Battle Cry of An Anti-Hero

A new protagonist, wedged between hero and villain, is America’s favorite son – the anti-hero. Bad attitude, morally challenged and dark disposition replaces the patriotic, courageous and life-sacrificing hero. The anti-hero is usually male, might be the lesser of two evils and happens to be fighting for the right side – but for all the wrong reasons. In the end, either the anti-hero discovers his or her inner hero or meets a tragic end.

copyright 2017VintageASK

Functioning on a sliding scale of barely bad to entirely evil, the anti-hero is in mini-series, comic books, literature, video games and film. Perhaps the rise of the anti-hero reflects growing disappointment with public leaders who fall short of expectations. As school children train for active shooter drills and terrorism knows no regional boundaries, societal norms are shifting. The anti-hero, while fulfilling self-ambitions, can also be a rebellious vigilante, quelling corruption, inequity and prejudice. Villainous, dark and beholden to no law or moral code, this new protagonist challenges status quo values keeping evil in check. The darkness that exists in a main character provides awareness to the potential for evil in all humans, races and religions.

Yet, the anti-hero endures and rallies to the darkness in the world. Examples of popular anti-heroes are listed below:

1) Television Series

Breaking Bad – Walter White

House of Cards – Frank Underwood

The Sopranos – Tony Soprano

2) Comic Books



John Constantine

3) Literature

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Humbert Humbert

The Master and Margarita  by Mikhail Bulgakov – Woland

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Jay Gatsby

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – Gollum

Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello by Shakespeare

4) Gaming

Dead Red Redemption – John Marston

Deadpool – Wade Winston Wilson

Grand Theft Auto – Tommy Vercetti

5) Films

Despicable Me – Gru

A Fistful of Dollars – the man with no name (or any Clint Eastwood film)

John Wick – John Wick

Do you have a favorite anti-hero or one you love to hate? Add to my list, but I do have to warn you. After researching and sorting my list of anti-heroes, I needed a dose of hero to brighten my day. If you need a hero fix, search for one of these music videos.  

 Hero – Music/Video

1949-1957 The Lone Ranger Opening Theme Song

1980 Flash – Queen

1984 Holding Out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler

1990 Heros and Friends – Randy Travis

1998 My Hero – Foo Fighters

2001 Superman (It’s Not Easy) – Five for Fighting

2006 Everyday hero – Smash Mouth

2011 Kill All Your Heroes – AWOLNATION



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    • Greg Mahr on June 25, 2017 at 10:23 am
    • Reply

    Like the post. Antiheroes are sometimes so much more interesting.

    • Barbara Pattee on April 27, 2017 at 2:39 pm
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    Karen, I love your piece. My favorite anti-hero is Denzel Washington. Four special films come to mind where he represents that type of character: The Equalizer (2014), The Magnificent Seven (2016), Man on Fire (2004), and Deju Vu (2006). In two of these films, he survives to continue his vigilantism, in another he meets a tragic end. And in one of these films he dies. Or does he?

    • Kelly Bixby on April 18, 2017 at 6:12 pm
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    Clint Eastwood has apparently cornered the market on both anti-hero and vigilante. I’m thinking of Gran Torino.

    • Michael Mitchell on April 11, 2017 at 10:50 am
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    Clint is the king of the anti-heroes – Dirty Harry, High Plains Drifter, Josey Wales, William Munny, Frank Morris, Frankie Dunn, etc.

    My favorite anti-hero moment was at the end of watching The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and my son said, “how can he be the good guy when he does bad things too?”

  1. Great post, makes me think ofBogart in Casablanca, or does he find, as you put it so well, his inner hero by the end?

    But give Clint more respect. His name in the spaghetti Westerns is always capitalized, The Man With No Name.

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