My top six anti-heroes in film and literature

Yes, it was supposed to be five but . . .

I love an anti-hero. I think they appeal to my non-conformist nature – they tend to do what they want, as far as possible, even if it gets them into trouble. Plus there’s that whole bad-boy vibe and, very often, a darkly cynical sense of humour, which I am a sucker for.

So, that said, here’s a few of my favourites.

© AVCO Embassy Pictures
© AVCO Embassy Pictures

6. Snake Plissken (from Escape from New York). I mean, what’s not to like? Under a totalitarian government, he thumbs his nose at them and does what he wants for the most part, at least until he’s forced to do what “they” want. Weirdly – and perhaps essentially – he appears sometimes to have more morals than the “good” guys. It does not hurt that Kurt Russell looks good in leather.

5. Conan the Barbarian. Your classic anti-hero. He’s out for himself, always. He’s dark, he’s brooding, he’s itching for a fight. But if you’ve got a bad guy you want rid of, he’s your guy. Just don’t expect him not to ravish your girlfriend while he’s saving you.

4. Sandman Slim. You don’t get much downer and dirtier than the Sandman. His saving grace is, apart from his black humour, no matter how bad he gets, pretty much everyone else is worse. He’s on your side for the right price, but if he hates the guys you want dead, maybe you’ll get a freebie. Plus he has a nice little redeeming feature of falling hopelessly in love. Even men from hell just want a bit of lovin’.

© Walt Disney Pictures
© Walt Disney Pictures

3. Jack Sparrow. He lies and cheats and steals, but he doesn’t hide it, he flaunts it. But of course he’s a pirate, and who hasn’t wanted to throw off the yoke and just sail about doing whatever you felt like, especially if it involves a bit of swashbuckling and derring do? Again, crucially, he has morals. They just aren’t quite the same as everyone else’s.

© Transworld

2. Sam Vimes. What’s that, I hear you say? Pratchett’s Vimes an anti-hero? Well, while he’s progressed in the series, he starts off as a fairly classical anti-hero, he hates pretty much everybody and even towards the end, he’s still (almost) as cynical as they come. The appeal of Vimes, I think, is that he climbs out of that pit of despair and refuses to fall back in, even when the world and the people in it become too stupid for words. He may be a cynic, but he’s a damned determined one, and he never forgets what that pit was like, and why he fell in. It gives him a certain sympathy to others he finds swimming in the sewage.

© 20th Century Fox

1. Magneto. Well if every villain is the hero of their own story . . . This especially hit home to me in X-Men: First Class, but while Magneto is, almost unquestionably, a bad guy, he’s also a hero in his own head. He’s the cynic to Xavier’s idealist. They both want the same things but they expect different things from humanity. Charles thinks people are essentially good. Eric/Magneto, from hard experience, doesn’t. He thinks mutants will be experimented on, hated. He’s right, too, and he believes utterly in his position. He’s fighting for a just cause. And while his methods aren’t very savoury, I can completely understand why he does what he does, even, to an extent, root for him to win against the non-mutant nasties.

Honourable mentions: Mal Reynolds and Jayne, Wolverine, Avon from Blake’s Seven, Han Solo, Severus Snape, Eisenhorn, Durzo Blint, Marv in Sin City, hell, half of Sin City . . .


Francis Knight’s own anti-hero is Rojan Dizon, who tackles dark magic and corruption in the vertical city of Mahala, in the debut fantasy novel FADE TO BLACK (UK | US | ANZ) – out 26th February 2013.