So bad they’re good: antiheroes

Globe File photo

Harry Lime in “The Third Man” (1949)

  • True, Joseph Cotten plays the ostensible hero in Carol Reed’s diabolical noir. But it’s Orson Welles’s insouciant black marketer we’re rooting for in that chase through the sewers of Vienna. Says local filmmaker Skip Shea, “I don’t know if it would have worked with any other actor, but when Welles gives the infamous cuckoo clock speech, I smile every time.”

Film Society of Lincoln Center

Alex in “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)

  • Can someone who loves both Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and “Singin’ in the Rain” be all bad? Well, yes. Malcolm McDowell’s foppish attire and polymorphously perverse mayhem make for an irresistible if repugnant combination. Especially in contrast to the bureaucrats who try to “reform” him in Stanley Kubrick’s dystopic nightmare.

Columbia Pictures

Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” (1976)

  • The protagonists of half of Martin Scorsese’s films could be on this list, but Robert De Niro’s well-intended psychopath of the title has inspired generations of bad imitations of his infamous “You talkin’ to me?” mirror monologue.

Claus von Bülow in “Reversal of Fortune” (1990)

  • “Claus the louse,” as one newspaper headline tagged him, was well served by Oscar-winning Jeremy Irons, who brought drawing-room aplomb to the elegant and amoral would-be wife murderer. When his attorney, Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), points out to him that he is “a very strange man,” von Bülow replies with plummy nonchalance, “you have no idea.”

Francois Duhamel

Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood” (2007)

  • I was disappointed that “I drink your milkshake” never made it into the tagline hall of fame alongside “You talkin’ to me?” But anyone who beats a shady preacher to death with a bowling pin deserves recognition. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar as the rapacious oil baron in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful historical drama.


  • A popular secret agent franchise gets a prequel in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (opens Jan. 17). Who are your favorite cinema sleuths? And looking ahead to Jan. 26, “I, Frankenstein” (opens Jan. 24) revives the monster first jolted to life by Mary Shelley in her 1818 novel. What are the scariest screen incarnations of the monster? Cast your votes at

Peter Keough can be reached at
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