Character Development Screenwriting Script Writing

What is an Anti Hero? | All things Anti Hero.

What’s an example of an anti hero? What is an anti hero? Just a couple of questions we hear pretty often. We all know of an anti hero, but are what actually are they and what makes you an anti hero? 

This article delves into what an anti hero is, great examples, and touches upon frequently asked questions surrounding the ever-so prominent anti hero. 

Let’s get right to it! 

What is an anti hero?

An anti hero is a protagonist of the story, but are defined by their self-interest. Most of their characteristics are the opposite that you would see within a standard “hero” character. 

Anti heroes tend to have characteristics that are self-destructive, ineffectual, deluded and other ill-fitted physical and mental attributes. Their questionable motives can also spur a sense of immorality and start to fit the hero into the “anti” bracket because something has deeply affected them. 

Whether it’s a feeling of rejection from society or losing something or someone they love – this can push a hero into becoming an anti hero and creates an interesting dynamic for the audience. 

Anti heroes have become incredibly popular over the years including favourites such as Dexter and Walter White. We explore the characteristics of an anti hero in more detail and look at perfect examples of anti heroes in both film and television. 

We delve a little further into the key characteristics of an anti hero. 

What are key anti hero characteristics?

We’ve rounded up a few key characteristics you can use when developing your characters for your film. Anti heroes are complex characters who carry identifiable imperfections that the audience can pick out, leading them to be cynical, self-interested and suffer from internal conflict

Leading them to produce an interesting story, with twists and turns that keep the audience on their toes. If your looking to create a dynamic anti hero, these are some attributes you must explore:

  • They are a complex character.
  • Can be cynical.
  • Battling with society. 
  • Noble with strong morals. 
  • They’re a realist.
  • Their methods to achieve their goals can be unorthodox. 
  • They can defy laws to achieve what they need to. 
  • They do have good intentions. 
  • Imperfect. 
  • Relatable.
  • They can show little or no remorse for their actions. 
  • They are battling internal conflict. 

These are some common traits that you can apply to your characters throughout the development stage; we discuss the different ”types” of anti heroes below. 

Why not read: External conflict in screenwriting.

What are the different types of anti hero?

It’s pretty hard to box in a certain ”type” of an anti hero, as their mannerisms and traits all vary so much. You build unique anti heroes based on numerous aspects of their life and how they’ve developed. 

However, there are a few example models that you can build an anti hero from; we explore them below: 

  • A heroic villain: traits are pretty close to that of a standard villain, but their terrible behaviour benefits society in a way. 
  • An immoral hero: egotistical, driven by self-interest. A cynical view of the world but has great intentions for the world they live in.
  • Practical rebels: this anti hero will cross moral lines for the greater good, i.e. Dexter. 

We explore what an anti villain is in this breakdown – check it out!

Anti hero vs villain – what’s the difference?

We’re often asked a question about differing between an anti hero and a villain. Yes, they have similar traits, but they’re built differently. 

The clear difference is that the villain has bad intentions, and the anti hero has boundaries and good intentions. 

An anti hero is a protagonist who has boundaries, and their aims are for the greater good

 but will have some character flaws, whether general imperfections or unorthodox methods, ultimately they are looking to work for the greater good. 

A villain is an antagonist who looks to foil the protagonist and get in their way purposely. Their aims are clear to bring the world into disrepute and do their best to destroy the greater good. 

Read our take on Dan Harmons Story Circle – writing the perfect screenplay, our step by step guide.  

Examples of anti heroes

Here are a few notable examples of anti heroes in film and television. We break them down and explain what makes them an anti hero.

Here’s a couple of our favourite, complex anti heroes; check them out: 

Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver

Travis Bickle is one of the greatest anti heroes of all time. Scorsese nailed it using Paul Schrader’s inspired script. 

He had some terrible characteristics, but his aims were noble and moral; what he looked to achieve in a non-conventional way was: 

  • Remove the world of bad. 
  • Die a hero (Martyr). 
  • Liberate women from oppression. 

He keeps his views pretty confidential, which creates deep, internal conflict for him. This internal conflict expresses itself externally as strange and uncomfortable, with some characters finding it intriguing. 

Initially, he is accepted in the story, but he becomes rejected by others around him as the film progresses. He does everything he can to look strong, powerful, and more attractive, but this gives him a double-sided personality that begins to put others off. 

His views on the world are noble and of strong morality; however, his way of getting things done and achieving his goals is less desired. However, this helps craft a complex, interesting character that leaves the audience wanting him to succeed and understand his flaws. 

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Captain Jack Sparrow – Pirates of The Caribbean

Captain Jack Sparrow is a great anti hero, and one I’m sure you’re aware of if you love the Pirates of The Caribbean films. 

Generally, he encompasses a few un-heroic traits that make his character iconic, but he will do the right thing at the end of the day. He’s just a bit of a maverick. 

Often, he’s pretty amoral and can be intoxicated of sorts – a mad man who’s out for himself, but he does look out for the greater good. 

He’s a perfectly written character and adds complexity to a character that makes you want to watch more of him. He adds a lot of depth to the story and certain intricacies.

Thomas Shelby – Peaky Blinders

Thomas Shelby is another anti hero that’s been well crafted and written. He’s essentially a corrupt protagonist. A corrupt protagonist usually chases power, money and fame. 

Thomas Shelby is obsessed with winning and will do anything to succeed. He, however, does protect his family and friends, but sometimes this is not our of love for them, just a necessity. 

This character is a complex one, where the argument still lies is he an anti hero? Or is he a bad person deep down? 

He operates solely on self-interest and doesn’t think first about anyone else, he just needs to win, and that’s that. Is his “winning” seen as noble? That’s for you to decide. 

However, this well-written character combines complexity and intrigue with all his faults to keep the audience watching. They want to see how he develops over time and what will happen next. A great way to capture a story

Why not read: Visual Screenwriting: How to write CAPTIVATING visuals

Anti hero FAQ’s: 

Here are a few frequently asked questions asked by our readers on anti heroes that we have answered below: 

Why is Batman an anti hero? 

In The Dark Knight: Batman’s methods are pretty close to the line. His unorthodox methods can come across as menacing, but his intentions are heroic. 

He’s willing to break the law and do anything he can to achieve his goal of making the world a better place.

This is what defined Batman in the Dark Knight as an “Anti hero”.

Why is Deadpool an anti hero?

Deadpool falls into the anti hero section as he does fit the cause. However, there is a villainous side to him, but a few immoral actions before. 

  • Helped a woman by talking her down from a ledge. 
  • Jumped in front of a laser blast to save a kid. 
  • Donates organs for the greater good. 
  • Saved the Marvel Multiverse. 
  • Saved the world from “red Skull”. 

However, he’s done some shitty things, for instance; 

  • Killed Phil Coulson. 
  • Used his daughter as bait. 
  • Got Mr Immortal killed purposely. 
  • Set fire to an endangered elephant.

We hope you enjoyed our take on anti heroes and learnt a thing or seven! In the comments, let us know your thoughts below, and we will consider those when writing our next article. 

Scroll a little further for more screenwriting and storytelling resources. 

Happy screenwriting!

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