Rooting for Antiheroes

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  • Rooting for Antiheroes

    This thread focuses on specific antiheroes to address the question being asked so it's imperative you're seen Payback, Escape from New York, Strange Days, U-Turn.

    The question is why are these antiheroes so likeable and why do we root for them? These characters are not the cheesy 'really a good guy' types that we usually get - such as Dirty Harry (trying to keep the streets safe and clean even if he does overstep the mark a few times), Dexter (a serial killer but only kills nasty people who, the audience accepts, deserves their fate), Cameron Po (killed a man but did so in self defence) or the usual mouthy types that thumb their nose at authority and are decent guys despite being hard work.

    It's obvious why we root for all of the above but the film I'm asking about certain protags that lack those redeeming features:

    Payback
    Protag has his $70k stolen by his partner and has such a strong moral code that he just wants his money back and not a penny more - all well and good - but he's a ruthless, cold thief, the money he lost was money he stole, and he killed people in order to get it. Okay, one of the people who ripped him off was his estranged wife and the people he butts heads with are more vicious that he is but that doesn't make up for his traits and actions yet we want him to win.


    Escape From New York
    Protag is a convicted armed robber (no miscarriage of justice) who only agrees to rescue the President to save his own skin. Okay, the guy sending him in wants to renege on his deal but that doesn't excuse why the protag doesn't do anything heroic and ignores scenes of murder and rape. Everything he does is self-centred to ensure his survival. Being double-crossed doesn't excuse his attitude and actions. Despite this, he's one of the coolest characters of cinema.


    U-Turn
    Protag is on the run from the Russian mob he owes money to. He then agrees to murder a man's wife for cold, hard cash. Sure, he faces off against antagonists but again, none of this excuses his morals and actions - yet we still root for him, regardless.


    Strange Days
    Protag wa kicked off the police force for illegal activities and is now a seedy dealer of contraband. Utterly self-centred, a compulsive liar, a con man and always lets down the only true friend that he has. Yes, he ends up fighting badder guys but only when he's targeted by them. Okay, his embarrassing attempt to win back his ex that can't stand him is sort of endearing in a pathetic kind of way but again, none of this comes close to redeeming him as the selfish, cowardly low-life that he is yet we still love him and warm to him.
    Last edited by SundownInRetreat; 07-20-2020, 04:10 AM.

  • #2
    Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

    This sounds like homework -- maybe you should answer first to help move us along... Ha.

    My quick take is that we identify with the main character and their POV -- it's their story. So if Star Wars was from Darth Vader's POV we'd like him more than Luke is my guess. The way the new Cobra Kai series takes the bad guy from the movies and makes him our lead -- changes POV and makes you rethink the whole thing.

    Also in these movies, Snake is a good guy in a bad world. Or a bad guy in a world filled with worse bad guys. So if Snake was in a romantic comedy -- he'd be the bad guy. But in the movie he's in -- he's the hero.

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    • #3
      Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

      I hear you but my point is that these guys are not sympathetic. Payback opens with the protag being a tool and then planning a heist that will severely injure or kill - isn't that too much to have us root for him. Snake may be in a world full of badder guys but he walks past a girl being gang-raped - just did not care.

      In theory, it shouldn't simply be that we don't like them - we should also be turned off. If we write scripts with these characters, it would be expected to receive notes saying that they're alienating and without any redeeming features (or those merits being too little, too late).

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      • #4
        Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

        Brass tax -- what's your question really? I assume you are writing a similar lead character and want to know will it sell? Is that it?

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        • #5
          Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

          Originally posted by Bono View Post
          Brass tax -- what's your question really? I assume you are writing a similar lead character and want to know will it sell? Is that it?
          My 'real question' is what I asked in my OP - why do we care for these characters when we shouldn't? If we write such characters, as I tend to, how do we ensure readers, execs and audiences - who have no problem with these 4 protags - are onboard and not complaining about unlikeability?
          Last edited by SundownInRetreat; 07-09-2020, 04:27 PM.

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          • #6
            Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

            Have them star a movie star and we will love them.

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            • #7
              Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

              Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
              My 'real question' is what I asked in my OP - why do we care for these characters when we shouldn't? If we write such characters, as I tend to, how do we ensure readers, execs and audiences - who have no problem with these 4 protags - are onboard and not complaining about unlikeability?
              Anti-heroes aren't a new thing. It shouldn't even be an issue.

              I googled. This came up. Basically, ensure your anti-hero has a relatable backstory that invokes our pity or understanding. Means we are putting ourselves in his position and understanding why he's doing what he's doing, even if it's criminal or immoral.

              https://www.collegian.psu.edu/arts_a...%20the%20crime.

              "... We justify the crimes because the motive is relatable. We all know the feeling of wanting revenge or the need to help our family or friends. We can see the good because they stand for something that makes sense to us..."

              Also, your examples -- Oliver Stone wrote U-turn. He can get that made on his name alone. Payback has a 55 percent on RT -- you're considering this successful?
              Last edited by figment; 07-09-2020, 05:04 PM.

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              • #8
                Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                Originally posted by figment View Post
                I googled. This came up. Basically, ensure your anti-hero has a relatable backstory that invokes our pity or understanding. Means we are putting ourselves in his position and understanding why he's doing what he's doing, even if it's criminal or immoral.
                You're missing the point.


                We justify the crimes because the motive is relatable. We all know the feeling of wanting revenge or the need to help our family or friends. We can see the good because they stand for something that makes sense to us..."
                You're missing the point.


                Also, your examples -- Oliver Stone wrote U-turn. He can get that made on his name alone. Payback has a 55 percent on RT -- you're considering this successful?
                Missing the point and irrelevant.



                I'd said in a previous thread we don't need to like them, though we usually do, just interested in them to want to know more and not alienated by them. If you've seen these movies then you'll know there's either a) no empathetic/relatable aspect or b) too-little and too-late to keep the reader/viewer onside - either before the redeeming elements are shown or after they've been revealed. None of the protags have anything like a Save the Cat moment. I'm guessing - from what you've written - that you haven't seen these movies. Which is key to understanding this thread.
                Last edited by SundownInRetreat; 07-10-2020, 02:22 AM.

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                • #9
                  Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                  Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
                  I'm guessing - from what you've written - that you haven't seen these movies. Which is key to understanding this thread.
                  FYI -- Asking questions and then being accusatory to the people answering them is going to ensure no one answers them.

                  I did see U-turn and Payback, which is why I commented on them and not the other two. FFS.

                  U-turn, I'm guessing here, had the lure of OLIVER effing STONE writing it. And Penn being in it. I don't remember it making a ton of money, though I could be wrong. I also never hear anyone talking about it. It doesn't generate the continued love and chatter of Sopranos or Breaking Bad. So your claim of "Why are these antiheroes so likeable and why do we root for them?" MIGHT be misplaced. It could be in the case of U-turn that the names alone drew people in and gave it the box office it had. And then everyone moved on. In a way that they haven't moved on from Breaking Bad/Sopranos, or the Godfather.

                  Not sure. I'm guessing.

                  Payback -- I did not love. Maybe you did, which is fine. So, I thought to myself, gee, was everyone else holding up this antihero in Payback as "so likeable and why do we root for them?"

                  That didn't seem right. So I looked up Payback on RT. No, in fact, despite starring the hugely anti-semitic pile of alcoholism that is Mel Gibson, it didn't even get a fresh red tomato overall score. So your claim that "we" are all framing these characters as "so likeable and are rooting for them" doesn't seem to be super true. At least not in this instance, of Payback. As generally critics do like to root for characters too.

                  Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post

                  I'd said in a previous thread we don't need to like them, though we usually do, just interested in them to want to know more and not alienated by them.
                  See -- I was trying to answer the question in this thread. My mistake.

                  But I sense you could answer your own question as you are stating "we" meaning YOU love them. Your answer to this question is perfectly valid despite what anyone else says. That is what makes the movie universe go around. Instead, in these threads, it feels like you're mining others opinions hoping someone will agree with you -- except you won't actually voice what your opinion is.

                  Maybe you like them because you do. That's perfectly valid.

                  Here's my final thought. I love antiheroes because I love shades of gray. The reason antiheroes can succeed, imo, is because who they're up against is usually far WORSE than they are. So maybe that's something you could focus on as you write.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                    Originally posted by Bono View Post
                    Brass tax -- what's your question really? I assume you are writing a similar lead character and want to know will it sell? Is that it?
                    Has the IRS levied a tax on brass? (It's brass tacks.)
                    Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                      Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
                      This thread focuses on specific antiheroes to address the question being asked so it's imperative you're seen Payback, Escape from New York, Strange Days, U-Turn.

                      The question is why are these antiheroes so likeable and why do we root for them? These characters are not the cheesy 'really a good guy' types that we usually get - such as Dirty Harry (trying to keep the streets safe and clean even if he does overstep the mark a few times), Dexter (a serial killer but only kills nasty people who, the audience accepts, deserves their fate), Cameron Po (killed a man but did so in self defence) or the usual mouthy types that thumb their nose at authority and are decent guys despite being hard work.

                      It's obvious why we root for all of the above but the film I'm asking about contain protags that lack those redeeming features:

                      Payback
                      Protag has his $70k stolen by his partner and has such a strong moral code that he just wants his money back and not a penny more - all well and good - but he's a ruthless, cold thief, the money he lost was money he stole, and he killed people in order to get it. Okay, one of the people who ripped him off was his estranged wife and the people he butts heads with are more vicious that he is but that doesn't make up for his traits and actions yet we want him to win.


                      Escape From New York
                      Protag is a convicted armed robber (no miscarriage of justice) who only agrees to rescue the President to save his own skin. Okay, the guy sending him in wants to renege on his deal but that doesn't excuse why the protag doesn't do anything heroic and ignores scenes of murder and rape. Everything he does is self-centred to ensure his survival. Being double-crossed doesn't excuse his attitude and actions. Despite this, he's one of the coolest characters of cinema.


                      U-Turn
                      Protag is on the run from the Russian mob he owes money to. He then agrees to murder a man's wife for cold, hard cash. Sure, he faces off against antagonists but again, none of this excuses his morals and actions - yet we still root for him, regardless.


                      Strange Days
                      Protag wa kicked off the police force for illegal activities and is now a seedy dealer of contraband. Utterly self-centred, a compulsive liar, a con man and always lets down the only true friend that he has. Yes, he ends up fighting badder guys but only when he's targeted by them. Okay, his embarrassing attempt to win back his ex that can't stand him is sort of endearing in a pathetic kind of way but again, none of this comes close to redeeming him as the selfish, cowardly low-life that he is yet we still love him and warm to him.
                      You touched on this in my thread about likeable characters. The flaw in your logic is assuming everyone loves these anti heroes and roots for them.

                      Figment's point is valid. If these films score low on reviews or box office, it's a clear sign there's something missing.

                      Strange Days has a following but didn't blow away BO. However, the protagonist is more empathetic because, after falling from grace, he reverts to his cop instincts to solve a crime. This effort redeems him.

                      Now, John Wick is an anti hero people do love so much the character earned sequels. I'd look closer at why he gets audiences to root for him rather than looking at films that missed the mark.
                      Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                        Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                        You touched on this in my thread about likeable characters. The flaw in your logic is assuming everyone loves these anti heroes and roots for them.

                        Figment's point is valid. If these films score low on reviews or box office, it's a clear sign there's something missing.
                        Okay, this is a long response. It's 2am and I've come off an 11 hour shift. Forgive me if I repeat myself or sound curt.

                        I disagree that Fig's comments stand. Holding up a film's ratings by film critics as a barometer as to a) whether the film was good or not, and b) its success being linked to an individual character rather than other, and most likely, reasons such as timing of release, level of promotion, marketing strategy, rating and genre, is silly. Noirs have always had a limited audience/box-office appeal - swiftly followed by antiheroes and bleak endings (both of which are mainstays of noir which, added to tone, is why it's not a mass-appeal genre).

                        We all know of films that were buried by studios due to no fault of their own and we all know of films that defy the critics' low rankings and this is why citing Payback's RT score is redundant. It's also eye-rolling that Fig quoted the critics' score of 55% rather than the audience score of 69%.

                        Payback was noir. It was violent. And it had a leading man playing against type as a vicious, cold-hearted, bereft of pity, villain (and probably alienating the core of his fan base). It was also subject to studio interference and heavy cuts, adding an entirely new main antagonist. These are far more likely reasons for a film's supposed 'failure' than what Fig cited.

                        Strange Days didn't do great at the Box Office, I agree, but it was also a film that the studio did not know what to do with. It's part thriller, sci-fi, noir and romance. It encompasses controversial themes of race inequality, police brutality, rape and murder and this is on top of having a sleazeball protag. It also starred zero names - a lead actor in his first headlining role (and an Englishman at that) backed up by the similarly-positioned Angela Bassett and little-known Juliette Lewis. Round out with Tom Sizemore and Michael Wincott and you have a film that doesn't attract by cast or genre and covers such a multitude of themes that the studio had no idea how to market, resulting in its well-known under-promotion and lament at flying under the radar.

                        Does this mean Strange Days would have flourished with more competent studio handling, let alone an A-list cast? Of course not - even though I'd bet my house on it - but I'd look there to the reason why a film doesn't blow up rather than blame the lead character. But this is moot as my point was not about critical/commercial success but the craftmanship of basing films on reprehensible characters and maintaining audience interest.

                        Now let's go back to why I gave it Fig's analysis the shortest of shrifts. Payback was written by Brian Helgeland - who wrote the Oscar-nominated Mystic River and Oscar-winning LA Confidential so forgive me if I defer to Brian's ability to judge characterisation rather than Fig. Similarly, U-Turn was written by John Ridley and based on his novel, Stray Dogs. John Ridley also won an Oscar for his screenplay 12 Years a Slave so I reckon he's got a better grasp than Fig. Strange Days being penned by James Cameron. And yes, Oliver Stone can get a film made on his reputation and clout alone, but, like the aforementioned writers, he's not going to drop the ball when it comes to character.

                        Finally, there's Fig's assertion that by referring to 'we' in our approval of these characters I was alluding to everyone and that there won't be those who disagree. Of course, there will be those unmoved by noir, by antiheroes - and by these particular films and protags - that goes without saying. It should be obvious that I'm referring to those that do (otherwise why would I be interested in their opinion?) and also the plethora of movie makers, from readers to screenwriters to directors to producers who all gave the films the green light.

                        And none of what he aid answered my question that I have asked over and over (see next post).


                        Now, John Wick is an anti hero people do love so much the character earned sequels. I'd look closer at why he gets audiences to root for him rather than looking at films that missed the mark.
                        This is the only comment of yours that I disagree with. If you mean commercially then I agree but if you mean artistically, story-wise, then I vehemently disagree and also point out that their lack of global renown isn't symbiotically-linked to their quality.
                        Last edited by SundownInRetreat; 07-10-2020, 07:24 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                          Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                          The flaw in your logic is assuming everyone loves these anti heroes and roots for them.
                          Not everyone. But enough people to warm to the material to want it made. And those moviegoers who love antiheroes. My use of 'we' is clearly not referring to those who only like Disney films, wholesome fun, and happy ending where the bad guy loses. So if you don't like the films I'm talking about or their lead characters then you're not included in the 'we' - I'm not assuming everyone loves these characters. I mean, some people probably didn't want Indiana to defeat the Nazis or didn't think E.T. was lovable but it's understood when its said 'we' did.

                          When I talk about 'we' I mean those who do love them. And I'm referring to the A-list talent (writers, director and actors) that created these films. They all had top tier talent writing and directing them and they didn't balk at the antihero leads they were committing to film.


                          Now, John Wick is an anti hero people do love so much the character earned sequels. I'd look closer at why he gets audiences to root for him rather than looking at films that missed the mark.
                          Now this is getting on-topic with what I was asking in my OP. John Wick is an antihero in name only. I mean he's an assassin, sure, but we only ever know him as a good guy. When we meet him he's retired. he loved his wife and he just wants to live in peace. He is the wronged and exacts vengeance on those who wronged him. It's very easy to see why (those who like the franchise) root for him. Similarly, it's easy to see why 'we' root for the other antiheroes I mentioned in my OP.

                          However my question pertains to those that aren't so clearly likeable. Who commit more heinous crimes. I am genuinely intrigued and, as someone who veers towards antiheroes, knowing how and why these characters work - gaining approval from studio readers and attracting A-list attention - would be very enlightening and valuable.


                          So let me try asking my question again and I'll juxtapose with John Wick to try and make it clearer:
                          John Wick is just an ex-assassin and we only ever see him as a nice guy who is innocently-targeted and mercilessly-robbed of his reason for living. The bad guys destroyed not only the last memento from his dead wife but a puppy, Conversely, in the first five minutes of Payback, Porter steals from a homeless man and a waitress, pickpockets a wallet, and punches his ex-wife. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE to John Wick. And whereas we only hear about John Wick being an assassin (who killed bad guys, it must be said) we actually see Porter planning and then executing the death of those he wants to steal from. Why do we (the writer, director, producer, actor, audience that like the film) stay with him and his story? Why do 'we' want him to succeed? And like most find E.T. to be super-lovable, most want Porter to win against his ex-partner and The Outfit? Why wasn't the story tossed aside and Porter cited as 'too unlikeable?'

                          Ditto Snake Plissken. Even you and Fig must concede he's a well-loved character. So if you were to write EFNY (or a Snake-inspired bad-ass), how do you mitigate against readers and prodcos tossing the script when, early on, your bang-to-rights bank robber protagonist gets a chance to win the audience's support by stopping a gang-rape but just walk on by instead? Or to flip the question around: if you wrote criminal leads and received notes about them being unlikeable - what is it you're missing when these protags in these 4 films are much worse than what you dreamed up?

                          For Oliver Stone to want to film John Ridley's book, and for him to get it made, as well as for John to have written it in the first place, everyone involved had to be intrigued and invested in Sean Penn's character despite him being an on-the-run sleazeball who agrees to murder. Enough people 'in the know' thought it was a good project - and the original novel was bought and published - so why didn't it make these same people run for the hills at the sight of such a low-life?

                          SC, you say Lenny Nero is redeemed by solving a crime but it's deep into the story when he reluctantly heads down that path. For the majority of the film, and the whole of Act One, Lenny Nero repeatedly shows what a snivelling, cowardly,slimeball he is - so why do 'we' (who like the film and who made the film) root for him like we do? Why do we even hang about to see him become the hero? If we wrote Strange Days as a spec, or wanted a similarly flawed and self-centred jerk of a protag, how would we avoid the big note saying commercial viability or competition placement is voided because the main character is too shitty to the point where we don't want to read any further and if we did, we don't care that he comes good in the end?

                          Or to put it another way - as I thought I did in my previous posts - what is it that these writers are doing to avoid said pitfalls? And yes, I want to know not only because I don't know how they get readers, filmmakers and audiences onside when writing such lost-cause protagonists - and I'd like to know just so I understand how they pull it off - but also because I want to do the same and want to avoid my scripts being binned off as a result of antihero protags that truly are bad guys and aren't just the Cameron Po's and John Wick's of the world, who are introduced as nice guys who were dealt injustice.
                          Last edited by SundownInRetreat; 07-10-2020, 06:51 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                            The answer is simple -- no one is going to reject a script because of this reason. Plenty of reasons -- but not being likable enough has proven time and again to not be true in these stories. And even if they do -- who cares -- if you want to write this type of story go for it!!! Screw worrying about it! Trust your gut and story sense that people will want to take the journey with you. If that's truly where you want to go. I don't think I can write a character like that. I always need my lead to be more the hero type. But that's me!

                            If you're writing a romantic comedy and you're hero is a jerk -- yeah that's harder. But each one of these movies or TV shows, the world is dark, so the characters are too. It all depends on the world.

                            So it's not about us rooting for Snake to succeed (I am) but it's more about us being interested to see how he gets out of this no win situation.

                            I hated U-Turn (saw once) for the record and love the other movies. So it doesn't always work -- but that's any movie.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Rooting for Antiheroes

                              Wow. Two responses to my one comment. I'm on my phone so I'll make it brief and quote a pro who used to participate here:

                              "Calculate less."

                              Picking apart these films to avoid your spec landing in the pass pile will lead to analysis paralysis.

                              Just write the damn thing.
                              Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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