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Movies that trick you into liking the bad guy

There are some movie villains that we just love to hate. Everybody despises Cruella de Vil, Gordon Gekko deserves to go down, and we all want Daniel-san to crush the Cobra Kai. They're the bad guys, after all, and we can't wait to see them fail. However, there are some antagonists who make things a little bit trickier. Every so often, a villain comes along who we can't help but root for. Maybe we agree with their motives — or perhaps these bad guys aren't actually that bad. Or maybe they're so charismatic that we just don't care how evil they are. Whatever the reason, when these psychos and scoundrels show up on the screen, we're actually tempted to cheer, and we find ourselves hoping that evil will win the day. From films about angry athletes to blockbusters about social justice supervillains, these movies tricked us into liking the bad guys.

A champion who wants another chance

Rocky Balboa is the ultimate movie underdog. He's just a bruised and battered lug, desperate for a shot, when Apollo Creed steps into his life. Played by Carl Weathers, Creed is the cocky, smooth-talking heavyweight champ. He's looking for a gimmick to sell his upcoming bout, so he gives a nobody a chance at glory. That nobody just so happens to be Rocky, and "The Italian Stallion" nearly beats the champ into oblivion.

Sure, Apollo gets the decision in the first Rocky film, but as he points out in the sequel, he might've won the fight, but he didn't beat Balboa. Rocky II finds the charismatic champ living in a world of doubt and shame. He's getting hate mail every day, with angry fans accusing him of fight-fixing and telling him to commit suicide. Even his kids are getting made fun of at school. His legacy is being questioned, and even his own trainer worries that he couldn't beat Rocky in a rematch.

Admittedly, Creed gets ultra-aggressive with Balboa (not to mention those poor sparring partners), but while later Rocky bad guys are evil to the core, Rocky II shows Apollo Creed in a sympathetic light. Stripped of his swagger, Creed isn't all that different than Rocky or, for that matter, any of us. We've all doubted our abilities at one time or another; we've all wanted to run things back and get another chance. We totally get where Apollo is coming from, and while we're definitely rooting for Rocky to win the rematch, that doesn't mean we want Apollo to lose.

He's part Buddha, part bank robber

Ever since Jesse James, people have been fascinated by bank robbers — renegades who don masks, demand money, and ride into the sunset. Sure, they're criminals, but unlike arsonists or serial killers, bank robbers are seen as folk heroes, sticking it to the man. And when it comes to likable outlaws, there's no bank robber more beloved than Bodhi from Point Break.

Played by Patrick Swayze, Bodhi is the most zen criminal to ever walk the earth. As the leader of the "Ex-Presidents" (so named because of their masks), Bodhi is robbing banks to fight a "system that kills the human spirit." He's picking up a pistol and pulling on that Ronald Reagan mask to show the world "the human spirit is still alive." Cooler still, he uses his ill-gotten gains to fund his surfing lifestyle — a lifestyle that's more about finding yourself than having fun.

Known on the beaches as the Bodhisattva, surfing is a spiritual experience for Bodhi. He's looking for the ultimate rush, and he's willing to die on the waves if he can experience adrenaline nirvana before he goes. Granted, Bodhi is a crook who eventually does some dastardly stuff to FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), but even though he's living outside the law, we love Bodhi so much that we'd rather fire our gun up in the air and go "ah" than ever put a bullet in the Bodhisattva's back.

A criminal dedicated to his craft

Robert De Niro has played a lot of bad dudes over the years, and while they're all incredible characters, they're not exactly the most likable guys. Travis Bickle is a deranged assassin, Jake LaMotta is a violently jealous husband, and Max Cady is a psychopathic rapist. But in 1995, De Niro teamed up with Michael Mann for Heat, a stylish thriller that allowed De Niro to play Neil McCauley, a professional thief who never loses his cool.

Quiet and calculating, McCauley might be a crook, but the man is 100 percent dedicated to his craft. Yeah, that craft is robbing banks and hitting armored trucks, but when it comes to pulling off a heist, McCauley is the best in the business. You've got to admire someone who makes it look so effortless. He's a man who lives by a simple code, and he's given up on a "normal" life because taking scores is what he does. It's why he's alive. He's willing to walk away from lovers and put people in the dirt if it means keeping his freedom. Neil McCauley is a hard man, but in a world full of cutthroat thieves, he's the only one with honor.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was getting you to like this guy

The Usual Suspects is a great big puzzle, and when all the pieces fall into place, you realize the film has literally tricked you into liking the big bad. This 1995 thriller introduced audiences to Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), an eager-to-please crook who loves to talk. He's got a story for every situation and seems to be an "aw shucks" kind of guy. You also feel sorry for him because he suffers from cerebral palsy… and because he just narrowly avoided getting killed.

Verbal was one of five thugs forced to work for Keyser Soze — crime boss, man of mystery, and bogeyman of the underworld. But the job went bad, and now that Verbal is the only one left, he's getting viciously grilled by an incredibly angry agent (Chazz Palminteri) who gets into Verbal's face, calls him stupid and weak, and things get even worse for poor Verbal when he realizes that he was set up by his trusted friend and fellow crook, Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne).

All in all, it's been a rough couple of days for Verbal. He's been betrayed, berated, and now it seems his days are numbered… until that final reveal. In one of the greatest bad guy twists of all time, Verbal loses his limp and gains some pep in his step. Everything about the guy is a lie — including his cerebral palsy — and all that sympathy we've had for him turns into shock. It's goodbye to sweet old Verbal and hello to the real Keyser Soze, leaving us to wonder how such a nice guy could turn out to be such a monster.

The most likable terrorist of all time

Whether he's robbing casinos or scalping Nazis, Brad Pitt is a likable guy. That's especially true in Fight Club, where the man gives the performance of his career as Tyler Durden — a guy with a thing for flamboyant clothes, unusual soaps, and punching faces. He's got a great big grin and a madman's cackle, and he loves dropping pearls of macho wisdom like "How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?"

Durden oozes with nihilistic cool, so it's no wonder that the apathetic Narrator (Edward Norton) falls under his sway. In a world where everything is nice and neat and packaged, Durden is messy and primal and full of rage. That's why he starts his titular fight club, so angry young men can beat each other to a pulp and actually feel something. Whether he's throwing haymakers or preaching about anarchy, Tyler Durden gathers acolytes wherever he goes… which is all well and good until buildings start blowing up.

In the second half of the film, Durden's little fight club morphs into Project Mayhem, a militaristic cult that's big on setting off bombs. Sure, materialism is bad, but terrorism isn't great, either. If Starbucks is on one end of the problematic spectrum, Durden is on the other, ready to castrate anyone who gets in his way. But even though he wants to kill the Narrator and send humanity back to the Stone Age, Tyler Durden is still the most persuasive psycho around, inspiring real-life people to start their own fight clubs. It just goes to show that it doesn't matter how many skyscrapers you want to destroy, as long as you look cool and talk tough.

A dirty cop who's incredibly charismatic

Everybody hates a dirty cop. They abuse the power of their badge and use their guns to keep the streets in terror. Cinema is crawling with corrupt police officers, and most of them are despicable. Training Day's Alonzo Harris, on the other hand, is about as charming as it gets, all while being the most intimidating narc in Los Angeles. Alonzo is the ultimate alpha male — he can win you over with a smile before beating you into the dirt. Forget the Constitution. Alonzo's word is law, but he has such a good time bending the rules that it's really hard to hate the guy.

Yeah, he's a murderer. Yeah, he doesn't care about your Miranda rights. But there's nothing about the man that isn't cool. From the way he holds his pistols to the way he cruises around town in his Monte Carlo, Alonzo is the ultimate badass. When he walks across the street, the cars stop for him… or else. On top of all that, he's a chess player, manipulating drug dealers and rookie cops like they're pawns on his own personal board. And even though he wants to set up poor Ethan Hawke, it's hard not to admire his power and intelligence. Honestly, that has everything to do with Denzel Washington, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the narc who's badder than King Kong, and it's almost impossible to imagine anybody else in the role. Despite his glowering gaze, Washington brings an instant likability to every character he plays, including killer cops.

A sympathetic assassin you don't want to mess with

Kill Bill Vol. 1 opens with Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) covered in blood, gasping for breath, her wedding crashed by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. They've shot all the guests, murdered the groom, and it seems like they've killed Kiddo's unborn daughter. So when Kiddo gets her Hattori Hanzo sword and starts hunting for blood, you don't sympathize with the monsters who ruined her wedding day. As Budd so eloquently puts it in the sequel, "That woman deserves her revenge, and we deserve to die."

But while we hope Kiddo will slice these snakes up, you still have to admire O-Ren Ishii. Played by Lucy Liu, O-Ren is the head honcho of the Tokyo mob, and you know climbing to the top of the Japanese underworld was no easy task, especially since she's a woman of Chinese-American descent. The woman's got moxie, and if you say anything about heritage, she's going to take your head.

However, the real sympathy for O-Ren Ishii comes from her anime backstory, where we learn her parents were murdered by the yakuza. Worse still, she was a kid when it happened… and she saw the whole thing. So O-Ren grows up fast and mean, avenging her parents at age 11. With that kind of background, you totally get why she's such a cold hard killer. On top of all that, she wins a lot of likability points when she fights the Bride because she does so with honor. While Elle Driver and Budd use sneak attacks, O-Ren follows the Bushido code and even apologizes to Kiddo before her death by incredibly close haircut.

And perhaps most importantly, O-Ren really knows how to make an entrance.

The coolest contract killer in cinematic history

Tom Cruise has played a lot of cool characters of the years, from the stunt-happy Ethan Hunt to the high-flying Maverick, but there's no Cruise character cooler than Vincent from Collateral. With his silver hair and steel gray suit, the man is like a great white shark, always moving and always hunting. He's a contract killer, looking for five unlucky victims, and he drafts a hapless cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) to ferry him around L.A. As they cruise the late-night streets, Vincent holds court in the back of Max's cab, giving life lessons and dropping any fool who gets in his way.

Even though Vincent views the world through nihilistic glasses, he forms a bizarre bond with his kidnapped cabbie, giving the man advice and encouraging Max to stand up to his obnoxious boss. If he wasn't a psychopathic assassin, it would be awesome to have Vincent as your very own shoulder angel (of death). On top of that, Vincent is smooth like jazz, an incredible improviser who can charm anyone he runs across, from Max's irascible mother to every movie lover on the planet.

But at the end of the day, Vincent is a professional, which means he's got people to kill, and nobody is going to stand in his way. The infamous scene where Vincent confronts a couple of thugs in an alleyway pretty much sums up this stone cold character. His quick draw is so fast, his aim is so precise, and the man feels absolutely no remorse when he drills the creeps with three bullets apiece. Of course, that ruthless efficiency just makes him even cooler. 

The world's most likable child killer

Old Joe is likable from the get-go. It doesn't hurt that he's played by Bruce Willis, one of the most beloved action stars of all time. Plus, the man is in a serious bind. He's been kidnapped by the mob and sent back in time so a younger Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) can blow him away with a blunderbuss. That kind of fate gets you automatic audience sympathy.

And as we learn Old Joe's backstory (future story?), we discover that he falls in love with a beautiful woman he meets in Shanghai. The two are truly happy together, and it seems like Old Joe has finally found peace… until gangsters end his relationship with a well-placed bullet. So not only is he being hunted by his younger self, but he's trying to change the future and save his wife from getting gunned down. What's not to like about that?

But here's the big twist of Looper: Old Joe is the villain. Because once he goes back to 2044, he turns into the Terminator. He thinks the only way to save his wife is by murdering an omnipotent crime boss called the Rainmaker, and his plan is to kill the all-powerful mobster as a kid. Even worse, since there are several boys who might be the Rainmaker, he's going to shoot all three to make sure he gets the right one.

Yeah, Bruce Willis is trying to murder children. And sure, we're completely appalled, but we also understand where he's coming from. Granted, Old Joe is a selfish monster, so consumed by his own pain that doesn't care about filling little boys full of lead. Still, as far as kid-killers go, Old Joe is the most likable of the bunch.

A supervillain who wants to save people

With the likes of Loki, Thanos, Vulture, and Zemo, Marvel has created some truly compelling bad guys. But the studio might've hit its supervillain peak with Erik Killmonger, a character so popular that he's inspired conversations, think pieces, memes, and broken retainers. In fact, he's so beloved that fans across the world all came to the same conclusion: that Killmonger was right.

We didn't hear anybody saying "Ultron was correct" or "Hela was justified," and even though he wanted to kill T'Challa in ritual combat, fans adored this special ops supervillain. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he's played by a muscular Michael B. Jordan, one of the best and most charismatic actors to ever show up in the MCU. It's also because Killmonger has a sick sense of humor, knows how to handle himself, and he's completely covered in badass scars (and we know every single bump means this is one deadly dude).

But ultimately, Killmonger is so popular because the man is so sympathetic. His father was murdered by a king, and then he was completely abandoned by his family. He grew up in a world that doesn't look kindly on young black men, and eventually, he was so overwhelmed by the pain of his people that he decided to do something about it. While Wakanda sits by in silence, Killmonger is trying to change the world. Becoming king is just the means to an end. His plan isn't just about gaining power, it's about striking a blow for freedom. He's a man driven by righteous anger, and while his supervillain scheme gets a bit too murdery, it's easy to see why so many people think this guy was right.