On-screen Anti-heroes

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
05 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Why are we drawn to the onscreen antihero? Does a film like Joker represent something profound about class status or mental health, or is there something alluring about the character's explicit non-conformity to everyday behaviour?

Similarly, why do we play computer games or watch television programmes that challenge societal norms through violence and criminal activity? Does new media technology contribute to the ubiquity of morally questionable characters into new everyday spaces?

This module focuses upon the idea of the antihero across screen media, predominantly within film, television and computer gaming. It considers why audiences have and continue to be enticed by the darker side of entertainment and what these figures offer towards wider debates of morality and the representation of mental health onscreen.

Off-screen antiheroes will also be considered through subjective POV camerawork which has translated from film to computer gaming. The module considers why viewers and gamers are drawn to looking at (and looking through the eyes of) morally questionable characters. It explores the fascination of antihero characters and why they are central to the entertainment industry. Fascination with prisoners (who have emerged to celebrity status) such as Steven Avery and Adnan Syed for example have become household names due to the popularity of investigative programming in the form of Netflix's Making a Murderer and the Serial podcast. More recently the true crime podcast, Dirty John, was adapted into a Netflix mini-series, emphasising the popularity and interest audiences still have with morally ambiguous characters both real and fictionalised. This module takes a close examination of these characters, exploring why audiences are drawn to them.

The term 'antihero' within this module is not solely restricted to serial killers or morally corrupt characters but is also extended to the depiction of onscreen characters who suffer from damaged mental health. Cinema, television and more recently gaming have explored the notion of invisible illness through their respective platforms. Historically, this has often been a cue to link poor mental health onscreen with traits of the killer but there is now also a high number of films, shows and games that endeavour to move beyond this trope by portraying issues around mental health on screen in a new and optimistic light. This course will explore these ideas through a range of texts.

Module aims

This module aims to foster critical thinking by inviting students to consider the types of characters that lead story-based worlds. The antihero character is something that audiences have often been drawn to.

This module encourages students to assess what an antihero is and encourages them to investigate why viewers (and players) temporarily (and sometimes willingly) adopt the views of onscreen antihero personas.

The module also aims to consider how mental health has historically been portrayed negatively onscreen in film and how gradual changes, particularly in gaming, are emerging to push social well-being in fictionalised screen worlds into a more optimistic direction.

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of the module, students should be able to:

1. display a detailed knowledge of onscreen anti-heroes.
2. discuss a detailed history of why audiences are drawn to the anti-hero.
3. consider the impact of anti-hero surrogates through different media platforms.
4. demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to engage in intellectual debates around issues of how mental health is portrayed onscreen.

Module information

Week/s Contents

1 Todd Phillips, dir. Joker (2019)

2 Oliver Stone, dir. Natural Born Killers (1995)

3 Emerald, dir. Promising Young Woman, (2020)

4 Ben Wheatley, dir. Sightseers, (2012)

5 James Mangold, dir. Girl, Interrupted (1999)

6 Milos Forman, dir. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

7 Joel Schumacher, dir. Falling Down (1993)

8 Lynne Ramsey, dir. We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)

9 Pablo Larráin, dir. Tony Manero (2008)

10 David Chase, dir. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

11 Brian Yorkey, 13 Reasons Why (2017-Present)

12 Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange (1971)

13 Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur, (2011)

14 Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream (2010) (Game)

15 Alexander Masters, dir. Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007)

16 Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos, dir. Making a Murderer (2015-Present)

17 Nick Broomfield, dir. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)

18 Delmer Daves, dir. Dark Passage (1947)

19 Pierre-Paul Renders, dir. Thomas in love (2000)

20 Zoë Quinn, Depression Quest (2013) (Game)

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery for 2020-21: The module will consist of a weekly screening followed by weekly seminars that will be supported with online Moodle activities. These will take place over two 1-hour blocks. Students must watch the primary film and undertake the primary reading(s) ahead of the seminar and engage with some secondary material too. All materials will be made available via Moodle and Talis.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Group / Individual Presentation    25% 
Coursework   Essay (2,500 words)    30% 
Coursework   Essay (2,500 words)    40% 
Practical   Participation    5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Daniel O'Brien, email:
Dr Daniel O'Brien
LiFTS General Office -



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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