In the grand tradition of “everyone likes the bad boy,” Hollywood is littered when anti-heroes and vigilantes. Memorable anti-heroes aren’t very nice guys, but somewhere, deep down in their black hearts and dark souls, is someone with the capacity for good. Han Solo is a pretty decent example. But it’s also a little too obvious that’s he’s one of the good guys, no matter how much he tries to sound like a bad boy. Just because you’re the star of the movie also doesn’t make you an anti-hero, so guys like Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) or Michael Corleone (The Godfather) are out. They might be the hero of their story, but to the rest of society, they have no redeeming qualities. They’re more like sympathetic villains.
Defined, anti-heroes are the main character of a story and they lack the conventional heroic qualities. You might agree with their philosophies, but not their methods. They don’t wear white hats and they’re not nice guys, but when the anti-hero comes around, the jobs going to get done by any means necessary. Here are 10 Greatest Movie Anti-Heroes, Ranked.
10 Leon - Léon, The Professional
Somedays you just have no choice but to open your door and help. Despite being a vicious trained assassin, Leon wasn’t going to allow his young neighbor Mathilda to be murdered in cold blood by the crooked DEA agent who just slaughtered the rest of her family.
Jean Reno gives an epic performance as an illiterate, fairly uneducated man who happens be a contract killer. He takes Mathilda in and she teaches him how to read and write, while he teaches her how to make a great shot and get revenge for her family.
9 D-Fens - Falling Down
Falling Down is the kind of movie that the Joker would enjoy. It only took a little push to drive William Foster off the deep end. Recently laid off and divorced with a restraining order, his car air conditioner breaks down on him. Foster then decides to abandon his car and trek through Los Angeles on one of the hottest days of the year to attend his daughter’s birthday.
Everyone he encounters accosts him for some reason or another, which he somehow avoids any injury and winds up taking their weapons instead, continuing on his journey with a diatribe about society and how it treats people. Even the cop chasing him agrees with his rhetoric, but certainly not his means.
8 Hannibal Lecter - The Silence Of The Lambs
The build-up to meeting Dr. Lecter in Silence Of The Lambs was well worth the wait. Anthony Hopkins became a household name in less than 20 minutes of screen time. It is established very quickly just how dangerous he is. He’s behind glass, the very last cell in the block.
The FBI and young trainee Clarice Starling seeks the help of the cannibal killer to catch another psychopath, Buffalo Bill, who has kidnapped his latest victim. The “quid-pro-quo” between Hannibal Lecter and Starling is the crux of the film and the very thing that helps Clarice find Bill and save young Catherine Martin.
7 Seth Gecko - From Dusk Til Dawn
The Gecko Brothers have been on the run after robbing a few banks. Seth tries to keep his creepy bother Richie in line, but that’s a tough task. They wind up kidnapping a family traveling in a camper to help them travel across the border.
The family just has to deal with the brothers From Dusk Til Dawn until Seth and Richie meet their contact, Carlos. The bar they wait in happens to be filled with vampires, leading Seth, Jacob, and the patriarch of the kidnapped family to form an uneasy alliance to try and save themselves and their families.
6 Snake Plissken - Escape From New York / L.A.
Snake is an analogue hero for a digital age. John Carpenter’s Escape movies takes place in futures that (thankfully) never happened. Perhaps we have Snake to thank for that. Both movies feature Snake, arrested as an enemy of the state being coerced to help rescue the President (New York) and rescue the President’s daughter (L.A.).
More importantly, in both movies, Snake has to also retrieve a tape that might avert nuclear war and a superweapon that could turn off all of the planet’s electrical systems. In both instances, Snake finds a way to betray his original agreement and betray the government that he feels turned their back on him.
5 Frank Castle - Punisher
How Frank Castle becomes the Punisher, no one could really blame him for. After his family murdered in a mob hit, Frank wages a one-man war on crime to get vengeance for himself and his murdered family in both movie adaptations and the Netflix series.
That might be acceptable in a Death Wish-sort of way. But he couldn’t stop. Between the trauma of losing his family and whatever happened to him in the wars that he fought, Castle just keeps murdering hapless mobsters and big-time bad guys that cross his path.
4 John Rambo - First Blood
Most of the Rambo franchise featuring Sylvester Stallone in a red bandanna, ripped torso, and a gun machine. However, the first film, First Blood, was a very different kind of war film that populated the rest of the eighties.
He stars as a Vietnam vet who just lost his friend and wanders into a small town in Washington. When he is bullied by the town’s police force, it triggers a massive PTSD attack and Rambo begins an assault that this town has probably never seen before.
3 Leonard Shelby - Memento
Leonard Shelby was an insurance investigator that now suffers from anterograde amnesia and can’t remember anything past 15 minutes. That makes finding out who killed his wife and left him like this very difficult.
He certainly tries with a series of pictures and tattoos to help him remember who he is looking for, license plate numbers, who he can trust, and who he can’t. But how can you trust yourself when you can’t remember only a few short minutes ago?
2 Randal Graves - Clerks
Not all anti-heroes star in dark, gritty dramas and action movies. Occasionally, they’re part of classic comedies. In Kevin Smith’s landmark indie film, Clerks, we meet Randal Graves for the first time.
He’s a perennial slacker who does whatever he pleases: harassing customers, ordered lewd movies for the video store in front of kids, and even outright closing the store midday to go across the street and hang with Dante. While all of this seems horrible to some (including Dante), Randal’s love for his best friend outweighs a lot of the bad.
1 Jules Winnfield - Pulp Fiction
In Pulp Fiction, Jules Winnfield is a matter-of-fact hitman. It’s not known whether he enjoys his job or not, it’s just what he does. He has a very introspective moment when he and his partner, Vincent, survive a punk shooting them at point-blank range.
Not only do they survive but survive completely unscathed. He uses this as the basis for his decision to retire. He does have to stop two petty crooks from robbing the diner first.