The 30 Greatest Antiheroes in Fiction (Part 2 of 2)

We’ve arrived at the top 15 antiheroes in film, books, comic books, television, and videogames, with only the best of the best facing off here. From unrepentent criminals to stoic samurais to post-apocalyptic warriors, these 15 heroes define the greatness of the antihero character type.

The dangerous, heroic, and difficult character listed hero are among the greatest characters ever seen in fiction, with their unforgettable stories inspiring legions of fans across decades. These 15 antiheroes are unmatched. And if you have your own personal favorites, put yours in the comments section below!

For #30 to #16, Read Part 1 of The 30 Greatest Antiheroes in Fiction.

15. Moses – Attack the Block

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Lead of one of the great small science fiction films of the last few years, Moses (played by John Boyega) is the leader of a small teenage gang in a rough London neighborhood. But their small time criminal ways are interrupted by an alien invasion, which forces them to band together with the victim of their latest robbery in order to survive the onslaught in their apartment complex. Hardened and tougher than the rest of his friends, Moses is an unlikely hero who grows from stoic gang leader on the edge of a life of crime to self-sacrificing hero who learns to take responsibility for both his mistakes and heroics. The very human, very real nature of a troubled youth thrown into a very unlikely situation makes Moses into a complex and extremely inspiring antihero in the criminally underseen Attack the Block.

Defining Moment: Realizing that he is largely responsible for the havoc and death caused by the alien invasion, Moses puts it on himself to wipe out the alien invaders for good. his climactic chase brings catharsis and heartfelt redemption to a really fantastic antihero.

14. John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

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Western outlaw John Marston was once a very bad man, committing all sorts of heinous crimes and killing untold numbers of people, until the woman who became his wife changed his life and his soul. But when he’s captured by the Bureau of Investigation for his past crimes, he’s forced to take down the members of his former gang. Marston’s crusade is not for justice, but to be granted amnesty in order to return to his wife and son. While on the hunt, the violence within Marston threatens to reemerge and the tragedy of his story turns this videogame character into a fully fleshed-out western hero that is as vibrant and interesting as any seen on film.

Defining Moment: John Marston’s final stand protecting his family. Enough said.

13. Sanjuro – Yojimbo/Sanjuro

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A wandering samurai comes to a town where two warring gangs have destroyed the lives of the few innocent civilians left caught in the crossfire. Only going by the fake name of Sanjuro (played by Toshiro Mifune), this deadly samurai decides to loan himself out to both sides in an effort to wipe them both out and make some money in the process. Of course, things don’t go quite so smoothly, and the cocky, quiet, and extremely skilled samurai shows a little more heart than he originally let show. Mifune’s charismatic performance, the jaw-dropping moments of violence committed by the samurai, and several telltale moments of self-sacrifice and compassion make Sanjuro into an enigmatic but unforgettable antihero that has inspired countless characters, specifically one higher up on this list.

Defining Moment: Recovering from a brutal beating, Sanjuro learns that his last few allies in town are about to be executed. To save them, the still healing samurai begins battle with numerous gang members and their leader, who is armed with a gun against his sword. Badass stuff.

12. Jessica Jones – Marvel Comics

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A hard drinking private detective with superpowers and a traumatic past, Jessica Jones struggles with her issues while solving various cases and working on confronting the man that took advantage of her. While Jessica saves lives and solves crimes, her various issues and her inability to completely confront them keep her from being a traditional hero. Throw in her self-destructive tendencies and she becomes an antihero whose eventual triumph over her victimization makes her far more inspiring on a real world basis then many of the more fanciful heroes of Marvel Comics. In both the comics and her Netflix series, Jessica has captured the attentions and interests of fans worldwide.

Defining Moment: Forced to commit a murder under the spell of the vile Killgrave, Jessica is able to resist his superhuman control over her. In the process, she liberates herself and sends a powerful message concerning victimizers and their would-be victims.

11. Omar Little – The Wire

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Easily the most heightened character in the much more grounded world of the television series The Wire, Omar Little is the ultimate badass. A gay Robin Hood type who robs the criminals engaged in the drug trade of Baltimore who abides by his own code, Omar is as cool as they come. The mere sight of Omar walking down the street, shotgun in hand and bullet-proof vest strapped to his chest, is enough to send anyone running for cover. His complex relationship with both sides of the law makes him an outlier in the contentious and dangerous world of Baltimore crime and easily one of the great modern television characters. Indeed.

Defining Moment: After getting a hit taken out on him by Stringer Bell, Omar turns the tables on the ganglord by teaming up with the assassin for one of the biggest moments of the series.

10. Catwoman – DC Comics

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Catwoman has walked on both sides of good and evil ever since her debut, but most often, the woman also known as Selina Kyle has sat most comfortably as an antihero. Most often, Catwoman is looking for the next big score as a highly capable cat burglar. But she’s also been known to fight on the side of the angels, frequently teaming up with her on-again-off-again love interest Batman in order to stop true evil in Gotham and even around the world. But it doesn’t take fighting for outright good to make Catwoman into a wonderful antihero. Her charisma, style, and conflicted heart mean that she’s the best female antihero in a field that does not have nearly enough.

Defining Moment: Batman reveals his identity to Catwoman, putting his faith and trust in her and beginning a romantic relationship in Batman: Hush. Catwoman repays his faith by being a closer partner in fighting crime and inching closer to being a true hero.

9. Michael Corleone – The Godfather Trilogy

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Throughout The Godfather and  The Godfather Part II (let’s forget about Part III), Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) traces a dark descent that remains sympathetic and even pitiable, even when committing heinous acts. The son of a mob boss, the originally squeaky clean Michael becomes entangled in his family’s criminal affairs when his father, Don Vito Corleone, is nearly killed by rival gangsters. Once Michael starts on a path of violence and crime, there is no turning back, and his friends and family witness his dark nature take hold firsthand. The character arc of Michael is operatic in nature while still being deeply human through and through.

Defining Moment: After realizing that his brother Fredo betrayed him, Michael decides that he has to have his brother killed. Michael’s sanctioned assassination of his brother is the last step in the death of his soul.

8. Deadpool – Marvel Comics

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The Merc With a Mouth is more popular than ever thanks to his hit film, but Deadpool has long captivated readers thanks to his pop culture-infused, emotionally damaged, mercenary escapades. Starting as a villainous killer for hire and quickly becoming a dark yet hilarious anti-hero, Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson, often walks the line between good hearted hero and broken mercenary. His constant struggle with depression, self-hatred, and near insanity making him a consistently intriguing figure, even when his pop culture craziness makes him broadly appealing. Deadpool is easily one of the most popular modern comic anti-heroes and will only gain greater notoriety in the years to come.

Defining Moment: Storming the prison camp that has exploited his mutant abilities and destroyed his memory for years, Deadpool wreaks terrible vengeance on those who have wronged him and so many more. But the losses don’t stop, as he makes many life-changing horrifying discoveries.

7. George Costanza – Seinfeld

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Lier, loser, buffoon, lovable everyman, it all applies to George Costanza. Brought to wonderful comedic life by Jason Alexander, Costanza experienced all the ups and downs of life across nine seasons of Seinfeld and brought viewers along for the ride. While his escapades are far closer to everyday life than the rest of the characters on this list, he’s much more despicable than what most people should aspire to in their own lives. But we wouldn’t want him any other way! In the end, George is an antihero because his successes often come at the expense of others and you love to watch him win as much as lose. In either instance, it makes for great comedy.

Defining Moment: George recounts the story of happening upon a beached whale while pretending to be a marine biologist. Pushed to save the whale, George makes a miraculous save and confesses his lie in the aftermath in what has to be one of the greatest TV comedy scenes ever made.

6. Moon Knight – Marvel Comics

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Marvel’s unhinged hero has often been compared to Batman if he had dissociative identity disorder. But Moon Knight, aka Marc Spector, is a far more morally murky hero than The Dark Knight. Dealing with multiple personalities, a potentially imagined relationship with an Egyptian deity, and often using lethal force on criminals when patrolling the streets, Moon Knight is one of the darkest heroes in Marvel Comics. His grim and gripping adventures are one of a kind, making him an enduring anti-hero who often challenges the morality of both his allies and readers. For more, read To the Unknown God – Warren Ellis’ “Moon Knight.”

Defining Moment: Locked in horrifying battle with recurring villain Raoul Bushman, the critically injured Moon Knight unleashes his complete fury. First stabbing Bushman, Moon Knight slices the villain’s face off, killing him in the process and offering a horrifying sacrifice to his god, Khonshu.

5. Godzilla – Godzilla Franchise

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Embodiment of Nature’s Wrath or Protector of Japan? It really depends on which movie you are talking about. But Godzilla most certainly fits the description of antihero due to his monstrous nature and the often catastrophic toll of his actions, even when he’s defending the Earth against all manner of villainous creatures. Whatever your preferred era of Godzilla may be, The King of the Monsters is the greatest kaiju ever committed to the big screen. His earth-trembling powers and iconic look has been brought to life in 29 films and counting, with all manner of insane battles turning him into the literally biggest antihero ever seen on film. Just when you think you’ve got Godzilla figured out, he changes, shifting between villain and hero, campy and serious, keeping him fresh decade after decade. For more, read Godzilla, Kaiju, and Decades of Human Fears.

Defining Moment: Do you prefer your Godzilla antagonistic or protective? For the antagonist, go with his first, city destroying appearance in 1954’s Godzilla. For the protector, go with his nuclear meltdown showdown in 1995’s Godzilla vs Destroyah.

4. The Man With No Name – The Dollars Trilogy

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The quintessential man of few words, Clint Eastwood’ Man With No Name blazed a trail across three westerns by director Sergio Leone and has inspired countless imitators in the time since. From pitting two gangs against one another to fighting through a war-torn landscape in search of buried gold, there’s always a self-serving streak to this nameless antihero, but he’s also proven time and time again to have a good heart. With wits as quick as his draw, The Man is able to take out the deadliest of opponents, even when he gets himself into the worst of situations. Few western characters are as instantly recognizable and incredibly cool as this nameless antihero.

Defining Moment: Forced into a three-way Mexican standoff duel at the climax of The Good, The Bad,  and The Ugly, The Man With No Name uses both his wits and skills to face off against a brutal killer and a dangerous ally in one of the best shootouts ever seen on film.

3. Spike Spiegel – Cowboy Bebop

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Defining character of the anime Cowboy Bebop, Spike Spiegel is a tragic figure whose wandering bounty hunter ways are just a means to keep living in the aftermath of a tragic past. But while Spike may be a haunted figure whose past ways keep catching up to him, he’s also funny, smart, charismatic, and exciting to watch. That combination of tragedy and action hero excitement means that Spike and Cowboy Bebop work on multiple levels. Inspired by classic westerns heroes, Bruce Lee, and numerous science fiction protagonists, Spike is the epitome of cool why still being a deep and often comical character. In the end, his own flaws and the need for redemption redefine his entire character arc as a tragic antihero.

Defining Moment: Snake confronts his old enemy vicious for the first time in the series in “Ballad of Fallen Angels.” During the brutal fight, Spike’s haunting past finally catches up to him, revealing far more about the mysterious bounty hunter and his near-suicidal tendencies.

2. Snake Plissken – Escape from New York

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Set in a dystopic future where crime, war, and the government have all gone wild, jaded war vet turned anarchic criminal Snake Plissken stands for something greater by really only caring about himself. Caught by the government and about to be thrown into the island of Manhattan, which has been turned into one giant maximum security prison, Snake is given a chance at freedom by saving the President, whose plane has crash-landed on the island. But Snake’s hatred toward the government doesn’t change anything. In order to save his own skin, he’ll have to save the man who stands for everything he hates. Played with incredibly cool by Kurt Russell, Snake is a true antihero – always out for himself and never coming to believe in something greater. That’s what makes him so compelling and unforgettable. For more, read Snake Plissken: The Antiestablishment Hero The World Needs.

Defining Moment: About to be thrown into the Manhattan maximum security prison, Snake is given the chance for freedom by saving the president and play a crucial role in the ongoing war. Snake’s response? “I don’t give a fuck about your war. Or your president.”

1. Mad Max – Mad Max Franchise

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Over the course of four film, Max Rockatansky transitions from fallen police officer to wasteland scavenger to agent of change in a post-apocalyptic world gone mad. While the death of his wife and young child break him and send him into the wasteland as a lone scavenger, his subsequent involvement with various fights for survival against evil help to redeem him and bring him back to humanity. But it every instance, Max must weigh his own survival against the greater good, ultimately putting aside his own needs in order to make a difference and save lives. It’s that struggle which helps make him such a compelling antihero despite often being a man of few words. In the end, his redemption and wild fights for survival make him into the quintessential antihero, one who inspires and defines this unconventional yet irreplaceable character type. For more, read The Weird, Western, Apocalyptic Fairy Tale of “The Road Warrior.”

Defining Moment: Beaten and bloodied in The Road Warrior, Max volunteers to drive a tanker truck in a suicide mission in order to give a band of survivors the chance to escape. In doing so, Max moves past mere survival and begins to live again.

Honorable MentionsRorschach, Severus Snape, Philip Marlowe, Mal Reynolds, The Goon, Tony Soprano, Jack Bauer, Meta Knight, Henry Hill, William Munny, Edward Rochester, Jules Winnfield, Daniel Plainview, Patrick Bateman, Travis Bickle, John Rambo, Jesse Pinkman, Marv

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2 thoughts on “The 30 Greatest Antiheroes in Fiction (Part 2 of 2)

  1. Pingback: The 30 Greatest Antiheroes in Fiction (Part 1 of 2) – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

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