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12 Movie Heroes Who Are Actually Villains

April 3, 202412 Mins Read

The difference between good and evil can be a matter of perspective. Many films have presented simple and enjoyable tales where the plucky and righteous underdogs take on an all-powerful threat, but the fact remains that there is nothing that engrosses an audience quite like moral ambiguity. While there have been plenty of admirable main characters forced to do terrible things in order to achieve a greater good, these 12 protagonists aren’t quite as heroic as they may first appear.

It is incredibly interesting to see how audiences engage with them as well, as, given common narrative tropes and progression, viewers are conditioned to align themselves with the central character and cheer for them as they strive to achieve their goals. However, these figures challenge that notion with fascinating results. Some of these characters started out as good people but were corrupted on their journey. Others were never that heroic or noble to begin with, while some others are just plain jerks. With movie heroes like these, who needs villains?

12 Ferris Bueller

‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986)

Matthew Broderick in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1988)
Image via Paramount Pictures

Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is a symbol of the rebellious teenage spirit. A freewheeling ratbag of unfettered cheek whose grandest ambitions are tied to having a good time right here, right now. In the iconic feel-good 80s comedy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the titular troublemaker skips school while encouraging his best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck), and girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara) to do the same. Over the course of one day, the trio engage in all sorts of mischief while being pursued by the school’s vindictive dean.

Broderick imbues the irreverent teen with plenty of charm, courtesy of his engaging and natural charisma, which is a good thing since Ferris is a bit of a scoundrel. Ditching class is relatively insignificant, but Bueller forcing his friend to do the same and even taking Cameron’s dad’s car is more drastic, especially as he escapes meaningful consequences for all the wrong he does. Is Bueller the greatest evil of all time? Of course not, but he does have a tendency to be a reckless jerk.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Release Date
June 11, 1986

John Hughes

Matthew Broderick , Alan Ruck , Mia Sara , Jeffrey Jones , Jennifer Grey , Cindy Pickett

103 minutes

11 Drea Torres

‘Do Revenge’ (2022)

Drea Torres (Camila Mendes) sips from a flowery drink bottle in 'Do Revenge' (2022).
Image via Netflix

A hilarious Netflix original teen comedy-drama from director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Do Revenge is centered on the unexpected friendship that forms between two students in Rosehill Country Day High School. Drea Torres (Camila Mendes), who was once popular and is now a social outcast, teams up with the transfer student Eleanor Levetan (Maya Hawke), who is haunted by the actions of a bully who now attends the same school. They work together to seek revenge for each other in devious and often comedic ways.

However, it is revealed that Eleanor has been playing Drea all along, scheming to take her own revenge on the seemingly hard-done-by protagonist who has a few dark secrets in her past. Drea isn’t even able to remember the terrible thing she did to Eleanor. While she does have a significant character transformation towards the end of the film, it does little to change the fact that she is a vindictive, self-centered sociopath who is governed by her desire for popularity.

Do Revenge

Release Date
September 16, 2022

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson

1 hr 59 mim

10 Mrs. Doubtfire

‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (1993)

Mrs. Doubtfire smiling softly in Mrs. Doubtfire
Image via 20th Century Studios

There are few 90s comedies as beloved as Mrs. Doubtfire. Hanging its hat on Robin Williams‘ brilliant lead performance, it follows a father as he pursues a harebrained scheme to spend time with his children following an acrimonious divorce. Disguising himself as an elderly woman in order to be hired as the kids’ nanny, he weasels his way back into the household with results that are hilarious, but also somewhat troubling.

The fact that he resorts to deception to be closer to his kids is, on its own, forgivable, but the scenario changes when he begins undermining his ex-wife’s relationship with her new boyfriend, and even goes so far as to contaminate his food with a pepper he is extremely allergic to. With Williams’ comedic brilliance and his underlying poignancy, the film never feels like it is depicting something sinister, but the character’s actions are difficult to condone when truly considered.

Mrs. Doubtfire

Release Date
November 24, 1993

Chris Columbus


Main Genre

9 Seth

‘Superbad’ (2007)

Seth and Evan complaining to Fogell about his fake iD in Superbad.
Image via Columbia Pictures

A coming-of-age classic that excels as a true gem of modern teen comedy and one of the funniest movies ever made, Superbad is a masterpiece of misbehavior. It focuses on the misadventures of three unpopular high school students who find a rare chance to attend a party when they are approached to obtain alcohol for the event. Underage and acting on a whim, their efforts bear some interesting consequences.

Its depiction of teenage boys is, sometimes, painfully accurate, especially in the case of Jonah Hill’s Seth, who is desperate to attend the party so he can make a move on Jules (Emma Stone) when she is drunk. While he exhibits many unflattering characteristics of teenage boys, it is his sex-crazed attitude towards Jules and women in general that distinguishes him as being even worse than his friends. Superbad is wise to see him make some sort of transformation at the end of the movie, but Seth is a character who, at his worst, can be as difficult and repulsive as he is hilariously wrong.


Release Date
March 20, 2007


Main Genre

Rent on Apple TV

8 Joe Fox

‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998)

Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly sit together on a park bench in New York in 'You've Got Mail' (1998)
Image via Warner Bros.

A landmark success in the context of 1990s rom-coms, Nora Ephron‘s You’ve Got Mail chronicles a budding online romance between two anonymous chatroom friends who, in real life, are fierce rivals in book-selling businesses. It’s one of three iconic rom-coms starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But Hank’s character, Joe Fox, isn’t quite as nice as he appears.

For one, he lies to Ryan’s Kathleen, over and over. He crashes her blind date, then refuses to leave after she asks him to. After he figures out that Kathleen is the woman he has been messaging online, he weaponizes this information against her. The movie has a happy ending, but not before Kathleen loses her business and her income, largely due to Joe. Tom Hanks is a good enough actor that he imbues Joe with some warmth and likability, but the Joe Fox in the script is truly awful.

You’ve Got Mail

Release Date
February 26, 1998

Nora Ephron


7 Ladybug

‘Bullet Train’ (2022)

brad pitt bullet train social featured
Image via Sony

Director David Leitch‘s comedy-action film, Bullet Train, blurs the line between villain and hero with its entertaining plot and its vast array of characters. The movie follows an operative called Ladybug (Brad Pitt), who is on a mission to retrieve a briefcase full of cash on a bullet train. It’s soon apparent that he’s not the only assassin there, and chaos ensues as they all learn who brought them together.

Imbued by Pitt’s natural charisma and comedic talent, Ladybug is an enjoyable character as an accomplished assassin trying to make amends. The tone of the movie makes it easy to forget, not only that he is a career criminal who specializes in leaving dead bodies wherever he goes, but that his moral platform for his actions is non-existent. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) set out to avenge his dog and eliminate a Russian criminal empire. In Atomic Blonde, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is a spy in the midst of a deadly assignment. Ladybug is really just happy to be included and there is no greater purpose to the carnage he dispels.

6 Dom Cobb

‘Inception’ (2010)

Cobb sitting down and looking at his totem while holding a gun in Inception
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan‘s sci-fi action masterpiece, Inception, is often cited alongside the best sci-fi movies ever made. It follows Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a professional “extractor” whose job is to go into people’s subconscious to steal information. When he is hired by a businessman who wants him to infiltrate an industry rival’s mind to implant an idea that would destroy his company, Cobb assembles a team to get the dangerous job done.

A deeply flawed protagonist, not only does Dom endanger his team by withholding the true perils they face on their assignment, but his line of work is also one that is morally impossible to defend. While the film’s incredible action set pieces and its high-concept spectacle do a lot of work to paint Cobb as an action hero, he is effectively a mercenary for the highest bidder to infiltrate people’s minds and steal their ideas. In the case of Fischer (Cillian Murphy), it’s even worse, as Cobb’s mission is a complete perversion of free will that he complies with for self-gain, all done so that another businessman can thrive.


Release Date
July 15, 2010


5 The Narrator/Tyler Durden

‘Fight Club’ (1999)

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton looking at each other in Fight Club
Image via 20th Century Studios

David Fincher’s energetic deconstruction of American consumerism has a vibrant and inviting effervescence to it that makes the Narrator (Edward Norton) and Tyler Durden’s (Brad Pitt) journey feel like a fun-fueled, albeit ultra-violent, adventure through the frustrated push-back against modern society. The duo’s pursuits see them form an underground fight club that evolves into an orchestrated attack on capitalism.

Durden’s political stance in Fight Club is irrelevant. At the end of the day, he forms a violent gang of men whom he purposefully enrages before issuing them orders to carry out terrorist schemes. Furthermore, the group embraces a volatile and erratic masculinity as a solution to their individual problems. Fincher’s careful direction ensures the movie never condones its characters’ values or actions, though the movie has, sadly, been misinterpreted by many, with some of Fight Club‘s fans idolizing the violent machismo it skewers.

Fight Club

Release Date
October 15, 1999


Main Genre

4 Michael Corleone

‘The Godfather’ (1972)

Michalel Corleone talking in a brightly lit room in The Godfather
Image via Paramount Pictures

Gangster movies tend to transcend common notions of heroes and villains, leaning away from presenting triumphant tales of good versus evil, and embracing a complex, nuanced, and confronting observation of the human condition. No film in the genre has done that as well as The Godfather, which tracks the transition of power from an Italian crime boss to his reluctant son, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), as rival mobsters try to mount an attack.

Introduced as a soldier who disapproves of his family’s business, Michael is immediately an admirable character who doesn’t want to be involved in crime. However, when his father is shot, Michael feels obliged to help out, thus embarking on a powerful corruption arc that famously ends with him becoming the Don. The brilliance of The Godfather is Michael’s actions always seem justifiable. By the end of the movie, though, he has become a ruthless and callous mob boss, with the depths of his evil being further explored in The Godfather: Part II.

The Godfather

Release Date
March 14, 1972

Francis Ford Coppola

175 minutes

Watch on Paramount+

3 Anakin Skywalker

‘Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith’ (2005)

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) on the brink of turning into Darth Vader in front of a lava river at the end of 'Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.'
Image via 20th Century Fox

Focusing specifically on the prequels, Anakin Skywalker’s (Jake Lloyd & Hayden Christensen) villainous turn is unmissable. It serves as the crux of the trilogy as he goes from a young boy with the potential to end the Sith, to being manipulated to join the dark side in the hope that he can save Padme’s (Natalie Portman) life. While the three films have their flaws, they are made interesting by the fact that audiences know exactly where Anakin’s journey will end.

His dark and tragic story, much like the saga at large, was partially inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, and the criticism of the power bestowed upon “the one” in any form of monomyth. While his reckless wrath and his vindictive ire are explored earlier, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is where his villainous turn comes to fruition in earnest.

2 V

‘V for Vendetta’ (2005)

V for Vendetta
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

A fascinating study on the impact of symbols, particularly on those living under tyranny and oppression, V For Vendetta sees its main character walk on both sides of the view that one man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist. The film is set in a dystopian future where Britain is the last thriving nation after a deadly virous wreaked havoc on the world. With the fascist and totalitarian regime of the government firmly in place, the morally gray character V (Hugo Weaving) resorts to violence to upend the societal order of things.

In addition to serving as the film’s secondary protagonist, alongside Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), V is also given an emotionally rousing introduction when he saves Evey from being assaulted by the police. It instantly gets audiences on his side, and helps them overlook, or at least forgive, the atrocities he commits in the name of change. A ruthless and vindictive murderer who manipulates his allies and allows innocent people to be killed, V is a complex and intriguing figure of change. He just might not be the most admirable one.

V For Vendetta

Release Date
February 23, 2006


1 Paul Atreides

‘Dune: Part Two’ (2024)

Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune Part Two
Image via Warner Bros

Dune: Part Two has been a glorious success for cinema, becoming an instant classic, amassing enormous fanfare and generating lively conversations about the nature of its protagonist, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). Picking up where Dune finished, it follows Paul as he lives with the Fremen, learning their ways as he and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), plot to avenge their fallen house. Wanting to rise against the Emperor, Paul twists the Fremen’s faith so that they revere him as the prophesied hero, Lisan al Gaib.

While Frank Herbert’s Dune novels were meant to be a venomous deconstruction of the monomyth, they were initially misinterpreted by many fans. Denis Villeneuve’s films, which are more cynical of Paul’s objectives and methods, have seen the young protagonist transform into a manipulative and vengeful leader on a calamitous warpath. Should Dune: Messiah be adapted as well, Paul’s corruption arc could be explored in its entirety, with the devastating consequences of his actions made painfully apparent.

Dune: Part Two

Release Date
March 1, 2024

Denis Villeneuve

166 minutes

Watch in Cinemas

NEXT: Movies Where the Villains Outshined the Protagonist

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