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Iorek might as well be a seal now, or a walrus, not a bear. Or worse: Tartar or Skraeling. They wouldn't fight him honourably like a bear; they'd kill him with fire-hurlers before he got near. Not a hope. No mercy.
Lee Scoresby, Northern Lights

Wanted: Dead or Alive.

A fugitive from justice into the wilderness.

The term "outlaw" reaches back to at least Old Norse; it denotes a person who has been declared guilty of a crime in absentia and has chosen to escape for whatever reason, and is thus placed outside the protection of the law. Members of the community were forbidden to aid or abet the outlaw in any way lest they suffer the same punishment as the outlaw, and as they were outside the protection of the law, they had no legal rights, meaning anyone could kill them with impunity. Thus, the outlaw could not live in the community, but was forced to flee to the wilderness or another country to try to survive until their sentence of outlawry expired or their relatives could somehow lift it. At the time, there were no established prisons or dedicated police, so long-term imprisonment was rare. In the medieval age, an outlaw was called a "wolfshead," meaning that he or she was equated to a wolf in the eyes of the law, and was to be hunted down like one.


Several of the Icelandic sagas have outlaws as main or supporting characters, even attributing the initial settlement of Iceland to outlaws from Norway. And some versions of Robin Hood will have this be the explicit status of the Merry Men.

By the time of The Wild West, prisons and organized law enforcement were in place, so the old practice of outlawry was obsolete, but the term continued to be used for those who chose to flee into the wilderness or other jurisdictions to escape punishment for their crimes. In The Western, the outlaw is not completely removed from the protection of the law, but is wanted for crimes that make it impossible to stay in the community. Often, he will have a price on his head, making him the prey of the Bounty Hunter. Most outlaws will continue to lead lives of crime while in the wilderness, unless unjustly accused. An individual outlaw, or the leader of an outlaw gang, will often overlap with The Gunslinger. Other members of an outlaw gang will generally be the Western's equivalent of the Mook. If the Outlaw is the protagonist, or otherwise meant to be sympathetic, expect them to be either shown as having a Robin Hood-like code of ethics as to who they rob, being an innocent person falsely accused, or an Anti-Hero who does "what he has to do" to survive in a lawless land.


The outlaw and the lawman weren't entirely separate, either; some outlaws eventually settled down and tried to go straight, and their gun skills made them useful as law enforcement in particularly violent communities. Conversely, dirty cops have existed then as now, taking bribes from criminals or extorting people they were supposed to protect etc.

As of the Twenty-First Century, the meaning of "outlaw" has continued to suffer linguistic decay; now it is often used by media to mean any criminal, or to add a "rebel" cachet to something (like "outlaw country music" or "outlaw motorcycle club").

Super-Trope to the Bandito and The Most Wanted. Compare Pirate, who fills a similar archetype as the Outlaw but on the high seas of the Caribbean in the 17th and early 18th centuries.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • By the futuristic setting of Outlaw Star, the term has decayed even further. "Outlaws" are independent spaceships and their crews who have no formal allegiance to the government or pirate guilds.
  • Berserk has the Band of the Hawk being declared outlaw (in the classical sense of the word) by the King after Griffith's indiscretion with Princess Charlotte gets him thrown into the Tower of Rebirth to be put to the torture.
  • Victor Freeman of Blaster Knuckle is an outlaw in the Old West sense. His job is to kill demons that masquerade as humans by day and take their true forms at night to prey on and kill black people. Because these demons always revert to their former human forms upon death, this gets Victor branded a murderer, and due to the fact that Victor is black, the racism of the setting and period (the postwar 19th century American South) means a lot of angry white people want to lynch him.
  • Vinland Saga:
    • The "Guests" on Ketil's farm are all outlaws, and use nicknames because their real names could reveal their legal status.
    • King Canute declares Ketil's family outlaws as punishment for their younger son Olmar killing a man in an illegal Duel to the Death, so he'd have an excuse to appropriate their land.

    Comic Books 
  • Terra-Man, a Bronze Age foe of Superman, combined the trappings of a Wild West outlaw with alien technology, since he was actually born in the appropriate time period.
  • Lucky Luke: The Daltons are the most typical example of outlaws on the loose in this comic strip and that's saying something, because Luke has also combatted Billy the Kid and Jesse James.
  • Bat Lash is wanted by the state and federal authorities, and cannot stay long in once place lest anyone discover there is a price on his head.


  • Robin Hood and his Merry Men are among the most well-known medieval outlaws in fiction.

  • The Icelandic Sagas: Famous heroic outlaws are Grettir Ásmundarson (The Saga of Grettir the Strong) and Gisli Súrsson. Grettir supposedly survived almost 20 years as an outlaw, Gisli twelve years, before they were tracked down and killed by their enemies. Outlaws also occur as villains in other sagas, as outlaws often would turn to robbery, waylaying or even murder to feed themselves.
  • Völsunga saga: Sigi, the ancestor of the Volsungs, is outlawed in his home country for murder. Generations later, his descendants Sigmund and Sinfjotli, on the run from villainous King Siggeir, live as outlaws in the forest for years.
  • The Vinland Sagas: Erik the Red's discovery of Greenland is attributed to his being declared outlaw in first Norway, then Iceland.
  • Dark Life: The Seablite gang are undersea outlaws who prey on ocean-floor pioneers.
  • Jon Shannow, being set in an After the End western, has a lot of them, like Daniel Cade. They're usually the main antagonists of the book until the real Big Bad shows up.
  • Harry Potter: The Death Eaters are a band of pureblood supremacist wizards and witches. In the war that forms the backstory of the series, Head of Magical Law Enforcement Barty Crouch, Sr. published a writ of Outlawry against them, authorizing the use of Unforgivable Curses against them, when their use would otherwise send the caster to Azkaban for life.
  • Discworld:
    • Since, on the Disc, all things have their opposite, Wat Snood and his band (mentioned in the Thieves' Guild Diary) were "inlaws", raiding Carterhake Forest and then disappearing into the Wretched Hive of Ankh-Morpork, where the Forester's men were afraid to follow.
    • Bush rangers are mentioned in The Last Continent. Rincewind, still getting to grips with the Ecksian language, thinks they're like forest rangers.
  • His Dark Materials: panserbjornes can be exiled from Svalbard and put under outlawry by their peers, meanings they could be killed at sight, without need of regular duel. Iorek Byrnison us put through this for killing Hjalmur Hjalmursson Iofur Raknisson drugged with the help of Mrs Coulter so that he don't stop the fight.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The heroes of Wild Boys are all bushrangers.
  • Played with in Alias Smith and Jones: Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes were guilty of the crimes they were accused of, but they were on a conditional amnesty. The condition being that the amnesty was a secret until the governor deemed it politically opportune to publicize it - and the two still had to behave as good citizens until then.
    Jed 'Kid' Curry: I sure wish the governor'd let a few more people in on our secret!
  • Norsemen: For his sheer incompetence as chieftain in season 1, Orm gets declared outlaw by the Lawspeaker and enslaved when he gets dragged back to the village in chains. And Jarl Varg goads Arvid into killing a man at the Thing, which has an automatic sentence of outlawry.

    Music Videos 
  • "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler: The demonic cowboys are quite the bunch in burning down Bonnie's house and threatening her with neon whips in the video.

  • Cactus Canyon is full of them, most notably the three Bart Brothers (Big Bart, Bandelero, and Bubba Bart), who must be defeated to qualify for High Noon.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Even in the underhive setting of the Warhammer 40,000 Gaiden Game Necromunda there is a kind of law, and if a gang runs afoul of the Merchant’s Guild or the House authorities. Scavvies, Spyrers and Ratskin Renegades are inherently outlawed, while Redemptionists usually have bounties on their heads, but never have to live as outlaws because they hide among more law-abiding communities. The 1st Edition Outlanders supplement introduced rules for such outlaw gangs where they were forced to keep their gang fed while living hand-to-mouth, had a more difficult time acquiring relatively standard equipment and had large bounties placed on their heads that opponents could collect.

    Video Games 
  • Battle for Wesnoth: The protagonists of Liberty were simple villagers before Asheviere becomes the queen and tries to rule their lands with an iron fist. They promptly declares themselves outlaws after killing the first squad sent by the queen and are attacked as such by the Wesnothian forces. At the end of the campaign, they commit their biggest "crime", toppling down the Halstead fortress, then flee to the empty Three Sister islands.
  • Gunfighter: The Legend of Jesse James has players assume the role of the titular outlaw, based on the real-life figure. As Jesse players will battle hordes and hordes of bandidos and mercenaries led by a power-hungry, corrupt villainous sheriff.
  • Persona 5: Party member Morgana attempts to model himself off heroes from Westerns, wearing a bandana around his neck, another over his face, and a leather Utility Belt that has holster looking pouches on the hips. Unsurprisingly, Morgana's Guardian Entity "other self" is Zorro, one of the Trope Codifiers.
  • These are the main enemies in the first half of Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, coming in several different variants, and typically being lead by stronger bosses.
  • Red Dead Redemption II follows the Van der Linde Gang, which is full of outlaws. Its leader, Dutch Van der Linde, serves as The Most Wanted. The game explores the theme of outlaws in a time where The Wild West is nearly tamed and law and order are becoming the norm.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn has the Nora tribe do this as the most common punishment for lawbreakers. It is a lot less severe than most examples: There are various time periods per crime (Murder is set by ten years of being an outcast), and the warriors are not instructed to kill the outcasts. On the other hand, the outcasts are not allowed to be spoken to, nor are they allowed shelter nor free travel throughout the Sacred Lands. Aloy, the main character, is a born and raised an outcast from the start of the game.
  • In the tribal societies of King of Dragon Pass and its Spiritual Successor Six Ages, outlawry is the most serious punishment a clan can mete out to one of its members. While a great hero can survive on his or her own in the wilderness, and a few outlaws survive as desperate bandits or are adopted into a clan, for most people outlawry is a death sentence. As such, both the Orlanthi of KODP and the Riders of Six Ages tend to reserve it for serious offenses, such as kinslaying, adultery, and Chaos worship (among the former), or assaults on elders and sexual relations with Orlanthi (among the latter).
  • Wild Gunman is all about taking outlaws down for reward money, and it offers five variations on the archetype, including a Bandito.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Santa Claus becomes one in the Christmas Special Santa Claus is Coming to Town, after the grouchy and ill-tempered lawmaker Burgermeister Meisterburger outlaws toys. (Among other things, this explains why Santa grows a beard, travels at night, and access houses via chimney. The outlaw status persists for several years, but is eventually lifted after Meisterburger's family dies off and citizens reject his silly ideas, regarding Santa as a hero.

    Real Life (may overlap with Folklore) 
  • Billy the Kid, perhaps the most notorious outlaw of The Wild West.
  • The Jesse James gang, of both Real Life fame and many, many movies.
  • Wyatt Earp was an example of an outlaw becoming a lawman.
    • It seems as though many if not most renowned gunfighters have spent some time as both outlaws and lawmen. For example, Johnny Ringo spent some time working as a town marshal in Texas before falling in with the Cowboys, and was by all accounts efficient, well-liked and reasonably honest.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid tried going straight in Real Life as well, working as guards. It was the first time Butch Cassidy had ever killed anyone. In The Movie, they're given the Robin Hood treatment.
  • Australian example: Ned Kelly, infamous for the home-made suit of armour worn in his last stand. During Australia's colonial days, outlaws were known as 'Bushrangers', and there's a number of songs about them.
  • Lampião: An early 20th century Brazilian outlaw.
  • In the old days, pirates. Governments of England, France and Spain essentially declared open season and many of them were executed with out so much as a trial or legal protection, they were declared "Hostis Humani Generis" - "Enemy of all Mankind". Things improved later under Governor Woodes Rogers who tried a more moderate approach but even taking the pardon didn't prevent Blackbeard from being killed. The only ones with an actual duty to try and get them to surrender before exterminating them were the captains specifically ordered to hunt them down, as some pirates had been forced to join and freeing them was a priority.
  • The Latin word "hostis" was used in The Roman Republic, as a word with multiple meanings. In a battle, hostis meant "the enemy". But it acquired a sinister edge when the dictator Sulla Felix unleashed his famous Proscriptions. Sulla declared that anyone on his notices (proscrito) was hostes, and this was the first time ordinary citizen Romans (whose rights were protected) were declared "enemy of the state". Anyone who was on the list of proscriptions could be denied all protections of the law, all rights to property, the right to attorney, legal defenses and any of the other benefits of the sophisticated Roman legal system. People on the list could be killed by anyone, and anyone who killed them would be rewarded rather than punished. Those lists with names were posted not only in Rome but across Italy and other colonies and settlements, so anybody on that list, had nowhere to run.
  • The term regained currency during The French Revolution and The Napoleonic Wars, mostly because of the political instability and the question of legitimate authority, at various times French heads of state found themselves declared outlaws:
    • During the trial of King Louis XVI, the revolutionary Saint-Just declared the King "Hors la loi!" (Outside the Law). He pointed out that as a result of France becoming a republic, the earlier constitution declaring the King inviolable was invalid. Furthermore, the King himself had violated that same constitution during the Flight to Varennesnote . As such, the National Convention can't possibly consider itself (as representatives of the Revolution) and the King legitimate at the same time. The subsequent trial revealed new evidence of the King's guilt and the Convention agreed that the King had put himself outside all legal protections, paving the way for his execution.
    • Of course, turnaround is fair play. During Thermidor, Robespierre, Saint-Just, George Couthon, members of the Committee of Public Safety, the governing body at the time, were declared outlaws by the same National Convention, after the Paris Commune released them from judicial custody note . Robespierre and his allies were executed without a trial, followed the day after by 77 members of the Paris Commune, which became the largest mass execution during the Reign of Terror.
    • Napoléon Bonaparte struggled for legitimacy for most of his reign, since as a dictator who came to power via coup d'etat, he had no legal legitimacy, but as a beneficiary of revolutionary reforms and meritocracy, he was seen as "Robespierre on Horseback" by other European powers, an upstart rather than a true Emperornote  When Napoleon returned during the Hundred Days, the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw, who "has placed himself without the pale of civil and social relations; and that, as an enemy and disturber of the tranquillity of the world, he has rendered himself liable to public vengeance."
  • The Church of Scientology used to have the doctrine of Fair Game against Suppresive Persons (SP) and Groups (SG), meaning they "may not be further protected by the codes and disciplines or the rights of a Scientologist" and could be "deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed."