It seems like the concept of the anti-hero is a recent invention among movies and TV. Just thirty-some years ago, the defining hero of my mom’s generation was Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, and about as noble a human being as one can be. This generation’s hero is a fifty-something drug dealer who poisons children and murders anybody who looks at him funny. Talk about a generation gap. If Breaking Bad had aired in the sixties, it would have caused a riot of WASPy parents that would have made the anti-music backlash of the eighties look like a calm and reasonable discussion.
In reality, the concept of the anti-hero has been around since the beginning of storytelling. The ancient Greeks had a crapload of them. In the ancient legends, Hercules may have been a great hero, but he was also a poster child for anger management issues, having killed his music teacher, Linus, with a lyre, for whatever reason. He was also an extreme womanizer, (As well as whatever the gay equivalent of womanizer is) and who would have put Hugh Hefner (And Freddy Mercury) to shame, with at least thirty different male and female conquests, spread out between (And during) four different marriages. Also, instead of in the Disney movie, where Hercules beats the hell out of Hades (See what I did there?) and ends up hooking up with his sassy, unnecessarily well endowed companion, Megara, Hercules leaves James Woods alone, but is driven mad by Hera (Who’s not his mother, and hates him, unlike in the movie) and, um, murders Megara and their four children.
So yeah, the concept of a slightly or largely amoral hero kicking ass and taking names isn’t a new one. It was just buried under the idea of classical heroism promoted by American propaganda during the depression (Superman, Batman),World War II (Captain America) and the Cold War (Iron Man). The anti-hero made a comeback around the seventies in movies, TV and comic books, thanks in large part to the anti-authoritarian ideals of those years, and is going strong to this day in the same three mediums.
Anyways, the following lists are the result of my quest to find the ten best anti-heroes in movies and television. There are several criteria for inclusion on this list though:
- I have to have seen their show/movie.
- They have to be the main protagonist of at least one movie (Which means that Hit-Girl and Severus Snape are not included).
- They can become a villain (Walter White), or start off as a villain (Tony Montana), but they have to be likable and adhere to a moral code (Which means that Daniel Plainview and that freaky kid from A Clockwork Orange are both out.)
- No, Batman is not an anti-hero. he does not lack altruism, idealism, courage, nobility, fortitude or moral goodness. Well, maybe not when Frank Miller writes him, but we’re not on comic books.
- A lack of a no-kill policy isn’t necessary, but it helps.
Anyways, let’s get this party started:
Appearances: X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class (Cameo), The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of the Future Past
Portrayed By: Hugh Jackman
Real Name: James “Logan” Howlett
Occupation: Adventurer, X-Man, former mercenary
No-Kill Policy?: No
A mutant with a tortured past, claws protruding from between his knuckles, a skeleton laced with indestructible adamantium and a healing factor that makes him damn near impossible to kill, this Canadian badass translated all too well from the comic book to the big screen, with Hugh Jackman using his natural Aussie charm to transform the character from short and ugly to tall and, well, gorgeous.
Born James Howlett, the most famous of the X-Men originated from the wilds of Alberta, Canada, where he and his feral mutant half-brother, Victor Creed, run away from home after James accidentally kills their father when his claws emerge for the first time. Fleeing to the States and put their superpowers to use, fighting in the Civil War, World Wars 1 and 2 and Vietnam, before being recruited into a mutant mercenary group, Team X, led by William Stryker, which also included such Marvel staples as Deadpool, John Wraith the,um, Blob, Agent Zero and Charlie from Lost. when he leaves the group due to their slaughter of innocents, he leaves Team X, is tricked into having adamantium bonded to his bones to make him even more indestructible, fights the thing that was supposed to be Deadpool, and has his girlfriend die, or something. I kind of hated this movie.
Anyways, he later joins the X-Men and fights the forces of intolerance, led by both Stryker and Ian McKellen’s Magneto, before leaving the group after the clusterfuck that was The Last Stand and retiring to the Yukon to befriend CGI bears and scare the shit out of poachers. After his adventures in Japan in his solid second solo appearance, it appears that Logan will return in Days of the Future Past to be the mutant Marty McFly, or something.
The amoral superhero’s on-screen depictions have been well-received, and have made Jackman one of the most recognizable actors in the world. And no matter how much work Brett Ratner and, to a much lesser extent, Gavin Hood put into making him look like a much bigger sissy than anybody with metal claws has any right to look like, the man known as Logan has still developed more depth then most superheroes, as shown by the awesome revelation scenes with William Stryker and Lady Deathstryke in X2 and the boring, poorly done flashbacks with tons of expendable characters in Origins. Long story short, as long as Brian Singer and/or James Mangold is there to direct, Wolverine should continue to develop into the force of nature comic fans know him to be.
Appearance: V for Vendetta
Portrayed by: Hugo Weaving
Real Name: ???
Occupation: Vigilante, Insurgent
No-Kill Policy: Nope.
Hero or villain? Revolutionary or terrorist? It’s up to the viewer to decide what to make of V, the Guy Fawkes masked anarchist from Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s classic graphic novel, V for Vendetta. The excellent film adaptation introduced moviegoers to his theatrical brand of violent anti-fascist insurgency.
Little is known about the man known only as V. His only known backstory is that he was imprisoned by the British government (Led by the fascist Norsefire party) at Larkhill Resettlement Camp, a death camp populated by political prisoners, homosexuals, Black people, Jews, Muslims, Indians and Pakistanis, which doesn’t exactly help nail his identity. Lucky(?) for him, he was not selected to be among the exterminated and was instead subjected to medical experimentation, which killed his fellow prisoners, but enhanced his strength and reflexes to abnormal levels, in addition to giving him genius-level intelligence, because giving your captive superhuman powers and intelligence is a good idea when you’re also trying to keep him under your thumb.
After his inevitable escape, V dons a Guy Fawkes mask and costume and begins both a personal vendetta against his captors at Larkhill, consisting of psychological torture and assassinations, and a revolt against the tyranny of the Norsefire party, characterized by his flair for the dramatic, his love of anarchism and explosives.
While V is s freedom fighter, and I think that we can all agree that we’d rather be anything but fascist, it’s important to note that also has a twisted sense of morality that can make us hate the charismatic revolutionary. Case in point, his psychological abuse of his protege, Evey. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more conflicted about a protagonist then when it was revealed that he orchestrated all that.
Nevertheless, thanks to the success of the film and the comic book (Which is better, in my opinion) V (Specifically, his Guy Fawkes mask) has become a symbol for civil rights movements around the world, including the Occupy Movement, the Egyptian Revolution and the activists, Anonymous.
Appearance: Django Unchained
Portrayed By: Jamie Foxx
Real Name: Django Freeman
Occupation: Bounty hunter, former slave
Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for writing and directing not only some fantastic movies, but also some excellent anti-heroes. Jules Winnfield, Beatrix Kiddo, Jackie Brown, Aldo Raine…
However, I chose to go with his most recent protagonist, the slave turned vengeful bounty hunter, Django.
Separated from his wife, Broomhilda, and sold into slavery, Django is rescued by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, who has been searching for the Brittle Brothers, a notorious gang of slave drivers and Django’s former owners. Schultz, who despises slavery, but is also an opportunist, offers Django a deal: Django becomes his apprentice and helps him find the Brittle Brothers and other dangerous criminals…
…and in return, Schultz helps him rescue Broomhilda from the clutches of the charismatic but insane slave driver, Calvin Candie, (Played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s in full “Just give me my fucking Oscar already” form).
Sure, there were a ton of off-putting things about the film, specifically, the close-up shots of blood spurting out of bullet wounds, the constant saying of the n-word, and Quentin Tarantino’s acting, but you don’t go to a movie about slavery expecting to see rainbows, Uncle Toms and butterflies, like in some Paula Deen wedding fantasy, or whatever. Slavery’s been pretty much taboo until recently, with movies like Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave contending for Oscars, and depicting the horrible, disgusting realities of slavery you didn’t see in Gone With the Wind. It helps that Django was a total badass, mowing down evil slave driver after evil slave driver and spewing memorable banter (“The “D” is silent”) left and right.
In short, Django is both a badass anti-hero, and a convenient way to alleviate white guilt. You can’t go wrong with that combo.
Join me in a few days as I keep counting down the Top 10 movie and TV anti-heroes.