In the past few decades, more and more films have moved away from the traditional hero trope where the good guy saves the damsel in distress from the evil villain toward “anti-hero” stories. An anti-hero is a protagonist whose personality and motivation don’t fit a typical “hero” stereotype and often delves into straight-up immorality. These films are compelling to watch, and we’ve collected our greatest anti-heroes of the 21st century.
Released in 2014, Nightcrawler follows the character of Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), looking for work in LA. We see him struggle early on, doing anything he can to get by before he discovers the world of shock photojournalism — taking pictures/videos of violent or gruesome events.
As the film progresses, we see just how dark and psychopathic our protagonist is, as he goes to increasingly immoral lengths to get the best shots. The public reception for the film was fantastic, with several critics choosing Nightcrawler as their film of the year. It currently has a 7.8/10 rating on IMDb.
The Wolf of Wall Street
This 3-hour epic follows the story of real-life Wall Street trader Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his story of how he made his way to the top of the trading world. There are extravagant displays of wealth and gambling throughout the film. There’s even a scene where the group travel to Vegas to have a big blowout, where they partake in thrilling casino games such as roulette and blackjack.
If it made you want to join in the fun but you’re far from Vegas, Platincasino will make you feel as if you were there with its exciting online casino games. Released in 2013, the film was met with mixed reactions as while it displayed the debauchery and degeneracy of Belfort and his crew; some argued that it didn’t do enough to vilify the lifestyle. Throughout the film, Belfort shows a complete lack of a moral compass, doing anything he pleases if he thinks it will make him money.
Law Abiding Citizen
This 2009 crime thriller stars Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton, an engineer who is the victim of a home invasion in which his wife and daughter are killed while he’s made to watch. Clyde swears revenge on the killer, initially pursuing the legal route before taking matters into his own hands. If seeking his form of justice wasn’t enough, the particularly violent manner in which Clyde seeks revenge puts him firmly in the anti-hero category. The film received a negative critical response, although it has a 7.4/10 on IMDb..
The Social Network
Based on the true story of how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, The Social Network is a 2010 film written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher. It stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, and it follows his meteoric rise from Harvard student to CEO of Facebook and the trials and tribulations he faced along the way. Despite his obvious talent, you’re constantly reminded of Mark’s callousness and sociopathic nature when it comes to people who once considered him a friend. The film was released to mass critical acclaim, with many calling it one of, if not the film of the year.
One of the original anti-hero stories, American Psycho, is a 2000 film directed by Mary Harron and is based on the book of the same name, written by American author Bret Easton Ellis. It follows the life of New York investment banker Patrick Bateman whom we quickly learn is leading a double life as a serial killer. Everything about Bateman’s lifestyle indicates high levels of psychopathy, and the film is a swipe at modern ultra-capitalists. The film polarized opinion amongst critics and filmgoers as some praised its writing and performances, whereas the overly violent nature put others off.
Most people are sick of the traditional hero and villain dynamic; we want complicated characters that dance on the edge of morality. Just look at the popularity of films like Joker and Deadpool, both anti-hero films with very different tones. This trend of anti-hero films will likely continue as the market for them increases.