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The Blog
Coming SoonApr 13, 20235 min

Beyond Barry: The Antihero Appeal

There's something undeniably endearing about antiheroes in titles like 'Barry,' but is this fascination unhealthy or harmless?

By Zak Price

Bill Hader holding a handgun in front of a lit mirror in a still from HBO Max's 'Barry.'

Bill Hader brings his uniquely painful style of humor to 'Barry' | PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO MAX.

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HBO Max is returning with another fan-favorite crime drama on April 16th with the two-episode premiere of Barry’s fourth and final season. The dark comedy stars Bill Hader (who also features as a writer and director for the production) as the show’s titular hitman, Barry, who finds himself treading moral neutrality in his attempts to escape a life more sinister through acting. Without delving into the nitty-gritty details, it should go without saying that a show dependent on the main character’s proclivity for killing is likely to feature a lineup of characters with complementary tendencies–Barry does not disappoint in this regard. Like many other shows and movies helmed by such an antihero, it’s difficult to not root for them–no matter the extent of their toxic behaviors.

The antihero character type is undeniably fascinating in all forms of media, be it books, TV shows, or movies. There’s something uniquely enthralling about seeing a character break societal or cultural norms to accomplish whatever Machiavellian goal they are set upon reaching. Still, why these characters are so popular among many other character types always sparks discussion. From Breaking Bad’s Walter White to the DCEU’s Harley Quinn (a standout from a relatively small pool of female antiheroes), these characters and their actions always seem to strike a chord with viewers and make their way offscreen via cosplay and, most notably, memes.

In my experience, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t run into memes featuring morally gray (to be gentle) characters from The Boys, American Psycho, Peaky Blinders, Fight Club, and more used to personify everything from light mischief to antisocial delusions and beyond. Something about the way antiheroes create their own rules in rejection of those that are largely accepted is often deemed admirable–or, at least, endearing–to a massive portion of global audiences.

Bryan Cranston as a slackjawed Walter White in 'Breaking Bad.'

Take, for instance, Walter White: a man that is driven to a life of crime due to factors beyond his control, namely his cancer diagnosis. An ex-teacher and family man, his initial goal of finding a way to provide for those he cares about is reasonable and sympathetic to viewers. However, by the show’s conclusion, White’s design becomes that of an irredeemable monster who has added murder, extortion, assault, arson, and much more to his collection of crimes. Another more literal monster can be found in Attack on Titan's on-and-off protagonist, Eren Yeager: a character that starts out as a bright-eyed and caring young lad–eventually (spoiler) turning into a genocidal xenophobe. Among countless others, these characters are shown to have noble intentions early on, only to transform into the antagonists of their respective narratives in order to pose a threat for the other, more heroic characters to overcome.

This is the point that is often lost on the viewers of certain shows and movies: yes, these characters are likable, but they’re usually intended as plot devices to show the extent to which a person can go when pressed into extraordinary circumstances, as well as the consequences that follow suit. A well-crafted narrative can help show the depravity of a character while also demonstrating that they are worthy of some form of appreciation. Ultimately, this is usually to meet the end goal of having either the character’s downfall or redemption be worthwhile–not to show that being a generally bad person is an explicitly good thing.

All forms of entertainment media that create the amazing worlds that fans grow to love do so with the intention of transporting viewers to another reality away from the stresses of average, everyday life. I’m not going to tune into the fourth season of Barry because I see myself as a multifaceted killer/actor, I’ll watch it because it’s a fun and engaging, yet momentary, escape from monotony. Whether it’s a good character committing bad acts, or a bad character doing some good, watching from the other side of the screen gives a fun look into a different headspace without the risk of being sent to prison, and I think that’s something we can all get behind.

That being said, here are ten of the best antihero-focused movies available to stream now if you’re looking for a positive role model:

  1. Léon: The Professional - Léon
  2. Scarface - Tony Montana
  3. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 - "The Bride"
  4. The Godfather Part II - Michael Corleone
  5. Nightcrawler - Lou Bloom
  6. Lady Macbeth - Katherine Lester
  7. Black Swan - Nina Sayers
  8. Taxi Driver - Travis Bickle
  9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Lisbeth Salander
  10. V for Vendetta - V

Interested in watching Barry? Add it to your watchlist here!

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