75+ Antihero Examples: Plus the Top 7 Antiheroes Audiences Love

75+ Antihero Examples: Plus the Top 7 Antiheroes Audiences Love

When you think of antihero examples, you come across some of our favorite characters from from all of literature, film, and tv serials. After all, who doesn’t like the bad boy who has a secret good side?

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In this article, we’re going to look at examples of some of our favorite antiheroes (also spelled anti-heroes), including why they fit this particular type of character. You’ll also learn what an antihero actually is, including the origins of the literary term, their characters, the subtypes of antiheroes, as well as how writers can use them in a story. Finally, you’ll get a writing practice exercise to use antiheroes in your own study or writing. 

Top 7 Antihero Examples

To see how antiheroes really work, let’s start by looking at a few of our favorite antiheroes from literature and film. Later, we’ll look at a more comprehensive list, but here are our initial top seven antihero examples:

  1. Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Holden’s antihero status comes from his rebelliousness, cynicism, and general disdain for societal norms and expectations.
  2. Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Scarlett manipulates those around her for her own survival and benefit during and after the Civil War.
  3. Humbert in “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov: Humbert’s obsession with a young girl and his manipulation of the reader’s sympathies through his narrative makes him a notorious antihero.
  4. Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. Bridget often makes poor decisions and struggles with societal expectations, but remains endearing.
  5. Walter White in Breaking Bad. Walter’s transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher to a ruthless drug lord paints a riveting portrait of an antihero.
  6. Arya Stark from Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Arya’s transformation from a young, innocent girl into a ruthless assassin seeking revenge, while remaining loyal to her family, qualifies her as an antiheroine.
  7. The Beast from Beauty and the Beast. The Beast can be considered an antihero because he initially imprisons Belle. His character development throughout the film eventually leads him to heroism.

Check out our list of the top 7 antihero examples. Is your favorite on the list?

That’s just a sneak peak of our favorite antiheroes in literature, film, and tv serials. You can skip ahead to our full list of 50+ antiheroes below or click here.

But now that we’ve looked at some favorite examples, I’m sure you’re already noticing some characteristics of antiheroes. Let’s talk more about that and look at what antiheroes actually are.

Hero vs. Antihero: Antihero Definition

Before you can understand what an antihero is, you have to figure out what they’re anti, namely a hero!

What is a hero?

A traditional hero is a heroic character who displays some or all of the following traits:

  • courage
  • nobility
  • honor
  • capability or prowess
  • strong morals
  • sense of justice
  • lawfulness
  • compassion

In other words, they’re the “good guys,” the people who a community would hold up as model citizens.

They care deeply about their communities and honor. In effect, they set the example in their culture or kingdom.

What is an antihero?

Here’s the definition of an antihero:

An antihero is a central character in a story who displays unheroic flaws or characteristics associated with villains, but who may garner more empathy and understanding as they can appear more human and relatable than traditional heroes.

In contrast to traditional heroes, characteristics of antiheroes usually include one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Immoral or morally ambiguous. Antiheroes are not afraid of doing what is considered immoral or wrong if it serves their purposes.
  • Selfish. Unlike traditional heroes, they are rarely in it for the right reasons, but are instead motivated by selfish gain. Because of this they usually make reluctant heroes in a story and are only motivated to help others if they can gain from it personally, as a last resort, or if they are personally impacted and against their “better” judgment.
  • Complex. Traditional heroes can be somewhat flat, since they only display the best values of the cultures they represent. However, antiheroes come with a complex array of both positive and negative characteristics, often making them more realistic and relatable.

Antiheroes originated in Greek mythology where most heroes (and gods!) have flaws and selfish ambition running beneath their heroic qualities. 

5 Types of Antiheroes

Antiheroes can be divided into a number of types. Let’s look at five of the most popular types along with some examples of antiheroes.

The Classical Anti-Hero

As I explained earlier, a classical hero is a character who always wins their battles with sharp intellect, unshakable self-confidence, and excellent judgment.

So it stands to logic that the classical anti-hero is terrible in a fight, riddled with self-doubt, and makes decisions based on self-preservation instead of bravery.

The classical anti-hero’s story arc follows the conquering of his own fears and coming to terms with himself to fight whatever threat faces him.

An example is Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, since he’s a decent guy, but there’s a lot of baggage that comes with carrying that ring through three books.

The “Disney” Anti-Hero or the Knight in Complicated Armor

This is what most people tend to think of today when they think of an anti-hero. At their core, the Disney Anti-Hero is still fundamentally good, but doesn’t have the relentless optimism of a classical hero.

They tend to be sarcastic and more realistic, and tend to put logic before honor, but they won’t outright perform acts that are morally ambiguous. Like the Classical Anti-Hero, odds are pretty good that this type of anti-hero will develop into a classical hero by story’s end.

Haymitch Abernathy from The Hunger Games trilogy and Severus Snape of Harry Potter fame are two good examples of this type of anti-hero.

The Pragmatic Anti-Hero

The Pragmatic Anti-Hero is basically exactly what it sounds like. Generally no worse than neutral in morality, the Pragmatic Anti-Hero takes a big-picture view of his role, and if something or someone needs to be sacrificed for the greater good, so be it.

They won’t kill indiscriminately though: anyone who dies at the hand of the Pragmatic Anti-Hero either had it coming, or had to be killed in order to achieve the higher goal. These anti-heroes are equally as likely to defect from classical heroism by the end of the story as they are to convert.

Harry Potter himself, by the end of the series, fulfills this role, as he is constantly breaking rules, and uses two unforgivable curses and robs a bank by series’ end in order to off Voldemort once and for all.

The Unscrupulous Hero

This is as dark as you can get with your anti-hero without crossing into villain territory.

The Unscrupulous Hero lives in a world where morality is made up of varying shades of gray, with their gray being slightly lighter than that of the villain’s. Often they live in a really crappy setting, which accounts for their distrust of humanity and penchant towards violence. They’re big on revenge, and when they take their revenge, count on it being something to see. There might be some collateral damage in their actions, but it doesn’t faze them.

Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series and the Blues Brothers of the titular film are examples of this type of anti-hero. Their intentions are good, and they are fighting on the moral high side (barely!), but they don’t really care how much damage they cause or who they double-cross on their way to achieving their goals.

The “Hero” in Name Only

These anti-heroes fight on the side of good, but they have no good motivation. Either their intentions are completely selfish, and they only happen to be pointing their weapons at the token bad guys, or their motivations are only slightly less terrible than the villain’s. Sometimes they’re just bored and need someone to point a gun at.

You’ll still root for them, but you won’t agree with a lot of the ways they do things.

Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s re-imagining of the character is an example, since he explicitly describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath, and makes it clear that he only takes on cases that he finds mentally stimulating. Dexter of the TV series of the same name walks the line between this and a villain protagonist.

75+ Antihero Examples

Now that you know how antiheroes work and the various types of antiheroes, let’s look at more examples of antiheroes so you can see how they work in literature, film and tv serials, and even in the Bible.

Today’s article highlights over 75 antihero examples: those heroes who are complicated and often questionable in their motivations. See if your favorite made the list!

At the end, we’ll also look at some characters who are not antiheroes but who are commonly mistaken for them.

Antihero Examples from Literature

  1. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Raskolnikov is an antihero due to his conflicting morality, driven to commit murder out of a philosophical belief, but tormented by guilt and fear afterwards.
  2. Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Holden’s antihero status comes from his rebelliousness, cynicism, and general disdain for societal norms and expectations.
  3. Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby’s constant bending of the law and obsessive pursuit of a lost love, despite its destructive potential, paints him as an antihero.
  4. Alex in A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: As a violent and manipulative sociopath, Alex embodies the antihero through his sheer brutality, despite being the protagonist of the story.
  5. Tyler Durden in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: Tyler Durden’s anarchistic worldview, disregard for societal norms, and creation of the destructive Fight Club mark him as an antihero.
  6. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: Bateman is a Wall Street yuppie who hides a psychopathic alter ego, making him an antihero in his gruesome reality.
  7. Winston Smith in 1984 by George Orwell: Winston defies the totalitarian state, but does so with moral ambiguity and fear, making him an antihero.
  8. Macbeth in Macbeth by William Shakespeare: Despite being a tragic hero, Macbeth’s ambition drives him to murder and madness, making him an antihero.
  9. Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: Snape’s complex character oscillates between villainy and heroism, hiding his true allegiance until the end, which earns him the antihero status.
  10. Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: As a manipulative, deceptive character who stages her own disappearance, Amy presents a deeply flawed yet fascinating antihero.
  11. Yossarian in Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: Yossarian’s attempts to maintain his sanity while others lose theirs in the face of war’s absurdity illustrate his role as an antihero.
  12. Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: Humbert’s obsession with a young girl and his manipulation of the reader’s sympathies through his narrative makes him a notorious antihero.
  13. Captain Ahab in Moby Dick by Herman Melville: Ahab’s monomaniacal pursuit of the white whale, despite the destruction it causes, designates him as an antihero.
  14. Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith: As a sociopathic charmer willing to kill to maintain his lies, Ripley is a quintessential antihero.
  15. Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: Lisbeth’s antisocial behavior, supreme intelligence, and unwavering quest for justice, often outside the law, characterize her as an antihero.
  16. Sethe in Beloved by Toni Morrison: Sethe’s deep love for her children leads her to commit horrific acts to save them from slavery, making her a tragic and complex antiheroine.
  17. Sherlock Holmes in the series by Arthur Conan Doyle: Holmes’s exceptional deductive skills are coupled with his socially abrasive personality and addiction to drugs, painting him as an antihero.
  18. Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: While he’s the protagonist, Dr. Frankenstein, the creator of the monster in Frankenstein, is full of cowardice and lack of compassion for his creation.
  19. Don Quixote in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote’s delusions of grandeur, relentless pursuit of chivalry, and disregard for societal norms mark him as an antihero.
  20. The Man in The Road by Cormac McCarthy: His will to protect his son in a post-apocalyptic world, even if it means compromising his morality, portrays him as an antihero.
  21. Meursault in The Stranger by Albert Camus: Meursault’s emotional indifference, lack of remorse, and existentialist worldview secure his status as an antihero.
  22. Jack Burden in All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren: Jack’s moral ambiguity and role in the corruption of the political machine make him an antihero.
  23. Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Billy’s passive approach to life, time-travel-induced indifference towards death and suffering, and his role as a war survivor make him an antihero.

Antihero Examples from Film and TV Serials

  1. Walter White in Breaking Bad: Walter’s transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher to a ruthless drug lord paints a riveting portrait of an antihero.
  2. Tony Soprano in The Sopranos: As a mob boss trying to balance family life with the management of a criminal organization, Tony Soprano is a classic example of an antihero.
  3. Don Draper in Mad Men: Despite his success in the advertising world, Don’s habitual infidelity, alcoholism, and identity theft cast him as an antihero.
  4. Michael Corleone in The Godfather series: Michael’s transformation from a war hero to a ruthless mafia boss paints him as a compelling antihero.
  5. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver: Travis is a disillusioned taxi driver whose violent tendencies make him an antihero.
  6. Dexter Morgan in Dexter. Dexter is a serial killer who targets other killers, making him a complex and dark antihero.
  7. Deadpool in the Deadpool series: Deadpool is a superhero with a twisted sense of humor and disregard for conventional superhero traits, which makes him an antihero.
  8. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal series: Hannibal’s role as a murderous yet cultured and intelligent psychiatrist makes him a captivating antihero.
  9. Frank Underwood in House of Cards: Frank’s ruthless ambition and lack of moral constraints in his quest for power make him an antihero.
  10. Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders: Tommy’s criminal activities, paired with his loyalty to his family and his traumatic war experiences, create a compelling antihero.
  11. Jessica Jones in Jessica Jones: Jessica Jones, a private detective with superhuman strength, is an antihero known for her tough exterior and traumatic past.
  12. Rick Sanchez in Rick and Morty: Rick’s brilliance is counterbalanced by his self-destructive tendencies and lack of empathy, making him an antihero.
  13. Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Ratched: Nurse Ratched is an antiheroine whose seeming professionalism hides a manipulative and abusive nature.
  14. Rorschach in Watchmen: Rorschach’s unwavering yet morally ambiguous sense of justice, alongside his violent methods, make him an antihero.
  15. Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Lisbeth, a brilliant hacker with a traumatic past and a violent streak, is a classic antiheroine.
  16. Mad Max in Mad Max series: Max’s lone survivor character, coupled with his determination to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, make him an antihero.
  17. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean series: Jack Sparrow’s eccentricity, self-interest, and morally ambiguous actions make him an iconic antihero.
  18. Al Swearengen in Deadwood: Al, a powerful and cunning brothel owner with a complicated moral compass, is a classic Western antihero.
  19. The Hound (Sandor Clegane) in Game of Thrones: The Hound starts as a seemingly ruthless killer but evolves into a complex antihero with his own code of honor
  20. Wolverine in the X-Men series: Wolverine’s tendency to isolation, his often gruff demeanor, and his struggle with violent impulses amid heroism make him an antihero.
  21. Léon in Léon: The Professional: As a professional hitman who takes in a young girl and teaches her his trade, Léon is a perfect example of an antihero.
  22. Sarah Connor in the Terminator series: Sarah’s transformation from a timid waitress to a hardened survivalist, willing to commit extreme acts for humanity’s survival, marks her as an antiheroine.
  23. V in V for Vendetta: V’s revolutionary ideas and violent methods to attain freedom make him an antihero.
  24. John Wick in John Wick: Wick garners our sympathy enough that we want him to succeed, but he’s a retired hitman without much motive other than revenge which makes him an antihero.

Antihero Examples from Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, is known for its morally complex characters, many of whom can be considered antiheroes (even thought they are not main characters): Here are some examples:

  1. Jaime Lannister: Jaime starts as a seemingly irredeemable villain but over the series becomes a sympathetic figure, struggling with his past actions and the expectations placed upon him due to his family name.
  2. Tyrion Lannister: Tyrion’s intelligence and wit, combined with his cynicism and propensity for morally questionable actions for survival, make him a compelling antihero.
  3. Sandor “The Hound” Clegane: Initially appearing as a ruthless killer, the Hound evolves throughout the series, showing a softer side and becoming a protector, especially towards Arya Stark and Sansa Stark.
  4. Arya Stark: Arya’s transformation from a young, innocent girl into a ruthless assassin seeking revenge, while remaining loyal to her family, qualifies her as an antiheroine.
  5. Daenerys Targaryen: Despite her initial portrayal as a compassionate ruler, Daenerys’s relentless quest for power and her eventual destructive actions in Westeros mark her as a tragic antiheroine.
  6. Jon Snow: While generally seen as a hero, Jon’s moral ambiguity, particularly when he is with the Wildlings and his decision concerning Daenerys in the finale, reflects antiheroic qualities.
  7. Theon Greyjoy: Theon’s story arc, from an arrogant ward of the Starks to a traitor and then a broken man seeking redemption, makes him a complex antihero.
  8. Bronn: Bronn, a skilled sellsword with a witty sense of humor and a tendency to align with whoever can offer him the most, is a classic antihero.
  9. Melisandre: The Red Priestess’s use of dark magic for what she believes is the greater good, including the resurrection of Jon Snow, marks her as a complex antiheroine.

Remember, the classification of a character as an antihero can be subjective, and viewers might have different interpretations based on their perspectives and sympathies.

Shakespeare Antihero Examples

William Shakespeare created complex characters throughout his plays, many of whom can be considered antiheroes due to their moral ambiguity, conflicted nature, and often tragic outcomes. Here are some examples:

  1. Macbeth in Macbeth: Macbeth starts as a heroic figure but his ambition and susceptibility to manipulation lead him down a dark path of murder and tyranny, making him a classic antihero.
  2. Hamlet in Hamlet: Hamlet’s indecision, melancholy, and contemplation of murder and suicide make him a quintessential antihero.
  3. Richard III in Richard III: Richard’s charm, wit, and intelligence, paired with his ruthlessness and manipulation, make him an antihero of his own story.
  4. Othello in Othello: Othello, driven by jealousy and manipulated by Iago, commits horrifying acts that make him a tragic antihero.
  5. King Lear in King Lear: Lear’s pride and folly lead to his downfall and the destruction of his kingdom, transforming him into a tragic antihero.
  6. Antony in Antony and Cleopatra: Antony’s inner conflict between his Roman duties and Egyptian desires, along with his eventual downfall, characterize him as a tragic antihero.
  7. Brutus in Julius Caesar: Despite his honorable intentions, Brutus’s involvement in Caesar’s murder and subsequent war make him a tragic antihero.
  8. Prospero in The Tempest: Though the rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero’s use of magic for manipulation and control illustrates his status as an antihero.

Historical Antihero Examples

While the term “antihero” didn’t come into popular use until the 18th century, the concept has been around for much longer. The literature prior to Shakespeare also includes characters who exhibit antiheroic qualities, challenging traditional heroic ideals. Here are some examples:

  1. The Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: The Wife of Bath is one of the earliest examples of a female antihero, a complex character who challenges the patriarchal society of her time with her wit, sexual freedom, and unorthodox views on marriage and religion.
  2. Medea in Medea by Euripides: Medea, who takes revenge on her unfaithful husband by killing their children, is an early and very complex example of an antiheroine.
  3. Oedipus in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles: While initially portrayed as a hero, Oedipus’s discovery of his own horrific deeds (inadvertently killing his father and marrying his mother) results in his downfall, marking him as a tragic antihero.
  4. Achilles in Iliad by Homer: Despite being a hero, Achilles’ rage, petulance, and desire for personal glory over the good of his comrades at certain points in the story provide an antiheroic contrast to the traditional hero.
  5. Odysseus in Odyssey by Homer: While largely considered a hero, Odysseus also displays antiheroic qualities including deception, infidelity, and a ruthless pursuit of his own goals, regardless of the cost to others.
  6. Faust in Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust’s ambitious pursuit of knowledge and pleasure, leading him to bargain with the devil, paints him as a classic antihero, even though this work is slightly later than Shakespeare.

Remember, the term “antihero” is a fairly modern label. However, it can be retrospectively applied to many characters from ancient works who display the common traits of an antihero.

Antihero Examples from the Bible

Several characters in the Bible show characteristics of antiheroes. They are often deeply flawed, commit morally ambiguous or reprehensible acts, yet have moments of redemption or evoke empathy. Here are some examples:

  1. King David in the Books of Samuel: Despite being a beloved king and the ancestor of the Messiah, David is an adulterer and a murderer who abuses his power, which paints him as an antihero.
  2. Samson in the Book of Judges: Samson repeatedly disobeys God’s commands, acts out of revenge, and is led astray by his passions, but he ultimately brings about a great victory for Israel, making him a classic antihero.
  3. Jacob in the Book of Genesis: Jacob deceives his brother Esau and his father Isaac to secure his older brother’s birthright, showing his antiheroic side. Yet, he also wrestles with an angel and earns the name Israel, balancing his character.
  4. Moses in the Book of Exodus: While generally seen as a hero and a prophet, Moses also kills an Egyptian out of anger and is barred from entering the Promised Land due to disobedience, showing his antiheroic flaws.
  5. Jonah in the Book of Jonah: Jonah initially runs away from his divine calling, and even after fulfilling it, he complains about God’s mercy toward Nineveh, making him a complex and reluctant antihero.
  6. Saul/Paul in the New Testament: Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Saul is a persecutor of early Christians. His radical transformation and later dedication to spreading Christianity demonstrate his journey from a villainous character to an antihero.

As you can see, antiheroes dominate so many of the stories around us. Their selfishness and moral ambiguity are often outlets for us as readers and audience members—we wish we could set aside the values and community ideals that so often motivate our actions. I hope this comprehensive list of antihero examples can inspire your own antihero story. 

Whois your favorite antihero? Share in the comments.

PRACTICE

Pick one of these types of anti-heroes and write for fifteen minutes, introducing your reader to the character. Give a sense of your anti-hero’s motivation. Post your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here and leave notes for your fellow writers.

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