Fact Checked

What is an Anti-Hero?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Throughout history, storytellers, playwrights and writers of all kinds have woven tales of terrible deeds, tragedies, courage, and conquering. In each case, the story has a main character, sometimes called a protagonist. The main character is also often referred to as the hero or heroine of the story, particularly if the character possesses a nature that is idealized or super-human in positive attributes. When the main character is deeply flawed, however, lacking in the attributes that people most often associate with heroism, he or she becomes an anti-hero.

Heroes face danger for the sake of protecting or saving others with little thought to themselves. Action movies often feature a classic hero or heroine who must risk all to beat the odds and achieve an objective that serves others as much or more than it serves the hero. In many cases, the hero volunteers through sense of duty, while at other times, he or she rises to the occasion when put in a situation that calls for action.

The anti-hero, presenting a more complex portrait than the traditional hero, was portrayed regularly in early U.S. westerns.
The anti-hero, presenting a more complex portrait than the traditional hero, was portrayed regularly in early U.S. westerns.

The anti-hero is often a reluctant hero who does not consider himself capable of accomplishing the goal. He might be selfish, addicted, corrupt, sullen, or disaffected. By the end of the journey, he typically transforms into a fuller, happier, or more complete person due to the struggles he endures. In many cases, the anti-hero dies at the end of the story, even while overcoming his faults.

Anti-heroes often struggle with undesirable behaviors.
Anti-heroes often struggle with undesirable behaviors.

Examples of classic heroes are seen all through early Westerns, embodied in actors like the late John Wayne, and include the he-man with manners and a predictable moral code. Keanu Reeves played a more modernized classic hero in Speed, a hotshot cop (Officer Jack Traven) who went after bad guy Dennis Hopper (Howard Payne) unflinchingly.

Anti-heroes are many, from Thelma and Louise, to Lt. Ellen Ripley of Alien, to Rocky Balboa of Rocky. Television also has its share, including the acerbic Dr. Gregory House from House, and the emotionally fractured Meredith of Grey’s Anatomy. Perhaps the best example is Dexter, the likeable blood-spatter expert for the Miami PD who also happens to be a serial killer ... but kills bad guys only. Here we have hero and villain rolled into one package.

The moral complexity of the anti-hero causes the audience to question the limits of its own moral integrity. This character often challenges people's willingness to extend themselves beyond comfortable boundaries to see life from a point of view that is perhaps more similar to their own in many ways than the classic hero who is beyond reproach. By delving into character, people delve into their own insecurities and hopes that, with all of their personal flaws and shortcomings, they too will be able to rise above any challenges and end victoriously.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


Don't forget about the punisher. He's probably the very definition of an anti hero.


Sherlock is a good example.


Let's not forget Batman from The Dark Knight trilogy.

He's not afraid to beat people down for interrogation like he did with The Joker in The Dark Knight.


The God Loki from Norse mythology, and the movie Thor.


Came from Drakengard is an Anti-Hero, I believe.


Shadow the Hedgehog, Venom from Spider Man, even Homer Simpson are all antiheroes.


Deadpool from the Marvel World is also portrayed as an anti-hero.


There are some real basic mistakes in this article and since the hero myth is the foundation for much of human culture you should probably try to understand the real story if you hope to understand life.

To begin with, the hero takes the hit for the sake of others. He doesn't "win". He doesn't get rich and he doesn't end up happy.

I would suggest studying the work of Joseph Campbell. In particular i recommend his ground breaking book "The Hero With A thousand Faces".


bender from futurama is probably the best antihero!


yeah hancock is an anti-hero, totally.


andrew pirrung is a major anti- hero


Are there any more anti heroes?i need some for school and most of them i don't know

please help!


Except Gregory House would never volunteer out of a sense of 'duty'; maybe out of guilt.


Anti-hero has another meaning. It could refer to someone with no redeeming virtue. I always tried to find something good about every patient that I treated. I thought that I could do a better job for them (although I tried to do the very best that I could for everyone) if I could find something about them that I could relate to positively. I can only recall two men from the fifty-one years that I was an active doctor about whom I could not find a single redeeming feature. One of them was faithful even after death-his family would not permit an autopsy. I was hoping to learn something from his case. So I got absolutely no reward for the three months of care I gave him in the hospital except for the knowledge that I had done my duty.

Donald W. Bales, M.D. retired internist


Excellent summary of Anti hero's characteristics and role. I've never seen a better one.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • The anti-hero, presenting a more complex portrait than the traditional hero, was portrayed regularly in early U.S. westerns.
      By: outdoorsman
      The anti-hero, presenting a more complex portrait than the traditional hero, was portrayed regularly in early U.S. westerns.
    • Anti-heroes often struggle with undesirable behaviors.
      By: beeboys
      Anti-heroes often struggle with undesirable behaviors.