The Mad Scientist Trope

Dr. Victor Frankenstein

This is a movie poster for the film Frankenstein. It would have been viewed by moviegoers as they browsed the posters on the movie theater wall advertising the various films being shown. By the time it was made into a movie, the story had already been around for a century, so viewers would likely know the general storyline. In fact, this particular poster was for a re-release of the original film, so moviegoers may have seen the first one. They would be able to pick out the large face as the monster, as this character is staring intently at the viewer, causing discomfort. He is also lit in a sinister manner. They would recognize Dr. Frankenstein on the left because he is mixing something inside a chemistry flask. There is also a mortar and pestle on the table in front of him. They would notice that the lady draped across the bed is dead.

Dr. Frankenstein could very well have been an early contributor to the popular stereotype of a mad scientist. His character displayed some common traits of the trope. He was a lonely man who struggled with attachment. One of the characteristics of the mad scientist is that he is shunned by society. Dr. Frankenstein explored the dangerous side of science, up to the point of playing god by attempting to create a life form. A viewer might see such a person as dangerous, mentally unstable, and not deserving of a place in society. Over the years, the mad scientist trope has exhibited some of the same qualities – dangerous experimentation, questionable mental stability, and isolation.

The appearance of the poster emphasizes the danger involved in unnatural experimentation. The use of dark blue at the top suggests darkness, and the use of orange at the bottom suggests danger. An eerie glow highlights the threatening nature of the monster, the mad scientist, and the dead lady. The typeface used on the poster resembles typical “horror movie” font at the top. The word Frankenstein almost looks as if it is dripping in blood. All of these things come together to enhance the feeling of danger, foreboding, fear of the unknown, and death.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

This is a book cover for a 2020 publication of the classic book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This book was first published in 1886, so most people in the 21st century have a general idea of the story and can recognize the characters pictured. Readers could pick out Dr. Jekyll as the man holding the flask, similar to Dr. Frankenstein. The man looking over his arm would be recognized as his alternate personality, Mr. Hyde, as he has been drawn with a sinister look on his face. Though Jekyll is the scientist in this scenario, it is Hyde who brings the “mad” to the doctor.

The characters of Jekyll and Hyde split their contribution to the mad scientist stereotype. Jekyll holds the potion to show that he is the scientist, trying to suppress his alternate personality by creating a magical serum to achieve something unnatural. Hyde shows his face from the shadows to remind us that the evil side of Jekyll is always with him. Again, we see some of the mad scientist qualities in this book cover – dangerous experimentation and mental instability.

The appearance of this book cover evokes an uneasy feeling. Two men are lit up in a dark background by a strange glow. We see the danger colors of red and orange used for the potion and Hyde’s clothing respectively. The illustrator chose to draw attention to the words strange and case by using a larger typeface and coloring it red. This contributes to an overall message of danger and strangeness.



Mad Scientist Monster Lab Kit

This is a science kit released by Mattel in the year 1987. There was a whole line of Mad Scientist kits, and this is just one example. At the time, it could have been seen on commercials or toy store shelves by kids. They would likely recognize the image of the mad scientist even if the product carried a different name. The old man with wild hair and an exaggerated grin is holding a chemical package and helping the kids make some concoction. This might appeal to a kid’s natural curiosity.

The mad scientist cartoon on the box contributes to the stereotype of a mad scientist in several ways. We see the unkempt hair, suggesting that he might be a socially unaware individual. He is depicted with a wild, toothy grin, as though he is up to no good. There is an element of danger suggested by the words on the box. Overall, we see dangerous experimentation and social awkwardness in this particular iteration of the mad scientist.

The cover design emphasizes some degree of the fear of the unknown inside the box. The characters are set against a dark blue background with an uneven light from the side shining on one side of their faces. This echoes the play of light in the previous examples. The word mad is shown in red for danger, and there is a crack in the middle of the word. This foreshadows that something is not quite right with this scene, and by extension, with whatever is inside.


“At Flashbak: Mattel’s Mad Scientist Toys.” Reactions on Film and Television, 31 July 2016,

Universal Studios. Advertisement. Frankenstein 1931

Viola, Topchii, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Illustrated), by Robert Louis Stevenson, Independently published, 2020.