The anti-hero has become a very popular, and very misunderstood, character archetype. Much like the “Strong Female Character” it has come to mean a bad-ass character who rebels, does things their own way, and faces few repercussions for their attitude or actions.
This may be one kind of anti-hero, but truth be told it’s the poorly written kind (I said it and I’m not sorry).
An anti-hero has been defined as,
“a central character in a story, film, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes”
“the main character of a story, but one who doesn’t act like a typical hero. Antiheroes are often a little villainous.”
This describes one kind, the most popular kind, of anti-her; the rebel.
The rebel is the iconic anti-hero; someone who is good at heart, but who is chaotic, rebellious, and perhaps a little selfish. No-one would call them a role model, but we kind of secretly wish we were a little more like them. The Rebel is tough, resilient, probably a bit of an action hero, and in the Hollywood tradition will generally be, if they are male, divorced, heavy drinking, older, and an ex-military type. Think John McClane;
If female, the Rebel is more likely to conform to the “SFC£ stereotype, but hopefully with more complexity. They are usually tough, sarcastic/have attitude, have trust issues, and they tend to be quite attractive, e.g. Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A less common anti-hero is the Underdog. These characters tend to be loners, “little men”, or have little self-esteem. They are anti-hero’s because they aren’t heroic, not necessarily because they err on the villainous side. The Underdog may be selfish, cowardly, deceitful, or ineffectual, but they tend not to be bad in any real way. A good example of the Underdog could be said to be Bridget Jones;
The Free-Bird is characterised by their selfish, flighty, and often flaky nature; the Free-Bird is an anti-hero because they definitely do not want the responsibility of being a hero. They want to be free, footloose, and they want to be left alone by anything resembling authority. They’re an anti-hero, however, because often their good heart or strong morals compel them to do what’s right in the end, even when they’d rather do anything but. Captain Jack Sparrow is the poster child for this type of Anti-hero;
Think Batman, think Wolverine, and seriously think about Deadpool! Marvel and DC excel at this kind of anti-hero because, this is key, they tend to be the kind of person who could have been a conventional hero had their circumstances been different. The Bad-Good-Guy can be surly, angry, bitter, unpleasant, and violent, but they have a moral line that they won’t cross, and they ultimately want to do the right thing. They just don’t have to like anyone else while they do it.
Alternatively, the Bad-Good-Guy can be someone who is irreverent, who takes nothing seriously, but who wants the best result for everyone. They take nothing seriously, they’re bad at their job, so to speak, but they still do it.
The Turncoat, AKA the Good-Bad-Guy
Sometimes considered more of an Anti-Villain than an Anti-hero, the Turncoat is a former villain or a minion of a villain who displays doubts about their course of action, or who begins to distance themselves from the antagonist/villain of the story. The most recent iteration of LeFou (given life by the wonderful Josh Gad) is a perfect example;
Lefou could have been an anti-hero in his own right; he fits the bill for the Underdog quite well. You could say that the Turncoat is what happens when you tie an Underdog Anti-hero to a villainous cause. They may be selfish, cowardly, or weak, but often they are also empathetic and will have a morality tidemark, so to speak, that they won’t go beyond.
Shake up your Anti-hero’s for more interesting results!