Any actor will tell you that playing the villain is way more fun than playing the hero. Even better is to play an antihero, which lets you have all the fun of acting like a total bastard and yet the audience still roots for you to win. With DC’s ‘Suicide Squad’ storming theater screens this weekend, let’s look at some of our other favorite antiheroes from movies and TV.
It was easy to come up with an answer for this week’s topic, since my favorite antihero also happens to be my all-time favorite TV character: Tony Soprano, as played by the late James Gandolfini. He so embodied the New Jersey mobster that, even if Gandolfini had a longer and more productive career, it’s doubtful that he ever would have been able to top the years he starred in ‘The Sopranos‘.
The character was ruthless at times, but struggled with his inner demons just enough that audiences everywhere could identify with him. Although I don’t believe he’s ever confessed it publicly, I’ve long held the theory that creator David Chase intentionally tried to make Tony more evil in the last couple seasons of the show (where Tony was directly responsible for the deaths of a couple of fan-favorite characters) just because he was disturbed by how popular the character had become. Unlike other TV antiheroes (like, say, J.R. Ewing, who was a close second in my pick this week), Tony Soprano wasn’t an antihero we loved to hate. We always loved him, and a huge part of that was due to the actor portraying the character.
M. Enois Duarte
I’ve narrowed my choice down to William Munny from Clint Eastwood’s incredible ‘Unforgiven‘. What I love so much about this character is that his personality and history intentionally remind cinephiles of Blue Eyes, the Man with No Name character Eastwood played in Sergio Leoni’s famous Western trilogy. It’s a genius piece of filmmaking to indirectly design this very dark and bleak Western as a tale that, in a roundabout way, picks up decades later in the life of a once notorious cold-blooded killer.
Every time I watch the movie or teach it for class analysis, I love seeing Munny’s journey from retired criminal turned pig farmer to his hopeless search for redemption. As beautifully directed by Eastwood, the only road for atonement available to the character is to embrace his evil ways and use them against those equally as evil. There are several more reasons to love and appreciate the film, and that’s just one of them.
For me, the epitome of an antihero is Ash Williams from the ‘Evil Dead‘ franchise. He’s a bringer of mayhem just by being so damn clueless half the time. And when his ignorance isn’t getting him in trouble, his sinful appetites more often than not pick up the slack.
Good… Bad… He’s the guy with the gun – and Deadites certainly don’t want to get in his way. If his skill doesn’t kill them, his ineptitude probably will.
If I had one major takeaway from the second season of ‘Gotham’, it’s that Vic Mackey from ‘The Shield‘ was an awesome character to root for. The list of friends, enemies, frenemies, and evil bad guys who were ruined as a result of encountering Mackey is quite long, and yet, I’d root for him all over again no matter how self-involved his goals happen to be.
I’ll start by tossing out some honorable mentions to Mad Max (the Mel Gibson version, thank you – specifically in ‘The Road Warrior‘), Snake Plissken from ‘Escape from New York‘, and, to prove that comedies can have antiheroes too, Billy Bob Thornton’s Grinchy thief Willie in ‘Bad Santa‘.
My main pick is a bit of a cheat. Technically, Chow Yun-Fat plays three different characters in a trio of early Hong Kong movies by John Woo. He’s Chinese gangster Mark in ‘A Better Tomorrow‘, Mark’s identical twin brother Ken in its sequel ‘A Better Tomorrow II‘, and the completely unrelated assassin Ah Jong (or “Jeff,” depending on the subtitle translation) in ‘The Killer‘. The names and superficial differences aside, however, all of these characters are total badasses. When he walked onscreen in ‘A Better Tomorrow’ wearing a long coat and sunglasses, with an unlit matchstick gritted between his teeth and a pistol in each hand blazing away, Chow Yun-Fat was absolutely the coolest motherfucker on the planet.
(Note that I have to exclude Woo’s ‘Hard Boiled’ here, because Chow plays a heroic cop in that one, and hence not an antihero.)
Sound off in the Comments with some of your favorite movie and TV antiheroes. Please keep in mind that the main distinction between a straight-up villain and an antihero is that you’re supposed to want the antihero to come out on top in the end, not be defeated by a good guy.