Best Dark Protagonists

Film’s greatest antiheroes.


Successful movies and television shows do an excellent job of making their audiences love the protagonist of a story. However, such protagonists do not always represent a strong moral compass. Some of film’s best protagonists are antiheroes, leaving us no choice but to love them in spite of their fatal flaws.


We will discuss several of our favorite dark protagonists, and give a short backstory along with some of their dirtiest deeds. WARNING: Major spoilers ahead, read at your own risk.


Walter White – Breaking Bad

From a weak-willed high school chemistry teacher, to a heartless drug lord, Walter White commits more and more acts of evil, slowly transforming himself into Heisenberg as the show progresses. The title itself describes the plot of the show as Walter “breaks bad” in his misguided attempt to acquire enough drug money to support his family before he dies of cancer. The irony is that his life of crime destroys his family, hurts many around him, and leaves him more penniless than he was as a chemistry teacher.


Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver

Honorably-discharged and PTSD-suffering Travis Bickle is a Vietnam War veteran. His insomnia leads him to find a job as a late-night Taxi Driver in New York City, and subsequently a consumer-base of nighttime lowlifes who drive him crazy. Bickle becomes obsessed with Betsy, a campaign worker for Senator Charles Palantine. Attempting to win over Betsy, Bickle goes so far as to try to kill Palantine at a rally but his plot fails. An increasingly-paranoid Bickle continues along his taxi route where he encounters a 12-year-old prostitute named Iris. He makes it his mission to protect her, but she is scared to leave her job because of intimidation by her boss. Bickle attempts to resolve her problem by going on a murderous rampage, killing the pimp and all of his bodyguards but dying himself in the process. The psychotic Bickle is a prime example of a character’s descent into madness, and has been noted as the inspiration for Arthur Fleck in Joker.


Pablo Escobar – Narcos

Pablo Escobar is perhaps the most notorious drug lord of all time; yet, the Netflix documentary, Narcos, depicts him as a loving father and husband who rules his cocaine empire with an iron fist. Escobar is too ambitious as his empire grows too large, and catches the attention of two DEA agents, who eventually bring down. In the midst of their pursuit of Escobar, he pursues politics and philanthropy, yet kills hundreds of innocent people as pressure-filled life makes him descend into paranoia. Manufacturing, smuggling, and selling cocaine is just one of the many nefarious deeds that make him a complex and entertaining character. 


Anakin Skywalker – Revenge of Sith

Perhaps no character in film history has fallen from hero to villain as hard as Anakin Skywalker. Touted as the “Chosen One” who will bring peace and balance to the force, he is the lovable hero of the first two movies in chronology. However, the evil emperor Palpatine works his way into Skywalker’s ear and convinces him to join the dark side of the force known as the Sith. At the end of the 3rd movie, the Sith initiate Order 66, a purge of Jedi leaders. Skywalker is instrumental, killing young Jedi trainees and attacking his best friend Obi-Wan Kenobi. By the time we next see Anakin, he has transformed into the empirical and ruthless villain Darth Vader. 


Arthur Fleck – Joker

One of the most popular villains of all time, “Joker” finally got his own movie starring Joaquin Phoenix in 2019. The movie was widely appreciated as it depicted Joker in a new light, with a complex backstory and outstanding acting from Phoenix. The movie frames Arthur Fleck as a disturbed man who faces the tremors of abuse he suffered as a child and of oppression he faces from Gotham’s society. His acts of violence get more extreme towards the end of the movie; similar to many other antiheroes, he transforms from Arthur into Joker. He takes revenge against many of those who wronged him and the acts of violence become even more grotesque. At the end of the movie, his stance against established society is publicized, which rallies a nihilist uprising, made up of Gotham’s downtrodden people. Despite his terrifying acts of violence, Joker was widely appreciated by the youth and the movie triggered a wave of memes and pop culture references.


Jordan Belfort – The Wolf of Wall Street

After meeting stockbroker Mark Hanna, Belfort becomes obsessed with the wild culture of Wall Street. Unfortunately, Belfort loses his job on Black Monday, leaving him with limited options for employment. He begins trading penny stocks, making a small fortune through his pump and dump scheme to inflate prices by misleading customers. Using this scam technique, Belfort grows his company from a small Long Island shop to a Manhattan skyscraper. Hilarious, charismatic, and unapologetic, it’s impossible not to love the twisted and greedy character of Jordan Belfort. 


Bojack Horseman – Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman is an adult animated sitcom, released by Netflix in 2014. While it has animal characters and light jokes, the show takes on dark themes within Bojack’s character such as alcohol and drug addiction, depression, and toxic sexuality. Bojack is unable to handle his own fame and ego as he makes countless mistakes that hurt his life and the lives of others around him. He is likeable to the audience, yet his actions are impulsive and destructive, which makes us wonder if he will ever get better. It goes on for 6 seasons as Bojack’s progress towards recovery ebbs and flows. Bojack’s complex backstory and development makes him a fascinating character who represents human flaws in the body of a horse.


Marty Byrde – Ozark

A financial advisor from Chicago, Marty Byrde becomes involved with the cartel. He and his family are forced to move to Missouri to launder money in exchange for his life, a reality which he initially hides from his family. Byrde begins purchasing various businesses, such as a strip club and funeral home, to launder money through. As the FBI and locals become increasingly suspicious of the family, Byrde must find other ways to keep laundering and satisfying the cartel. He even poses as a devout Christian in order to display a better public image and build a church to launder through. However, when the Pastor becomes wary of his motives, things get even darker. Byrde’s attempt to balance his family’s safety with the wishes of Mexican drug lords keeps the audience’s eyes glued to the screen.


Rick Sanchez – Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty is a wildly popular cartoon that is based around the adventures of super-genius Rick Sanchez and his less intelligent grandson, Morty Smith. The show is adult themed and hilarious as Rick finds new ways to entertain himself throughout the universe and drags Morty along. Rick’s seemingly unstoppable power proves to be too much for his own good as he is destructive towards others and towards Morty in his pursuit of meaningless entertainment. Despite his toxic nature and flaws, his jokes and relationship with Morty make him a very likeable character.


Daenerys Targaryen – Game of Thrones

Daenerys Targaryen is one of the many protagonists who seek to rule the Seven Kingdoms in the HBO show, Game of Thrones. Her powerful personality and power in the show, along with the help of her three dragon children, makes her a strong candidate for the throne. She was a hero for the beginning seasons of the show, yet eventually became overly destructive and violent as she got closer to becoming the queen. It was obvious that she would only plunge the Seven Kingdoms into another period of war and terror, so an act of sacrifice was made to conclude the show and save the Seven Kingdoms. 


Louis Bloom – Nightcrawler

Louis Bloom is a low-life thief in Los Angeles, stealing items to resell them for a profit. After passing a car crash, he becomes introduced to the world of stringers; independent photojournalists who record crime scenes and sell the footage to local news stations. Bloom buys a camera and tries his luck as a stringer. However, he soon becomes obsessed with getting the “perfect shot,” evading morals in favor of filming lucrative footage. 


Wade Wilson – Deadpool

The Merc with a Mouth is perhaps the funniest character in all of film, and equally ruthless. Deadpool has no regret, killing just about anyone or anything in his way without thinking twice about it. A mercenary, Deadpool’s quickly regenerating health makes him essentially unstoppable for opponents. He also says the most out of pocket things in all of cinema, leaving audiences both disgusted by his actions and laughing at his jokes throughout every movie. 


Tommy Shelby – Peaky Blinders

After honorably serving for England in World War I, the disillusioned veteran was determined to elevate his family’s social status. Tommy becomes the leader of a criminal Birmingham gang known as the Peaky Blinders. The gang begins to make a lucrative profit through illegal betting and the black market, soon becoming the intimidating rulers of the city behind their patriarch, Tommy.