8 Best Anti-Hero Characters

What’s an Anti-Hero?

When many people think of an anti-hero, they immediately imagine someone that it is the opposite of a hero. While this is mostly correct, there is much more to it than just this. To be considered an anti-hero, the character must be the protagonist of a story. Furthermore, the character must lack typical hero characteristics.

An anti-hero can present in a television show or movie in many different ways. They can be a flawed person or a villain. No matter how strong the anti-hero’s traits are, they usually have many things in common including: violent, aggressive, dishonest, morally ambiguous, brutal, ruthless, and someone that has no problem using any means to dish out what they deem as justice.

Who Created the Anti-Hero?

I don’t believe there is any way someone can point out exactly when and where the anti-hero character was created. Since literature came before cinema and television, it’s safe to say the anti-hero first existed in literature. In fact, anti-hero characters can be found in early literature including Roman satire, Greek drama, and Renaissance dramas.

Nowhere has the anti-hero character been more alive than in television and movies. As a big fan of literature, I find myself drawn to the anti-hero. Like most good girls, the bad boy demeanor of anti-heroes immediately draws me to them. The contrast between anti-heroes and traditional heroes is awesome. Both characters want to do good; both characters want to protect the ones they love, but each of them has very different ways of doing it.

Below are my favorite Anti-Hero Characters from TV and movies.

9. Harry Callahan “Dirty Harry”

Harry Callahan, better known as Dirty Harry, was my first introduction to the anti-hero character. Dirty Harry is famously portrayed by Clint Eastwood. In my opinion, Eastwood is the epitome of the anti-hero in Hollywood. Not only did he play the kickass inspector in the Dirty Harry franchise, but he has portrayed a badass in all movie roles since then. If you’ve never seen Eastwood in action as an anti-hero and have no desire to watch the Dirty Harry series – check out Eastwood in Gran Torino. After considering Eastwood in both these roles, it is pretty obvious he is the King of Macho.

8. Nancy Botwin

If you think it takes a man to be an anti-hero, you’d be wrong. In fact, some of the most entertaining anti-hero characters are actually women. One of my favorites is Nancy Botwin played by Mary-Louise Parker. Botwin was the central protagonist in the Showtime series Weeds. In this series, Botwin is an average, spoiled housewife until her beloved husband dies unexpectedly. After his death, she tumbles into a life of crime. While doing whatever she needs to keep her kids of out danger and provided for, she also relishes in the power she has received by becoming a drug dealer. No matter what you would do in her shoes, you can’t help but root for Nancy because she is doing whatever she needs to do to provide for her family.

7. Captain Jack Sparrow

While many anti-heroes scare children – some are endearing because children don’t understand how truly evil they are. One of the best anti-heroes ever created actually comes from Disney. Captain Jack Sparrow, played by the quirky Johnny Depp, is a drunken coward with flamboyant mannerisms. He is also a thief, a liar, and a criminal. However, when it comes to taking care of himself and those he holds near to his heart, Capt. Jack doesn’t care what laws he breaks to justify his means. Capt. Sparrow also isn’t afraid to be violent if he has too. Although most of his antics require more wits than muscles.

6. Daryl Dixon

Norman Reedus plays Daryl Dixon on the hit TV show The Walking Dead. Although Reedus isn’t the main character in the story, he is integral to the plot. One of the reasons Daryl Dixon is loved by audiences is because he is a badass. In the beginning, he truly only cared about himself and his derelict brother. As the show has matured, so has Dixon, but he hasn’t abandoned his bad boy, anti-hero demeanor. Adding to the intensity of Reedus’ character is the fact that he plays opposite the virtuous Rick. Rick and Daryl would have been at odds in real life, but in a post-apocalyptic world, they are each other’s best line of defense against life as a zombie.

5. Dominic Toretto

Dominic Toretto is portrayed by the hulky Vin Diesel in the Fast & Furious franchise. Dom, as he is known to his crew, is not a good guy. At least not when you look directly at him. However, when you start digging around a bit, it becomes obvious that Dom isn’t the hardened criminal everyone thinks he is. He may bust a few heads and doesn’t have much use for traditional laws, but when it comes to protecting his family and what he has worked hard to get, there is no line Dominic Toretto won’t cross – and this is why audiences love him.

4. Tony Soprano

Tony Soprano was no Marlon Brando, but he was the Godfather of New Jersey in the hit HBO series Sopranos. Tony Soprano was brought to life by the bigger than life James Gandolfini from 1999 to 2007.

During Tony’s reigns as a feared NJ mobster, viewers watched as he behaved ruthlessly and violently. Tony murdered his best friend, cheated on his wife, and ordered more than a few hits during his career. However, he also suffered from panic attacks and excruciating anxiety, which made it obvious that he didn’t want to be the person he was, but he was willing to do whatever he had to protect “the family,” his children, and his beloved Carmella.

3. Jax Teller

Charlie Hunnam was virtually unknown before he became the Vice President of the fictional motorcycle gang Sons of Anarchy. Hunnam brought the character Jax Teller to life and audiences immediately fell in love with the anti-hero.

Not only is Jax a ruthless felon, but he is also a drug runner, smuggler, and violent individual. Although Jax will do anything to protect his club and family, he also has a good heart. Unlike some of his brothers in the gang, Jax didn’t choose to be in SAMCRO. Instead he was born into it. His father, JT Teller, was the leader of the gang and died tragically when Jax was very young. His mother, Gemma Teller, immediately married JT’s best friend, Clay. Clay ran SAMCRO for years and primed Jax to be the leader of the gang.

After meeting the love of his life, Tara, Jax begins to be haunted by his dead father and questions his commitment to the gang. It is here that Jax truly becomes the anti-hero everyone loves today. He struggles with leading his gang and also being the father, husband, and son that he wished he could be.

2. Michael Corleone

It’s impossible to create a list of anti-heroes without talking about Michael Corleone brought to audiences by one of the best actors to ever live – Al Pacino. Michael Corleone was the heir to the mafia throne in the Godfather franchise. However, Michael had no interest in following in his family’s footsteps.

Instead, Michael left his family to begin a military career. When Michael came home, his father Vito expected him to fall into line; however, Michael resisted. After a series of events that Michael can’t help but avoid; he becomes entangled in the life of crime he worked so hard to resist. Despite his noble intentions, Michael quickly becomes more violent, ruthless, and murderous than his ancestors, but does so with the charm and goodheartedness that audiences can’t get enough of.

1. Tony Montana AKA Scarface

“Say hello to my little friend!” That is the quote Tony Montana/Scarface is most known for, but there is so much more to this exciting character.

I know what you’re thinking Tony Montana, really? Especially after Michael Corleone, also portrayed by Al Pacino was just mentioned. Well, the fact is that Al Pacino is famous for creating the beloved anti-hero character, and Tony Montana is on the top of this list.

Tony Montana comes to the United States as a humble Cuban refugee that just wants to make a new life in America. Before he knows what has happened, Tony is engulfed in a life of crime – and finds he is doing very well. Montana didn’t come to America to become a drug kingpin, but he quickly builds this lifestyle through violence, corruption, and stepping on any cock-a-roaches that get in his way.

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