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The Greatest Rebels in Movie History

Updated June 14, 2019 3.4k votes 850 voters 44.6k views20 items

List RulesVote up the best film characters who went against the establishment and lived life on their own terms.

A rebel doesn’t back down. He stands up for what he believes in, no matter what the establishment is telling him to do. Just because someone rebels against the system, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Usually, in fact, their rebellion makes them unique and brave. This list of movie rebels contains its fair share of outsiders that some authoritative figures would certainly label troublemakers. But these film rebels don’t care what anyone else thinks of them. These are the greatest rebels in movie history.

Rebellious people in movies made their mark early in film history. In the 1950s, rebels in movies were everywhere, in fact the cinema had an entire subgenre dedicated to juvenile delinquent films. At the top of that list, of course, is one of the most famous rebels of all time in Jim Stark, the role that made James Dean an icon.

Many of the movie rebels on this list are teenagers. That looks to be the sweetest age for rebellion. It’s that stage in life when authority seems archaic, and the space between high school and adulthood appears to be about a hundred years. However, adults can rebel as well. Take “Dirty” Harry Callahan for example, he doesn’t care that he breaks the rules that he’s sworn by law to uphold. All Harry wants to do is snatch the criminal, and either arrest him or shoot him with his .44 Magnum, before the punk kills another innocent victim.

Movies with rebels will always be popular. Audiences love to root for characters that act out our inner fantasies. Maybe we can’t tell our bosses or teachers what we’re really feeling, but at least our film heroes can.
  • The rebellious Police Inspector from the Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) franchise is known for disregarding the laws of the land in order to play by his own set of rules. Harry doesn't care what happens to him or his career. His goal is to catch the bad guy, no matter what, punk. 
    Are they a rebel with a good cause?

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  • The first character that comes to mind for many when they hear "rebel". Jim Stark (James Dean) is such a rebel in Nicholas Ray's coming of age drama that it says so right there in the title. The film may have been made in 1955, but the plight of the teenager who doesn't get along with his parents is eternal.

    Stark moves to a new town and gets involved in a dangerous game of chicken and a few knife fights. No one in cinema history is cooler than James Dean, and Jim Stark is the actor's most iconic character. 



    Are they a rebel with a good cause?
  • Robin Williams does his best Howard Stern impression as an irreverent Disc Jockey stationed in Vietnam during the height of the war. Cronauer is told not to play rock music and stick to the script when reading the news. Much to the delight of the troops listening to his broadcast, and the horror of his superiors, the DJ breaks all of the rules, in order to both entertain and keep the soldiers informed about what's really going on with the war.
    Are they a rebel with a good cause?
  • Okay, so Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) may look more like the boy next store, not the rebel in blue jeans. However, skipping school, turning his principle into a madman, and cruising around Chicago in a stolen Ferrari is insanely rebellious.

    Are they a rebel with a good cause?