Is there a word for the feeling of satisfaction when someone 'bad' gets punished? For example, when watching a movie and seeing the villain finally get defeated, the audience feels a sense of... what?

I thought I've heard of this word before but I can't find anything. Schadenfreude is a bit off and doesn't cover the "good, that guy finally got what he deserved" feeling (there's also a sense of moral superiority involved, I suppose?). I also found vindictive, but that doesn't convey the sense of satisfaction.

  • I would suggest that a lot of that sort of thing qualifies as society's 'self-satisfaction'. Behind every criminal there lurks a tragedy of some sort.
    – WS2
    Dec 5, 2014 at 22:36
  • 3
    I still think that "schadenfreude" is the best term for this, if only because it tastes so delicious rolling off the tongue.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 6, 2014 at 0:58
  • It's not a word, it's restaurant.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 12, 2017 at 22:30

5 Answers 5


I know you're looking for a feeling, in either single noun or adjective terms, and I believe that we could say that the audience feels a sense of...


However, I think there are a few other common expressions that might also satisfy your general question:

The audience felt that...

... he got his comeuppance.

... justice had been served.

... he got his just deserts.

All of these convey the idea that someone who should be punished (e.g. the villain) did indeed get punished.

I believe merely uttering these expressions conveys the sense of satisfaction that you are asking about.

  • There are no just desserts, unless perhaps you’ve skipped the main course and that’s all you’re having. The phrase is just deserts without a double-s!
    – tchrist
    Dec 5, 2014 at 23:25
  • comeuppance, a punishment or fate that someone deserves. -You win, nice one.
    – Mazura
    Dec 6, 2014 at 0:21
  • 1
    +1 for comeuppance; justice is a much loftier and broader concept, but comeuppance captures the human satisfaction that he got what was coming to him.
    – choster
    Dec 6, 2014 at 0:36
  • 1
    Comeuppance is a synonym to "just deserts".
    – ermanen
    Dec 6, 2014 at 3:34

You can consider relief or righteous satisfaction.

Also used is vicarious release because you experience this through the feelings of the protagonist.

Seeing vengeance in a story provides us with a vicarious release, allowing us to harmlessly channel our vengeful anger that might otherwise get us into trouble. Seeing the villain punished gives a sense of righteous satisfaction and confirmation that right will always be done.


Also, there is excitation-transfer theory that explains that the anger towards the bad guy turns into satisfaction when the bad guy is punished.

Excitation-transfer theory purports that residual excitation from one stimulus will amplify the excitatory response to another stimulus, though the hedonic valences of the stimuli may differ. The excitation-transfer process is not limited to a single emotion.

For example, when watching a movie, a viewer may be angered by seeing the hero wronged by the villain, but this initial excitation may intensify the viewer's pleasure in witnessing the villain's punishment later.



Depending on the personality of the person observing the villain's comeuppance, self-righteous gloating might well describe their motivation and emotional state.


Avengement, retribution, vengeance, vengement, revenge or atonement may be what you are looking for.


The feeling I get is "vindicated"

  • Can you support this answer with any reference to explain how you would be vindicated?
    – user63230
    Dec 6, 2014 at 9:21

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