THERE’S A SCENE in the HBO drama The Wire where several Baltimore homicide detectives come to the realization that the murderous gangster they’ve been chasing for the better part of three seasons might have moved on to a new profession.

“Seems that Stringer Bell is worse than a drug dealer,” says one. “He’s a developer,” finishes another.

The line is a joke, but it’s also an important piece of exposition: The money from Baltimore’s drug trade is fueling a corrupt redevelopment of the city that will wipe away what little is left of deeply rooted (but deeply troubled) communities.

The Wire was a groundbreaking show in many ways. Its casting of land developers in the role of shadowy villains is the most ordinary thing about it. In Hollywood, a developer is almost always a bad guy.

Throughout television and film, property mongers are deployed again and again as antagonists whose schemes to build a new condo or supermarket must be defeated at all costs. The trope transcends genre boundaries, giving a work’s protagonists someone to fight against and something to fight for. Developers menace characters in goofy comedies and serious serial dramas. They appear in dark horror movies, children’s cartoons, and blockbuster sci-fi flicks. Whether it’s a gentle animated feature like Up or an alien war film like Avatar, a comedy like Barber Shop 2 or an absurdist musical like The Blues Brothers, chances are someone trying to build something somewhere is the threat that sets the whole plot in motion.

The trend is pervasive enough that there’s a whole blog, Evil Developer Movies, cataloging bad-guy builders. The website TV Tropes has labeled this particular cliché “saving the orphanage”—alternatively known as “saving the community center” or “saving the home”—and finds examples of it in everything from anime to professional wrestling. In the movies and on television, evil developers are everywhere.

Common bad guy

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