Over the years, metalheads have received a rough ride on both the silver screen and in television. From This Is Spinal Tap’s dimwitted guitarist Nigel Tufnel to good-natured doofuses like Wayne and Garth (Wayne’s World) or Bill and Ted (Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure), heavy metal enthusiasts are often cliches used for comedic effect, or as antisocial antagonists.
Admittedly, metalheads tend to enjoy our outsider status – but that doesn’t mean that the community lacks emotional depth or intelligence. And while the above-mentioned parodies are legitimately funny (see also: Metalocalypse), by ignoring the diversity of the heavy metal scene, these portrayals can reinforce all of society’s stereotypes about this subculture.
Here’s a list of 10 fictional characters who defy the mainstream’s heavy metal stereotypes:
Eddie Munson (Stranger Things, 2016–)
Introduced in the mega-popular fourth season of Stranger Things, Eddie Munson (played by Joe Quinn) initially looks like the quintessentially drab metal caricature. But as the show unspools, Eddie reveals levels of depth, humour, charisma and courage that are sadly rare among fictional metalheads. Leader of Hawkins High School’s Dungeons & Dragons group the Hellfire Club, Eddie takes the show’s protagonists under his wing, ultimately emerging as an unlikely hero, windmilling his way through Metallica’s Master Of Puppets in one of the series’ most iconic scenes.
With his character boasting a Dio patch and a W.A.S.P. pin on his denim, Quinn told Metal Hammer that to ensure the authenticity of his character, he listened to boatloads of Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer and others. “Black Sabbath were my guys,” he explained, “and Led Zeppelin too, but I guess they’re less metal.”
Brodie (Deathgasm, 2015)
Deathgasm, the story of a group of metal-loving misfits who summon a murderous entity, is an admittedly unusual place to find a realistic depiction of a metalhead. However, Milo Cawthorne absolutely nails it as Brodie, the film’s impossibly good-natured protagonist. Anything but a brutish pack of thugs, the main characters were heavily influenced by writer/director Jason Howden’s own experiences growing up as a young death metal fan in the ’90s.
Though the gang all become hopelessly ensnared in a series of fantastic and ultra-violent situations, we never lose sight of their heart and sincerity. As Howden told Metal Hammer, “I find that with some exceptions, metalheads are depicted pretty negatively in films and television. They all come across as generic bullies in Metallica t-shirts, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. I wanted to tell the story from a metalhead’s perspective – we’re not bullies, we’re not stupid, we’re just normal kids who happen to love metal.”
Dewey Finn (School Of Rock, 2003)
Recent Metal Hammer guest editor Jack Black channelled his bottomless love of heavy metal into the character of Dewey Finn: a struggling musician-turned-substitute teacher who uses the music of Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC to forge a connection with his students. You don’t need to be a metalhead to appreciate the heartfelt passion that Dewey passed on to the kids. Smart, caring and deeply empathetic, he’s the kind of guy you might bump shoulders with at a show, smiling, smoking a little weed and then gleefully disappearing into the pit.
Hera Karlsdóttir (Metalhead, 2013)
Opening with an emotional kidney punch, Metalhead places the genre front and centre as more than just a style of music. It instead acts as a spiritual conduit that protagonist Hera Karlsdóttir and her family use to heal from a harrowing tragedy. Grieving the sudden and violent loss of her brother, Hera immerses herself in his favourite genre as a way to stay connected to him. She develops a passion for the cathartic power of black metal, forming her own band and, in doing so, finding both purpose and closure. Thora Bjorg Helga delivered a tour-de-force performance that earned her Iceland’s Actress Of The Year trophy at the 2014 Edda Awards.
A.J. Soprano (The Sopranos, 1999–2007)
One day, we will all find someone in our lives who loves us as much as A.J. Soprano loved Slipknot, Pantera, Coal Chamber, Soulfly and Machine Head. Or at least we hope. Played by Robert Iler, A.J. was the scion of the titular crime family in The Sopranos, regularly rolling into his scenes decked out in black band t-shirts from both mainstream and underground metal favourites. The metal community took notice. There are both Twitter and Instagram accounts devoted to the character’s fashion sense, and even in-depth articles all about his Slipknot windbreaker.
Cassandra Wong (Wayne’s World, 1992)
In Wayne’s World, protagonists Wayne and Garth fit the classic metalhead portrayal of the good-natured dimwit. But Cassandra Wong, played by Tia Carrere, defies stereotypes at every turn. The bassist and vocalist of Crucial Taunt, she overturns the enduring Hollywood vision of metalheads as white teenage males while, at the same time, smashing stereotypes of Asian women that were dominating pop culture at the time. Cassandra is physically striking as well as strong, insightful and completely credible as both a friend and a hard-charging rocker.
Ruben Stone (Sound Of Metal, 2019)
Hearing loss and tinnitus are very real perils for both musicians and fans: such heavy metal purveyors as Myles Kennedy and Calligram have gone public with their hearing loss experiences, caused or aggravated by live music. This tragedy forms the emotional centre of Sound Of Metal, where metal drummer Ruben Stone, masterfully played by Riz Ahmed, is forced to leave his band due to his near-total hearing loss. Propelled by a raw passion for heavy music, Ruben is forced to re-examine his identity and his job as a metal musician, and Ahmed’s portrayal of this struggle is both profound and relatable.
Daniel Bagnold (Days Of The Bagnold Summer, 2019)
Daniel is a misanthropic British teenager whose bedroom walls are festooned with an epic selection of posters from the likes of Venom, Slayer and Municipal Waste. The film’s set dresser clearly did their homework in creating a believable refuge for the snide protagonist, played by Earl Cave. Forced to endure a summer in the suburbs after a holiday with his dad in the US gets scrubbed, Daniel unleashes all of his angst on his sweetly straightlaced mum, often while wearing an Immortal hoodie. What catapults the film beyond the typically beige teenager-coming-of-age fare is the dynamic chemistry between Daniel and his mum, which builds to a genuinely heartfelt ending.
Dr Gregory House (House, 2004–2012)
“I’m your doctor. This is Lars Ulrich, the greatest metal drummer of all time.” With this quote, Dr House sets a laptop in front of a bedridden patient, hands her drumsticks and turns on Metallica’s Fuel. Now, the veracity of the doctor’s statement is sure to draw some debate, but Hugh Laurie’s performance as an absurdly-brilliant MD who likes his music heavy is undeniable. In this scene, House uses Metallica to diagnose an obscure medical condition involving cobalt poisoning. Unlike other members of this list, the character enjoys far more than just metal, which makes him (gasp) a well-rounded music fan – a rarity in fictional media’s metalheads. The good doctor also gets bonus points for owning a Flying V.
Jen Harding (Dead To Me, 2019–2022)
Christina Applegate’s blonde suburban realtor makes the Bible’s Job look like a two-time lotto winner. With life throwing one vicious haymaker after another at her, Jen opts for the best coping strategy she knows: climbing into her car and blasting metalcore at eardrum-shattering volumes. “I meditate in my own way,” she says before cranking Caliban’s Paralyzed. It’s not done for laughs, either. Jen is deeply wounded, and her character finds a desperately needed outlet in extreme metal. In season three, there’s a scene that’s familiar among metalheads: that first time that you play your music for a non-metalhead and their face dissolves into horror and confusion. Jen casually bobs her head in total ambivalence to her date’s terror.