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The Evolution of the Antihero

Analyze the progression of the antihero trope. How does it reflect changing social anxieties? Look at examples from classic cinema to modern streaming hits.

The article can be structured as a timeline first. Film Noir laid the groundwork, and TV’s prestige era exploded the antihero trope. Film Noir is a classic antihero breeding ground (cynical detectives, femme fatales, etc.). Another excellent point to cover here would be to highlight TV’s greater creative freedom and depth that allowed for more nuance than cinema often could. Now, I cannot think of all the classic movies, but some ideas do come to mind. Of course, there are many more examples to dissect properly.

40s/50s film noir has “The Private Detective” such as Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep), Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) – world-weary, morally compromised, yet with an inner code. Then we had the “Femme Fatale” trope. Think Phyllis Dietrichson (Double Indemnity) – manipulative, uses sexuality for her own goals, challenges traditional female roles.

60s/70s Westerns saw a different breed altogether, I believe. First, you got the spaghetti Western Antihero, still relatable. A good example would be Clint Eastwood’s "Man with No Name" (A Fistful of Dollars, etc.) – self-serving, violent, but audiences root for him against even worse figures. Soon afterward, they were quick to offer more revisionist examples in cinema. There are many examples of this one but the main one is William Munny (Unforgiven) – haunted by past sins, questions the "heroic" myth of the cowboy.

Then let’s come to the 70s/80s. This is the neo-noir and crime thrillers age, kind of like an evolution. Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) is the prime example here. Deeply disturbed but the isolation-amid-urban-decay is a point that almost every city-dweller can relate with, pretty much. Thelma and Louise covers women taking agency, breaking free, and similar concepts, even when it means violence. This is an early example of the female antihero, and worth highlighting.

2000 onward we have the TV/streaming age. Three examples here: 1) Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) – quintessential modern antihero – mobster, yet we see his family struggles and therapy humanize him. 2) Walter White (Breaking Bad) – from mild-mannered to ruthless drug lord, his transformation is both horrifying and strangely compelling. 3) Joe Goldberg (You), Villanelle (Killing Eve) – pushing boundaries, playing with audience sympathy

  • 2000s onwards is about 20 years not to mention the 90s where antiheroes were omnipresent. There's a lot of history for the writer to look into. – Sunni Rashad 1 month ago
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  • This is great. Maybe the article could focus on some lesser known anti-hero from film as well. – jstern20 3 weeks ago
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