The Movie Antiheroes Who Make Being Bad Look Good
We all love a hero. We get inspired from and admire a hero’s courage and determination to do good in this world, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes we seek a character whom we can relate to on all levels; a flawed and more simple character who still displays admirable qualities and performs daring acts. That’s when antiheroes come in! Not to be confused with villains and antagonists, antiheroes are more complicated figures who viewers just can’t help but love and relate to. They might lack the traditional ethics and morals of a hero, or even commit questionable deeds, but it’s exactly that sense of humanity that makes these characters all the more intriguing. Read here for the ultimate list of antiheroes and antiheroines who we just can’t help but love. Yes, even the directors were pleasantly surprised by their creations!
1. Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs
Okay, you might not be convinced that the cannibalistic and violent psychopath and serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs can be classified as an antihero, but on closer inspection, he does have some mitigating qualities.
Firstly, Hannibal did’t ask to get involved in catching another serial killer, nicknamed Buffalo Bill; he was actually obligated to. Maybe he used this card as chance to escape, but that’s only after the supposedly good guys default on their promises to him. If you’re going to lie to a serial killer, there will be consequences. Moreover, Hannibal actually saves the day when he helps stop the one criminal who needed to be stopped.
2. Veronica Sawyer in Heathers
We all remember Heathers as one of those dark teen movies filled with black comedy, possibly because we came to sympathize and even root for the sinister protagonist Veronica who gets herself into all kinds of trouble, like when she “accidentally” poisons one of her friends.
Come to think of it, Veronica only wanted to go against her friends’ cruel behavior even if it meant jeopardizing her spot in the popular clique. Veronica’s love interest J.D. convinces her that the right thing to do is to play deadly pranks on all the popular and cruel students and then frame it as suicide, but when she learns about his true intentions she rushes to stop him. In other words, this film basically dares you to identify with an accomplice to murder! Now that’s something!
3. Tony Montana in Scarface
In reality, anyone would steer clear of a drug lord who looks like Al Pacino and goes by the name of Tony Montana. After all, you’d just be playing with fire by liking someone who kills people without even blinking an eye or someone who shows no sense of remorse, but that isn’t the case with Scarface‘s character, who definitely makes the cut as one of our antiheroes.
We can’t help but respect Tony Montana for all his tremendous accomplishments, which kind of redeem some of his actions. Come on, wouldn’t you also get a pet tiger if you suddenly became one of the richest and most formidable figures in Miami? We should also probably give Montana a break for all the stress he’s under, as it does eventually lead to his downfall.
4. Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction
It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino is the king of creating movie antiheroes, and Jules Winnfield is no different in Pulp Fiction. Winnfield might be a hitman who has absolutely no value for human life and kills anyone he’s instructed to take out, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like him anyway.
It must be Samuel L. Jackson’s charm, or the way his character strikes up those philosophical discussions and existential debates, and not to mention his comic relief moments. For those reasons, we can’t help but grow fond of this guy.
5. Alex in A Clockwork Orange
The disturbing film A Clockwork Orange portrays Alex as a despicable character who feeds off his “ultra-violence” sprees where he rapes women, beats old people, and fights other gangs after drinking his laced milk to prepare for the occasion.
You might not believe it at first, but if you put all of Alex’s antics aside, we all have so much in common with him which makes this character one of the most fascinating antiheroes. Alex might be vile, but he’s also extremely clever, emotional, and deep. He is aware of his terrible actions, which is why we feel terrible for him after he suffers at the hands of his prior victims after undergoing rehabilitation.
6. Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road
When someone goes by the name Mad Max, there must be something wrong with the person, right? Well, Max Rockatansky might have completely lost his mind, a character who is fueled by vengeance. He can kill anyone in his wake, but we can’t blame him for doing so and that’s because of his haunting past.
Rockatansky, played by Tom Hardy in the 2015 film, isn’t exactly the type to lend a helping hand, but when Immortan Joe’s five wives dare to escape his despotic ways, Rockatansky is more than happy to to forge an alliance with them to overrun Joe’s evil ways. In effect, Mad Max transforms into the most relatable character, and it becomes very hard to blame him for anything he does.
7. Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause
James Dean plays the drunk and troublesome rebel teenager Jim Stark who has nothing figured out in his life. He struggles with emotional issues because of his parents, who constantly move him around, which is why he doesn’t care much for school and friends. So, how does this make him an antihero as he’s clearly not a hero in any way?
Somehow, Stark’s personality and attitude attracts the kids at school and he falls for one of the girls, which brings some kind of stability, but Stark and his new friend Plato still get in a lot of trouble which leads to Plato getting shot by the police. When Stark tries to step in to save his friend as the movie hero, he just cannot succeed. We guess his attempt to do right is what makes him one of our deserving movie antiheroes. We know it’s not easy to change overnight.
8. Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind
Oh, Scarlett O’Hara! She might be one of the most magnificent characters in movie history, but she’s also a self-indulgent and privileged woman who is used to getting what she wants, even if that means manipulating others and stabbing people in the back.
We can’t help but feel sorry for this beauty, as she’s thrust in the midst of the American Civil War, which forces her to do all sorts of questionable things. Moreover, it’s quite admirable when O’Hara admits that she’s willing to do what it takes to survive the turmoil and how she speaks out at a time when women didn’t really have a voice. By the end of Gone with the Wind, we grow to love her self-serving narcissism ever-present in her loveless marriages. Vivien Leigh’s character served as proof that audiences were willing to appreciate complicated female figures on the big screen.
9. The Joker in The Dark Knight
“Why so serious?” Yes, The Joker is unequivocally classified as a villain throughout the Batman franchise. While we’re not arguing with that, we can’t help but get drawn in by his enticing character, especially Heath Ledger’s rendition of it.
The Joker kills people and he is super creepy, but we can’t help but indulge in his comic relief and the way he explains his perspective. If you listen closely, there is some kind of method to his madness. He does take things way too far, but he sticks to what he thinks are reasonable principles, and for that we “appreciate” him.
10. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver
Travis Bickle, one of the best antiheroes of all time, manages to steal the hearts, or at least the minds, of his audiences simply because his very own heart is in the right place. He might use the incorrect methods, buit Bickle definitely wants to do better for the world.
In a corrupt society with absolutely no boundaries, we need a man with no boundaries himself to actually make a difference, which is exactly what Robert De Niro portrays in Taxi Driver. Mohawk aside, Bickle desperately wants to stand out and make a change. After all, his motto is “Sh*t… I’m just waiting for the sun to shine.”
11. Beatrix Kiddo A.K.A. The Bride in Kill Bill
The Bride is one of the most kickass anti-heroines in film history simply because she’s a former assassin created by Quentin Tarantino who faces the Crazy 88 and kills most of them. Who can blame her for being just a little peeved for being left for dead while pregnant and for the betrayal of her ex-lover and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad at her wedding.
The Bride sets out on a bloody path to make up for the four years of her life that were stolen from her, and who can blame her? She does lack a bit of integrity for taking revenge on the daughter of one of her enemies. Uma Thurman sure plays a complicated, tough, and brave woman!
12. Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander is another anti-heroine who had to make this list. She has a dark side and lots of baggage because of her traumatic and abusive past, but that doesn’t mean the viewers can’t relate to this seemingly complicated figure.
We certainly don’t blame her for dealing very harshly with her rapist guardian, and we identify with her despite all her misgivings, especially because she helps crack a 40-year-old murder mystery with her superb hacking skills. Towards the end of the film, we also witness a softer side of her and her capacity to love. She might thrive on the dark side, but she definitely has the ability to forge meaningful relationships.
13. John Rambo in Rambo
By the end of the Rambo film franchise, John Rambo evolves into the ultimate hero and altruistic character, but in the first movie First Blood he’s not your typical hero because he makes very dubious decisions, not to mention his brutal rampage after his run-in with the local cops.
Well, Rambo only kills one man in the film, but it’s enough for us to doubt his ethical abilities. However, he is a former Vietnam War veteran who faced lots of antagonism and violence from the cops with no explanation, so it’s only normal for him to snap.
14. Django in Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino was at it again with another complicated character played by none other than Jamie Foxx. Most viewers would say Django was always in the right for doing what was necessary, given all the brutality he faced as a slave, the way he was separated from his wife, and the way she was treated on the plantation.
While the audience might love Django and find no fault in him, he made the movie antiheroes list because he did abandon his morals when Dr. Schultz enlists him as a bounty hunter who kills men he doesn’t know for money. Django’s end goal might have been to save his wife, which is very admirable, but his actions along the way weren’t always right, especially the bloodbath he leaves behind when saving her. So yes, he’s a classic antihero!
15. Chip Douglas in The Cable Guy
Chip Douglas from The Cable Guy couldn’t have spoken truer words when he said “I can be your best friend or your worst enemy.” Admit it, that is the perfect line for all antiheroes, and Jim Carrey does the best job at doing just that when his character Chip Douglas morphs into a full-blown stalker after he is snubbed by his customer Steven Kovacs.
Douglas starts off as one of the protagonists of the film, but his behavior quickly turns him into the antagonist, but not one the audience doesn’t relate to. He’s just hungry for some friendship, and everyone is too selfish to return it. We say Kovacs is to blame!
16. Henry Hill in Goodfellas
Henry Hill leads a luxurious life of crime, engaging in bad behavior as a drug dealer and thief, but he seems unaware of all the trouble and despair he causes for others. It’s also clear throughout the film that Hill isn’t really molded for this kind of life.
Hill always wished to live this kind of existence, but it turns out he doesn’t really have it in him. Deep down he is a sensitive man and the idea of murder makes him squeamish, which makes him a complicated but likable antihero. By the end of Goodfellas, his sensitive nature does prevail.
17. Selina Kyle A.K.A. Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises
Catwoman sure knows how to play the ultimate game of cat and mouse with Batman before she actually becomes his ally. She might have questionable beliefs, but she’s smooth, witty, and always ready for action, and come to think of it, deep down she has a legitimate reason for her actions.
The interpretation of this DC character in The Dark Knight Rises is of a woman who is willing to steal and kill to accomplish what she wants, however, Selina Kyle always ends up on the good side with the good guys. And even if she didn’t, we’d still like her!
18. Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
Captain Jack Sparrow really isn’t a good guy, so it comes as no surprise that he’s made quite a few enemies along the way and irked some of the people who thought they could trust him.
Despite all his exasperating antics, there is something about Jack Sparrow that we can’t help but love. His drunken ways and disheveled pirate look provide a ton of comic relief to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. As he said himself: “Crazy people don’t know they are crazy. I know I am crazy, therefore I am not crazy, isn’t that crazy!”
19. Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
You kind of have to feel sorry for high school principal Rooney because handling a student like Ferris Bueller is certainly not a piece of cake. He’s cheeky, insolent, and has no regard for anyone but himself, and what makes it worse is that he gets away with it.
Even though Bueller goes through great lengths to skip classes and take advantage of others, there is something really suave about him that you can’t help but notice and love. There is a reason everyone wants to befriend this rebel, and that’s because he has the audacity to do things that everyone dreams of doing but don’t have the guts to do. Come to think of it, Beuller is just a typical teenager who takes things to the next level, and that’s why we love him.
20. Robin Hood
When one thinks of the definition of an antihero, Robin Hood definitely comes to mind first as the iconic example of such a character simply because he steals from the rich to give to the poor.
When you look at the ethics behind it all, Robin Hood wasn’t even stealing; he was simply returning property to the rightful owners: the peasants. He fights corruption and represents the weaker against wicked despots. Well, why isn’t he a hero then? That’s because he does the wrong thing for the right reasons!
21. Mavis Gary in Young Adult
One wouldn’t particularly expect Mavis Gary to be an ethical protagonist seeing that she tries to convince her long lost high school boyfriend to leave his wife and their newborn daughter to get back together with her.
Charlize Theron portrays Gary as an unapologetically self-centered woman who doesn’t care for those around her and who is therefore hard to like, but that makes the character much more intriguing. Gary doesn’t make a change by the end of the movie, but we can’t help but sympathize with her ways in spite of that. In fact, we like her even more because this ending seems more realistic.
22. Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy
Would you ever feel sorry for a man who kidnaps someone to achieve his own ambition in life? You might say no, but then you’ve forgotten about how you sympathized with Robert De Niro’s character Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy.
Pupkin is hands down the antihero of all antiheroes because he is a delusional, self-aggrandizing, sociopath who lacks any talent as a comedian, and yet he is also a very compelling and interesting character. He possesses absolutely zero heroic qualities and none of us would really want to be him, but we’re still fascinated by him because he’s everything we don’t want to be.
23. Rainbow Randolph in Death to Smoochy
Possibly one of Robin Williams‘ best roles was Rainbow Rudolph in Death to Smoochy. Once again, we have a villain masquerading as a hero, which in turn, renders Randolph an antihero. He might come across as a jealous, vengeful, and corrupt costumed star, but he’s really just a man ahead of his time.
There’s no excuse for the way he conducts his business offstage by accepting bribes from parents to put their kids on Randolph’s show, but when he gets replaced by the “squeaky clean” pink rhino, Smoochy, we can’t help but miss his rainbow friendly appearance on stage.
24. Tyler Durden in Fight Club
Even though he has those classic good looks thanks to actor Brad Pitt, Tyler Durden is everything you don’t want a hero to be. He’s hostile, tormented, overly sexual, and runs a terrorist group under the guise of being an underground fight club.
On the other hand, Durden is also shrewd and charming, which is why we all wanted to be him after watching Fight Club. He doesn’t set a good example, but he’s one of those guys we like and respect anyway.
25. Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino
Who on Earth could like a grumpy, racist, old, and bitter Korean War veteran who abhors his family, friends, and neighbors and treats them with disdain? Well, Clint Eastwood proves that it’s actually possible to warm up to such a person with his character Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino.
At first, the only things Kowalski shows his affection for are his cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and his dog Daisy. However, as the plot unfolds, we come to appreciate Kowalski’s change of heart when he takes his neighbor under his wing, even though he attempts to steal his car, and becomes the ultimate protector of his family. He might not be the epitome of a true hero by the end of the film, but the audience certainly come to love his sensible and heartfelt transformation.
26. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho
American Psycho explores exactly what it takes to make a man a monster, but no one would have thought that this monster would become the star of the film. Patrick Bateman looks like a young professional businessman by day, but by night he’s a gruesome serial killer.
We definitely don’t like him because of his bloodcurdling ways, but everything else about him is very agreeable. Perhaps it’s the way he tries to fit in with everyone around him or that he desires to be something he’s not. Those are emotions we all feel, and hence he makes the cut as one of our antiheroes.
27. Severus Snape in Harry Potter
If you’re a real Potterhead, you definitely weren’t a fan of Professor Severus Snape, Hogwarts’s Potions Master who really covets the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, because of how he seemingly goes against and torments Harry Potter most of the time.
You gotta love the professor for attempting to put Potter in his place and never being afraid to tell it like it is; it was for the greater good after all. Snape is the perfect example of how an antihero can play both sides without our even knowing it.
28. Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
We can’t blame Sweeney Todd for wreaking havoc in London, nor us for rooting for him most of the time. Yes, the reason we say that is because 15 years before his vengeful ways, Todd went by the name of Benjamin Barker, a barber who lived a happy life with his wife and daughter. However, the evil Judge Turpin sent Barker away to Australia in order to steal his wife.
Todd returns 15 years later with a hate and disgust for all humanity, and he feels no inhibition to apply his razor to any unlucky customer on what some would call a brutal killing spree. To kill anyone is unethical, but remember that Todd is operating with his own code of ethics in response to what happened to him, which is why it’s natural for viewers to sympathize with this antihero when he takes revenge.
29. Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network
While some antiheroes seem to lose in the end, this one wins and big time! Mark Zuckerberg, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, plays the textbook geek who everyone dislikes because of his arrogance and self-importance, and for the fact that he’s willing to betray a friend for fame and fortune.
We learn to love and admire Zuckerberg in this movie because he’s the ultimate loser who wins, and at the heart of all his actions, he is just a guy who wants to be accepted and succeed in life.
30. The Dude in The Big Lebowski
Many people aren’t fans of of people who sit around all day like a bum doing nothing, but when it comes to the Dude no one seems to mind. Yes, he enjoys drinking White Russian cocktails, bowling with his friends, and an occasional acid trip, but nevertheless he doesn’t come across as a pathetic loser.
What makes the Dude so likable is that he has absolutely no qualms about his lifestyle and he is damn hilarious. What makes the Dude one of the ultimate antiheroes is that he isn’t afraid of what others think and never sticks to the status quo — something we all wish we could do with no reservations. We love him because he believes in “takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”
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