Top 10 Anti-Heroes in Film

Top 10 Films gets up close and personal with those elusive, often mysterious anti-heroes. Are they good? Are they bad? Well, they like to think they’re a little of both…

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In recent film, it seems an increasingly popular trend for movie makers to shy away from the gratuitous archetypal role of ‘the hero’. The notion of ‘anti-hero’ remedies a tired movie stereotype and fits a modern audience’s need for characters who reflect a genuine model of contemporary society. No longer is a hero a character with unscathed reputation or flawless personality, today’s hero mirrors a believable character who, despite their more than apparent failings rises against the odds to win the day.

Here are 10 of the best to don the silver screen:

Eric Draven (The Crow, 1994)


The Alex Proyas-directed 1994 cult classic The Crow is the birth place of one of the most notorious anti-heroes in film. Protagonist, Eric Draven is brought back from the dead by the power of a crow to seek revenge on his and his fiancé’s murderers. One by one Draven picks off his assassins until he comes face to face with gang leader Top Dollar, where the two embrace in an epic battle to the death.

Robin Hood (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991)


History’s favourite lovable rogue who robs from the rich and gives to the poor was famously brought to life by Kevin Costner in the 1991 classic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Although the audience’s affiliation of good and evil is never doubted within the film, Robin of Loxley himself played against the rules of the gentry at the time carving his anti-hero status in history.

Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean, 2003)


The character Captain Jack Sparrow, of the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, starting with the 2003 smash The Curse of the Black Pearl, is the epitome of the idea of anti-hero. The character’s constant ambiguity between good and evil throughout the whole saga gives him his deserved place in this list.

Rorschach (The Watchmen, 2009)


Just as in The Crow, the vigilante actions of the protagonist, Rorschach, earns him the title of anti-hero. Based on the original DC comic, the 2009 action thriller Watchmen, tells the story of a disillusioned, disenfranchised band of super heroes no longer wanted by the populace of a fictional 1985 New York. Once one of their own is brutally murdered the former city heroes embark on a winding tale of detective work.

Leon (Leon, 1994)


In the 1994 film of the same name, the protagonist, Leon, saves a young girl from certain death after her parents are killed in a corrupt police attack. The contradictory nature of the plant loving, milk drinking Leon makes him an anti-hero to remember. Assassin by trade, Leon brings young Mathilda into his world and teaches her the ropes in an attempt to wreak vengeance on her family’s killers.

Marv (Sin City, 2005)


Again, set in a graphic novel inspired back drop, this film noir, pulp fiction aesthetically stylised movie tells the intertwining stories of three separate protagonists, all trying to find their way in this city of debauchery and of course, sin. Although all three protagonists to his own tale have their element of anti-hero, Marv wins on that front. His rough, disfigured appearance matched with his apparent zeal for violence make him the perfect body guard for any lady of the night.

The Driver (Drive, 2011)


Ryan Gosling does justice to the driver of unknown name in the 2011 film, Drive. As always with our anti-heroes, Gosling portrays a rough rouge with a heart of gold. The ambiguity between good and evil comes from his mixed up past and his tendency to play by his own rules. The element of romance within the plot shows the audience a glint of emotion from the driver, making him the perfect anti-hero.

Tyler Durden (Fight Club, 1999)


Although imaginary, Tyler Durden reflects most the embodiment of what the blue collared, down trodden, consumerist masses secretly wish they could be: free, in every way. David Fincher’s 1999 film feast depicting a run of the mill man’s decent into madness is based on the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk of the same name. Schizophrenic, soap selling, alter ego, Tyler Durden brings anti-hero to a new level as he comes to save the person in whose mind he resides.

Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1976)


With the dark echoes of the Vietnam conflict still ringing in his ears, Travis Bickle drives his taxi around the decadent corruption and sleaze that is night time in New York. Robert De Niro brings an honest depiction of a character who is simply trying to find good in the world. The jaded, cynical and at times violent protagonist of the 1976 movie Taxi Driver is brought back from the brink of apathetic meltdown by his noble acts involving teenage prostitute Iris.

William Munny (Unforgiven, 1992)


The line between hero and villain is again blurred by the cowboy turned farmer and all round bad ass William Munny. Munny’s rouge ways were turned into a life of agriculture for his young wife years before but after her death, looking after the farm and two children was up to the main protagonist played by Clint Eastwood. The 1992 film Unforgiven then takes an unexpected turn when one of the town’s favourite ladies is killed and a bounty slapped on the heads of the cowboys to blame. Munny takes the opportunity and saddles up with his old pall Ned for one last adventure.

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Your turn – what are your favourite anti-heroes in film?

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  1. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    Great list, Travis would be my no 1 choice as well. Another character that comes to mind is the assassin in The Day of The Jackal (1973), who we kind of root for.

  2. Avatar
    Novroz Reply

    Nice list, Dan
    I only knew some of them, Sparrow, Robin and The Crow. can Batman be considered as antihero? just wondering.

    My favorite anti-heroes is not from film, they are from Manga.

  3. Avatar
    Kaiderman Reply

    Oh, Dan… where the hell is Han Solo???

    Great list though. Tough to conjure up!

  4. Avatar
    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Dan and company:

    A very good list for such a plump cache of characters!

    Agree with Chris and his choice of Edward Fox as the Jackal.

    Nick Nolte’s modern Zen Samurai, Ray Hicks in ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain'(1978) leaps to mind for Honorable Mention.

  5. Avatar
    Evan Reply

    A solid list. Well done.

  6. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Not sure about Eddie Fox in The Day of the Jackel (he was just a wee bit too enigmatic), but Nolte in Who’ll Stop the Rain? is a worthy contender (which reminds me Jack, I gotta look for that again … haven’t seen it for over 20 years).

    Leo Di Caprio in Blood Diamond also deserves a mention – one of his great roles.

    If Eastwood can get it for Unforgiven, then what about Holden/Borgnine/Oates and Johnson in The Wild Bunch, that quartet of anti-heros who don’t give a hoot about getting women and kiddies involved in gun battles, but then take on the Mexican army in a futile suicidal-existential venture to rescue one of their members (whom they have already turned their collective back on).

    And speaking of Holden, what about his performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai? Now there was a true anti-hero.

    Finally, Dennis Hopper as Ripley in The American Friend – sure he sets up Bruno Ganz as a murderer to pay back a mob debt, but then he tries to rescue him, thus giving director Wenders the opportunity to turn the whole thing into a road movie during the film’s third act.

  7. Avatar
    Alex Withrow Reply

    Ahhh great list, and with Mr. Bickle, my all time favorite movie character, here, how can I possibly argue?

    The Driver, Durden, Marv, Munny… great stuff!

  8. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    What an excellent list. I’d have Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon on here other than that, a cool list. I would have Bickle at #1 that film and character…….the ultimate ant-hero.

  9. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    I would also have to include Rupert Pupkin from The King Comedy. Scorsese is just a master at creating
    anti-heroes.

    “It’s better to be king for a night, then a schmuck for a lifetime”

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