Everybody loves an amoral protagonist, or an anti-hero — but sometimes, a hero really does his or her best to be good and decent, and yet everybody always expects the worst. We love to identify with misunderstood heroes, whom everybody suspects of evilness — but here are 10 heroes who are misunderstood for good reason.
1) Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion is tied for "most misunderstood Lannister" with Jaime, whose reasons for offing the Mad King are known only to Brienne. And yet, Tyrion is almost certainly the most hated Lannister, even though he alone has the interests of justice at heart when he tries to govern. Tyrion's public image as a drunken dissolute whoring wastrel does him no favors — nobody recognizes his tactical and political genius except for Varys and Littlefinger, and if we weren't able to see events through Tyrion's own eyes, we might also think he was a waste of space. For at least the first three books of George R.R. Martin's series, we squirm as we watch Tyrion struggling to prove his worth — to his uncaring father, but also to everyone else. And yet, Tyrion also keeps doing things to alienate people — like locking up Grand Maester Pycelle, who everybody thinks is a total sweetheart, and sending that nice Janos Slynt away.
2) The Fourth Doctor
In all of his various incarnations, the time traveler known as the Doctor has a habit of getting himself into nasty scrapes and sticky situations — but the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, is the one whom nobody ever just trusts. If there's a murder, the Fourth Doctor will be the prime suspect. If something breaks, everybody thinks the scarf-wearing hero broke it. The Doctor himself has to take some of the blame for this — even more than other Doctors, Four always seems to land his TARDIS with the most suspiciously bad timing. (Sure, he can't exactly steer — but each Doctor seems to have a slightly different rapport with the Old Girl, and Four clearly enjoys being first at the scene of a murder.) And then when he's caught next to a fresh dead body he usually resorts to a mixture of clowning around and hurling insults at the people who are just putting two and two together. Small wonder people tend to form a lynch mob around him.
3) Prince Zuko
Zuko is never the villain of Avatar: The Last Airbender — rather, he's the hero of a different story. He's an angry hero (and rightfully so), and yet he always has good intentions. But nobody understands him, except for maybe his uncle Iroh. Team Avatar hates on him constantly for trying to capture Aang, and pretty much everyone else hates him because he's from the Fire Nation. Even other members of the Fire Nation Navy harass him, for no reason other than they could (though Zhao was kind of a psychopath). Zuko has to take a lot of the blame for being misunderstood — as Anime Diet puts it, he's chronically "insecure and repeatedly undercuts his own intentions to try to please a distant and uncaring authority figure." Sounds like we're starting to see a pattern here.
In the same vein as Zuko, Full Metal Alchemist's Scar is a character who starts off painted as a villain when, in reality, he's just the hero of another story. And it's a bit easier to cast him as a villain because he goes around blowing people up on an angry rampage, while no one but the audience really understands why he's doing it. Coming from a group of people who went through genocide, Scar is justifiably angry toward the people of Amestris. Scar lost his whole family in the Ishvalan war — a war which never should have happened in the first place. So OK, he murders a lot of people and that's not great, but he does come around eventually and join the good guys. To most characters, though, he just looks like a murderous psycho.
5) Severus Snape
Because the Harry Potter saga is told from the perspective of a rather oblivious child, the readers spent most of the series wondering whether or not Snape is good or bad — with the effect that even the readers didn't understand him until the last minute. He goes around making Harry's life "hard," when, if you think about it, he's just trying to keep him from doing stupid shit that might get him killed. Think about it though — would you let your child do even a quarter of what Harry tries to get away with under everyone's nose? Anyway, everyone becomes even more suspicious of Snape when we learn he was once a Death Eater, and when he starts showing up at meetings with Voldemort we're even more skeptical. Eventually we learn the truth about Snape — but in the meantime, his surly temperament only adds to the perception that he's a bad 'un.
Wolverine himself is fond of saying that he's the best there is at what he does, which is something that nobody will find aesthetically pleasing. And he's the quintessential loner — but he also goes out of his way to play up the "not playing well with others" thing. He has plenty of reasons not to trust anybody, what with his tortured family background, his experiences on the Weapon X program, and his altered memories. And once he's in the bosom of the X-Men team, he keeps finding ways to turn up the attitude to 11, to bolster his image as a cool lone wolf. (Er, wolverine.)
7) Kerr Avon
As a genius, it's no wonder people don't understand Avon — it kind of comes with the territory. His first introduction is as an embezzler who stole five hundred million credits from the Terran Federation's banking system. He becomes one of Blake's original crew after helping him stage a mutiny, but he quickly serves as a foil to Blake's idealism. More often than not, his actions are portrayed as self-serving, and the show wants you to believe that he only acts when he has something to gain by doing so. In reality, Avon saves the lives of everyone on multiple occasions, when it's only dubiously in his own interests to do so. And even though he's constantly (and quotably) insulting his crewmates, he also seems to care about this band of misfits.
8) Illidan Stormrage
People may not remember Warcraft III, but Illidan was a hero before World of Warcraft was ever a thing. While he's introduced as a traitor to the Night Elf cause, we hear that information from the perspective of his brother, who put him in prison in the first place. In the end, we see Illidan help his brother and Tyrande to defend the world against the Burning Legion's second invasion, and never gives them enough of a foothold to conquer Azeroth. At the same time, Illidan makes some mistakes that turn everybody against him — including tainting the Well of Eternity during the War of the Ancients, and some general bad behavior after he flees to Outland. His addiction to magic, and other character flaws, lead him to make mistakes that make it easy to paint him as a villain.
He saves everybody from the Necromongers (for a while at least) and sometimes helps out other people in need — plus he has a soft spot for kids, who like him back. But the hero of the Riddick films also enjoys murdering people and toying with them while doing so. A lot like Scar, his people were wiped out almost completely, and the genocide likely never left him. In any case, Riddick frequently puts his worst foot forward, especially with the "peeping tom" behavior in the latest movie.
10) Itachi Uchiha
Look at any list of quotes from Naruto, and all you'll find for Itachi is a long string of taunts and barbs. For example: "My foolish little brother... if you want to kill me... curse me! Hate me! And live a long and unsightly life... Run away... run away... and cling to your pitiful life. Then one day, when you possess the same eyes... Come back and face me." He's portrayed as a villain for a good chunk of the series, and then it turns out he was a good guy all along. While killing your entire family isn't the ideal way to stop the bloody uprising they would have staged, he did leave his innocent brother alive out of love. And he even gave him a target to kill (himself) so that people would trust him despite being an Uchiha. That plan kind of backfired for a while, but at last Sasuke gets a chance to reconcile with his brother. The majority of the Hidden Leaf still doesn't understand that they're probably only alive because of what Itachi did, but that's OK, because we know.