Films

The greatest film antiheroes

Didn’t you know that nice guys finish last? Here’s our pick of the most wonderful miscreants to have ever graced the big screen.

(Images: Kobal)

  • The greatest film antiheroes

    Jeff (Out Of The Past (1947))

    Like Jack Nicholson, Humphrey Bogart and Dennis Hopper, Robert Mitchum was an antihero off-screen and on. He played himself; a couldn’t-give-a-damn brute with deadpan charm and casual sex appeal. In the noir of all noirs, Out Of The Past, he plays Jeff, the doomed chump gazumped by a duplicitous dame. Contains the coolest improvisation ever: at the start of a scene Kirk Douglas says “Cigarette?” Mitchum looks down, realises he has one still lit from off-set, but coolly responds, “Smoking.” 

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    Stanley (A Streetcar Named Desire (1951))

    Still the most exciting film performance in history. The raw, swaggering existential rage of Brando gives his scenes still believable edge more than 60 years on. He’s the rotten bastard all men want to be. No wonder the world is fucked.

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    John Winger (Stripes (1981))

    Bill Murray has made a career out of playing antiheroes; defeated, selfish egotists with a sexy charisma that makes everything all right. We’re plumping for John Winger here – Stripes may be a second-rate film, but the character is his greatest antihero; Peter Venkman without the business sense, he’s probably the most laidback lead character, ever. Winger loses his taxi-driving job, drops his pizza and loses his girlfriend (“You can’t go. All the plants are gonna die”) within the first few minutes, and decides to sign up to the army to get into shape. It also has a great example of the sexy charm of weirdos, when he puts his blonde military police lady on a cooker top and starts tickling her with kitchen utensils, all improvised by Murray. As Winger says, “Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it’s usually something unusual.”

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    Jeff Lebowski (The Big Lebowski (1998))

    “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.” A character lost in his own movie, The Dude is a Raymond Chandler invention too stoned to figure out what the hell is going on around him. Key quote: “Hey, careful man, there’s a beverage here.”

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    Bonnie (Bonnie And Clyde (1967))

    Warren Beatty is a git. With his bouffant hair and shit-eating smirk, he’s always been a bit too in love with himself to be lovable. Faye Dunaway is way cooler, all beret, icy stare and cocked pistol, inspired by the anti-bombshell women in French New Wave films. Part of the plot is that Clyde is impotent, and continually avoids sex with Bonnie. It never rings true.

  • The greatest film antiheroes 5

    Walker (Point Blank (1967))

    Lee Marvin’s Walker is out for revenge after being betrayed by his girl and his best buddy. This stylish, propulsive, profound film then follows him as he uses escalating brutality to triumph in a neat and happy ending. That last bit is a joke. 

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    The Bride (Kill Bill (2003))

    Sure, The Bride’s on a justified revenge mission, but she’s hardly a Downton Abbey heroine. More of a head chef at a buffet of death. The sheer number of killing moves she uses is a moving tribute to the human imagination.  

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    Newton (The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976))

    Bowie’s pasty alien ponce tries to save his planet, but instead becomes an alcoholic and is experimented on by the bloody government. Happily, he found redemption, and a better wig, in the sequel Labyrinth.

  • The greatest film antiheroes 8

    The Man With No Name (Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966))

    You opt for Clint in just about anything. The gun-slinging priest in Pale Rider, the avenger in High Plains Drifter, or the liberal-baiting Dirty Harry; but it’d be churlish not to go for the hero of Sergio Leone’s trilogy. The stone-cold sonofabitch for hire, who maybe, just maybe, has a heart in there somewhere. 

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    Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver (1976))

    A truly disturbed antihero looking for hope in a hellish New York. Rejected by a girl after an ill-judged date at a porn cinema, he handles it well; buys four guns, shaves in a mohican and attempts to kill a senator. Ends with a slaughter in a brothel, as all great nights out do.

  • The greatest film antiheroes 10

    Arthur Seaton (Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960))

    Albert Finney made his name as factory worker Arthur Seaton. Needless to say his drinking, shagging, anti-authority ways don’t end well. And needless to say all men forget the ending.

  • The greatest film antiheroes 11

    Chas (Performance (1970))

    James Fox lost his mind after playing Chas, due to all the on-set drugs and identity-shifting ‘method’ filming, and didn’t appear in another film for 13 years. Still, it was worth it, as his East End gangster morphs into Mick Jagger.