Protagonists should be likable people. They don’t have to be, and there have been many great villain protagonists throughout the years. But if a filmmaker wants the audience to root for the main characters, then they should probably make them both relatable and likable.
Very few genres have their audience “root” for the main characters quite like horror. These are often literal cases of life and death, and most of the horror is absent if audiences don’t care about, or worse, don’t like certain protagonists. Making them bad people is a big risk. These movies welcomed that risk.
10 Rocky, Alex, and Money from Don’t Breathe (2016)
2016’s Don’t Breathe was a solid success, grossing $157 million against a paltry $10 million budget. At the heart of the successful story is a trio of criminals named Rocky, Alex, and Money. They make their living breaking into random people’s houses and stealing their valuables for cash.
The concept of the movie sees them breaking into a blind man’s house to steal the settlement money he received after his daughter’s accidental death. Rocky needs the money to escape an abusive family, but stealing a grieving, blind man’s settlement money? That’s just despicable.
9 Fran, Stephen, Roger, and Peter from Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Dawn of the Dead concerns four people – Fran, Stephen, Roger, and Peter – who abandon decaying civilization and hole up in a shopping mall during a zombie apocalypse. These are not good people, and Peter knows as much by calling themselves “thieves and bad guys.”
Fran and Stephen stole a helicopter belonging to their news station, which is bad enough. But Roger and Peter both abandoned SWAT and their dealings with zombie outbreaks to save their own skins. Both the country and individual people need their help, but they abandoned them to loot a shopping mall.
8 Rhodes from Day Of The Dead (1985)
George A. Romero does not populate his movies with likable people. While the thieves of Dawn of the Dead are portrayed in a sympathetic light, the characters of Day of the Dead are downright despicable. There are only a small handful of “good” people throughout this movie, including Sarah, John, and Bill.
Rhodes and his gang of military personnel are loud, abrasive, and generally heartless, and Rhodes eventually proves a murderer. Even the resident scientist, Matthew Logan, is a borderline insane man conducting unethical experiments.
7 Hannibal Lecter from The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Hannibal Lecter is a secondary protagonist in The Silence of the Lambs, as the story completely belongs to Clarice Starling. And despite having just twenty minutes of screen time, everyone remembers Hannibal due to Anthony Hopkins’s mesmerizing performance.
But Hannibal isn’t just a “bad person.” He’s straight up psychotic and irredeemable. He’s a serial killer who kills innocent people (including a civilian after breaking out of prison) and joyously eats their remains. He’s certainly charismatic, but charisma doesn’t make for a good person.
6 Marion Crane from Psycho (1960)
Psycho begins much like Don’t Breathe. The primary plot concerns money, as Marion Crane steals $40,000 from her boss. Today, that would be approximately $350,000. And while Rocky plans on stealing money to get her and her sister away from an abusive family, Marion does it simply to get out of debt and get married.
She only ends up at the famous Bates Motel because she’s stopping there for the night while traveling to her boyfriend in California. She had every intention of keeping that money.
5 Jack Torrance from The Shining (1980)
The Shining concerns an entire family, but the protagonist is undoubtedly Jack Torrance. Jack obviously goes insane owing to the hotel’s influence and his alcoholism, but he showed some problematic traits even before the supernatural events began occurring.
He’s presented as a very cold and indifferent person, and it seems like he doesn’t even love Wendy or Danny. He’s also portrayed as a bad father, one prone to heavy drinking and injuring his son in fits of alcoholic rage. And when he tells this story to Lloyd, he doesn’t seem the least bit apologetic or remorseful.
4 Gordon and Adam from Saw (2004)
While the Saw series would grow increasingly elaborate throughout the years, it began with just two people – Gordon and Adam. Gordon is portrayed as a very cold and emotionless person, and it played havoc on his marriage. It eventually grew so bad that the marriage fell apart and Gordon began cheating with a medical student.
It’s a totally normal flaw, and it’s nothing compared to Adam. Adam makes a sleazy living by stalking people and taking candid photos of them to sell to clients. It’s not the most upstanding way to make a living.
3 Carolyn Fry and Riddick from Pitch Black (2000)
While the Riddick series would eventually go in a more sci-fi direction, Pitch Black is primarily a horror movie about deadly alien creatures. At the heart of the movie is Carolyn Fry and Riddick. Fry is a selfish person, as she tries to sacrifice the passengers of her ship to save herself.
However, she is prevented from doing so by co-pilot Greg Owens. It was immoral, but one can see it as an understandable action in the midst of panic and desperation. But Riddick is virtually irredeemable, as he is a well-known murderer.
2 Seth Gecko from From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
From Dusk Till Dawn concerns George Clooney’s Seth Gecko and his run-ins with vampires. Seth is very much the hero of the movie, even though he isn’t a good person in the slightest. For one thing, he’s a famous bank robber who is known for destroying buildings and murdering occupants.
They also force a pastor to smuggle them into Mexico by kidnapping him and his family, which includes two teenage children. When the vampires showed up, audiences kind of wanted them to kill Seth…
1 The Kids from I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
While taking obvious inspiration from Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer mixes up the slasher conventions and makes its protagonists more flawed and problematic. The movie’s title concerns the characters’ selfish behavior, as they strike and kill a pedestrian on the Fourth of July.
Panicked, the characters decide to dump the body and fail to report it to the local authorities. It immediately establishes guilt and motive, and it forces audiences to question their allegiance with the protagonists.
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