Who doesn’t love an antihero? Morally grey protagonists are engaging because they’re more relatable. We see ourselves in the cracks in their facade. Their flaws are fascinating because we have them as well.
However, some protagonists go beyond antihero and all the way to despicable. However, if the part is well-written and the actor talented, we may still find ourselves sympathizing with even the most villainous of characters. Redditors on r/movies, the largest film subreddit, recently got together to discuss some of the dastardly characters that they just can’t help but love.
10 Howard – ‘Uncut Gems’ (2019)
In Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a charismatic and reckless New York City jeweler who is always on the hunt for his next big score. Howard is a complex character, driven by his addiction to gambling and his desire for wealth and success. He is constantly making high-stakes bets and taking dangerous risks, all while juggling his family, his mistress, and his business.
It’s among Sandler’s very best performances, showcasing his range and proving that he is more than just a comedian. He brings a manic energy to the role, making Howard both sympathetic and infuriating at the same time. “I hate the character so much. So yeah, I love Sandler in it,” says u/corpus-luteum.
9 Bill the Butcher – ‘Gangs of New York’ (2002)
Gangs of New York is Martin Scorsese‘s sprawling epic that delves into the violent world of 19th-century New York City gangs. At the center of the film is Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting, the ruthless and charming leader of the Nativist gang. He exudes a palpable sense of danger and unpredictability, making him a formidable opponent to his enemies and a captivating presence onscreen.
“The way he’s clasping onto Leonardo DiCaprio’s hand as he’s dying just humanizes him even more… it feels like he still had some regard for him as a sort of son, despite everything. I may be reading too much into it, but for me, it solidified him as somewhat sympathetic and tragic,” says u/ThroatWMangrove. “He was a complex villain, portrayed himself as invincible physically, as well as emotionally, but could still feel the heartbreak of betrayal by someone he briefly loved like family.”
8 Louis Bloom – ‘Nightcrawler’ (2014)
In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a desperate and morally bankrupt freelance journalist who begins to film and sell footage of violent crimes and accidents in Los Angeles. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Bloom is truly transformative, as he sheds his boyish good looks and takes on a gaunt and almost ghoulish appearance. He captures Bloom’s obsessive drive, as well as his complete lack of empathy.
As Bloom becomes increasingly ruthless in his pursuit of success, Gyllenhaal infuses the character with a terrifying charisma that draws in those around him, even as his actions become more and more disturbing. u/deeppurple1729 called it, “one of the greatest performances I’ve seen.”
7 Ulysses – ‘Oh Brother, Where Are Thou?’ (2000)
In Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, a fast-talking ex-convict who leads a group of fellow prisoners on a madcap adventure through Depression-era Mississippi. He is constantly thinking on his feet and devising new schemes to get ahead, and Clooney plays this opportunistic nature to perfection.
“He lies to his friends, steals from people without thought, and subjects them to a nearly lifetime of prison just to get his wife back. All built on a lie of a ‘treasure’. He even asks them what they were going to do with their half that one night,” says u/sluohgmaster. “He does redeem himself at the end, only spiritually I think, but yeah. He’s an asshole but it’s young George Clooney in an awesome role. Can’t help but to love every scene he’s in.”
6 George Taylor – ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968)
At the heart of this sci-fi classic is Charlton Heston‘s iconic performance as astronaut George Taylor, whose journey to a distant planet leads him to a shocking and unimaginable reality. Heston is masterful, capturing the nuance of a character grappling with profound existential questions amid incredible danger and uncertainty.
“He’s narcissistic and arrogant and a douche pretty much until the end, although he does become slightly less hostile towards the peaceful apes by the end,” says u/unitedfan6191. “However, Charlton Heston steals every scene he’s in and I think the character was written in such a way where you can empathize with him.”
5 Jordan Belfort – ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)
In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a career-defining performance as Jordan Belfort, a corrupt stockbroker who rises to riches through illegal practices and excessive indulgence. DiCaprio embodies Belfort’s charismatic and manipulative persona, bringing his character to life with energy and intensity.
DiCaprio’s ability to embody such a loathsome creature, while also showcasing Belfort’s flaws and humanity, is a testament to his acting prowess. “In my humble opinion Leo should have received an Oscar for his performance,” says u/MrsForteskew.
4 The Butcher – ‘I Stand Alone’ (1998)
I Stand Alone is a harrowing movie from experimental filmmaker Gaspar Noé, exploring the depths of one man’s despair and desperation. Philippe Nahon‘s character is a former horse butcher who is consumed by his own bitterness and rage. We follow him through the bleak and seedy streets of Paris as he struggles to make sense of a world that has left him behind.
“The main character is despicable,” said u/Ok-Loquat942. “Hard to sit through for many but worth the watch.” u/bugsxbuster agrees, saying, “That movie made me feel absolutely awful in a way that even the most extreme movies rarely do. Noé is a true master of his craft but that dude is deeply disturbed. Lol.”
3 Walt Kowalski – ‘Gran Torino’ (2008)
Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War veteran who is bitter and angry at the world around him. When a young Hmong boy attempts to steal Walt’s prized possession, a 1972 Gran Torino, Walt becomes involved in the boy’s life and begins to see the world in a different light.
Eastwood’s portrayal of Walt is incredibly nuanced, balancing his gruff exterior with moments of vulnerability and humor. He is able to capture the essence of a man who has been scarred by war and a changing world, but who ultimately finds redemption through unexpected connections with others.
2 Roger Greenberg – ‘Greenberg’ (2010)
Ben Stiller takes on a departure from his typical comedic roles with the neurotic and introspective character of Roger Greenberg. Throughout the film, Greenberg is unable to connect with those around him, due to his fixation on his past and dissatisfaction with the present.
It’s a complex role, and Stiller succeeds in conveying the vulnerability that lies beneath his often abrasive exterior. It was the first of several terrific collaborations between Stiller and director Noah Baumbach, followed by While We’re Young and The Meyerowitz Stories.
1 Wikus – ‘District 9’ (2009)
This sci-fi directed by Neill Blomkamp follows a government agent named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who is tasked with relocating a group of extraterrestrial refugees from their makeshift homes in Johannesburg, South Africa. However, during the process, he becomes infected with an alien virus that begins to alter his DNA, causing him to become a wanted fugitive.
“[Wikus] was genuinely racist towards [the aliens], and very selfish and cowardly, and didn’t seem to care too much about them, even during the end,” says u/magnetofan52293. “He’s never explicitly evil, but certainly not a good guy and also not too bright. There’s something very pathetic about him, and I think a lot of that has to do with how perfectly Sharlto Copley played the role.”
NEXT: 10 Movies Where Everyone Thinks They’re the Main Character, According to Reddit