The 20 Best Movies That Feature Cynical Characters

7. Oslo 31, August (Anders/ Anders Danielsen Lie)

Oslo 31, August

Life doesn’t come natural for everyone and happiness is long hard road for some people. ”I’ve always thought happy people must be morons” confesses the 34 year old Anders in Oslo 31, August. The man is just released from a rehabilitation institution where he has been recovering from drug abuse. He attends a job interview in the Norwegian capital which doesn’t turn out very well for him. Afterwards, he visits his friends and family but nothing seems to fill the void inside his mind and soul.

Was it his cynicism that led him to drugs or did the abuse itself awaken a darker side of himself? In any possible scenario Anders finds himself incompatible with society and other people. Alienated from the latter he chose a path of hallucinations that the drugs could offer him. This choice inevitably haunts him and his life is defined by it. On the 31st of August Anders will be called to make another important choice.


8. Silver Linings Playbook (Tiffany/ Jennifer Lawrence)


Silver Linings Playbook is a light-hearted film negotiating a deeply weighty subject; that of mental disease. The two protagonists of the movie, Pat and Tiffany suffer from bipolar disorder and depression respectively. Their unpredictable natures create an unbeatable chemistry and the two of them quickly get closer to each other.

While Pat seems to behave properly, most of the times, Tiffany has a personality that forces her to bluntly tell what’s in her mind in the most cynical and harsh manner.

“Humanity is just nasty and there is no silver lining” announces the heroine, contradicting the feel-good atmosphere of the film. During her first encounters with Pat she shows a face that is hardened from the misfortunes of her life: a marriage that ended with the death of her husband and a myriad of psychological problems that follow it.

The affection that she will gradually develop for her bipolar friend will force her to water down her cynicism a tiny bit and accept that love is not something that you only find in romantic fairy-tales.


9. The Wolf of Wall Street (Jordan Belfort/ Leonardo DiCaprio)


The case of Jordan Belfort, aka The Wolf of Wall Street, resembles the one of Bateman in American Psycho. It’s a long way to the top and a man must go over bodies if he is willing to reach it. Jordan is a cynical capitalist who in order to build his empire on Wall Street has to deceive countless people.

Just like Bateman he lives for a life of plastic luxury devoid of any true purpose and content. Money, expensive cars, sex and lots of drugs are the highlights of his existence. A natural born misanthrope and misogynist, he could be nothing but cynical to the very core.

Jordan’s mercenary cynicism gets fuelled by his memories of the days when he wasn’t a millionaire. Through long and repetitive voice-overs he unravels his philosophy throughout the film. ”There is no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time” is one of his lines. His greed and menace lead him to a dead end at the end of the film and his misdoings are not left unpunished.


10. Drunken Angel (Sanada/ Takashi Shimura)

drunken angel

Dr. Sanada is an grumpy alcoholic doctor who doesn’t seem to be satisfied with anything in his life. One day a man named Matsunaga enters his clinic, having been wounded by a gunshot. Sanada quickly realises that the young man is involved in the criminal activities of the regional yakuza and tries to talk him out of his lifestyle condemning the irrationality of a small crook’s being. He forms a friendship with Matsunaga and becomes his self-imposed preacher.

But Matsunaga is not the only target of Sanada’s criticism. The doctor looks down on everyone and everything and never misses a chance to express his scorn. ”Everything is so screwed up, it makes me want to throw up” he says in one of the scenes of the film. His character, apart from being hilarious when spitting out his comments that are usually straight to the point, encapsulates the spirit of post-war Japan in an era where modern society and its morals were still under negotiation.


11. Scenes from a Marriage (Marianne, Johan/ Liv Ullman, Erland Josephson)


Ingmar Bergman is widely known for giving birth to films with cynical characters. His existential movies, questioning human existence, relationships and ideals offer the perfect surroundings for a sceptic to blossom. Scenes from a Marriage, a tv-series released in 1973, is special in its entity because its offers one of the most harshly realistic representations of a married couple’s symbiosis which unfolds in six episodes.

Marianne and Johan have been married for ten years but they seem to be completely detached from each other. They argue, their actions lack empathy and their emotions are perplexed. Eventually they start seeing other people and they decide to take a divorce only to keep on coming back to each in the midst of their dysfunctionality and confusion. The series is filled with irony and contradictions as the two lovers shift from being completely honest to fooling themselves.

An additional irony springs from the fact that Marianne is a divorce lawyer. ”Sometimes it’s like husband and wife are talking on telephones that are out of order” she states, probably referring to both her unsuccessful marriage and the ones of her clients. Scenes from a Marriage is precisely about this disruption of communication in love affairs.


12. Django Unchained (Stephen/ Samuel L.Jackson)

Django Unchained

Samuel Jackson’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained offers a controversial representation of a hardened house slave who is above all loyal to his heartless and racist master. Stephen has been serving Calvin Candie’s family for plenty of years, overseeing the activities of the rest of the slaves who work on the estate.

Although a slave himself, he calls his own people niggers and sees them as if they were inferior to him. Furthermore, he doesn’t even blink at the face of the monstrosities that the rich landlords impose on their African-American slaves.

Stephen’s eyes have certainly witnessed unspeakable cruelty during his time at the plantation. His cynicism is a form of exaggerated self defence. In order to survive in this hostile environment the man quickly realises that it would be in his best interest to defect to the side of the enemy. In order to kill any potential guilt that arises he probably has to erase his true identity, embracing the one of his masters that granted him a fake but safe sense of superiority.


13. Whatever Works (Boris/ Larry David)

Whatever Works

Woody Allen is one of these directors who just loves creating cynical characters, using them as vessels for restless wittiness and sarcasm. Boris Yellnikoff is an old hypochondriac elitist whose only pleasure comes from criticising and judging other people’s behaviour.

A retired science professor at Columbia University, he assumes there are few, if any, on the planet that can match his intellectual skills. One day a simple-minded but beautiful young girl appears at the entrance of his apartment and her appeal brings Boris’s life upside down.

The grumpy hero breaks the fourth wall of the film by addressing the audience and propagating his cynical ideas repeatedly. ”What the hell does it all mean anyhow? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nothing comes to anything. And yet, there’s no shortage of idiots to babble” he proclaims with confidence. His eccentricity is presented by Woody Allen in the most hilarious way possible as the hero could be nothing else but a portrait of the director’s own quirky persona.