The 20 Best Movies That Feature Cynical Characters

14. L’eclisse (Vittoria/ Monica Vitti)


Michelangelo Antonioni’s films are abounding with couples striving in their dysfunctional relationships. Their severed bonds are usually conveyed by the heroes’ cynicism as they strive to find a balance between their lovers and their passion without losing themselves in the middle of the process. Vittoria is a woman whose personal life has been unstable.

Coming out of an unsuccessful relationship, she bumps into a handsome stranger, Piero (Alain Delon), and together they enjoy a short but heated romance. Nevertheless, the young heroine doesn’t miss a chance to speak her cynical mind, keeping her distance from the ones who surround her.

When Piero takes Vittoria to his parents’ house the woman seems detached and she confides to him ”Two people shouldn’t know each other too well if they want to fall in love. But then maybe they shouldn’t fall in love at all.” This quote pretty much summarises her cold-hearted philosophy which is apparent through the entirety of the film. The viewer is never enlightened with any sort of information regarding her background and therefore there is no clear-cut explanation or justification for her mentality and actions.


15. The Great Beauty (Jep/ Toni Servillo)

The Great Beauty

Jep Gambardella has just turned 65 years old and nothing seems to crush his untamed spirit. He is a handsome, charming and stylish bon viveur who belongs in upper class of Rome and his social circle is consisted of intellectual and elitist people. When he first moved to the Italian capital, 40 years ago, his sole goal was to become the spirit of the town something that he managed to do writing a successful novel and throwing legendary parties that everyone loved.

Jep is the sweetest cynic of this list. His cynicism naturally springs from the fact that he has lived his life to the fullest coming face to face with the disillusionment of an overtly flamboyant lifestyle. It is on his birthday that his existential crisis begins, bringing to surface the memories and the emotions of his past.

Jep is one of these pragmatists who just wants to be honest. He dares to speak the bold truth to his fancy friends, criticising their choices without regarding himself as a god. ”We’re all on the brink of despair, all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little” is his maxim, carrying the wisdom of a true aesthete.


16. Nymphomaniac: Vol I & II (Joe/ Charlotte Gainsbourg)


Lars von Trier has dedicated most of his films to uncovering the perversities and emptiness of humanity. His main heroes, almost with no exception, suffer from various psychological conditions and neuroses and they seem to take pleasure from it.

Joe discovered that she was a nymphomaniac when she was only a little girl and for her sex addiction is an organic part of her identity and not something she should be ashamed of. But even if she enjoys all sorts of sexual activities with all of her heart she does not believe in love. Love is only a fabrication for the cynical heroine who puts carnal satisfaction above everyone and everything.

“For me, love was just lust with jealousy added; everything else was total nonsense. For every hundred crimes committed in the name of love, only one is committed in the name of sex” proclaims Joe with religious fanaticism. Even when she becomes a mother her only child is not enough to keep her away from her addiction that is getting worse and worse. She abandons the child to go get her dose without second thoughts.


17. Bitter Moon (Oscar/ Peter Coyote)

Bitter Moon

Polanski’s film revolves around two entirely different couples who happen to be on the same ship during a cruise in the Mediterranean sea. Nigel and Fiona are two quiet people that enjoy themselves and their trip when they get acquainted with Oscar and his wife Mimi. The two strangers are going to give an unexpected twist to their relaxing holidays.

Oscar is a crippled middle-aged man who quickly forms an unorthodox friendship with Nigel, narrating him the story of his life, focusing on the account of his relationship with Mimi. Oscar is cynical hedonistic person hiding an even darker side that will come to the surface when he starts manipulating his new friend. Having failed to succeed as a writer and ending up in a wheelchair, the man is as bitter as one can be.

The seemingly harmless handicapped man has led a life devoted to experiencing all kinds of sexual fantasies. Along with Mimi he has explored sexuality to its very end and he doesn’t feel even a bit embarrassed to recount his adventures with every detail for Nigel who gets shocked when he hears him.

Apart from the overtly explicit content of his narration, Oscar delivers his stories in the most jaundiced possible way. ”I’d been granted a glimpse of heaven, then dumped on the sidewalk of Rue d’Assas” he confesses with a sardonic smile. The dreary sexually charged spirit of Oscar and Mimi will lure the British couple into an enchanting trap of deceit.


18. Fight Club (Tyler Durden/ Brad Pitt)


Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the original novel, created a complete and solid philosophy behind the story’s notorious project Mayhem. It can be argued that Tyler Durden’s master plan had foundations as concrete as an actual political or social movement.

However, cynicism was an integrated component of Tyler’s anti-capitalistic, anti-materialistic scheme, a skill that all of his henchmen should have in order to observe the illusions that society has created around them. ”Listen up, maggots” he shouts at them “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

Tyler Durden doesn’t only despise the hypocrisy of the modern world. He is determined to expose it and deconstruct it in order to establish a new, more honest order of things. His cynicism is of an anarchistic nature, a lethal weapon targeting the traditional and obsolete status-quos. Fight Club’s polemic identity was based precisely on that spirit and the audiences around the world remain until today its loyal conveyors.


19. Network (Diana Christensen/ Faye Dunaway)


“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” is the catchphrase of Howard Beale, an old experienced anchor at an American network who goes insane after he learns that his executives want to fire him, giving him two weeks notice. He just refuses to let this happen and he announces to his audience that he is going to commit suicide on air because of this very reason.

After the other employees pull him of, Howard asks for a chance to have another show in order to end his career in a more proper way. Diana, the cynical and newly installed vice-president of the channel realises the impact that the old man’s emotionality has on the viewers and decides to use him in order to fix the problem of the channel’s dropping viewing rates.

Diana has a full conscience of her ruthless cynicism. ”Hi. I’m Diana Christensen, a racist lackey of the imperialist ruling circles” she brags when she is called to introduce herself. The television world is a cruel one and the woman knows how to play its games of constant abuse and lying. Diana is naturally not the only character of the film who is cynical. The network’s entire manpower consists of people who would sacrifice -more or less- everything for the sake of a little higher rates.


20. Naked (Johnny/ David Thewlis)


Johnny is a charismatic middle aged man with numerous disorders and complexes. He abuses women, exhibiting a sadistic sexual behaviour and looks down on most people, judging them as inferior to his intellectual and spiritual properties. After raping a woman, in the very beginning of the film, he steels a car and gets away from Manchester to London. In the English capital his God-syndrome tendencies flourish and he starts spitting his endless pretentious philosophical monologues to anyone he can find.

“You don’t even have a fucking future, I don’t have a future. Nobody has a future. The party’s over. Take a look around you man, it’s all breaking up” he tells to a random security guard that he talks with, spreading his cynical beliefs. Johnny is probably the darkest and gloomiest of all the cynics featured in this list, a real borderline psychopath.

Author Bio: Angeliki is currently a student in the Master’s Programme in Cinema Studies in Stockholm’s University. She spent hundreds of hours watching Asian films but at the same time she keeps herself up to date with new releases of European and American Indie movies.