Lists, Period Dramas 33

Top 20 Bad Boys – Byronic Heroes in Film

Byronic Heroes in Film

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) and Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) Photo: Focus Features

Lady Caroline Lamb said of Lord Byron, the poet and her lover, he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” These words have defined Byronic Heroes, an archetype of storytelling, ever since.

Related: Top 20 Bad Boys: Byronic Heroes in Television

However, it is my honest belief Byronic Heroes aren’t discussed nearly enough. Sure, teachers gloss over them quickly in English Lit class, but nothing more. In fact, scrolling the internet I discovered there just isn’t much out there to find on Byronic Heroes, especially not when it comes to film or television. And when you do, it’s plain as day most people don’t even know what a Byronic Hero actually is (just because the word hero is used doesn’t necessarily mean he’s “heroic” in the traditional sense of the word).

What then is a Byronic Hero? We read about them in books, watch them on film and television, but we don’t even know what to call them. The archetype is so familiar to us we don’t think twice about it when we see one on screen.

As a society we recognize and at times love the “bad boy,” but then, on the other hand, we criticize a character in a novel or in a film because he doesn’t have ideal characteristics. In fact, we sometimes argue the writer is sending out a bad message. But is it about a message? Or is it about representing the traits of the Byronic archetype?

For instance, several critics complain about Edward Cullen of the Twilight Series. He’s labeled as obsessive and even abusive (though I would personally refute the second point). We forget he’s a vampire who doesn’t feel he needs to obey human laws. He is a Byronic Monster who is SUPPOSED to be dark. From a feminist perspective, Edward’s personality sends out a dangerous message to young girls. What message then did Emily Bronte send out to the masses when she wrote Wuthering Heights and introduced the villainous (and yes, actually abusive) Heathcliff? Stephanie Meyer reveals her awareness of the Byronic figure by having Edward sympathize with Heathcliff on a personal level when he sees a passage from Wuthering Heights.

Not that I’m comparing the literary greatness of Wuthering Heights to Twilight. Twilight falls into the category of YA paranormal romance (sensation) fiction. The point remains the same, though. I think what upsets critics are the actual traits of the literary archetype of a Byronic Hero. Byronic Heroes are supposed to be like Edward. And honestly he’s a puppy in comparison to many other ones (see Eric Draven from The Crow or Bill from True Blood who had Sookie beaten).

So as any good Byronic Hero would argue: I’m getting bored with the attacks on this misunderstood literary character.

Again, I ask, what then is a Byronic Hero? Let’s take a quick look at many of the famous characteristics (adapted from, Atara Stein, Wikipedia and our own ideas) of the Byronic Hero:

  • Presents obsessive tendencies; focused and constant
  • Typically has one all-consuming passion
  • “Byronic love obsesses on the idea of a man and a woman so similar in character and in spirit, as to be almost one individual” (
  • passionate; has deep emotions
  • Arrogant
  • cynical; sarcastic
  • sophisticated and educated; or even street smart
  • Intellectually superior
  • cunning behavior; ability to adapt
  • a troubled past and/or suffering from a hidden crime or past sin
  • self-critical and introspective
  • mysterious and charismatic
  • seductive and can be very sexually attractive
  • moodiness (sometimes presenting bipolar tendencies); tortured
  • isolated (this can be both emotional and physical) from society in some way; an outcast or an outlaw
  • dark attributes
  • disregard for rank and privilege
  • above the rules of society; distaste for social institutions
  • jaded, gets easily bored
  • self-destructive behavior
  • sympathetic despite his rejection of virtue
  • capable of being redeemed
  • capable of heroic behavior
  • individualistic
  • rejection of classicism

While a Byronic Hero can have many of these traits, they won’t necessarily have all of them. It should also be pointed out a character may have a few of these traits and not be Byronic as well. Of course, some characters will constantly be up for discussion and debate.

That all said, for this particular top 20 list, I’ve decided to focus merely on the big screen. As a result, if the character is only seen in a book, they won’t be on the list. If they’re a Byronic Hero from a TV Series or even a TV Movie they won’t be on this list. I felt like Literature, Film and Television should be three separate categories (too many to choose from)…so look forward to the other two lists in the near future!

Till then, enjoy reading the quotes of the…

Top 20 Byronic Heroes in Film

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Actor: Hugh Jackman


Dr. Jean Grey: Girls flirt with the dangerous guy; they don't bring him home - they marry the good guy.

Photo: 20th century Fox

Wolverine: I can be the good guy.

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Snow White and the Huntsman. Actor: Chris Hemsworth

"I once had a wife, princess...When I came back from the war I carried with me the stench of death and the anger of the lost. I wasn't worth saving, that's for sure, but she did so anyway. And I loved her so much. I loved her more than anyone and anything, and then I let her out of my sight and she was gone. And I became myself again, a self I never cared for. Until you, cause you remind me of her. Her heart, her spirit. But now, you too have gone. You both deserved better and I'm so sorry I failed you."

Photo: Universal

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Actor: Sam Worthington

Terminator: Salvation

"Yeah, well I've been dead for a while now and I'm starting to get used to it."

Photo: Warner Bros

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Actor: Harrison Ford

Star Wars

"I take orders from just one person: ME"

Photo: LucasFilm

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Actor: Ioan Gruffudd

King Arthur

Guinevere: This is heaven for me.

Photo: Touchstone

Lancelot: I don't believe in Heaven, I've been living in this Hell. But if you represent what Heaven is, then take me there.

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Actor: Robert Downey Jr.

Iron Man

Tony Stark: Apparently I'm volatile, self-obsessed, and don't play well with others.

Photo: Marvel/Paramount

Pepper Potts: That I did know.

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Actor: Michael Fassbender

X-Men: First Class

"Let's just say I'm Frankenstein's monster…and I'm looking for my creator."

Photo: 20th Century Fox

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Actor: Christian Bale

Miranda: Even before you became a recluse, you never came to these things.

Photo: Warner Bros

Bruce Wayne: Proceeds go to the big fat spread. It's not about charity, it's about feeding the ego of whichever society hag laid this on.

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Actor: Hayden Christensen

Star Wars

"From the moment I met you, all those years ago, not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of you. And now that I'm with you again...I'm in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you - I can't breathe. I'm haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating... hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me…"

Photo: LucasFilm

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Actor: Brandon Lee

The Crow

"He died a year ago the moment he touched her. They're all dead. They just don't know it yet."

Photo: Crowvision

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Actor: Johnny Depp

Pirates of the Caribbean

Lt. Gillette: This ship cannot be crewed by two men. You'll never make it out of the bay.

Photo: Disney

Jack Sparrow: Son, I'm Captain Jack Sparrow. Savvy?

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Actor: Robert Pattinson


"What if I'm not the hero? What if I am the bad guy?"

Photo: Summit

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Actor: Gary Oldman

Bram Stoker's Dracula

"I shall rise from my own death, to avenge hers with all the powers of darkness."

Photo: American Zoetrope

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Actor: Brad Pitt

Interview with the Vampire

Louis: Do you think I would let them harm you.

Photo: Warner Bros

Claudia: No you would not Louis, danger holds you to me.

Louis: Love holds you to me.

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Actor: Tom Cruise

Interview with the Vampire

Photo: Warner Bros

"Evil is a point of view. God kills indiscriminately and so shall we. For no creatures under God are as we are, none so like him as ourselves."

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Actor: Laurence Olivier


“I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool.”

Photo: Selznick

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Actor: Gerard Butler

"This lonesome gargoyle who burns in hell but secretly yearns for heaven secretly, secretly."

Photo: Warner Bros

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Actor: Alan Rickman

Harry Potter

Dumbledore: Lily? After all this time?

Photo: Warner Bros

Severus Snape: Always.

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Actor: Laurence Olivier

Wuthering Heights

"Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest so long as I live on! I killed you. Haunt me, then! Haunt your murderer! I know that ghosts have wandered on the Earth. Be with me always. Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul."

Photo: Samuel Goldwyn

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Actor: Michael Fassbender

Jane Eyre (2011)

"This spring I came home, heart sore and soul withered. And I met a gentle stranger whose society revives me. With her I feel I could live again in a higher, purer way. Tell me, am I justified in overleaping an obstacle of custom to obtain her?"

Photo: Focus Features

Did I leave off any of your favorite Byronic Heroes in Film off the list? Sound off below…



Check out our other Top Lists! We put up a new list every Wednesday.

Read Part Two: Top 20 Bad Boys: Byronic Heroes in Television

Read Part Three: Top 20 Bad Boys: Byronic Heroes in Literature

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  • shawna Faye

    Im obsessed with Byronic heroes. They are so much more interesting than the usual, leading man type characters. I love that you put Severus Snape way up on the list! His love for Lily was heart-wrenching.

    I would add Linus Larrabee from Sabrina (1995) to this list. He was cold, mean, intensely focused on money, and willing to do anything to get Sabrina out of the picture. Until he falls in love with her.

    • silvervintage

      You have no idea how obsessed I am with Byronic Heroes too. I LOVE them. And I agree, they’re usually so much more interesting then other leading men. And I think Snape is a fantastic modern day Byronic Hero so of course I had to include him. 🙂

      Good point about Linus. I never considered him. Harrison Ford is good at playing those types of characters!

      That said, personally I think some of the more interesting Byronic Heroes right now can be found on TV. I’m excited to put together that list.

    • Silver Petticoat

      I am definitely going to have to revisit Sabrina again.

  • Cobpyth

    Rick Blaine from Casablanca?

    • I’m not sure if he’s Byronic or not. But he has enough of the traits to definitely think about and consider.

  • Seashell

    Excellent job! Interesting a lot. It’s a fantastic way to bring to our times ideas which belong to old ones.

  • Supergran

    Have you considered Ross from the Poldark novels? Robin Ellis portrayed him very “Byronically”!

    • I will definitely have to check out both the books and the film when I get the chance! So no, I didn’t consider him because I haven’t read or seen it. But I have heard of it, and it sounds like it’s up my alley. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • anon

    rhett butler?? i think michael fassbenber is a real life byronic hero too.

    • Rhett Butler is definitely a consideration! No real life byronic heroes on this list though.

  • Negative Creep

    Really, where’s Dorian Gray? I will consider you never seen it, otherwise he’ll be in the top 10

    • Well, ignoring your tone, I do agree that Dorian Gray is for sure a Byronic Hero. But this was only top 20 and I haven’e been in love with a film version of his character yet. Though I have not seen the new movie that came out a few years ago. So I can always change my mind. That all said, I do have 2 other parts to this Byronic Heroes list. And in part 3 with literature, Dorian Gray is included in the list at #11. But rankings are always subjective anyway.

      • Negative Creep

        Dorian gray just came to my mind, you should look up Bruce, from “Filth”, dr. House could also be in that list. The main character from Half Nelson, forgot his name. Since you are into Byronic Heroes, I really insist that you shall see Filth and the new Dorian Gray. The Punisher and Max Payne could also have their places in your list. And sorry for my tone, only that my fav heroes were missing 😀

        • You should check out my other two lists! Honestly, having to narrow down was hard for me. I’m familiar with a few of these, but of course I’m always looking for new Byronic Heroes, so will check out the other ones when I get a chance. 🙂 Yes, no problem! We all have different favorites and it’s hard to include everyone. It would have been easier if I had chosen to do the Top 100.

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  • Ridita

    Uhmmm….RHETT BUTLER from Gone With The Wind

    • Yes, I was on the fence about Rhett and whether or not he’s Byronic when I made the list. But I have been leaning more to yes as of late, so his absence is noted. 🙂

  • GuppyBoy

    Voldemort from Harry Potter!!!

    • While he does have some of the traits, I don’t think Voldemort is Byronic. Snape is a much better example!

  • Catherine Shaw

    I agree with this list, but I think Heathcliff should be number one and Rochester second. Heathcliff’s character in unforgettable.

    • Honestly, I love them both equally as characters. They’re both unforgettable literary Byronic Heroes. I guess I picked Rochester as number one because Jane Eyre is my favorite story. Also, I’m not sure if there has been a fantastic film adaptation of Wuthering Heights yet 🙂 I love the Laurence Olivier version, but it’s not exactly completely faithful to the book.

  • rhea sinha

    enjoyed the article. thank you!

  • Jeanette

    Dean Winchester from Supernatural, Angel/Angelus from BtVS, Noah from the Mara Dyer books

    • Dean and Angel are on my Byronic Heroes in TV list. 🙂 I also have a separate literature list. So only Byronic Heroes in film here. 🙂

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  • Hamish Cullen

    Awesome article! Huge fan of Mad Max, he’s quite the Byronic hero don’t you think? 🙂

    • Thank you. You are probably right, but I admit I’ve never seen Mad Max. 🙂

  • alpesh

    gerrard butler from Law abiding citizen would a good choice.

  • Dallas Fields

    V in V for Vendetta—-a virtually perfect example of Byronic Hero