Mad Science

Human beings never understood my genius. You always thought of me as a mad scientist; a lunatic! Once my transformation is complete, I'll have my revenge.
~ Dr. Wheelo
Science is God.
~ Dr. Edgar Caldicott

Mad Science is a common theme in fiction, especially in superhero and sci-fi media. Though due to the potential body horror or psychological terrors of such tales, it can also be found in the horror or grim-dark genres: certain branches of Mad Science can even be found of soft fantasy (which allows a fusion of science and the imagined, such as Steam-Punk).

Mad Science may start with good intentions, yet always ends in disaster - a villain who continually dabbles in Mad Science is known as a "Mad Scientist" if they do so with good intentions and an "Evil Genius" if they deliberately cause harm.

The Mad Scientist fulfills many needs for a story's creator, allowing him to fit into a wide range of stories. He is mentally unsound, which allows the story's creator to cover a weak motive or "Bond Villain Stupidity" with a "Hand Wave".

This also helps the creator of the story explain why he kept all his incriminating records and yet does not have a duplicate monster or at least a blueprint lying around. Secondly, he is a scientist, which in fiction means he can invent whatever strange device the plot requires. Thirdly, his insistence on weird experiments gives him artistic license to invent those devices. And lastly, a mad scientist is almost certain to violate the Scale of Scientific Sins: expect An Aesop (even if it is a preposterous one).

Commonly known as "'Playing God", Mad Science can be a corrupting influence as the desire to grow often puts scientists at odds with forces they should not be tampering with (such as life, death or unknown forces): this is a modern reinvention of the ancient fear of negative pride, hubris.



Since ancient times, popular imagination has circulated on archetypal figures who wielded esoteric knowledge. Shamans, witches and witch doctors were held in reverence and fear of their rumored abilities to conjure beasts and create demons. They shared many of the same perceived characteristics such as eccentric behavior, living as hermits, and the ability to create life.

Perhaps the closest figure in Western mythology to the modern mad scientist was Daedalus, creator of the labyrinth, who was then imprisoned by King Minos. To escape, he invented two pairs of wings made from feathers and beeswax, one for himself and the other for his son Icarus. While Daedalus himself managed to fly to safety, Icarus flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax of his wings, casting him down into the sea below.

In actual history, Archimedes shares some of the elements of the mad scientist, but was closer to the more benign archetype of the absent-minded professor (anecdotally, at least - read the story of the Golden Crown or the accounts of his death for examples).

A more whimsical prototype of the mad scientist can be found in Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds. The play depicts Socrates, a contemporary of Aristophanes, as tinkering with odd devices and performing implausible experiments to determine the nature of the clouds and sky, and presents his philosophical method as a means for deceiving others and escaping blame, closer to the later descriptions of his opponents, the Sophists, than to those usually ascribed to him. While this is at variance with the depictions by Plato and Xenophon, two of Socrates' students, it is plausible that Aristophanes' parody of Socrates is more accurate than their panegyrics. One of Plato's students, Aristotle, is known to have also been an experimentalist, and may have taken the concept up from his teacher's teacher. A similar parody of insane and pointless experimentation may be found in the Academy of Lagado in Gulliver's Travels (1726).

The protoscience of alchemy long had a resemblance to mad science with its lofty goals and bizarre experiments. It is known certain alchemists behaved strangely, sometimes as a result of handling dangerous substances, such as mercury poisoning in the case of Sir Isaac Newton. The famous alchemist Paracelsus claimed to be able to create a homunculus, an artificial human. Alchemy steadily declined with the advent of modern science during the Enlightenment.

Scientists and inventors of the modern era have also contributed to the development of common tropes surrounding the mad scientist. Nikola Tesla in his later years conceptualized a so-called "death ray" (a directed energy weapon) and was sensationalized in the media, notably the New York Times and the New York Sun, as a prototypical mad scientist for it.

Films and fiction

Since the 19th century, fictitious depictions of science have vacillated between notions of science as the salvation of society or its doom. Consequently, depictions of scientists in fiction ranged between the virtuous and the depraved, the sober and the insane. Until the 20th century, optimism about progress was the most common attitude towards science (with notable exceptions as Herbert G. Wells), but latent anxieties about disturbing "the secrets of nature" would surface following the increasing role of science in wartime affairs, as well as increased scrutiny of vivisection and the development of the animal rights movement.

The prototypical fictional mad scientist was Victor Frankenstein, creator of his eponymous monster, who made his first appearance in 1818, in the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Though Frankenstein is a sympathetic character, the critical element of conducting forbidden experiments that cross "boundaries that ought not to be crossed", heedless of the consequences, is present in Shelley's novel. Frankenstein was trained as both alchemist and modern scientist which makes him the bridge between two eras of an evolving archetype. The book is the precursor of a new genre, science fiction, though as an example of Gothic horror it is connected with other antecedents as well.

1896 saw the publication of H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, in which the titular doctor - a controversial vivisectionist - has isolated himself entirely from civilisation in order to continue his experiments in splicing human DNA into animals, heedless of the suffering he causes.

Another archetypal mad scientist is Faust, or Dr. Faustus. The Faust legend is a widely recognized and referenced example of selling one's soul to the devil. In almost all cases, Faust is selling his soul for knowledge or supernatural power.

Fritz Lang's 1927 movie Metropolis brought the archetypical mad scientist to the screen in the form of Rotwang, the evil genius whose machines gave life to the dystopian city of the title. Rotwang's laboratory influenced many subsequent movie sets with its electrical arcs, bubbling apparatus, and bizarrely complicated arrays of dials and controls. Portrayed by actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Rotwang himself is the prototypically conflicted mad scientist; though he is master of almost mystical scientific power, he remains slave to his own desires for power and revenge. Rotwang's appearance was also influential - the character's shock of flyaway hair, wild-eyed demeanor, and his quasi-fascist laboratory garb have all been adopted as shorthand for the mad scientist "look". Even his mechanical right hand has become a mark of twisted scientific power, echoed notably in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and in the novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) by Philip K. Dick.

Nevertheless, the essentially benign and progressive impression of science in the public mind continued unchecked, exemplified by the optimistic "Century of Progress" exhibition in Chicago, 1933, and the "World of Tomorrow" at the New York World's Fair of 1939. However, after the first World War, public attitudes began to shift, if only subtly, when chemical warfare and the airplane were the terror weapons of the day. As an example, of all science fiction before 1914 which dealt with the end of the world, two-thirds were about naturalistic endings (such as collision with an asteroid), and the other third was devoted to endings caused by humans (about half were accidental, half purposeful). After 1914, the idea of any human actually killing the remainder of humanity became a more imaginable fantasy (even if it was still impossible), and the ratio switched to two-thirds of all end-of-the-world scenarios being the product of human maliciousness or error. Though still drowned out by feelings of optimism, the seeds of anxiety had been thoroughly sown.

The most common tool of mad scientists in this era was electricity. It was viewed widely as a quasi-mystical force with chaotic and unpredictable properties by an ignorant public.

A recent survey of 1,000 horror films distributed in the UK between the 1930s and 1980s reveals mad scientists or their creations have been the villains of 30 percent of the films; scientific research has produced 39 percent of the threats; and, by contrast, scientists have been the heroes of a mere 11 percent. (Christopher Frayling, New Scientist, 24 September 2005)

In comic books many of the earliest foes were mad scientists. The Ultra-Humanite, an evil crippled scientific genius, was Superman's first recurring foe and possibly the first comic book supervillain. He apparently served as a model for the more well-known Lex Luthor. Other early examples include early Batman foe Hugo Strange. However, many of these come more under the classification of evil genius.

After 1945

Mad scientists were most conspicuous in popular culture after World War II. The sadistic medical experiments of the Nazis, especially those of Josef Mengele, and the invention of the atomic bomb gave rise in this period to genuine fears that science and technology had gone out of control. The scientific and technological build up during the Cold War, with its increasing threats of unparalleled destruction, did not lessen the impression. Mad scientists frequently figure in science fiction and motion pictures from the period. Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963), in which Peter Sellers plays the titular Dr. Strangelove, is perhaps the ultimate expression of this fear of the power of science, or the misuse of this power. In the 1950s there was a great deal of enthusiasm for scientific progress, perhaps typified in films such as Disney's Our Friend the Atom, in which a scientist holds a piece of radioactive Uranium and discusses the positive benefits radioactivity will bring, without due consideration to the potential downsides.

In more recent years, the mad scientist as a lone investigator of the forbidden unknown has tended to be replaced by mad corporate executives who plan to profit from defying the laws of nature and humanity regardless of who suffers; these people hire a salaried scientific staff to pursue their twisted dreams. This shift is typified by the revised history of Superman's archenemy, Lex Luthor: originally conceived in the 1930s as a typically solitary mad scientist, a major retcon of the character's origins in 1986 made Lex Luthor the head of a megacorporation who also plays a leading role in his R & D department.

The techniques of mad science also changed after Hiroshima. Electricity was replaced by radiation as the new tool to create, enlarge, or deform life (e.g., Godzilla). As audiences became more savvy, quantum mechanics, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence have taken the spotlight (e.g., Blade Runner). Some more recent depictions have had the mad scientist focused upon sacrificing humanity for their creation, with sacrifices ranging from a few people to the entire world population.

In the 2000s, a number of works have featured the trappings of mad science as familiar, even mundane elements, and shifted to toying with the implications of a setting where mad scientists may live and thrive. The webcomic Narbonic ostensibly chronicles the daily grind of an evil laboratory in a world where henchmen have unionized and the New Journal of Malology competes with Modern Madiagnosis. Madwoman/small business owner Helen Narbon plays counter to type by being a plump, cheerful twenty-something blonde, obsessed with the color pink and hideous biological experiments involving gerbils. Comic book turned webcomic Girl Genius takes a combination of mad science and steampunk to a logical extreme: a Europe reduced to scattered city-states, divided by the clockwork and biological abominations unleashed by its "Spark" overlords. Other commercial examples are Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog by Joss Whedon, where the main character has a vocal coach to help him develop a maniacal laugh, and the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. The 2008 animated feature film Igor depicts an entire nation of mad scientists.



  • Naruto: Orochimaru's various experiments either to himself or his victims the goal of which is so he became immortal. One of his notable experiment's results, his original body transformed into mass of white snakes with a huge snake-like head that resembles his human head. This transformation virtually not only made his body became catalyst to move his soul to another host, but also mutate his body cells. His mutated body cells also able to took over other bodies if transplanted to the said body similar The Thing's cells (as seen in Kabuto Yakushi's).
    • He also invented Cursed Mark Technique from his extensive research on Jūgo's powers whom enable him to shapeshifting their bodies into various monstrous form and weapons.
  • Death Stench: During the World War 2, robot-like parasitic organism called Death Stenches are created from mutated strain of germ invented by Japanese scientists as bio-weapon to turn the tide of war. When the island where prototypes of these parasites (which mainly use bio-mechanical walking robots and animals as hosts) was bombed, some of these parasites escapes, slowly assimilate all life in ocean before wiping out land creatures with exception of a handful of humanity survived the pandemic thanks to their immunity to disease.

Western Animation

  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Azmuth created Ascalon as an extremely powerful and destructive weapon, which led to the destruction of the Incursean homeworld when Ascalon fell into the wrong hands.
  • 9: A scientist created the Fabrication Machine, and the Chancellor afterwards took it to use to mass-produce weapons and war machines. Due to a combination of the Machine's soullessness and being abused by forced past its limit to make more machines, the Fabrication Machine went insane and initiated a genocide against humanity and all life on Earth.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • Gumball and Darwin accidentally created Kenneth in "The Microwave", by microwaving a mixture of gross miscellanea, and Kenneth turned out to be a greedy and voracious monster which devoured anything and anyone it could and grew bigger and more dangerous.
    • In "The Recipe", Gumball and Darwin attempted to use Anton's parents' method of remaking Anton whenever he dies to create their own Anton clone. The first, failed result of this was Ant-One, a charred and psychotic Anton who led the other Anton clones in a genocide to destroy the original Anton.


  • Resident Evil franchise:
    • T-Virus: T-Virus was created as part of bio-weapons project by Umbrella to create B.O.W.s such as zombies, Tyrants, etc. The cataclysmic problems ultimately began when the virus ultimately leaked and causes deaths that even inhumane Umbrella members cannot control.
    • C-Virus: Through combining G-Virus and T-Veronica Virus, Neo-Umbrella successfully created more deadly B.O.W.s to destroy the world.
  • In Prototype, Blacklight Virus was created after experiment done by Alex Mercer where it was developed from results of Redlight Virus experiment called Carnival 1 and 2 where in Carnival 2, the Redlight Virus in Elizabeth Greene mutated that led to further experimentation of the changed virus within her body. When Alex ultimately released the newly developed virus, it resulting entire New York being quarantined and his mutation and possession by very virus that he created.

Live-Action TV

  • Primeval: Philip Burton's New Dawn project to create a stable, manmade Anomaly to interrupt Convergence and to use as an infinite green energy resource was in fact destined to go awry, and if not stopped, would have permanently rendered the Earth's surface a sterile, inhospitable wasteland in the future.

Live-Action Movies

  • Them!: Atomic tests of the 1940s in the desert resulted in the creation of gigantic and predatory ants, which threatened to multiply out of control and decimate the human race.
  • Jurassic Park: John Hammond and InGen bred genetically-cloned dinosaurs on Isla Sorna and Nublar for Jurassic Park. After Dennis Nedry sabotages the park by shutting its system down, as well as stealling dinosaur embryos, the dinosaurs ultimately managed to escape and destroy Jurassic Park and cause severe destruction and multiple human deaths, leading to both islands being abandoned to the free dinosaurs.
  • The Blob: The titular monster is created by Christopher Meddows as means of creating superweapon that would be capable of swiftly destroying Soviet Russian army during Cold War. Though it was successfully created, it ultimately mutated into indestrutible monster that killed almost entire town where it rampages, even including Meddows himself.
  • The Fly: Experimental teleporter pods that invented by Seth Brundle while succesfully teleported one individual to another, turned out cannot sent two entities simulteneously without being merges into each other. When he had another test where he unknowingly have a fly brought into one of the pods, both he and the fly merges into human-fly hybrid in process during the teleportation.
  • I Am Legend: Dr. Alice Krippin's successful project to cure cancer by reprogramming the Measles virus resulted in her cancer cure mutating into the Krippin Virus; which in turn led to the destruction of human civilization, the deaths of 90% of the human race, and all but 12 million of the surviving humans becoming predatory Darkseekers.
  • The Mist: It is unconfirmed but theorised that the mist was caused by the Arrowhead Project, a local military experiment, when the Project opened a hole into another dimension.
  • Blade II: w:c:villains:Eli Damaskinos Eli Damaskinos' initial experiments on Jared Nomak to try and create a new vampire strain immune to all major vampiric weaknesses resulted in the creation of the Reapers, which quickly began to spread and threatened to become a pandemic, and would have infected and destroyed all the vampires and then the humans had it not been eradicated.
  • Army of Frankenstein: Zombots, which used to be dead Nazi soldiers of WWII, are created by Dr. Viktor Frankenstein in means of ending the World War II. These hybrid monsters are created in similar manner with Frankenstein's original monster. Unlike the original monster, however Zombots are the original monster's weaponized version, and are mass-produced.
  • Lucy: Though Mr. Jang's action by having synthetic CPH4 inserted within the titular protagonist's body proved beneficial results for her due to the leaked vial within her body bestowed her superhuman capabilities as her brain capacity intensifies due to the said drug, Mr. Jang's action can be considered/theorized as indirect mad science. This was supported by fact than his obsession to killing her and retake those vials intensifies due to his men witness Lucy's increasing powers, made him realized that he, or rather those whom he known responsible for the synthetic CPH4 has surpasses the boundary of science.
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: A revived Emperor Palpatine reveals to have created the First Order's Supreme Leader, Snoke through Dark Side science to lead the First Order as a figurehead and turn Kylo Ren to the Dark Side, as Palpatine meets Kylo Ren who finds humanoid copies of Snoke in Palpatine's lair on Exogol.

Comic Books

  • 28 Days Later: The Aftermath: Clive and Warren's ambitious project to develop an anger inhibitor led to Warren combining the Ebola contagion with the inhibitor as a delivery system, causing the combination to mutate into the Rage Virus that would infect the majority of and completely devastate mainland Great Britain.
  • DC Comics: Mad Science often related with the supervillains origins as much as some superheroes who fight against them;
    • Dr. Langstrom's attempt to cure his deafness with help of serum based on bats' DNA and test the serum on himself, only to ended up turned into humanoid bat-like monster. This prompted Batman to cure him to normal.
  • Marvel: Like in DC Comics, Mad Science is both one of the main factors that responsible for the creation of superheroes and supervillains alike;
    • Similar with Dr. Langstrom's case, Dr. Connors creates a serum based on lizards' DNA to create regenerative serum that would beneficially help those whom became disable or severe injuries where he test the serum on himself that not only regrows his hands, but ended up transformed into humanoid lizard where Peter Parker had to create a cure to restore him.
    • Dr. Stillwell was involved in project that involves combining powers of an animal into another genetically, which includes combining animal powers to a human being that resulting them become a superhuman in similar manner with how Peter Parker aka. Spider-Man gained his spider-based powers. In spite of the project's intended beneficial results, it wind up become the vital role in creating various supervillains includes Scorpion, Vulture, and Human Fly.


  • Frankenstein: Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates the monster, then, repulsed by his creation, immediately throws it out. Later, it returns and demands that Victor make it a wife. He agrees, then reconsiders and destroys the half-completed bride. The monster retaliates by killing Victor's best friend and threatens more death should Victor ever marry. Victor marries his adoptive sister, who is also his cousin named Elizabeth, who is promptly killed while Victor is dutifully staying away from her thinking the threat was to him. Victor then chases the monster into the Arctic, but dies from the cold. The monster then goes off and kills himself (or at least he says that is what he is going to do).
  • H.P. Lovecraft:
    • "From Beyond": Crawford Tillinghast messes with the nature of reality and does not seem bothered when it leads to his servants being eaten by an Eldritch Abomination.
    • Herbert West–Reanimator: Herbert West's quest to hold back death takes him down dark paths.


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See Also

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