I recently got into an argument with a younger person over a movie. Their main critique of the film was that the main character wasn't a good person, so I thought that made it a bad movie.

Now, I decided to keep calm in that situation and let my venting out here.

It does not matter if the protagonist of your story is a good person!

All that matters is that the lead person is interesting. And that we are interested in where they're going over the course of the story.

I can't believe I have to say this out loud, but it's okay to have a morally ambiguous or even evil main character.

Morally ambiguous characters, those who blur the lines between good and bad, have taken center stage in both films and TV, and that's a good thing.

Let's dive in.

The Moral Gray Area

The Moral Gray Area

Themla & Louise


Recently, I have been challenging myself to step into a world with a lot more gray areas in my screenwriting. I want to see what I can get the audience to buy into and also sharpen my skills to make a character interesting, not just "good".

Also, morally ambiguous characters are simply more realistic.

People are complex creatures, driven by a multitude of motivations, not just unwavering virtue. A character who wrestles with their own moral compass, who makes tough choices for understandable reasons, allows us to see ourselves reflected on screen.

Take Walter White from Breaking Bad. Initially, he's a sympathetic teacher, he descends into darkness to secure his family's future.

We root for him, not because he's good, but because we understand his desperation and the slippery slope of good intentions.

And when he breaks bad, we find ourselves even deeper in the complicated mix, rooting for assassinations and evading the police.

There Are Different Shades of Gray

There Are Different Shades of Gray

Ocean's 11

Warner Bros.

I think we should acknowledge that there are way different shades of gray. There's someone doing little bad things we can justify, like the guys in Oceans 11, and there's Charlize Theron in Monster, killing men indiscriminately after a justified death.

Morally ambiguous protagonists push us to confront our own moral codes.

When Tony Soprano grapples with his violent profession and his therapist's couch, we grapple with the idea of redemption for flawed individuals. And we feel a little guilty when we root for him and want him to get away with things.

These characters force us to ask ourselves: is there a line that can't be crossed? Can someone be a good person and do bad things? There are no easy answers, and that's the point.

Your writing can help you pull out what you believe.

And challenge the audience to figure out what they believe.

Morally Ambiguous Character Examples

Morally Ambiguous Character Examples



Here's a list of morally ambiguous characters in film and TV, along with a little bit about what makes them so fascinating:


  • Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver): A lonely veteran plagued by insomnia and disgust for society, he spirals into vigilantism with twisted good intentions.
  • Tyler Durden (Fight Club): A charismatic but destructive force, urging self-destruction as a path to liberation. His rebellion is compelling, but his methods are undeniably dangerous.
  • Thelma and Louise (Thelma and Louise): On the run from the law, these women make choices that blur the lines between victim and perpetrator, challenging our notions of justice and desperation.
  • Patrick Bateman (American Psycho): A wealthy investment banker whose charm hides a violent alter ego. His soullessness is chilling, yet there's dark humor in his monstrousness.
  • Michael Corleone (The Godfather): Starts with pure intentions to help his family, but slowly transforms into a ruthless mob boss himself.


  • Don Draper (Mad Men): A brilliant, troubled ad executive, haunted by his past and his own self-destructive impulses. He's both alluring and repulsive.
  • Walter White (Breaking Bad): The ultimate descent into villainy, justified by noble intentions at first. We watch in horror yet can't help but root for his twisted ambition.
  • Tony Soprano (The Sopranos): A complex mob boss who struggles with anxiety and depression, even as he commits unspeakable acts of violence.
  • Dexter Morgan (Dexter): A blood spatter analyst by day and vigilante serial killer by night. His code of only killing "bad guys" makes him unsettlingly relatable.
  • Omar Little (The Wire): A street-wise stick-up man with his own Robin Hood-style moral code. His violence in service of a greater purpose complicates his character.

Remember, the moral ambiguity of a character is often in the eye of the beholder. What pushes your buttons might leave others unfazed. That's the beauty of these complicated figures—they invite us to examine our own values and see the world a little differently.

Let me know what you think in the comments.