The last few years have been rather bleak, with government shutdowns and polar vortexes starting out 2019 on a low note. As our world turns a little darker, we also turn to characters without squeaky-clean pasts or rock-solid moral codes. Antiheroes of comic book legend are having their own renaissance in film and TV at the moment, so in honor of the shift from simple good to chaotic justice, here are the top 10 antiheroes who made the jump from the comics to the small and big screen.
10V (DC Comics)
“V for Vendetta” (2005)
A DC antihero turned global political symbol, V of “V For Vendetta” is far from typical. An inmate of a concentration camp run by the Norsefire, a fascist British dictatorship from the future, V’s former life and identity is unknown. After being the subject of horrific medical experiments, V earns a laundry list of superpowers, including super strength, speed, and intellect. He sets out to destroy Norsefire and everyone who gets in his way, often in cruel and unusual ways. The 2005 film may have had mixed reviews, but V’s iconic Guy Fawkes mask is now worn by those protesting government oppression, cementing him as an antihero and symbol of freedom from tyranny.
9Blade (Marvel Comics)
Before the box office successes of “Venom” and “Deadpool” there was the “Blade” trilogy, helmed by the incomparable Wesley Snipes. We followed Blade (Snipes), a vampire hunter who protects humans from the bloodsuckers. This gritty antihero laid the groundwork for the recent wave of comic book movies, becoming the second Marvel-based film to get a wide theatrical release and even earning two more sequels for its troubles.
8Poison Ivy (DC Comics)
“Batman & Robin” (1997), “Gotham” (2014-)
In an artifact theft gone wrong, a humble Gotham City botanist acquires an immunity to all toxins and diseases. Beautiful, intelligent, and deadly, Poison Ivy – real name Pamela Lillian Isley – soon begins life as an eco-terrorist who uses plant toxins and mind-control pheromones to protect the environment. After catching the attention of Batman, she becomes one of his most famous adversaries, sparring and flirting with the Dark Knight in equal measure. She was famously played by Uma Thurman in “Batman & Robin,” and is played by Clare Foley, Maggie Geha and Peyton List in the Fox TV series, “Gotham.”
7Magneto (Marvel Comics)
“X-Men” (2003), “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016)
Magneto is a super who switches from hero to villain to antihero, depending on the film or comic book. A mutant with the power to generate and control magnetic fields, Magneto believes in the superiority of mutants over humans, seeking to make mutants (or “homo superiors”) the dominant species. While his views are harsh, Marvel writers have painted a bleak picture of Magneto’s origins as a Holocaust survivor, which drives his extreme determination to make the world safe for mutants. His ideologies have often been compared to those of Malcolm X, sparking an ongoing moral debate about how to seek civil rights for minorities like the mutants. He’s been played by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender in the MCU’s “X-Men” films.
6X-23 (Marvel Comics)
Assassin, mutant, and eventual superhero X-23, aka Laura Kinney, is the daughter of Wolverine who can throw down with the best of ’em. Most recently played by Dafne Keen in “Logan,” Laura’s healing factor and enhanced senses, speed, reflexes and familiar adamantium-coated bone claws make her a bad guy’s worst nightmare. Originally a clone of Weapon X, created and controlled by the Facility, X-23 forges her own path toward truth, justice, and dad Logan and the rest of the X-Men. Of all the antiheroes on this list, she’s the one I’d least like to mess with.
5Catwoman (DC Comics)
“Batman” (1966-68), “Batman Returns” (1992), “Catwoman” (2004), “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Complete with bullwhip, claws and climbing pitons, Catwoman is a quintessential DC villain with sex appeal, a sharp mind and a secret good side that made readers fall for Gotham’s master cat burglar. Though several female characters have worn the catsuit (Selina Kyle, Holly Robinson and Eiko Hasigawa), Catwoman always manages to land on her feet. Her popularity has been fueled in part by the acting powerhouses who have played her; from Michelle Pfeiffer, Anna Hathaway and Halle Berry on the big screen, to TV actors Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Camren Bicondova, Catwoman has always been one of DC’s prominent antiheroes, falling in and out of allegiance with Gotham’s protector yet never crossing over into true evil.
4Killmonger (Marvel Comics)
“Black Panther” (2018)
While Black Panther’s mercenary cousin is portrayed as the main villain of the 2018 flick, Erik Killmonger (birth name N’Jadaka) is a complicated figure. His actions tend toward violence, murder and dictatorship, but his motivations – to throw off white colonialist influence around the world – made “Black Panther’s” message more poignant than typical Marvel fare. Michael B. Jordan portrayed N’Jadaka as a product of righteous anger, a violent career and tragic backstory. Killmonger’s anger at how the world treats people of color was understandable, relatable even, yet his solutions remained in the violent colonialist system that caused such strife. Audiences could connect with and understand his motivations, while acknowledging his actions were cruel. His final words, a reminder of the horrors of slavery, made his death scene one of the most poignant we’ve seen in the MCU.
3Harley Quinn (DC Comics)
“Suicide Squad” (2016)
Sweet, lovesick and a little trigger happy, Harley Quinn is one of Batman’s most famous enemies turned sort-of superhero. While working as the Joker’s psychologist at Arkham Asylum, Harley falls in love with Batman’s nemesis and becomes his partner in crime. Though she loves the Joker, their rocky relationship often means she’s on her own, linking up with the likes of Poison Ivy and Catwoman; her close friendship with Poison even turns into a romance in the comics, making Harley a kickass bisexual antihero. Margot Robbie’s live-action portrayal of Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad” proved to be a shining point in the flick, with Robbie set to return as the spunky antihero in the upcoming “Birds of Prey” and “Gotham City Sirens.” Here’s hoping she’ll be breaking up with Jared Leto’s boring Joker and ride off into the sunset with Poison.
2Deadpool (Marvel Comics)
“Deadpool” (2016), “Deadpool 2” (2018)
The Merc with a Mouth has got it all: running gags, immortality, shattered fourth walls and a love for turning bad guys into bloody mulch. Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson, has a regenerative healing factor that keeps them alive but disfigures their body and scrambles their brains. Still, Deadpool has a solid code of morality, standing up for the innocent and turning from life as a gun-for-hire to genuine superhero work. Other superheroes may not like them, but Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds onscreen) is fun, irreverent and delightfully psychotic. They are also one of the few non-binary and pansexual comic book characters around, breaking down barriers in an increasingly straight and cis MCU.
1The Punisher (Marvel Comics)
“Marvel’s The Punisher” (2017-)
I know what you’re thinking: who ranks the Punisher over Deadpool? While both are prime examples of the antihero archetype, Frank Castle just edges out Deadpool with his methods, roiling emotions and tragic backstory. The murder of Frank’s family pushes him over the edge into bloody, gratuitous vengeance, which sees the military man turn into a seething vigilante. Frank is dark and twisted, consumed by grief and pushed to seek a form of justice other superheroes can’t agree with. Deadpool might give someone a second chance, like Russell/Firefist in “Deadpool 2.” The Punisher would mow them down with an AK-47. You can see Jon Bernthal as the Punisher in Season 2 of “Marvel’s The Punisher,” recently released on Netflix.