Every GTA Protagonist Ranked

VOICE OVER: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Saim Cheeda
The GTA franchise has given us some of the most iconic characters in video game history. For this list, we'll be looking at all the qualities in these characters that make them so memorable for fans. Our list includes Michael De Santa "Grand Theft Auto V" (2013), Claude Speed "Grand Theft Auto III" (2001), Tommy Vercetti "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" (2002), Carl “CJ” Johnson "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" (2004) and more!
Script written by Saim Cheeda

All the GTA Protagonists Ranked

Welcome to MojoPlays, and today we’ll be ranking all the GTA Protagonists.

For this list, we’ll be looking at all the qualities in these characters that make them so memorable for fans. This takes into account the effectiveness of their characterizations in their storylines, and the rate of success they achieved in their goals.

Which GTA protagonist do you think steals the show? Let us know in the comments.

#12: Huang Lee

"Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" (2009)

The top down view of the game prevents too much to be known about Huang Lee, although his arc of avenging his father's demise is clear. Lee is a far more detached protagonist in personality, being uninterested in things that don't need his involvement and keeping more to himself. His quick wit and sarcastic nature gets lost on most characters, as Lee doesn't show much respect for societal customs and traditions. The son of a triad leader, Lee's motivations in the story are due to his father's death tearing apart Lee's own life of careless abundance. The lack of cinematics for Lee's scenes mean there aren't many instances of him in action, making him the most sedate GTA protagonist seen yet.

#11: Johnny Klebitz

"Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned" (2009)

Far more serious and no-nonsense than the average GTA character, Johnny Klebitz is a protagonist who values the idea of loyalty. The Lost and Damned deals with the theme of brotherhood, with Johnny's arc surrounding his hopes of keeping his group together despite The Lost MC clearly being on the verge of collapse. His stories involve dealing with addiction and betrayal, a departure from the usual light tone GTA players are used to. Unfortunately, Johnny doesn't grow as much as the potential he has, limiting himself to repeating past mistakes and associating himself with his wayward ex-girlfriend. This is why he becomes a victim to Trevor in GTA V, completing his fall from a genuine leader to a shell of a man.

#10: Victor Vance

"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories" (2006)

Easily the GTA protagonist with a staunch moral code, Victor Vance defies the usual anti-hero trope to be a genuinely nice guy. The reason for his venture into crime is the tendency of his brother Lance to get them into trouble, with Victor forced to run around to fix Lance's mistakes. He spends the entirety of GTA: Vice City Stories as the straight man bemused by the wacky characters he's surrounded by, as he and Lance dig themselves deeper into the crime world. An issue with Victor's character has to be his chronologically final appearance in GTA: Vice City, where he acts out of character and ultimately meets his demise. That's a sad end for a character that achieves in making himself likable straightaway.

#9: Michael De Santa

"Grand Theft Auto V" (2013)

The first protagonist to not only be a father but also a family man, Michael's role is to portray how undesirable normal life will be for a protagonist in the GTA series. Facing a midlife crisis, Michael longs for a purpose in life while attempting to put his past as a criminal behind him. He's the character that connects everyone together in GTA V, with his turbulent friendship with Trevor complementing his mentor-protege dynamic with Franklin. Although he doesn't possess significant skills like the other two characters, Michael does have the most fleshed out story arc, as he tries to reconcile his unhappy family life with his struggles with the law. His self-loathing is a dominant part of his character, something he's brought upon himself.

#8: Toni Cipriani

"Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories" (2005)

GTA III introduced Toni Cipriani as a high ranking member of the Leone family, albeit a lazy and unmotivated character. GTA: Liberty City Stories, set in the past, shows just how dangerous Toni was in his prime. Returning to the city to reclaim the respect he's lost, Toni starts back from the bottom to rise into boss Salvatore Leone's good books. Toni is in no way someone to take lightly as he always gets the job done, but is also a person who gets along with the rest of the characters without making things complicated.

#7: Luis Lopez

"Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony" (2009)

Rarely does a GTA protagonist absolutely revel in the lifestyle that crime offers more than someone like Luis Lopez. Suave, cool in mentality, and a knack for slipping out of dangerous situations, Luis doesn't get bogged down by times where he's been one-upped and keeps his attention toward the things that will benefit him. He's not deranged or violent by any means unlike most protagonists, instead retaining a knack for the spoils of luxury from his criminal exploits. Luis isn't burdened by any responsibilities and prefers to keep things casual without complicating matters. He's not the most dangerous character in the series, which makes him less of a threat, but Luis does walk away with his missions accomplished by the end of his story.

#6: Franklin Clinton

"Grand Theft Auto V" (2013)

Sandwiched between an unhinged psychopath and a man suffering from a midlife crisis, Franklin serves as the protagonist that acts like the audience surrogate in GTA V. A young man hoping to make it big, Franklin is prepared to go undergo just about any task, although that's usually because he's dragged into doing them. Rather than be bogged down by the pressure, Franklin makes sure to see things through no matter how dangerous they might get. Considered the true protagonist of GTA V, since he's the only one who remains alive in all possible endings, Franklin uses his experiences during the story to increase his skills and competence. However, he remains a loyal friend to the end, despite being surrounded by the wackiest bunch.

#5: Claude Speed

"Grand Theft Auto III" (2001)

As the first protagonist of GTA's 3D era, Claude is the introduction for fans in the immersive environment of the GTA universe. A silent protagonist who never utters a word, Claude still manages to intimidate anyone who dares to cross him. This relentless silence is a source of comedy as well, with Claude refusing to be phased no matter how many threats he receives or the enormity of the task he's supposed to carry out. Having been betrayed by his partner in crime, Claude recovers and makes his way through the criminal world to get his revenge and take out anyone that gets in his way. His lack of dialogue ends up boosting his credibility, as Claude proves he doesn't need to speak to make his impact.

#4: Tommy Vercetti

"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" (2002)

Adapting to the backdrop of Vice City, a location filled with style and pizzazz, Tommy Vercetti is a character who takes what he wants whenever he wants it. Known for his rage-filled persona, Tommy moves to Vice City with nothing but his grit and explosive personality, ending up as the undisputed king of the city. He doesn't waste time on needless tasks or idle chit chat, as Tommy's fully willing to use people to strengthen his position without ending up as anyone's lackey. Impossible to intimidate or be strong armed, his dominating mentality makes him a man no one wants to cross. Tommy shows just what happens if someone does double cross him, as he's the only one left standing when all is said and done.

#3: Trevor Philips

"Grand Theft Auto V" (2013)

The personification of Hell on Earth, Trevor is a destructive force who has no care for the laws of society. Frequently seen losing his patience with over the top mannerisms, his philosophy involves having enough to please his needs and being surrounded by friends he trusts. Unfortunately, he goes to extreme lengths to attain these things, destroying those he views as his enemies while scaring even his own friends due to his needy personality. However, Trevor is an absolute riot to follow, with most of GTA V's comedic moments involving Trevor's misadventures. There's also something noble about his total loyalty to his friends, making Trevor as trustworthy as he is insane. Gameplay as Trevor is the most entertaining in GTA V, as his antics make his playthrough impossible to predict.

#2: Carl “CJ” Johnson

"Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" (2004)

Carrying a cool attitude and a conscience is by no means a weakness for CJ, whose arc involves doing smart business and learning the value of friendship and family. CJ's a protagonist with genuine character development, changing from his aloof punk attitude to sticking by his allies and eliminating those that betray them. With GTA: San Andreas having a much larger map than other games, CJ’s journey is mapped out across the entire state, as he learns from his mistakes while conning certain other characters to stay ahead of the rest.

#1: Niko Bellic

"Grand Theft Auto IV" (2008)

Representing the fallacies with the idea of the American Dream, Niko Bellic is an accurate depiction of why GTA protagonists fall into a life of crime. He's the most dangerous main character due to his background in the army, also bringing in a genuine arc of his inability to cope with his trauma from the war. Niko's down to Earth attitude is a perfect contrast to Liberty City's false promises of riches as he constantly feels hilariously out of place, especially with his cousin's fascination with bowling. Friendly and empathetic, for a man dealing in violence, being in Niko's shoes is an exercise in restraint for the player, as his storyline is an arc of redemption. His tortured past is such that we're encouraged to hope for the best for Niko, who treasures personal peace above all else.