A theoretical analysis of bacteriochlorophyll a containing its non-native divalent metal ions: Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Ru, Rh, Pd, and Pt, has been carried out by means of density functional theory (DFT) calculations. The main stress was put on the derivatives with metals, which already found applications as coordination compounds in anti-tumor therapy (Ru, Pt, Pd, and Rh). The idea was to combine their cytotoxic properties with the known suitability of bacteriochlorophylls macrocycle for photodynamic therapy. The geometries of the studied systems are compared and reveal a number of similarities. The cores of the modified bacteriochlorophylls are flat, and the introduced metal ions lie in plane of the macrocycle, showing its large ability to accommodate metal ions of different sizes. However, four metal–nitrogen bonds, linking the central ions with the macrocycle ligand, are not equivalent. Metals are the strongest attached to nitrogens, which come from the pyrrole, which is fused with isocyclic ring. Based on the known spectroscopic data, the absorption properties of the proposed systems are predicted. Finally, it is found that all studied metal–macrocycle adducts are stable in aqueous media. The only exceptions are Mg-BChla (the finding is reflected by experimental facts) and Zn-BChla. The predicted high stability of Ru-, Rh-, Pt- and Pd-bacteriochlorophylls might turn out beneficial for therapeutic purposes. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00894-012-1747-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.