Top Ten Movie Antiheroes

This will honestly end up being one of the most fun lists I’ll ever get to make. Antiheroes make for some of the best movie characters ever, plain and simple. It was some what of a blast to look back over all the movies I love and realize just how interesting some of the characters are. It was intriguing to look through movies and actually decide for myself whether a character is an antihero. This is a list my favorite protagonists in film that don’t fit the definition of you’re average hero.

I want to be clear though and say that not all of the characters on this list can be considered “bad”. An antihero doesn’t have to be evil, the character just can’t fit the bill of hero. While this was one of the most gratifying lists I’ve ever made, it was also one of the more difficult ones. There were, in fact, a few that just didn’t make the cut and I’d like to mention them. I almost had Antonio Saleri on the list, but he didn’t end up making it. Also, I juggled the idea of putting the scheming Jack Sparrow and the careless Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, but I unfortunately had no room for them. If I were to have an eleventh I would have to say Mark Zuckerberg because I just loved what Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher did with that character. I had to mention those honorably, but now let’s get into the actual list.

10. Charles Bronson (Bronson)

I am actually some what depressed that I was only able to give Michael “Charlie Bronson” Peterson the tenth slot in my list, but I unfortunately didn’t have the heart to make anyone lower. Tom Hardy gives a performance that other actors can only dream of giving as main character, Bronson. The character is dark, brutal, deranged and morbid, but not with out a sense of comedy from time to time.

9. Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange)

Many might be surprised to find Alex DeLarge this low on a list of antiheroes. Where as, yes, Alex DeLarge can easily be considered the most evil of the characters on this list, I would not consider him my favorite antihero. This list, however, would not feel complete with out him. This is a character that could’ve easily been the antagonist of a movie. Instead, A Clockwork Orange examines a character filled with apathy and malevolence.

8. Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver)

This is another selection I’m sure most would be disappointed in, not because its on the list, but because it wouldn’t be surprising to see Travis Bickle in the #1 slot. I love Taxi Driver and Travis Bickle is an amazing character, but I had to decide on an order. Robert De Niro puts his all into his work and when he’s given a character as enthralling as Bickle, it’s hard to imagine that anything would go wrong and nothing did. Travis Bickle is an awesome antihero.

7. Mark Renton (Trainspotting)

Trainspotting is a grim, yet beautiful mosaic of life itself pieced together through the adventures of misfits. There are highs, there are lows and at the heart of the masterpiece is the development and study of protagonist, Mark Renton. Like most of his mates, Mark Renton is a junky. He is defined, at first, by his opening monologue, “I chose not to choose life. I chose something else and the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroine?” He may be getting off the stuff, he may be relapsing and he may be shooting a dog so it’ll attack its owner, but he’s always an awesome antihero.

6. Michael Corleone (The Godfather Part I+II)

Whether I’m discussing his dark character arc in The Godfather or Al Pacino’s masterful performance in The Godfather Part II, I’m still discussing one of the of the greatest characters in cinema and one hell of an antihero. Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone was a performance that could make one speechless, but for me it’s a performance that doesn’t even compare to what Pacino did with by far the best character in the story. It takes two movies, but Michael Corleone’s transformation from the most decent Corleone into the most despicable is nothing short of extraordinary.

5. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Yes, I was just introduced to this character for the first time last year, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with every aspect that makes up Lisbeth Salander and there was never any hesitation as to whether I’d put her on this list. The titular girl with the dragon tattoo is relentlessly mesmerizing. She’s dark, she’s layered, she’s damaged, she’s desensitized, she can be brutal, she can be lovable, she can be kind, she can be insane and she is, as described in her first scene, “different”. Some may argue that Lisbeth isn’t an antihero, but I don’t think its in the repertoire of your average hero to set your father on fire or shove a metal rod into a man’s ass. She’s an antihero and one of the best.

4. Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)

He is one of a handful of main characters in one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever created. He also happens to be the most compelling character of the film and the greatest antihero in a film full of great antiheroes. The well-spoken hit man, Jules Winnfield, is my favorite aspect of one of my favorite films and to keep him off this list would be a sin. The character of Jules is as enthralling as he is enjoyable. It’s a blast watching the way he works to interrogate his victims before blasting away and then later, it’s inspirational to watch his character arc come to fruition in one of my favorite scenes in film. Winnfield is unarguably one of the greatest antiheroes in film.

3. William Munny (Unforgiven)

“I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawls at sometime or another.” Through honesty, this is a quote that serves as a reminder of who we’ve been watching throughout the film, Unforgiven. This is the same character who never previously failed to attempt to convince himself and the people around him that he “ain’t like that no more”. William is the most honest, monogamous, and decent character in the film, yet by the end it’s realized he can also be considered the most cruel and despicable.

Unforgiven is the greatest western in existence and it has a lot to offer story-wise and thematically. It manages this through the study of a man thrust into a world of lust, violence and lawlessness. William Munny describes his character and the themes of the film with a single, simplistic line, “We all have it comin’, kid.” Unforgiven will always and forever be one of my favorite movies and it would be nothing with out its profound protagonist.

2. Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood)

It was unbearably difficult to make this list and one the most difficult aspects of its creation came from having to place Daniel Plainview in this slot when he could’ve easily been considered my favorite antihero in existence, but after much consideration I placed him here. There Will Be Blood offers up the greatest character study in film. It’s not only the greatest because it’s a flawlessly made film and the study of Plainview never fails to keep your interest, but also because, through beautiful writing and one of the greatest performances in all of film, in Daniel Plainview you find one of the most fascinating characters ever.

No other film, not Refn’s Bronson, not Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, not even Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, examines a character so mind-numbngly deranged and despicable and does so with so much flair. Paul Thomas Anderson is a master director, but it took a mix of him and the greatest actor of all time to create the monster that is Daniel Plainview. What can be said? The greed and hatred of Daniel Plainview is something you have to experience for yourself because like most masterpieces it’ll mean something different than what it meant for me.

1. Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

Fight Club is simply one of my favorite films. That’s all there is to it and that’ll never change. Every ounce of me is madly in love with every minute detail that makes up the masterpiece that is Fight Club. What comes with a love for the film, Fight Club, is an unconditional love for the character, Tyler Durden. Tyler Durden is one of my favorite cinematic characters in existence and he’s my favorite antihero in film.

Fight Club offers up a portrait of a generation that has “no great war or great depression”. This is a generation with nothing to be remembered for and once this realization comes to fruition the angst, anger and anarchy is driven by one man. He’s the epitome of cool, he knows what to say and when to say it and you listen because you know he’s right (“in Tyler we trusted”), he lets that which does not matter truly slide and he’s everything you wish you could be.

“It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” It’s constant words of wisdom like this that make Tyler Durden the leader that is understandably followed and one of the most spectacular characters in film. There’s a lot to the idea of Tyler Durden and he’s something of a wonder that would take a while to establish, but what puts him at the top of my list is the epiphany by the end that there’s a Tyler Durden in all of us and that’s a fact that can’t be ignored. This very idea encapsulates why antiheroes are so fascinating. They aren’t usually black and white, antiheroes are the greys in between and Tyler Durden is the greatest in film.

9 thoughts on “Top Ten Movie Antiheroes

  1. Terrific choices! there are a few I have never seen, but I am happy to see Alex, Travis and Tyler on here surely! Definitely great characcters who would be on my list! Oh, and who could forget about Jules?
    Excellent post!

  2. It would be really cool to see a Redemption list, i.e. antiheroes that throughout the course of the film become heroes. Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction are great examples. It would be sooooooo legit.

    • That would be interesting, but with those two examples I wouldn’t say that either really become heroes. I mean maybe I’d give you Jules, but I wouldn’t say Mark Renton is a hero by the end. We’ve seen him off heroine before and then he relapses. It’s ambiguous as to whether or not he actually stays off of it. Regardless though, Renton’s change or lack there of isn’t the point of the movie for me. If it were he might’ve been higher on my list, but Trainspotting isn’t defined by it’s characters, it uses its characters to establish broader ideas of being.

  3. Well, I mean, in terms of Renton, he doesn’t necessarily become the perfect, streamlined hero, but the thing is that at the end, he’s reformed the way that he views the world and his place in it. At the beginning of the film, he chooses to not choose life, instead choosing to numb himself to life, abusing heroine in an attempt to distance himself from the world and create a reality for himself where he doesn’t have to deal with the problems of the world. In the frame of mind that he holds at the beginning of the film, conformity to a calm, sustainable life is an incredibly terrifying idea. However, by the end of the movie, he realizes that by accepting the terms of an ‘average’ life, he will find more freedom than he has under the all-consuming yoke of heroin and chooses life. Major character change; switches from anti-society to pro-society; ergo, Redemption.

    • Even if Renton did change the way you described I wouldn’t say he’s no longer an antihero. My statement that was proposed prior still stands. There is no certainty that he changed, he just says he chooses life. Besides, the possibility of redemption wasn’t a big deal for me because regardless the same ideas are established. That’s why the film ended where it did. There was thematic closure, but a lack of closure on Renton’s character arc and the way I looked at it, it was perfect.

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