13 Truly Heroic Movie Heroes Who Are Straight-Up Hardened Criminals

List Rules
Vote up the hardened crooks with the most heroic intentions.

We can only root for goody two-shoes for so long. Sometimes, we're just longing for movie heroes who were - or are - criminals. And we aren't merely talking about protagonists who are genuinely bad guys (Walter White wouldn't make this list, for example), but main characters we can legitimately define as heroic. These are people who, when push comes to shove, do the right thing... but they also have a bit of a mean streak in them.

Some of these characters are incarcerated, like Escape from New York's Snake Plissken and Brawl in Cell Block 99's Bradley Thomas, while others are antiheroes who skirt the line between good and evil, like Drive's protagonist and the Fast & Furious franchise's Dom Toretto. And don't worry, iconic characters like Han Solo and Jack Sparrow are here, too. Beware of spoilers and vote up your favorite criminals that have a moral code to go along with their more felonious actions.


  • In a not-so-distant future of 1997 where Manhattan has been turned into a massive prison-city, Snake Plissken is given 24 hours to save the president of the United States after Air Force One crashlands smack-dab in the middle of all the mayhem. Doesn't 1981's Escape from New York sound like a ton of fun? It is an awesome movie and Kurt Russell fully sheds his Disney child-star image with his portrayal of Plissken. 

    From his very first line - a growled "Call me Snake" - Russell just oozes tough-guy coolness. With his flowing mane, eyepatch, and leather jacket, is there any doubt that this grizzled convict is going to save the day? A full-fledged pardon is on the line! Masterminded by the great John Carpenter, Escape from New York gives viewers a felon they can't help but root for. The world has already gone to sh*t, so let's root for this antihero who's fighting the good fight. And the less said about the inferior Escape from L.A.the better.

  • Captain Jack Sparrow From The 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Franchise
    Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Jack Sparrow is a complicated protagonist. You hate to love him and you love to hate him as he double- and triple-crosses his way through the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that the heroes in the Pirates films are, well, you know... pirates. Meaning they're crooks, one and all. They may have a code they abide by (or are they guidelines?), but they're still sword-happy looters and plunderers.

    For some reason, you can't help but cheer for Sparrow when he's on screen. Yes, Johnny Depp's star has fallen considerably and the character may have appeared in too many films over the past two decades, but this drunk scallywag is a character you just want to watch. He toes that line between good and bad quite expertly. Michael Bolton knows what's up.

  • Having the Machete films exist in the Spy Kids franchise is the kind of thing you can only expect from someone like Robert Rodriguez, and we are 100% here for it. Indeed, "Uncle Machete" first appeared way back in 2001's Spy Kids, a PG action-comedy for children. By the time Machete got his own movie, it's safe to say kids shouldn't have been anywhere near the theater, as Machete earned that hard-R rating.

    Machete is a film in the classic '70s grindhouse style - in other words, an exploitation film with crass and cartoonish violence at the core of its story. And our hero Machete is not "a good man," but he is the hero a film like this deserves. He is very good at killing, and you better watch out when he gets that weapon from which he gets his namesake. Danny Trejo is the best.

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    Marv From 'Sin City'

    Sin City gives you pretty much what you'd expect from that kind of title. There are few heroes in this world created by Frank Miller and brought to big-screen life by Robert Rodriguez, and the heroes we've got are prone to bouts of bloody violence. Marv, the protagonist of the "The Hard Goodbye" section of the film, is an ex-con who sets out to find out who took the life of a woman with whom he had a memorable one-night stand. And he is gonna get that revenge.

    By the time the chapter wraps up, we discover that Cardinal Patrick Roark and his young ward Kevin are prone to slaying and eating escorts in order to "consume their souls." Yep, Sin City is that kind of movie. Marv gives them what's coming to them, but ends up being framed for everything and gets the electric chair in the end. It's a pity, too, as Mickey Rourke looked great in those prosthetics.