Movies featuring antiheroes try to show the depth behind their complex protagonists, but the
are the ones that get audiences to truly sympathize with their sometimes questionable actions. Traditional heroes in film are usually squeaky-clean and law-abiding to the letter. Antiheroes, on the other hand, are defined by their best movies about antiheroes lack of those qualities. But that's what makes them more relatable: their willingness to get their hands dirty or exist in a gray moral area.
Consider: Furiosa (Charlize Theron), from
Mad Max: Fury Road. She kills a lot of people in her quest to liberate the imprisoned women in Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)'s harem. She's the definition of scrappy and ruthless, but she has a moral code and there's depth to her, and it comes across over the course of the movie as she reveals her connections to Immortan Joe and the world beyond the desert.
Similarly, in 1988's
Heathers, Veronica (Winona Ryder) is the protagonist, but her membership in her school's "mean girls" clique casts her in a darker light. She disapproves of their behavior, of course, but her initial unwillingness to take a stand against what is clearly bullying places her squarely in the antihero category. Moreover, as her boyfriend, J.D. (Christian Slater) begins to murder some of the other students he deems bullies, she becomes complicit in his activities. But in the end, she recognizes what she's doing in enabling his murder spree and turns her efforts to stopping him.
Most antiheroes worth rooting for are striving for some kind of redemption, and their emotional arcs are the basis of some great stories. Here are 12 of our all-time favorites and where to stream them.
1 Lisbeth Salander — 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' (2011)
Part crust punk, part hacker, and ultimately an instrument of justice, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) exemplifies the antihero title in her hard-drinking, hard-smoking, take-no-sh*t attitude.
Available on Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 2 Furiosa & Max — 'Mad Max: Fury Road' (2015)
Furiosa (Theron) is almost a villain-turned-hero, as she used to be under the employ of the film's big bad. But she breaks free and battles to liberate his slaves. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a reluctant hero who's very much out for himself, even holding Furiosa and her charges at gunpoint at one point in the movie. Eventually he comes around, however, and works with Furiosa in her mission.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 3 The Driver — 'Drive' (2011)
Right up front: the Driver (Ryan Gosling) is so brutally violent, he could very well be considered a bad guy. But by the end of the film, he's turned his violent attentions towards some particularly ruthless mobsters who have lots of blood on their own hands.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 4 John Wick — The John Wick Franchise
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an example of someone whose actions are, much like the Driver's, fueled by a vendetta. In this case, it's a vendetta against a network of certified master assassins, making for some particularly bloody conflicts. But Wick does adhere to a moral code, and there's a strange kindness at his core that he's desperately trying to protect but may very well lose if he keeps having to kill so many people to earn his independence.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 5 Maleficent — 'Maleficent' (2014)
If the animated
Sleeping Beauty film is to be believed, Maleficent is nothing but a wicked woman who spitefully curses a baby. Angelina Jolie's take in Disney's live-action franchise, on the other hand, is an antihero — a fallen protector of a kingdom who is forcefully driven from her home by an invading army. Maleficent adds new facets to the traditional "wicked witch" story, allowing audiences to see multiple sides to what used to be a cut-and-dry good versus evil fable. The sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, comes to theaters Oct. 18. Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 6 Beatrix Kiddo — 'Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2' (2003, 2004)
Yet another antihero fueled by revenge, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) comes back from the dead to kill her former assassin teammates in gory, Quentin Tarantino style. And it takes her two full movies to do it!
Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 7 Veronica — 'Heathers' (1988)
Veronica (Ryder) is one of the mean girls — part of a very exclusive popular girl clique called the Heathers. They're incredibly cruel in their bullying of their fellow classmates, which is something Veronica new love interest, J.D. (Slater) takes umbrage with. Veronica shares J.D.'s distaste for their cruelty, and soon she's caught up helping in his plot to murder similarly cruel students.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 8 Gloria — 'Colossal' (2016)
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is the definition of average. Unemployed and struggling with alcohol use disorder, she ends up having to move back home. One day, she wakes up to find that she can control a gigantic monster who's been rampaging across South Korea. As she struggles with
that new development, she also works to turn its reputation around — and an unforeseen rivalry soon forces the both of them to protect the city they had once inadvertently harmed. Available on Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 9 Lady Bird — 'Lady Bird' (2017)
Growing up isn't easy, and that's especially real when your family struggles with money. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is trying to figure out who she is amidst a fraught home life, and as such, makes some pretty questionable choices, including spurning her best friend in hopes of getting in good with the popular kids at school. She's shown to be pretty cruel at times, but always with a strong thread of relatability and understanding.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 10 Hit-Girl — 'Kick-Ass 1 & 2' (2010, 2013)
Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz),or Hit-Girl, is a super-skilled heroine/assassin, counterpart to her father, Damon (Nicolas Cage), who also goes by Big Daddy. They become mentors to fledgling superhero Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a.k.a. Kick-Ass. And while Mindy's been trained as a brutal killer, both she and her father possess the same basic concept of right and wrong as the comic books that inspired them.
Available on Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 11 Thelma & Louise — 'Thelma & Louise' (1991)
Best friends Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are on a road trip when Louise kills a man who threatens to sexually assault Thelma. Forced to go on the run, they commit several more crimes, including armed robbery and locking a police officer in the trunk of his own car. But you'll be rooting for these fictional feminist icons the whole way.
Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. 12 Han Solo — The Star Wars Franchise
Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is one of the more shining examples of an antihero who becomes a full-blown good guy. His origins as a self-absorbed smuggler form the basis for his entire character arc in
A New Hope. He's only roped into the rebellion by circumstance, as he's hired as transport by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). First, Han takes his rewards and leaves, but his heroic return sets the stage for his lifelong fight for the cause. The Force Awakens found that Han had regressed a bit, but he still made the ultimate sacrifice when he tried to bring his son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), back to the light. Available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play.
The most interesting antiheroes are flawed — sometimes to a frightening degree. But it's in owning those flaws that they avoid the "villain" label.