems her entire life. What’s wrong with showing some support for making a decision that was entirely hers to make? Even though Leela comes to regret the decision, it was still hers, not Fry’s, and he just can’t accept that.
Of course the series ends with them getting together, because if there’s one message we need pop culture telling our young men, it’s that if you pursue a woman for years and question her choice in men at every possible opportunity, eventually she’ll realize she loves you.
3. Niles: Frasier
A running joke throughout the first few seasons of Frasier is that the eponymous Frasier’s brother is madly in love with their father’s physical therapist, Daphne. Did we mention that Niles is married to another woman this entire time? Niles’ unrequited love is played for laughs most of the time, and he is always portrayed as being nothing short of a gentlemen, never acting on his impulses or feelings for Daphne out of respect for his wife, Maris, a manipulative she-harpy who is shown to be emotionally abusive and mentally unstable. So like, why does Niles, as a kind, caring husband who is also a psychiatrist, never try to help his clearly ill wife?
Another running joke throughout the show is that Maris is obsessed with her weight, with numerous allusions being made to her being light enough to not leave footprints on fresh snow, like she’s Legolas or something, and even a joke where Niles mentions her ideal weight and Frasier exclaims with genuine shock “Nobody could weigh that and live!” This is a clear sign that Maris suffers from some kind of body dysmorphia and Niles never mentions it or attempts to get her help of any kind. What’s worse is that Niles seems to actually encourage her behavior, making every possible effort to make excuses for the fact his wife weighs less than a sack of half deflated balloons.
This sort of behavior from Niles is explored further (for additional laughs, and admittedly because real life got in the way and created the need for such a storyline) when he actually begins dating Daphne later in the series. He ignores the fact she puts on like an absurd amount of weight, bringing her cookies and other sweet treats even as her weight shoots past the dangerous “could randomly drop dead walking up a flight of stairs” zone. Come on man, sometimes being nice involves telling people things they don’t want to hear, including “stop eating or you might die.” All this, and we haven’t even gotten into the fact that Niles was kind of “emotionally cheating” first on Maris, and then during his second (brief) marriage to another woman, Mel, with Daphne, or the fact that he broke up Daphne’s engagement to a genuinely nice guy on the day of her wedding.
2. Eric: That ’70s Show
As a character on a show set during the ’70s, it’s to be expected that Eric Forman would have some pretty, well, dated opinions about women. Which is fine, we like a little realism with our TV shows. But throughout the series he is shown to have some fairly repugnant views, which he rarely gets called on.
He thinks women shouldn’t be smarter or more successful than their partners, pulls down a girl’s pants and then mocks her choice of underwear, tries to stick it in his girlfriend’s, uh, “rear entrance” after watching an adult movie without discussing it with her first, and gets annoyed at the idea of his girlfriend pursuing her dream job because she should be spending more time with him. Wait a second, did Eric Forman grow up to become Ross from Friends?
1. Everyone: The Big Bang Theory
We wanted to single out one character from The Big Bang Theory but it proved to be impossible, because they’re all equally unpleasant. For starters, all four members of the principle cast, with the exception of Sheldon, endlessly complain about how women just don’t like guys like them because they like science and video games, while simultaneously making no effort to meet any women. When they do meet women, they make little effort to dress up or present themselves in a better light, but only judge the women they meet on their appearance. Hell, the entire basis of the group’s collective relationship with Penny is that she’s their “hot neighbor.” Likewise, when they talk to women, they only discuss things that interest them, and lord their superiority over people with other, equally valid interests like sports and fashion.
In the early seasons, Leonard lies constantly to Penny just to maintain a sexual relationship with her, sabotages a friend’s research project, and tries to always make everything about him. Howard, meanwhile, defines his entire being by his inability to have sex, and tries everything to get with women except treating them like human beings. Raj can’t open up to women unless he’s drunk, and when he is, he’s lecherous and unpleasant. In fact the only character who doesn’t objectify women is Sheldon, and he ends up dating a woman who endlessly pressures him into a sexual relationship he clearly doesn’t want, so there’s that.
We’d be tempted to say that this show portrays nerdy guys who self-identify as being “nice” in a bad light when it comes to showing how they interact with women, but real-life “nice guys” like that do a pretty good job of it themselves, so we won’t.