The Anti-Hero: Why We Love a Good Bad Guy




The anti-hero. No longer does America want to watch the good guy (or girl) on TV. Over the last decade or so, we have seen a trend in American TV culture, in which we root for a character that is a combination of hero and villain. This evolution has shown us men who are real family men, but also have less than honorable jobs and commit terrible acts: a ruthless mob boos (The Sopranos), a serial killer (Dexter) and a drug lord (Breaking Bad), as examples.

This is not a new concept. Some of our most loved classic novels depict these types of characters, which may account for their long-lasting popularity. This list includes a criminal turned mayor (Les Miserables), an egotistical charismatic party-thrower (The Great Gatsby), and a troubled loner teenager (Catcher in the Rye). Hey, even the Cat in the Hat is an anti-hero, who knowingly causes all sorts of mischief when the mother is out.

Maybe the anti-hero better reflects real life than the traditional heroes and villains that have permeated our TV and movie screens for years. 

But what exactly is an anti-hero, and why do we find this type of character irresistible to watch? Are these characters essentially good people or are they bad? What are their motivations in choosing their surprising paths? Should these characters be rewarded or punished for their actions?

Maybe the anti-hero better reflects real life than the traditional heroes and villains that have permeated our TV and movie screens for years. Think about it, is that arrested criminal being broadcast on the news, pure evil? Is it more likely that he or she is also a loving husband or wife, with children he or she loves? And, that hero who just rescued that child from a burning building, do we know his full story or are we just judging him on his latest act of good?




For some reason, we seem to love anti-heroes even though they commit evil acts, we sympathize with them. In the beginning, they have good intentions and motives: money, taking care of their family, finding confidence in themselves, feeling strong, feeling powerful. However, towards the end, we realize that their motives have changed: greed, revenge, self-righteousness, ego, etc. Still, these shows would not have lasted as long as they do, unless the audience was in some way on their side, cheering them on.


Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will learn about the characteristics of anti-heroes, identify anti-heroes on television, and then decide, if this character is good or evil.

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Lesson tags: Anti hero, Creative Writing, Eleventh, English, Featured, Film, Ninth, Pop Culture, Television, Tenth, TV, Writing

Michelle Platt

Michelle Platt Michelle Platt is a curriculum writer, and former English and Social Studies teacher. She is also a licensed attorney. She graduated college with an English degree and is an aspiring author, currently working on her first book. Her favorite things are coffee, binge watching TV, and her family, not necessarily in that order.