21 Best Anti-heroes in Media

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Everyone loves a good hero. Their objective morality and death-defying antics inspire us to become better people. But what about the characters that don’t precisely fit the hero mold? That is when a character becomes an antihero.  

Digging through media reviews and forums, this list comprises the not-so-good guys people love to root for. From morally gray superheroes to mass murderers, antiheroes highlight how fickle the line is between hero and villain. Settle in. Things are about to get dark.

1. Tony Montana, Scarface (1983)

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The ultimate bad guy, Tony Montana, is the standard by which all drug cartel members are judged. He is a Cuban immigrant who rises to power within the cocaine trade by utilizing extreme violence and a general disregard for his well-being.

However, Montana’s downfall highlights why he is such a fantastic antihero. Montana recognizes that he is considered a monster by many. Still, in his mind, he is a good man trying to protect his family. Following his moral code, he refuses to kill children. This line ultimately causes him to lose his life in a blizzard of cocaine and bullets.

2. Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood (2007)

Photo Credit: Miramax Films.

This ruthless oil tycoon will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Daniel Plainview is presented as an ultra-capitalist whose only interest is furthering his career. He has a general disdain for humanity and uses violence or manipulation to achieve his goals.

Yet, Plainviewl is morally ambiguous at times. At the film’s beginning, he adopts a child after his father dies. Sure, he uses the child as a tool to get what he wants. But taking in an orphaned child indicates that Plainview has a heart buried underneath all that contempt.

3. Han Solo, Star Wars (1977)

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

The ultimate bad boy, Han Solo, has stolen the hearts and minds of his viewers for generations. Presenting himself as a neutral party, Solo doesn’t need to take a side in the galactic wars from which he profits. Yet, he bonds with the rebellion and sides with them in every conflict. This highlights Solo’s moral compass and compassion.

4. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Photo Credit: MGM.

Often cited as a villain, Hannibal Lecter is also a marvelous antihero. He is a brutal cannibal who feasts on the flesh of his victims but also helps the FBI track down prolific killers. He only does this to serve his own needs. But without his help, countless people would die at the hands of people like Buffalo Bill.

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5. Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

This is the worst pirate you will ever hear about. Jack Sparrow is a disgraced sea captain whose only motivation is to return to his ship, the Black Pearl. He manipulates every one around him and cares little for the harm he causes others.

However, Sparrow is also willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. His fall from grace came from his refusal to transport a ship after discovering it carried 100 slaves. Abandoning the slave trade marked him as a traitor, thus forcing his hand into piracy.

6. Carrie White, Carrie (1976)

Photo Credit: MGM.

Carrie is a tragic story about a young girl who just wanted to be loved. Unfortunately, all she ends up receiving is hatred and abuse. As a result, she murders her entire school and then her mother. Carrie then tragically dies from the knife wound her mother inflicted upon her.

The horror community continues to debate Carrie White’s classification as an antihero. While much of her violence is self-defense, she also kills many innocent people. Whether antihero or sympathetic villain, Carrie White is a beautiful character who has entertained viewers for generations.

7. Michael Corleone, The Godfather (1972)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Revenge can corrupt even the best of intentions. Michael Corleone is a war veteran who wants nothing to do with his father’s Mafia ties. However, things change for Corleone when his father is mortally wounded.

Once a man of virtue, Corleone enjoys his new power. He strikes down his enemies without hesitation and becomes the most ruthless boss the Mafia has ever seen. 

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8. Walter White, Breaking Bad (2008)

Photo Credit: AMC.

Breaking Bad is one of the greatest shows ever created. As such, audiences still aren’t sure how to classify the series’s protagonist. Walter White is a teacher-turned-meth cook who rules the drug trade with an iron fist, killing anyone who gets in his way.

However, he only turns to crime after being failed by the American healthcare system. Unable to provide for his family, he feels he has no choice but to engage in illegal affairs. In White’s mind, he is doing the wrong things for the right reasons.

9. Tony Soprano, The Sopranos (1999)

Photo Credit: HBO.

The Sopranos represent the golden age of television. Tony Soprano, the head of a local crime family, is conflicted by his role in organized crime. However, his moral conflicts don’t stop him from committing acts of murder and profiting from the suffering of others.

Soprano feels he is doing what is best for his family and community. Yet, he willingly ignores the harm he actively causes to those around him.

10. Don Draper, Mad Men (2007)

Photo Credit: Lionsgate Television.

Jon Hamm is a national treasure who improves every project he is involved with. His outstanding performance as Don Draper in Mad Men gave audiences a unique type of antihero. While most of the names on this list engage in regular acts of violence, Draper achieves his goals through manipulation and sabotage.

Although most people who come into contact with Draper are worse off than when they started, he does occasionally go out of his way to help the little guy. This heartfelt approach shows that he is buried under his misogyny. He is a man who is trying to do what he thinks is right.

11. Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

Fight Club is a story meant to warn about loneliness, toxic masculinity, and untreated mental illness. However, that idea gets somewhat obscured when the charming Tyler Durden presents it to audiences.

Durden believes life would be better if we returned to a simpler, nonmaterialistic life. While this may be true to a certain extent, he doesn’t factor in the harm his actions will cause those unable to take up arms against the system.

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12. V, V  for Vendetta (1991)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Based on Alan Moore’s works, V for Vendetta takes place in a dystopian world where religion and fascism have taken over the state. V takes up arms and begins a revolution to free the people from oppression. Although his actions are for the betterment of society, V has no problem enacting cruelty and ruthlessness to achieve his goal.

13. Deadpool, Deadpool (2016)

Photo Credit: Marvel Entertainment.

Everyone’s favorite assassin, Deadpool, is Marvel’s most notable antihero. As an assassin for hire, Deadpool serves himself, not the greater good. That being said, he often teams up with the Marvel heroes to fight the bad guys. The reason for this is simple. You can’t make any money if the world is destroyed.

14. Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction (1994)

Photo Credit: Miramax.

Quentin Tarantino’s most significant work, Pulp Fiction, is filled with morally gray figures. However, none of these characters seem to struggle with their actions as much as Jules Winnfield. Seeing himself as a cog in the machine, Winnfield does what is needed to get paid. However, he can show kindness and wisdom when the times allow.

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15. John Wick, John Wick (2014)

John Wick (2014)
Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.

Although he can be seen as the hero of his story, John Wick is serving himself, not the greater good. As a former assassin, tales of his murder sprees have made him infamous in the crime world. As Wick hunts down those who have harmed him, he causes vast amounts of destruction and kills anyone who gets in his way.

16. Bryan Mills, Taken (2009)

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

As a man searching for his daughter, Bryan Mills recalls his military training and uses it to enact vengeance against her kidnappers. Mills kills countless people in his journey to save a single life. He is not interested in saving the other women harmed by this group, only his daughter. His reckless abandon likely caused harm to innocents as well as disrupting any police investigation into the slavery ring.

17. Frank Castle, Punisher (2004)

Photo Credit: Lionsgate Entertainment.

The Punisher is the ultimate symbol of the antihero. After a crime lord kills his family, Frank Castle sets off to cleanse the world with fire. Although we can understand his motivations, his actions end up causing more harm than good.

Castle is a victim of black-and-white thinking. Instead of focusing on the systemic problems that cause crime, he believes it would be easier to kill all the criminals.

18. Omar Little, The Wire (2002)

Photo Credit: HBO.

A man has to have a code. Omar Little is one of the best characters in The Wire. Working outside of the law, he makes his money by robbing drug dealers, which leads him to believe that he is something of a modern-day Robin Hood.

However, his actions tend to cause more violence in the neighborhoods, and the drug dealers try to kill him. These street battles cause the death of innocent people as well as his friends and accomplices.

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19. Dexter Morgan, Dexter (2006)

Photo Credit: Showtime.

Dexter asked audiences an interesting question: If you only murder bad people, are you good? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is still undecided. What is clear is that Dexter Morgan’s killing spree hurt good and bad people. Whatever his intentions, his operations did not make the world safer.

20. John Constantine, Constantine (2005)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

DC’s best magical practitioner, Constantine, is a neutral party trying to save his soul from the pits of hell. He battles angels and demons alike to reach his goals. Although he often does the right thing, it is purely for selfish motives.

Constantine routinely harms anyone who gets close to him if it will benefit him. He does show remorse for the terrible things he has done, but that doesn’t stop him from doing it repeatedly.

21. L, Death Note (2007)

Photo Credit: D.N. Dream Partners.

Death Note is a wonderful anime about a detective trying to stop a mysterious mass murderer. Known only as L, this master detective uses his wits and cunning to try and outmaneuver his opponent. However, L only cares about proving his superiority, not saving lives.

L routinely puts people in danger to achieve his goals. He even goes so far as to unlawfully detain and torture individuals to get closer to the killer. His pride overshadows his heightened intellect and becomes his downfall.

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