5 best antiheroes in movie history

V For Vendetta

We all love a straight-edge good guy, but sometimes it’s more compelling to have a morally grey, does-what-he-pleases bad guy going good. One of cinema’s first antiheroes of note was Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name, and antiheroes have only gotten more and more popular since then.

Alex DeLarge

A Clockwork Orange
Image: Warner Bros.

A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece of antihero writing. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is a jaunty pervert and murderer who goes around beating people to showtunes and classical music. His exaggerated levels of enjoyment and swagger around his ultraviolence is so compelling to the audience. 

When he tries to reform, part of you wants to see a return to his sadistic ways just because of how enjoyable he is to watch. Much like other characters in this list, his tale is that of a Shakespearean tragedy. 

Mad Max

mel gibson mad max
Image: Warner Bros.

Australian film icon Mad Max (Mel Gibson) is a brooding badass who patrols the post-apocalyptic Australian outback in his V8 Interceptor, armed with his shotgun and leather studded armour. 

While only two of his four feature films are genuinely good movies, that takes nothing away from his characterisation across the board. Mad Max 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road vie for the best movie title, but to me his best appearance is still in Mad Max 2

A drifter who is put into an impasse with an uneasy alliance to defend a small town, says almost nothing, but you completely understand exactly what he’s thinking and his motives. A great spiritual successor to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name from the Dollars trilogy.

Carrie

Image: United Artists

A perhaps rare case of a book and its movie adaptaion both being brilliant, and also a movie that was in development almost as soon as the book was released. Stephen King’s Carrie is a brilliant tragedy and is arguably the best adaptation of a King story to live action. 

Sissy Spacek perfectly captures the awkward and outsider aesthetic of the title character, and the quality of writing allows you to completely empathise and feel joy when she flips the tables on her bullies. This isn’t just a small revenge story where she gets her detractors back with some inconveniences – she goes on a rampage. And you absolutely love to see it. 

Image: Warner Bros.

Edgelords of the internet, unite! V, based on the character of the same name by Alan Moore from the seminal graphic novel V for Vendetta, is the quintessential modern antihero in media. He’s so well-known for his look and as a cultural phenomena that people often forget how good his character is. 

Part of a holy trinity of characters that internet men love to try to emulate and worship alongside The Joker (The Dark Knight / Joker) and Tyler Durden (Fight Club), it does feel as though this appropriation of the character has taken away just how magical he is. 

Portrayed by Hugo Weaving in the 2006 movie, V is an anarchist revolutionary who seeks to take down the unjust systems of this Margaret Thatcher-inspired totalitarian future Britain. Entirely focussed on his goals and unwilling to take prisoners, V is a force of nature. 

You’ll happily forget that he is a terrorist trying to blow up TV stations and kill innocent people because how captivating he is to watch. “Ideas are bulletproof” is a quote that still resonates me with to this day.

The Punisher

Image: Sony / Marvel

In truth, there hasn’t really been a great Punisher movie – yet – but Punisher: War Zone is a guilty pleasure of mine. Critically lambasted due to just how violent it was, it undoubtedly got the core of the character right. Ray Stevenson plays the titular role with the right level of cold-blooded vengeance within him, it’s really solid.

The Punisher is Marvel’s best antihero in the comics because there’s such an appeal to him. He’s sick of the official channels of justice, finding it easily corruptible and unfair that he takes it into his own hands. A strong believer in an “eye for an eye”. We’re due another Punisher adaptation, and it’d be great for the Punisher symbol to be reclaimed from people who do not understand him.