Top Film Criminals You Secretly Root For

While villains are often seen as the “criminals” in every story, a film’s thematics are often times much more complex than that.  While some films push us towards those who break the law, others denounce their actions.  It is this simple fact that makes storytelling so fascinating.

In Lionsgate’s newest film Criminal, Kevin Costner stars as ex-convict Jericho Stewart.  When CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed while tracking down a faceless hacker nicknamed “The Dutchman,” Stewart becomes the recipient of his skills, memories, and secrets.  Now the CIA must trust a known criminal as they hope to locate The Dutchman and eliminate him before he starts World War III.  But things turn unexpectedly personal as complications to the procedure begin to arise.

To celebrate the film’s release, we’ve complied a list of the top film criminals that we secretly (or not so secretly) rooted for.

Anton Chigurh - Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men

Sandra Bullock said it best at the 2011 Oscars, “Javier Bardem, when you were in No Country for Old Men, you scared the world…with your haircut.”  Yes he did…yet you couldn’t help but be drawn to his demeanor, secretly rooting for his success as he let fate decide your fate, all in the flip of the wrist and a simple question: heads or tails?

The Cast of Ocean's Eleven - George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt etc. - Ocean’s Eleven

George Clooney led one of the best film casts you could ever dream of seeing.  Their clever (albeit complex) plan to rob a casino owner of $150 million gets the audience’s attention quickly.  Though the heist movie allows the criminals to be seen as the heroes (and the casino owner as the villain), you can’t help but feel satisfied when our protagonist gets away with the cash…and the girl!

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid - Robert Redford & Paul Newman - Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid

How can you not love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the two leaders of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, as they attempt to outrun a group of elite trackers after robbing a train one too many times.  The film does a brilliant job at paining our thieves in a positive light, you find yourself a bit sad when they reach their end in Bolivia. 

Joker - Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

There is no denying that Heath Ledger gave a masterful performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.  His impeccable timing and truly unique personality made his Joker a true to form scene stealer.  Though he was an immense threat to the citizens of Gotham, you had a hard time wishing for the psychological warfare to stop.  Hedger’s Joker embodied the spirit of Batman, but represented his passion from the polar opposite perspective.  Thriving in chaos, the Joker created a sense of disorder, one that gave the film its edge, and kept audiences going back for more.

Carl Lee Hailey - Samuel L. Jackson - A Time to Kill

Starring as a black man accused of murdering two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter, Samuel L. Jackson gave the performance of her career as Carl Lee Hailey in the John Grisham adaptation.  And while you witness Hailey preform the deed, you yourself begin to question the law…and just when an exception to such rules is warranted.  Matthew McConaughey gives a tremendous performance as Hailey’s lawyer; though it is Jackson with whom our hearts lie in the end.

Frank Abagnale Jr. - Leonardo DiCaprio - Catch Me If You Can

Leonardo DiCaprio transforms as Abagnale Jr., who, before his 19th birthday, had successfully conned millions of dollars’ worth of checks as he transitioned himself through a run of professions that far exceeded his actual ability.  The film itself bears a lighthearted tone, allowing you to enjoy the cat-and-mouse game that DiCaprio plays with Tom Hanks’ Carl Hanratty.  And though the story deserved a better film, DiCaprio’s identity transformations give you enough to root for the criminal and hope that he continues to elude capture.

Fast & Furious Team - Paul Walker & Vin Diesel - Fast & Furious Franchise

The guys (and later gals) that this franchise is based aroun are criminals, which is something that we all appear to have forgotten.  Though we’ve traveled the world with them for seven films, and they’ve occasionally lent a hand to the government, when you look back at the beginning you are reminded how things got started.  Where the franchise went right was in humanizing the group so that the audience can relate to them.  The result is that everyone appears to overlook the bad; instead, we remember the good…opting to forgo the thieves that lie below the surface and bask in the greatness that is an unrealistic car chase sequence through the streets of downtown LA.

Catwoman - Michelle Pfeiffer - Batman Returns

Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show as Catwoman in the Tim Burton directed sequel.  Audiences were drawn to her comic style performance, and we rooted for her success as she used her sex appeal and cat-like reflexes to get close to the Caped Crusader.  We love her daring endeavors, and are ultimately thankful that she possesses nine lives.

Andy Dufresne & Red Redding - Tim Robbins & Morgan Freeman - The Shawshank Redemption

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman create two of the easiest criminals to love.  Never in your face about their innocence, the film plays out like an even keeled bedtime story (one meant for the 17+ age group).  The details are often overlooked as viewers quickly move past their crimes.  And once their innocence escapes your mind, all you want to do is see them achieve freedom.  You relate to their struggles (figuratively that is), and you can’t help but feel as if they are your friends.  Credit both Robbins and Freeman, the job wasn’t an easy one.

Hook - Dustin Hoffman - Hook

Full disclosure: Steven Spielberg’s Hook was one of my favorite films growing up.  But even I knew it was a big sluggish.  Thankfully Dustin Hoffman was able to bring a sense pride to the “loosely referred to” sequel to Peter Pan.  The film marks one of the best performances of Hoffman’s career (minus his two Oscar winning roles), and gives a classic villain the pulse we always knew he had.  His energy is addictive as he gives viewers someone to root for when Peter travels down his dark hole of depression.  It should be noted that he does take a back seat as soon as Rufio comes flying in on his skateboard in what can only be described as Neverland’s principle refugee camp.

Regina George - Rachel McAdams - Mean Girls

Though she isn’t technically a criminal, a lot can be said about Regina George.  Rachel McAdam’s embodies the bitch from homeroom, giving everyone who ever went to high school a point of reference.  But even with all her witty one liners and holier than though outlook, you couldn’t help but enjoy the tirade she she laid on her classmates and fellow Plastics.  It’s a bit of a stretch, but you can’t tell me that the Burn Book wouldn’t be reason for an arrest in 2016!


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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