What makes a hero a hero? Is it their courage? Their morals? Their drive to always do the right thing? Sure, heroes are great and all, but let’s face it — they’re not always relatable. That’s why so many of us fall in love with the antiheroes in movies. Not to be confused with villains, antiheroes aren’t bad guys — they just lack traditional heroic values and morals. They function using their own ethical codes and audiences tend to love them because they’re sometimes sort of like us. Who doesn’t want to feel like a hero, right? These characters may be far from heroic, but we love them anyway. Here are the best movie antiheroes of all time.
Learn why Ferris Bueller is one of our favorite antiheroes later.
Tony Montana – Scarface
AP Photo/ Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Let’s be honest, in reality, most of us would keep a good distance away from a person like Tony Montana. He’s greedy, he kills people without a second thought, he’s somewhat abusive, and basically lacks all sense of morals. Yet, when it comes to a movie like Scarface, you can’t help but find yourself rooting for him. You have to respect everything that he’s accomplished in life, which might even make some of his actions understandable. If you came from nothing and were suddenly one of the richest people in Miami, wouldn’t you get a pet tiger too? He’s also under a level of stress that most of us will probably never feel, so maybe we should cut him some slack.
The Joker – The Dark Night
Although Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight is clearly the villain of the film, he can also be considered an antihero. The Joker was easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film which gave us a whole new dimension to this classic Batman villain. No matter what his end goal was, how many people he killed, or how creepy he was, it’s hard not to admit that he was an enticing character. He provided most if not all of the comic relief and the film which was done in a tasteful and impressive way. Also, yes, the Joker might have taken things too far, but at the core of his insanity, he had a set of principles and reasoning that was ultimately hard to fully disagree with.
Captain Jack Sparrow – Pirates of the Carribean
There’s a reason why Captain Jack Sparrow has never had a good first impression and everyone from his past wants to kill him or has at least tried to kill him. He’s really not that great of a guy. Sure, he’s been useful at times, but generally, he creates way more problems than he solves. It takes his friends so long to warm up to him (if they ever do) because he’s a loose cannon and a total liability. Yet, there’s also a reason why we can’t help but like him throughout the Pirates of Carribean series. He provides a sense of comic relief to the films which couldn’t be executed by any other character. At the end of the day, it’s really hard to dislike the drunken, washed-up pirate that really doesn’t even want to be involved in anything going on.
Max Rockatansky – Mad Max
To start, there’s a reason why Max Rockatansky’s character devolved into the Road Warrior named Mad Max. It’s because he’s completely lost his mind and sense of humanity. He’s fueled strictly by revenge and pure survival instincts, doing whatever necessary in order to survive. He’s deeply haunted by his past, he has no problems killing anyone in his way, and more often than not, doesn’t want to lend help when it’s needed. However, considering the circumstances in Mad Max’s world, he’s by far the most relatable and human character and it’s hard to blame him for his actions. Although most people don’t grow up wanting to be like Mad Max, he really is the best his world has.
Patrick Bateman – American Psycho
We’re still not sure how they did it, but the makers of American Psycho managed to make a psychopathic murderer with an uncontrollable bloodlust the star of the show. It can’t be his unrelenting urge to torture and murder prostitutes and people who get in his way that makes us like him so much, so it must be everything else. Perhaps it’s his constant desire to fit in with a lifestyle that doesn’t agree with him — a totally understandable human emotion. Like most of us, he desires something else, except he just wants to murder people. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a bizarre sense of humor that you know is a robotic act in an attempt to appear normal.
Ferris Bueller – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
For the most part, going to high school with someone like Ferris Bueller could be described as nothing short of a nightmare. He’s cocky, always gets what he wants, and seems to have very little regard for anyone but himself. However, Although he goes to great lengths to skip school, lie to his parents, and take advantage of his friends, there’s something undeniably cool about him. There’s a reason why everybody wants to be his friend or are willing to look the other way for him. It’s because he’s doing what everybody wanted to do but never had the guts. He’s not really doing anything that bad, he’s just taking normal teenage tomfoolery to a whole new level and you have to give him credit for it.
Can you guess the antihero from A Clockwork Orange?
Tyler Durden – Fight Club
Tyler Durden from Fight Club represents just about everything your mother taught you not to be. He’s a rule breaker full of angst, he’s violent, he’s overly sexual, and he turned an underground fight club into a full-fledged terrorist group. Yet, although he’s all of these things we consider to be bad, it’s no surprise that everyone wants to be like Tyler Durden after watching Fight Club. He’s charismatic, attractive, smart, resourceful, and most of all a leader. Just like Edward Norton’s character, he’s everything that we all want to be, and that doesn’t mean that he has to set a good example by any means.
John Rambo – First Blood
If you follow John Rambo’s character arc throughout the entire Rambo franchise, it ends with him being an altruistic character and the clear hero of the story. However, if you analyze the first film First Blood, it’s nowhere nearly as obvious. Throughout the movie, he makes some highly questionable decisions as he proceeds to go on a rampage after a rough run-in with some local cops. Although he only kills one person in the film, you would hope not everyone reacts to being pushed around like that. With that being said, it’s impossible not to side with Rambo. He’s a returning Vietnam Veteran that is greeted home with harassment and violence by a group of cops for no apparent reason. Of course, he’s going to snap, and you can’t condemn him when he does.
Derek Vinyard – American History X
American History X opens up with a horrific sequence that leaves the audience shocked and sickened by the actions of Derek Vinyard. What he does can be understood as an unforgivable act even as the film follows his path of retribution. Although he may have seemed to have turned his life around or is trying his best, we are constantly reminded through flashbacks of all of the deplorable things he had said and done in the past. Yet, it’s the combination of these that make him the perfect antihero. By no means would you ever want to be (or have been) like Derek Vineyard, but you respect the great lengths and personal struggles he endures to try and make it right again.
Alex – A Clockwork Orange
Alex is nothing short of vile in Stanley Kubrick’s disturbing film A Clockwork Orange. In the beginning, an ideal night for him consists of drinking some laced milk and proceeding to go on “ultra-violence” spree which consists of beating up old men, fighting other gangs, and brutally raping women in their own homes. Although these may seem like the acts of a disturbed psychopath, in reality, people have more in common with Alex than they first think. He’s actually a very intelligent young man with deep thoughts and real emotions. He knows what he did was wrong which is why you can’t help but feel bad for him during his rehabilitation process and what follows after.
The Dude – The Big Lebowski
In The Big Lebowski, the Dude’s position in society is made clear by numerous characters. It’s not unusual for him to be called something along the likes of a “bum” or “deadbeat,” and they’re not wrong. Really, all the Dude wants to do is bowl with his buddies, drink White Russians, and “enjoy the occasional acid flashback.” At his age, most people see this to be rather pathetic, but for the Dude, it’s the life. What makes this character so appealing is that number one he’s absolutely hilarious, and number two, he has no shame or regrets living the lifestyle that he wants to. Most people care too much about what other’s think or are afraid to stray away from from the status quo. But not the Dude, he’s completely content and will keep “takin’ ‘er easy for all of us sinners”.
Henry Hill – Goodfellas
In Martin Scorcese’s 1990 gangster film Goodfellas, Henry Hill lives a life of crime. He’s a professional thief, he’s unfaithful and violent, he’s a drug dealer and numerous other things that make it easy to call his character a bad guy. However, it’s apparent throughout the film that Henry was never actually cut out for the line of work that he does. It’s always what he wanted, but it’s not in his nature. This is clear when he’s squeamish about murder or is willing to help others because he’s a sensitive guy. So although he has set the bar low, he’s still the only person to admire throughout the entire film and lets his sensitivity get to him in the end.
Mr. White – Reservoir Dogs
Mr. White plays with the audience’s emotions throughout the entirety of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. From the beginning, it’s clear that he’s not a good person and only hints at any goodness within him. Other than that, he’s a cold-hardened criminal that doesn’t think twice to kill if it means getting the job done. However, his morality is revealed when a job goes south and he’s willing to protect and comfort a dying partner that he doesn’t even know. He even goes so far as to risk his life for him in the end. However, upon realizing that the man he was taking care of is an undercover cop, he kills him himself. Although it’s a whirlwind of a character arch, his actions make Mr. White one of (if not the most) amiable character of the film.
See why Jules Winnfield is an antihero from Pulp Fiction.
Jules Winnfield – Pulp Fiction
Yet another Quentin Tarantino film that relies on the use of an antihero is his film Pulp Fiction. At the start of the film, Jules Winnfield works as a hitman alongside the character Vince Vega. He has no consideration for human life and has no remorse killing a roomful of people just because he’s told to. Alongside the comic relief he provides throughout the of the film, he continually brings up an internal dilemma he’s experiencing about fate, who he is, and who he wants to be. At the end of the film, instead of killing someone, he has “a moment of clarity” and decides to leave everything behind and “walk the earth.” It’s an interesting transition but ultimately you’re happy for him.
Gollum – The Lord of the Rings
At one point, Gollum was a Hobbit known as Sméagol. However, upon finding the One Ring, he became corrupted and was turned into the creature known as Gollum. Throughout the trilogy, he is battling with an internal predicament of whether to help the Hobbits destroy the ring which he knows is right, or to take it for himself. At times, he really is trying to help and at others, he is being malicious with his own agenda. However, in the end, it’s difficult to criticize Gollum from his actions. He did play a big role in helping destroy the ring, and his transgressions can be overlooked because he was a victim of the ring more than anything.
Is Django a true hero in Django Unchained?
Django – Django Unchained
After watching Django Unchained, most people would agree that Django was in the right. He had a brutal life as a slave, he was separated from his wife, and he did what was necessary to get her back. Although he is portrayed as a hero with the audience rooting for him the whole time, there’s no denying that he left his morals at the door to do so. For example, at one point, Django enlists with Dr. Schultz and works as a bounty hunter, killing men he hardly knows for money. Although his end goal is to find his wife, it’s tricky to argue that his actions were right in any way. Yes, he is driven by seeing his wife again, but he also manages to leave an absolute bloodbath behind him in the process. But we wouldn’t expect anything less from Django.
Bryan Mills – Taken Series
Bryan Mills from the action series Taken falls into the same category as Django. Yes, something very important was taken from him and he won’t stop at anything to get it back. But at what cost? Just because somebody has your daughter in another country doesn’t mean it’s right to go shooting first and asking questions later while destroying everything in your path. Sure, it’s fun to watch and makes sense at the time, but in reality, if his daughter wasn’t missing, Bryan Mills would be nothing short of a psychopathic mass murderer…but we love him for it.
Severus Snape – Harry Potter Series
For the entirety of the Harry Potter series, the potions master Severus Snape could be understood as one of the major villains within the story. Yet, as it turns out, he’s been on Harry’s side all along which is revealed in the end. However, what’s interesting about his character is that he enjoys tormenting Harry because he actually doesn’t like him. Although he’s helping him for the greater good, he has no problem putting him in his place and letting him know how he really feels about him. Snape is an excellent example of the questionable duality that lies within the antihero.
Walt Kowalski – Gran Torino
In Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, Eastwood himself plays the role of Walt Kowalski. Walt can be described as not much more than a salty, racist, old and angry Korean War veteran. He makes his distaste for his own family very well-known (although they deserve it) and has no problem being openly racist to his neighbors or other people that live around him. He’s rude to basically everyone including the church priest and hates everything except his dog Daisy and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yet, as the film progresses, he manages to put his prejudice aside and finds himself as the mentor to the neighbor that tried to steal his car, and the protector of his whole family. Although he never turns into a total angel, his transformation is impressive and makes him a character of substantial worth.
Sweeney Todd: Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Benjamin Barker, better known as Sweeney Todd, once lived a happy life with his wife and baby daughter. Then, one day, a judge had him shipped off to prison because he wanted his wife for himself. So, when Todd got out, he came back with a murderous vengeance and a disgust for all humanity. So, he began killing every man that came into his barbershop for a shave, waiting for the judge to come in one day. While this can be seen as highly unethical and fully psychopathics, Todd was running on his own ethical codes which he believed called for his actions at the time. Because of what Todd went through, the audience can sympathize with what he’s going through and long for him to get his revenge as well.