'Grand Theft Auto' Playable Characters, Ranked By Awesomeness

Who's the best at dodging five stars?

In its 17 years of existence, the "Grand Theft Auto" video game franchise has gone from shock-factor curio to legitimate pop culture behemoth, delivering deep, intricate gameplay and raunchy satire in equal doses. As the series' graphics and scope have evolved, so too have its characters.

What began as anonymous, 2-D clumps of pixels are now customizable, lifelike action goons with Hollywood blockbuster-caliber scripts and storylines. So we've ranked all of the playable GTA protagonists from worst to best. See which car-stealing, gun-wielding antihero is our ultimate kingpin.

  1. Interchangeable Protagonist ("Grand Theft Auto")

    For the 1997 original, players were given the option of choosing one of eight characters to play as: Travis, Troy, Bubba, Kivlov, Ulrika, Katie, Divine and Mikki. But really the only difference was their pixelated pants and hair; gameplay-wise, everything was identical.

  2. Michael Townley ("GTA V")

    Michael is a poor man's Tommy Vercetti (from "Vice City"), just an amalgamation of mob tropes and forced plotlines that make it hard to care about the character. Add in his terrible family, terrible friends and the d-bag life dream of being a Hollywood producer, and you'll be switching to the other two characers in "GTA V" whenever you can.

  3. Franklin Clinton ("GTA V")

    He rises above his bloodsucking friends, bosses and mentors, but like Michael, he just feels like a half-formed rehash of a prior GTA character (CJ, in this case). The ambitious street warrior is more compelling than the manic mafioso, though.

  4. Niko Bellic ("GTA IV")

    He survived the Bosnian Civil War (and god knows what human rights violations), which probably makes him the most qualified and grizzled GTA mercenary. But he was too dour and rational for a character in this world. Give us the psychos.

  5. Trevor Phillips ("GTA V")

    Speak of the devil! The least predictable but most fleshed out of the three characters in "GTA V," Trevor is completely irrational and liable to fly off the handle at any moment. As a person, he is truly repugnant. As an avatar for the mayhem and demented violence of GTA, he's perfect.

  6. Carl "CJ" Johnson ("GTA: San Andreas")

    CJ was as charismatic as he was chilling, and gave the GTA franchise a much-needed infusion of West Coast swagger. He could be a reluctant Robin Hood or a vengeful assassin, sort of making him the Omar of GTA.

  7. Claude Speed ("GTA II," "GTA III")

    Let's clear something up: The voiceless protagonist from "GTA III" is the same person as Claude Speed from "GTA II." The "GTA III" character is never named in the actual game, but he shows up in later games as "Claude." And Rockstar Games clarified the mythology when asked if the two Claudes were actually the same person: "Probably. It seems very likely."

    That means he survived all kinds of backstabbings, botched robberies and shootings in three cities. But his most impressive badge of badassery comes from the fact that he made a cameo in "GTA: San Andreas" where he even creeped out stone cold CJ.

  8. Tommy Vercetti ("GTA: Vice City")

    Vercetti did 15 years of hard time in Liberty City before coming down to Vice City at the height of the '80s drug wars, got himself a "Scarface"-like mansion and did what even Tony Montana couldn't do: survive a massive shootout in his home to cement his empire. And he did it all while wearing a Hawaiian shirt. The fact that he was voiced by "Goodfellas" star Ray Liotta certainly helped him get this top spot, too.