24 Movie Protagonists That’ll Make You Cringe

You usually think to root for the protagonist in the film, but a popular online forum pointed out that some of the most beloved main characters aren't actually good guys above reproach. Perhaps you've seen some whose actions or moral compass were horrible or at least questionable. Here is a list of movies where the main guy (or girl) is not as great as you may be led to believe.

1. Rose Dawson (Titanic)

Titanic Kate Winslet
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Who can forget a classic as renowned as Titanic? Rose Dawson's character in this romantic masterpiece never takes a hit for her actions in lieu of pursuing Jack Dawson. However, what if we view her decision to abandon her family for Jack as impulsive? 

Maybe her decision to leave her mother to brave the cold waters without her to search for a man she'd just met is evidence of poor judgment and insensitivity. In the end, she never informs her mother that she's alive and leaves her to mourn her death. If she wished to remove herself from an aristocratic lifestyle, we'd be foolish to think that this was the only way.

2. James Bond (Skyfall)

Skyfall Daniel Craig
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

James Bond is depicted as a debonair spy in nearly every series iteration. However, his actions in Skyfall are particularly despicable. Bond meets a lady at the casino that shares with him that she's a trafficked escort who lives in fear of her boss. 

She's obviously traumatized and in need of help. Bond tells her he can help, but instead, he has relations with her after sneaking onto her boat. He forces her to introduce him to her boss, and this meeting ends with her getting killed. This obvious exploitation of the oppressed at the expense of her life makes Mr. Bond a jerk, to say the least!

3. Grandpa Joe (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

If you don't allow the narration of the story to blind you, it becomes quite clear that Grandpa Joe and the decisions he makes are less than honorable. For starters, he's not motivated enough to get out of bed to feed his starving family. But somehow, he can muster the energy to get up when the opportunity to go to the chocolate factory arises.

One user pointed out that he continued to receive a tobacco allowance even when his family was on the brink of starvation. Lastly, he convinces Charlie to steal the fizzy lifting drink and reacts self-righteously when he's called on it. Grandpa Joe made his mark for the wrong reasons.

4. Mrs. Doubtfire (Mrs. Doubtfire)

Mrs. Doubtfire Robin Williams
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Daniel Hillard, better known as Euphegenia Doubtfire, was anything but a role model to his kids and an even worse husband by all accounts. Although we root for Daniel because we understand how desperately he wants to be around his kids, his choice is juvenile and kind of creepy.

Daniel deceives his wife as Doubtfire attempts to sabotage her budding new relationship with unsolicited advice as the housekeeper. He nearly kills her new love interest, Stuart, by purposefully putting cayenne pepper in his food during a get-together—knowing he's allergic. Although he rescues him, this is where all of his insane antics come undone. In the end, Daniel lied and betrayed the trust of many and pulled off schemes that would've landed him in jail!

5. Wonder Woman (1984)

Wonder Woman 1984
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Wonder Woman was a great addition to the D.C. cinematic experience. However, as I continued watching, I couldn't help but be critical of her decision regarding the reincarnated Steve Trevors. Trevors is a man she had a relationship with 60 years ago who died tragically. Wonder Woman inadvertently makes a wish to have him back. 

Steve hijacks the body of an innocent man who had a life he was carrying on with before he came. Wonder Woman isn't concerned about the life of the man ripped away from his existence; she's just happy that Trevor is back.

6. Wolverine (X-Men)

Image Credit: Atilla Dory-20th Century Fox.

Wolverine is my favorite character in the franchise. However, it's hard not to notice how sketchy his behavior was in the first installment of X-Men. Cyclops and Storm save him, and then he rudely rejects Cyclops' handshake–to which he adds insult to injury by spending the remainder of the movie trying to steal Jean right from under his nose! It was strange to feel like the director wanted the audience to root for Wolverine and demonize Cyclops, who otherwise was a stand-up guy.

7. Jake Ryan (Sixteen Candles) 

Sixteen Candles
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

In the film Sixteen Candles, Jake Ryan's actions toward his intoxicated girlfriend are highly suspect. He entrusts her, practically unconscious, to a stranger and calmly tells them, “Do whatever you want with her.” A more responsible approach would have been to let her rest in one of the many rooms in his lavish mansion and break it off with her the next day. He needlessly put her in harm's way. His choice to do so is questionable at best and condemnable at worst.

8. Dewey Finn (School of Rock)

School of Rock
Image Credit: Andrew Schwartz-Paramount Pictures.

Dewey Finn was a bad bandmate who also was a delusional narcissist. He was not as good as he thought he was and should have been kicked out of the band for some of the antics he pulled. Dewey never snapped to his senses and would go on to steal his best friend's identity, and he jeopardized Ned's career in the process. All in all, not a very good friend or protagonist!

9. Ferris Bueller (Ferris Bueller's Day Off)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Despite how lighthearted the movie is, Ferris Bueller is not really a great guy. He frequently skips school and convinces his best friend (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend (Mia Sara) to join him, resulting in many quarrelsome activities. Additionally, he acts as a negative influence on his friend Cameron, always encouraging him to break the rules (like stealing his dad's car).

Ferris appears to show little regard for the consequences that Cameron might face. When Cameron expresses concerns about their schemes, Ferris dismisses them. It's important to note that Ferris isn't necessarily an evil character. He is charming and rebellious, and his intentions are generally good. However, he can sometimes be seen as a little selfish and inconsiderate.

10. Chris Kyle (American Sniper)

American Sniper, Bradley Cooper
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Chris Kyle, for all of his heroics, was a lousy husband who often left his wife to shoulder the burden of family life alone. While he was an exceptional sniper, he was never home, and even when he was home, he was absent in mind, entrenched in thoughts concerning his team.

Going to war took a mental toll on Chris Kyle, making him emotionally unavailable to the point of cruelty. This protagonist was not a saint by a long shot. He would yearn to do another tour amid family time. Frankly, Chris Kyle was a horrible companion but an invaluable soldier.

11. Nick Rice (Law Abiding Citizen)

Law Abiding Citizen
Image Credit: The Weinstein Company.

Law Abiding Citizen does a great job of creating ambiguity regarding who's the true protagonist—at least until the murders begin. Initially, we empathize with Clyde and the loss of his family at the hands of ruthless career criminals Darby and Ames. Clyde resorts to sociopathic measures to exact vengeance to the point we forget that Nick's indifference to justice sparked this whole ordeal.

Nick was more concerned with his own selfish ambitions of maintaining a 96% conviction rate than administering true justice. By striking a plea deal with Darby to lessen a known murderer's sentence, he reveals that his celebrity trumped bringing heinous murderers to justice—thoroughly vilifying Nick's motives as a prosecutor.

12. Joe Fox (You've Got Mail)

You've Got Mail
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Not even Tom Hanks' charm can get me to completely ignore Joe Fox's weasel-like behavior. He lies to Kathleen incessantly and he even had the nerve to crash her blind date, refusing to leave at her request. One commenter put it this way, “After he figures out that Kathleen is the woman he has been messaging online, he weaponizes this information against her.”

Despite the happy ending, Kathleen loses her business because of Joe's ruthless tactics to get rid of her as a competitor in the book-selling arena. He's diabolical in his machinations, and somehow, we still cheer him on in the end.

13. Tony Stark (Iron Man)

Iron Man
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Tony Stark is far from the paragon of what makes a prototypical superhero. He's egotistical, obnoxious, and such an attention seeker that he doesn't even keep his identity as Iron Man a secret. 

He's a philanderer who objectifies women and demeans anyone he thinks is unworthy of his intellect. When he's not defeating bad guys—he's being an insufferable jerk to those who care for him, such as his assistant, who would eventually become his wife. A forum member pointed out, “We like Iron Man, the hero, but he's someone we'd hate to be friends with.”

14. Andie Anderson and Benjamin Barry (How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days)

How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Andie looks to push a potential love interest away, all for the sake of an article entitled “How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” The tactics she employs are ruthless in some cases, although comical, and at one point, she antagonizes a man and causes Barry to get into a fight at the theater. Benjamin Barry, similarly, wants to make a woman fall in love because he believes that if he can make any woman fall in love with him in ten days, he will prove his effectiveness in understanding consumer behavior.

Barry manipulates and feigns interest in a woman for the sake of an advertising campaign that he's trying to land. Andie intends on mocking and humiliating Benjamin, and Benjamin sees her as a trophy—something to conquer. Both treat each other like things rather than actual people with feelings. No wonder they hit it off—they were made for each other!

15. Harry Potter (Harry Potter Franchise)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Image Credits: Warner Bros. Pictures.

For many, it's a given that Harry is the star in the books and movies. However, not all audiences are head over heels for the main guy; on the contrary, a lot of fans think it's the rest of the cast that makes the franchise more appealing.

Although he may not qualify as exactly horrible, the fact that his stubbornness, recklessness, and hard-headedness have gotten him and his friends in trouble on more than a few occasions definitely makes him more annoying than he gets credit for. 

16. Seth (Superbad)

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Superbad is renowned for being one of the greatest movies of the 2000s, and rightfully so. Interestingly, after rewatching the classic recently, I couldn't help but notice that Seth was really sleazy and a little creepy. He even objectifies his love interest, Jules. Moreover, he whines, is selfish, and immensely immature. As if that wasn't enough, he blatantly bullies his friend Evan. As far as the protagonist goes, I wouldn't call Seth an angel.

17. Willy Wonka (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) 

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Willy Wonka holds a special place in children's hearts within his fictional world and in reality. His reputation for being whimsy and fun precedes him. However, Mr. Wonka has a very apparent dark side. He's egotistical and paranoid. He enslaves the Oompa Loompas and readily punishes children who displease him. Don't get me wrong, the children are insufferable, but they are children.

18. Dom Cobb (Inception)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Dominic Cobb is a shrewd operator and has used his wit to outsmart and deceive even the most formidable minds. On his quest to get back to his kids, it's easy to forget some of the terrible things that Cobbs did. In the beginning, he planted the idea in Mal's mind that her world wasn't real without her permission, leading to her taking her own life—the epitome of inception!

He then endangered his teammates and didn't properly warn them about the dangers of going further down in dream states. A death there means you end up in limbo, an infinite prison for your mind with no way of returning to the real world. And finally, he convinced the heir of a lucrative business (Fischer) to break up his father's company—a personal and intimate decision, robbing Fischer of the chance to decide what's best for him. We've seen that Cobb will act in his own best interest, even if it means endangering others.

19. Batman (Dark Knight)

The Dark Knight
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

The caped crusader has become an icon for his wit and intellect while using his wealth to fight crime and bring justice to career and would-be criminals. However, what would happen if he redirected his considerable resources elsewhere?

The truth is, Bruce Wayne neglects to address the source of the problem. Instead of using his billions to improve Gotham's infrastructure, fund schools in impoverished communities, etc., he buys state-of-the-art vehicles and bat suits! We know that Batman deserves credit for apprehending criminals, but what has he done to address the incompetent and, at times, corrupt government which he allies with to capture Gotham's criminals?

20. Optimus Prime (Transformers)

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Optimus Prime is depicted as a stand-up extraterrestrial robot. However, if you take a closer look, you may see a few chinks in that robot armor of his. For instance, after the Decepticons all but destroyed the city, Optimus reveals that he refrained from intervening sooner so that the humans would realize that the Decepticons were evil. When you think about it, it sounds like Optimus allowed innocent people to perish to prove a point.

Evidently, Optimus needs a lesson on offering mercy; he would go on to commit what would amount to war crimes as he mercilessly rips apart multiple Decepticons while they beg for mercy. Lastly, Megatron offers him a truce, and Optimus decapitates him without a second thought. 

21. Caleb (Ex Machina)

Ex Machina
Image Credit: A24.

Caleb is the obvious protagonist in this story. Perhaps his bad traits are the hardest to see out of all his counterparts on this list. At any rate, Caleb is seen as virtuous because he wants to free Ava from Nathan, who will soon wipe her memory.

If Caleb is such a good guy, why does he ignore Kyoko? Both Ava and Kyoko are androids. Nathan abuses both in some way, shape, or form. So why isn't he concerned for them equally? He doesn't even acknowledge Kyoko. Caleb is not concerned with the suffering of Androids as a whole; he is romantically interested in Ava, and therefore her plight is worthy of rescue. At best, he's a hypocrite and, at worse, a self-serving person who wants to save Ava so that he can have her.

22. Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones Franchise)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Movie
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Indiana Jones is depicted as an intelligent, resourceful hero with physical prowess. He is an expert in various fields, including history, mythology, and languages, which enables him to decode cryptic clues and navigate ancient civilizations.

However, one contributor stated—”He's a grave robber!”. Not only that, he's probably the worst archeologist ever. After destroying the excavation site, he says, “It belongs in a museum.” How about before that happens, you meticulously record where you found the artifact and procure it from the site as carefully as possible—instead of violating the contents without a single thought about its integrity and importance to history.

23. Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Johnny Depp
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Jack Sparrow comes off as lighthearted and even funny; Disney's depiction of Jack as a goofball is misleading though. Don't let his quirky charm fool you; he is a true pirate through and through. He devoted his life to stealing, lying, and betraying others. Honestly, you can't trust a word from his mouth. When he's sentenced to death, his list of crimes includes kidnapping, arson, smuggling, looting, and more. Jack is definitely one of those guy's you'd hate to meet in person.

24. Morpheus (Matrix)

The Matrix
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Morpheus is a key character in The Matrix saga and is the driving force behind the discovery of the “One.” The way that he recruits candidates is dishonest and deceptive. Cypher had a point when he said had Morpheus told them what they were truly getting into, he would have chosen to take the blue pill to return to the digital world.

The humans were imprisoned in a digital world that was indistinguishable from the real one. In many cases, their digital world was paradise compared to the actual war-torn world that Morpheus and the people of Zion occupied. I'm sure many people regretted taking the red pill and had Morpheus explained the hopelessness and suffering in the real world, they would've told him to back off!

Source: (Reddit).