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The Top Anti-Heroes and Why We Love Them

"V for Vendetta" from Warner Bros.
“V for Vendetta” from Warner Bros.

From Odysseus to Titus Andronicus, writers and creatives have been dipping their toes into the anti-hero pool for quite some time. These dark journeymen are not new on the scene, though they may be more popular than they ever have been before. While these brooding and flawed bad boys (and bad girls!) don’t always do the right thing, they somehow feel just a little bit more real, and as a result, tend to be more compelling than their squeaky-clean competitors.

In celebration of the anti-hero, here are 9 anti-heroes we have loved over the years:  

  1. Dirty Harry

In what is perhaps Clint Eastwood’s most iconic role, he portrays Harry Callahan, a cop on the hunt for a killer, a cop that will do anything, legal or illegal, to take his prey down.

  1. From Dusk Till Dawn

Seth Gecko, as portrayed by George Clooney, may just be one of the sexiest anti-heroes on our list (or ever, for that matter). With his tattooed neck, quotable lines, and criminal intent, he’s exactly the right man to lead the fight against the undead.

  1. V for Vendetta

Set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, V for Vendetta, like many anti-hero stories, is based on a comic book series. Portrayed by Hugo Weaving, and giving us some of cinema’s most memorable speeches (complete with rhyming, alliteration, and more), V exemplifies what many anti-heroes have in common: a tortured and complicated past and an unwieldy ax to grind.

  1. Dexter

Speaking of tortured pasts, Dexter Morgan doesn’t quite know how to people. It’s not an insult, it’s just a fact. With the proper guidance, your PTSD-suffering foster kid could also become the next vigilante serial killer. (I kid, don’t do that.) Somehow, despite the fact that he murders people in his free time, you just can’t help but root for Dexter.

  1. Breaking Bad

They weren’t kidding when they named this show Breaking Bad. Walter White goes from an unassuming high school chemistry teacher to a cold and calculating drug kingpin in next to no time flat. Heisenberg’s genesis is truly a marvel of modern television.

  1. The Sopranos

Speaking of guys that make you confused, no one is ever really sure whether or not they should actually be rooting for Tony Soprano, the patriarch of this HBO series. And yet we do it anyway. Without fail. Perhaps it was James Gandolfini’s real-life nice-guy persona shining through, or perhaps the writing was just that good? I like to think it’s a little of both.

  1. Deadpool

I’m not entirely sure I agree with calling this guy a total anti-hero, but for argument’s sake, let’s say he is. He’s crass, unapologetic and hilarious. In what was truly a labor of love for Ryan Reynolds, the Deadpool film franchise has given us an anti-hero that actually makes us smile. (With this crew, that’s an unusual trait!)

  1. Punisher

Another of the very popular “vigilante” models, Francis Castle is the Punisher a man driven to seek revenge after his wife and children are killed. The character is portrayed in Netflix’s series by Jon Bernthal, in a role it would seem he was born to play.

  1. Nurse Jackie

Edie Falco portrays our title character, emergency room nurse Jackie Peyton. Jackie is likable and caring in her job, genuinely desiring to help her patients, but her personal struggles (up to and including drug addiction and adultery) are just as much a part of who she is.

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