10 Jon Bernthal Roles, Ranked From Most Heroic to Most Villainous



After breaking out with his role in The Walking Dead in the early 2010s, Jon Bernthal has gone on to become one of the most instantly recognizable actors of the last decade. From his flawless performance as Marvel antihero The Punisher in Netflix’s series, to his impressive array of supporting roles in some of the most star-studded movies of recent times, Bernthal makes every second of his presence on screen count.

RELATED: From ‘King Richard’ to ‘The Punisher’: 11 Essential Jon Bernthal Performances

While he’s become one of the film industry’s best tough guys, he often imbues his characters with an emotional depth and complexity which makes him the most compelling figure on the screen. Throughout a career spanning 20 years he has proven that he can excel as a hero and a villain and everything in between.


Frank Castle – ‘The Punisher’ (2017-2019) and ‘Daredevil’ (2018)

Image via Netflix

With his coarse scowl, hard-edged grunts, and imposing physicality, The Punisher is Bernthal’s most iconic performance with many fans seeing the antihero as the role the actor was born to play. An ex-marine who goes on a violent revenge mission, Frank Castle might not be the most traditionally moral of all the Marvel heroes, but his raw rage and jaded outlook made him a pulsating character to watch.

Beneath the blood-soaked brutality of Castle there was a strong distinction of right and wrong which did make him more appealing as a hero as he swept through New York’s criminal underbelly. Given the success of Daredevil’s (Charlie Cox) indictment to the MCU, many fans are eagerly awaiting any sign that Bernthal’s Punisher will make the same transition.

RELATED: ‘The Punisher’: Jon Bernthal’s Most Vulnerable Moments as Frank Castle

Sam Rossi – ‘Sweet Virginia’ (2017)

Image via IFC Films

Going from the ultimate ass kicker to a character who specializes in getting his ass kicked, Sweet Virginia saw Bernthal star as Sam Rossi, a former bull rider marred by his injuries who runs a motel in a small Alaskan town. A neo-noir crime thriller, Sam unwittingly places himself amid a deadly conspiracy when he befriends one of his tenants and pursues a relationship with a widow.

Far from the lumbering, tough-guy roles Bernthal is most famous for, he plays Sam with a muted refinement and softness which highlights the actors range and brilliant ability to bring depth to his characters. Opposed a violent killer, Rossi stood tall when his time came and proved to be the hero when it mattered most.

Rick Macci – ‘King Richard’ (2021)

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

A sporting biopic about the tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams and how their father raised them to be stars of the sport, King Richard was one of the biggest films of 2021 earning six Oscar nominations. Bernthal plays Rick Macci, the tennis coach who agrees to take the Williams sisters on at his facility in Florida.

Going completely against type, Macci proves that heroes don’t always have to be blood-soaked, gun-toting action tough guys to have a meaningful impact. Macci’s heroism shines through as a glimmering beacon of joy and support for the Williams sisters throughout the earliest stages of their careers.

RELATED: 9 Best Sports Movies of the Last Decade, From ‘Moneyball’ to ‘King Richard’

Ethan Sawyer – ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ (2021)

Those Who Wish Me Dead
Image via Warner Bors. Pictures

An action thriller, Those Who Wish Me Dead stars Angelina Jolie as a smokejumper, reeling from a job gone wrong, who finds herself embroiled in an assassination plot when a young boy is targeted by two hitmen in the area of her fire outlook tower. Bernthal plays the boy’s uncle Ethan Sawyer, a local police officer who battles to protect his pregnant wife from the hired guns as he looks for answers on the missing boy.

Bernthal held his own in the supporting role amid an ensemble cast. While it was Jolie’s character who dominated the film and ultimately saved the day, Bernthal displayed that he has what it takes to excel as an honest and more archetypal action movie hero.

The Mute – ‘Pilgrimage’ (2017)

Image via RLJE Films

Set in Ireland in 1209 A.D., Pilgrimage follows a small group of monks assigned the task of transporting a holy relic across a war-torn continent to Rome. Bernthal plays the mute laborer who accompanies them, making for a trademark brooding physical performance, highlighted by his moments of berserker rage.

Amid the blood and gore of the movie, the mute establishes himself to be one of the most capable members of the party as they encounter violent Gaels and treacherous servants of King John of England. While his shady past as a crusader and his bluntness renders him less heroic than some of Bernthal’s other characters, there’s no doubting we want the mute on our side in a fight.

Grady ‘Coon Ass’ Travis – ‘Fury’ (2014)

Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

As a gritty war movie about a U.S. tank crew fighting in Germany in the final weeks of World War II, Fury is less concerned with heroes and villains as much as it is with moral ambiguity in the fog of war. Grady ‘Coon Ass’ Travis (Bernthal) is a perfect embodiment of such a focus.

The hillbilly tank loader is an antagonistic presence throughout much of the film, showing hostility towards young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) since he’s first assigned to the crew and purposefully intimidating the German civilians the platoon encounter. While his sincere remorse for his actions, as well as his implied battle with PTSD, garner sympathy for the character, Travis ends up existing right in the middle between hero and villain.

Griff – ‘Baby Driver’ (2015)

Baby Driver
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

Throughout his career as an A-list actor, one thing which cannot be denied is Jon Bernthal’s ability to make a significant impact with even the most minor of roles. His appearance in Baby Driver barely goes beyond the 10-minute mark, but he makes every second of his cameo performance count.

As the hardened criminal thug Griff, we’re introduced to him firing shots at a bank robbery before trying to intimidate Baby (Ansel Elgort) after the heist. He caps of the antagonistic appearance by saying “if you don’t see me again, it’s because I’m dead” which may be an indicator of the characters fate, but we’re still hoping he’ll come back if Baby Driver 2 ever gets made.

RELATED: 8 Cool Car Movies That Aren’t In The ‘Fast & Furious’ Franchise

Brad Bodrick – ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street
Image via Paramount Pictures

While he is far from the most wicked person in the film, Brad Bodrick is one of Jon Bernthal’s most all-round despicable characters. A drug dealer, a common thug, and a conman, Bodrick is the completely crooked friend to Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Another example of the impact Bernthal can make with limited screentime, he is one of the film’s most memorable characters with the now famous “sell me this pen” scene and his many confrontations with Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff. A darkly hilarious performance, Bernthal was right at home in the black comedy biopic where he showed his villainy can go well beyond brutish violence.

Sgt. Wayne Jenkins – ‘We Own This City’ (2022)

Image via HBO

There are few things as innately villainous as a corrupt cop. Based on the non-fiction book from the writers of The Wire, We Own This City tells the rise and fall story of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force with Bernthal’s portrayal of Wayne Jenkins effectively the show’s major protagonist.

Corrupt to the core, Jenkins was indoctrinated into a broken system and thrived in its feeding upon the vulnerable. From planting drugs to cover his own deadly mistakes to re-selling confiscated drugs for his own profit, Jenkins constantly proves there is no low he won’t stoop to in order to get what he wants. Bernthal is fantastic in the villainous performance and the series is a timely true story which more people should watch.

Shane Walsh – ‘The Walking Dead’ (2010-2012; 2018)

The Walking Dead
Image via AMC

Throughout its 11-season run, AMC’s The Walking Dead has had plenty of great villains, from the infectiously captivating Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to the sheer terror inspired by Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta (Ryan Hurst) and the Whisperers. None, however, were as complex and layered as Shane Walsh, Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) partner and best friend whose wayward moral compass completely disintegrated in the second season.

In love with Rick’s wife and sternly opposed to the way Herschel (Scott Wilson) ran his farm, Shane became a domineering presence whose violent temperament was only outmatched by his vengeful scheming. In addition to shooting Otis and leaving him for the walkers, he also plotted to kill Rick and probably would have had Carl (Chandler Riggs) not intervened.

NEXT: ‘Jessica Jones’ to ‘Daredevil’: The Wildest Marvel Netflix Moments

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