An anti-hero is a leading character in a work of fiction whose qualities are the opposite of those traditionally associated with heroes.
While anti-heroes have appeared frequently in modern literature, they can also be found in literary works over many centuries. The ancient Greek poet Archilochus makes fun of himself for abandoning his shield. The character of Thersites in Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare is anti-heroic. The 18th-century novelist Henry Fielding wrote a satirical novel, The Life of Jonathan Wild the Great, in which a famous criminal is presented ironically as an example of true greatness.
Examples of the anti-hero in more recent literature include Jim Dixon, the lead character of the novel Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, Jimmy Porter in the play Look Back in Anger by John Osborne, and Joe Lampton in the novels Room at the Top and Life at the Top by John Braine.
The anti-hero became a popular concept in 1960s cinema, especially in the Spaghetti Westerns directed by Sergio Leone, who featured ruthless bounty hunters and vengeful gunfighters as his lead characters. In Sam Peckinpah's films, the leads tended to be outlaws, as in The Wild Bunch.