Skip to main content
Screenwriting

Screenwriter’s Monthly: Antiheroes

By July 27, 2023No Comments

Screenwriter’s Monthly- AntiheroesWelcome to Screenwriter’s Monthly, our series (and email newsletter) that offers interviews with notable screenwriters, in-depth advice from career professionals, and insight and analysis of the latest filmmaking trends. The best part? It’s all here, just like the old morning paper.

This month, we’re talking antiheroes.

Edition 4: Antiheroes

Before Taylor Swift admitted she was the problem, Antiheroes have been a steady staple of TV and film. 

And there’s good reason for the reign of these fallible mainstays. Antiheroes aren’t just the most interesting types of heroes but the most relatable. Sometimes they’re flawed. Sometimes they’re damaged. And sometimes, they’re just letting their baggage get in the way. 

We’ve all been there. Maybe that makes the antihero’s journeys more fun than those perfect—and screenwriting gods forbid, righteous—protagonists. I guess that’s just like, our opinion, man.

Look, we all love Captain America and Mr. Smith, but today we’re celebrating those deliciously complicated near-villains. Here’s everything you need to know about antiheroes—from which ones to study to how to create your own.

Why Do We Love Antiheroes?

The answer is actually pretty simple; they’re relatable. They don’t always do the right thing. They let their experiences and flaws cloud their judgment. They want what they can’t have. They can be jealous, deceitful, mean and careless. Does any of this sound familiar? Antiheroes reflect our humanity in all its complexity in a way that regular old heroes can’t.

Different Types of Antiheroes

So how do you create an antihero that people will not only relate to but also love? Let’s look at some examples.

The One Who Is The Villain

Not all heroes wear capes. But some despise them. Take Loki, Thor’s wanna-be-dictator brother who somehow became one of the most beloved characters in the MCU after decimating New York City with a hoard of killer aliens. 

What makes Loki such a successful antihero? Loki resents the hammer-dependent Thunder boy, and understandably so. Despite being the more intelligent of the two brothers, Loki is the orphan son of his father’s enemy—and, even before he finds out his true identity, he has felt the weight of that fact since birth. He’s the literal definition of an antihero: a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

Loki’s backstory and status within his family make him super relatable. The show takes it further. According to basically everyone, Loki is evil incarnate. But what if that is just the role he has been forced into? Are Lokis just born to lose—punching bags destined for defeat at the hands of heroes-to-be? Envy, greed, resentment—you don’t have to be a Trickster God of Asgard to relate to these emotions. 

Loki is backed into a corner by his dad. The Avengers tell him that “losing” is his destiny. Loki believes he is weak, so he lashes out to hide it. When you back your character into a corner like this, their actions are so relatable they almost feel justified. 


The One With A Purpose

Loki’s a bit lost, trying to figure out his “glorious purpose,” but some antiheroes know precisely what they want. Like revenge. In Oldboy, Park Chan-Wook tests the limits of his audience’s sympathy. Chan-Wook took inspiration from a Greek tragedy, namely Oedipus, for his bloody and brutal revenge tale. 

Dae-su Oh is far from a hero. He’s a drunk; he’s irritating and ruthless. But most of all, he has a purpose. A clear, seemingly justified one. Some of the best antiheroes are spurred by revenge. For Dae-su Oh, his mystery imprisonment and the murder of his wife send him into a rampage. And no matter how dark it gets, we can tolerate every brutality. Because to the audience, his actions are justified.

[It doesn’t even matter that he doesn’t even seem to like dogs.]

The One Who Won’t Give In

Take Search Party’s Dory Sief. Just like Loki, Dori’s purposes get crossed.

The relatable, aimless Brooklyn millennial’s flaw is that she’s purposeless. After convincing herself that she’s meant to save a missing friend, Dory starts down a dark rabbit hole, eventually leading to murder and time as a cult leader. 

Dory’s desire for purpose—and her inability to prove that she has one—ties her up so tightly that her unraveling is so inevitable it’s almost beyond her control.

And yet, Dory fights. She never gives in, even though she probably should. But Dory won’t settle for being a “tragic hero.” Dory’s purpose is perhaps to just survive—her Machiavellian self-preservation demands respect. Her selfishness is almost enviable. No matter how far she goes, it’s impossible not to admire her for it. 

Scene Dissection | Tár

One of the year’s favorite, and most divisive, antiheroes is Lydia Tár. Perhaps the moment that contributes the most to the titular character’s divisiveness is a scene in which the conductor takes on cancel culture by eviscerating her student in front of the class. Whether you agree with Tár or with her student isn’t the point. The point is we get to know Tár, a woman in a position of power most often occupied by men. 

Do you respect her candor? Do you think she’s just as abusive as her male predecessors? Whose point-of-view is valid, or both? It’s hard not to be taken in by Tár’s confidence, conviction, and eloquence. But does she take things too far? The scene is a perfect setup for the rest of the film, as these questions are explored and shown more, and at times less, of Tár. 

Do you see Tár as an antihero? Decide for yourself. 

Read the scene and the full script on The Script Lab. 

What to Watch

Okay, ready to sink your teeth (or…eyes…ew) into some great antihero movies and shows? Here’s a list of what you should watch.

Antihero Movies

Yojimbo

Wandering rōnin Kuwabatake Sanjuro is a cold-blooded killer in Akira Kurosawa’s samurai Western. You could easily put Kurosawa’s Macbeth retelling, Throne of Blood, on this list as well.

The Thieves

Choi Dong-hoon’s dark heist boasts an ensemble of lovable antiheroes played by the best of Korea’s film stars, including Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae. 

Dollars Trilogy

Sergio Leone’s seminal Spaghetti Western trilogy features Clint Eastwood as one of Hollywood’s most beloved antiheroes, the Man with No Name.

Antihero TV Shows

Breaking Bad

People love to debate whether Walter White is a hero, antihero, or villain—why not all three?

Single Drunk Female

Samantha Fink is an antihero at rock bottom.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David is anti just about everything, and his un-likability is somehow his most likable quality. A true antihero.

Trailer Round-Up

John Wick: Chapter 4

John Wick is one of our favorite antihero-ruthlessly-seeks-revenge types. Crossing our fingers there are even more dogs in this one!

Oppenheimer

Can Christopher Nolan turn “the father of the atomic bomb” into an antihero?

Cocaine Bear

There definitely seem to be some possible antiheroes in the ensemble cast, but could the real antihero be…the bear?

 

Creating your own antihero? WeScreenplay’s affordable coverage services can help you take your characters to the next level. We’re looking forward to working on your antiheroes together.

Later gators!

Check out previous editions of Screenwriter’s Monthly!