Grand Theft Auto is popular for its open-world environments, its satirical take on American culture, and of course, its over-the-top depiction of sex and violence. While all of this is true, few speak about perhaps the main reason Grand Theft Auto has embedded itself into the psyche of those who play it: the characters. Take a look below for 10 of the best grand theft auto characters.
1. Carl “CJ” Johnson
Carl is the second-in-command of the Los Santos-based street gang, the Grove Street Families, which is led by his older brother, Sean “Sweet” Johnson.
Carl “CJ” Johnson was born in 1968 in Los Santos, to Beverly Johnson. He has a father, but as seen in the intro movie, he said he didn’t know him. Beverly had four children: Sean, Carl, Kendl, and Brian. Sweet states that Carl was born in the Johnson House, the family’s childhood and current home. Old Reece, a family friend and Ganton’s local Barber, recalls memories of Carl’s father, although Carl tells Joey Leone that he never knew his father, and that Sweet was the “man” of the house but made his life miserable. Carl says to Woozie in Amphibious Assault that when he was swimming as a child, he once got a condom stuck on his face and that “horror like that stays with you for life”. This also explains his fear for swimming.
The Johnson siblings, along with Melvin “Big Smoke” Harris and Lance “Ryder” Wilson, grew up on the same cul-de-sac and were childhood friends. CJ recalls Ryder dealing drugs since he was ten. Sweet became the leader of the Grove Street Families and introduced him, CJ, and possibly Brian into the gang life.
Around 1985, the Grove Street Families were at the height of their power when they first became pressured by Frank Tenpenny, a corrupt police officer of C.R.A.S.H. It’s likely that Officer Eddie Pulaski was also serving with Tenpenny at this time. The Grove Street Families went into a decline at some point between 1987 and 1992. Carl’s younger brother Brian died in 1987.
The cause of his death was never revealed, though it is implied Carl was present but did not help him, as Sweet laments that Carl “let Brian die”. He was no longer considered a member of Grove Street, and would later have to earn his way back into the gang. Big Smoke also implies that Carl was physically larger during that time, stating that the “East Coast got [him] all thinned out”.
2. Niko Bellic
Niko was born in Yugoslavia in 1978. It was implied that his father was an abusive alcoholic. His mother, Milica Bellic, was unhappy that her son grew up in such a harsh place. In a conversation with Patrick McReary, Niko reveals that he had a brother who died during the Bosnian War. According to the dialogue in the mission Taking in the Trash, Niko dreamed of becoming an astronaut when he was a child. In a conversation with Dwayne Forge, Niko mentions the house where he grew up in did not have electricity until he was twelve.
In a conversation with Kate McReary, Niko says that he found out his aunt (Roman’s mother) was raped and murdered, some time after Roman’s departure to the United States. Knowing Roman would be even more devastated if he knew the true circumstances of his mother’s death, Niko covered up what happened, telling him that she died in a house fire.
Niko grew up in the harsh environment of the Yugoslav Wars, and was a teenage soldier of presumably the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army or its many aligned Serbian paramilitary forces and militias fighting against the government forces of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bosnian Croat Croatian Defence Council. (The Yugoslav Wars were fought between 1991 and 2001, which means that Niko was only 13-21 years old at the time). Niko says that he was betrayed “ten years ago”, making it closer to 1997 or 1998 (although Florian claims that it was “twelve or thirteen years ago” in a phone call after the mission That Special Someone). He served as a helicopter pilot and an infantryman during the war, and during the mission Easy Fare, Roman alludes to him driving a tank.
During the war, Niko both witnessed and committed numerous atrocities, which led to his cynical perspective on life, and a certain degree of regret, depression, and emotional detachment. Eventually, Niko’s unit of fifteen men (most of them friends from his hometown) were ambushed by enemy forces, but Darko Brevic, Florian Cravic, and Niko himself survived. Niko concluded that either Florian or Darko had sold the group out, and he vowed to uncover and kill the culprit, not only to gain revenge, but also to hopefully ‘close the book’ on the incident, and move on with his life.
3. Tommy Vercetti
Thomas Vercetti was born in Liberty City in 1951. His father worked in a printing shop and as a child, Tommy used to clean the rollers with him. Tommy had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, but, in his own words, “led a different life”. Dialogue spoken by Tommy while fighting indicates that he had a bad relationship with his mother.
Sometime prior to 1971, Tommy joined the Forelli Family. He continued to work with the Forelli Family, making his way up the ranks and presumably becoming a made man. In 1971, Sonny Forelli, growing apprehensive of Tommy’s increasing power, attempted to set up an ambush for him, under the guise of a hit in Harwood. However, Tommy not only survived, but also killed all eleven men that were sent to kill him.
He was arrested and convicted of eleven counts of murder. Tommy was sentenced to death for the murders, but since he kept quiet and turned no evidence on the Forelli Family, Sonny Forelli used judicial connections to commute the sentence. Tommy remained in prison for fifteen years, refusing to divulge any Forelli Family secrets to the LCPD. He was nicknamed “the Harwood Butcher” by the press.
Tommy Vercetti is depicted as both intelligent and temperamental. He is easily angered and quick to resort to violence. He does not hesitate to kill, though many of his victims are trying to kill Tommy, or have done something that guaranteed their deaths. However, Tommy often shows care and sensitivity towards characters like Mercedes Cortez and especially Earnest Kelly, viewing Kelly as a father figure due to his own father working in a print works, and showing anger and concern when Kelly is injured by Sonny’s hitmen.
Tommy prefers to perform his own work rather than delegate tasks to others. Even after he has his own gang and other subordinates working for him, he usually puts his plans in motion personally. He also personally gets involved if things aren’t going as well as he’d like – for example, in the opening cutscene of Bar Brawl he is irritated by Lance’s lazy attitude towards the bar refusing to pay protection money and immediately goes out to settle things himself.
4. Trevor Philips
Trevor has been described as a difficult person to deal with: extreme, impetuous, vengeful, psychopathic, unhinged, unpredictable, untamed, infamous, homicidal, and prone to violent outbursts and destructive rampages. He does everything in a sociopathic and relentless manner, (much different from Michael). Although Trevor is like this, he is honest about it and will never show hypocrisy. He has his own charm along with his own principles. However, Dan Houser has confirmed that Trevor “may not be all he seems” and is still “too horrible” to be a hero of any kind. He is also quite insecure about being born in Canada, and takes offense to people mocking his accent.
Almost all of his Rampages are caused by Trevor flying into rage over being mocked over his Canadian accent. During a mission, Ron asks Trevor about his business dealings in Canada, resulting in Trevor getting defensive and demands for Ron to clarify. Ron hastily corrects himself by asking about Trevor’s business dealings in North Yankton “along the Canadian border”, defusing a possible violent outburst from Trevor, thus showing his insecurity for being Canadian.
Also, while hanging out with Michael and Franklin, Michael will sometimes remark “You’re not even American.” during a conversation. Somewhat enraged, Trevor will reply “I am! Fuck you!” and Michael will respond with “Whatever you say, eh.” mocking Trevor’s accent. This further shows his insecurity about being Canadian.
Trevor’s mere presence always puts others on edge due to his extremely short temper and unpredictable, impulsive behavior. Ron, who is one of Trevor’s friends and an unlikely one at that, is constantly terrified of him and frequently tries to appease Trevor whenever he can, especially if he is close to getting angry. Michael is also wary of him when they reunite, stepping in front of his son to protect him. Despite Ron’s fear and Trevor’s psychopathic behavior, they do seem to show a level of trust to each other as Trevor usually tasks Ron to do a few missions for him such as blowing up the Lost MC fuel tank and helping him drop off cargo via a plane, as well as running Trevor Philips Enterprises in his absence.
Wade, another friend, is equally scared of Trevor. Though Trevor torments and punches Wade often, this bullying extends to Wade’s cousin, Floyd, as well. In the Merryweather Heist, he gets angry quickly when his score is compromised. In the offshore ending, he gets so angry that he rams his face onto a wooden board and repeatedly smashes his face on it. His personality is stated to be partly based on that of legendary English prisoner Charles Bronson, also known as “the most violent prisoner in Britain”. He is a man known for his sudden violent outbursts which have earned him fame.
Out the three protagonists, Trevor can be said to be a true psychopath, as he easily kills with no remorse, has the typical parental issues (abandoned by his father and sensitive about his mother), is a pyromaniac, frequently abducts people and takes them to the Altruist Cult (the cult in question is implied to be made up of cannibalistic killers of which Trevor seems to be aware of) which he calls his “friends in the mountains” and has the habit of making sadistic jokes about his victims.
5. Michael De Santa
Michael is a very muddled person, even confused by his “good and evil” personality. He spends an uncommon amount of time in his head, where he can comfortably think or reminisce about certain things or aspects that give him a brief moment of nostalgia from his glory days. Nevertheless, it also constrains him into a world of wistfulness and bewilderment as he ponders the reason why things aren’t going in the direction he planned it would.
Michael has an obsession for materialistic appearance and images, making it the main reason for why he dreamt of living out his Vinewood Dream with his family. He claims to Franklin that he has lived a repeated pattern of “Chase things, get em’, hate em’.”.
Michael holds a deep-seated amount of self-hatred, due to him wanting to live a life that’s a falsehood rather than coming to the conclusion that his troubling mistakes has garnished a great deal of misfortune upon himself, his family, and old friends and associates of his (his deal with the FIB is a prime example). The self-hatred gives him an exceptionally short temper that he doesn’t know how to control, which fills him with rage and causes him to not think at times.
One example would be where he caught Amanda having an affair with her tennis coach, Kyle Chavis. He chases Kyle to a mansion and pulls it off a hillside believing that it belonged to him (however, nearly everyone around Michael (except Franklin), including Chavis himself, knew that the mansion was too expensive for him to afford with his salary). Sarcasm is something that Michael firmly grasps because of the self-hatred, as he doesn’t know how to respond to his family or friends properly at times without it. He indicates this in the mission Paleto Score Setup, where he proclaims that sarcasm is one of the only things he has left in this world that can’t be taken away from him.
Michael is a highly egotistical and narcissistic person. He’ll only be concerned about the issues he’s being pulled through, instead of the situations that he constantly puts his family or his friends through and will often get unfairly defensive when someone rightfully criticizes him. A case in point of this wrong doing is shown in one of the many heated arguments he has with his wife, Amanda.
6. Franklin Clinton
Franklin is described as ambitious, but perhaps to a fault, and very eager to take on new illegal challenges. He is also described as calm, smart, rational and a “logical way of showing a young man with a lot of hope”, with Dan Houser claiming that this would be a nice contrast from Michael.
He is also a person that, even though he’s being mentored by Michael in crime, mentors Michael in life. This helps build up the Father-Son relationship between the two, in contrast to their own actual father-son relationships (Franklin’s father abandoned him before his birth and Michael’s relationship with Jimmy soured years ago).
Franklin is much calmer than both Michael, who has a very short temper, and Trevor, who is a violent psychopath. This calm personality is often displayed during missions where he keeps it cool while fulfilling the task at hand, and when he is forced to act as the peacekeeper between Michael and Trevor when they get into an argument. Though Lamar drives him crazy at times, Franklin still cares for his best friend as he saves him from the Ballas with the help of Michael and Trevor during the events of Lamar Down.
He is also the same toward Michael and Trevor as he is seen helping them out with most of their problems, like when Amanda cheats on Michael and he and the latter chase Amanda’s tennis coach during Marriage Counseling, and when he helps Trevor and Michael hunt down the remaining O’Neil brothers during Predator. This, however, also leads to others around him to consider him “disloyal”, most notably his Aunt Denise, to such an extent that Denise threatens to call the police on him if he sets foot in their yard.
Despite what Denise says, Franklin does demonstrate loyalty for people that are close to him and for people who change his life, like Lamar, who is Franklin’s best friend, and Michael, who helped him become a “three-bit” gangster and high-profile criminal.
Unlike Michael or Trevor however, his relationships with those close to him are even more fragile and in the end fail to heal the rift with his associates, unlike Michael and, to a lesser extent, Trevor. His messy breakup with Tanisha is left unresolved and ends on less than satisfactory terms when she chooses to marry another man over saving their relationship. His aunt turns his room into a safe shelter for women after he moves out and Stretch remains on antagonistic terms with Franklin. Franklin also potentially jeopardizes his relationship with his partners in crime Michael, Lamar and Trevor should he choose to kill either Trevor or Michael as the survivor loses their trust in Franklin, and Lamar is forced to hide from Stretch.
Claude is a calm and serious man who appears almost emotionless regardless of the situation, aside from a slight smirk and usually a glare, seemingly taking everything in stride. Provided he is paid for his services, he will take orders from his bosses without reluctance or complaint, usually giving a nod to show that he understands, and doesn’t respond even when he is scolded or shouted at by his bosses for doing something wrong. He also prostrates to his bosses if required, in Kenji Kasen’s case.
Ironically, Catalina states that she betrayed Claude for his lack of ambition, and yet throughout the game, Claude works, kills and rises through the ranks of the Liberty City underworld, all just to get his revenge. Because Claude never verbalizes it, it’s unclear if he has any true loyalty or respect to anyone.
As long as he is paid and it will get him closer to getting revenge, he will work for, and kill, anyone, as evidenced by him killing Kenji Kasen. He even fights on multiple sides of gang wars, working for the Mafia, the Diablos, the Yakuza, and the Yardies, completely without hesitation and goes as far as to orchestrate a gang war between the Yakuza and the Columbian Cartel along with Donald Love.
It should be noted that when Claude does kill one of his former bosses, it’s usually those who mistreat him or betray him like Kenji or Salvatore Leone, implying Claude doesn’t take slights against him lightly, explaining why he is more than willing to kill them. His vindictive side is further evidenced when he coldly leaves Miguel to be tortured by Asuka Kasen, for his part in Catalina’s betrayal. He does appear to at least have an amicable relationship with Asuka and Maria, since Asuka is willing to help Claude in his goal for revenge when she learns about Claude’s history with Catalina.
For the vast majority of the game, Claude is taciturn and doesn’t speak. He will only make a slight grunt when he is hurt, or an “Oh!” whenever he drowns, gets shot, run over, or when he falls down. He may also give passing vehicles the middle finger when crossing the road. There are moments where despite not talking, Claude will let his actions or behavior speak for him, such as appearing taken aback and flinching slightly when Kenji yells at his face, or visibly reacting in surprise when Maria tells him that she told Salvatore that they slept together, the aforementioned leaving Miguel to his fate, and seemingly attempting to intimidate Carl Johnson when the latter has an argument with Catalina over a racing prize.
8. Big Smoke
Big Smoke was a high-ranking member of the Grove Street Families who later defected to the Ballas, and made clandestine deals with the Los Santos Vagos and Russian Mafia, eventually becoming the most powerful crook in the criminal underworld of Los Santos.
Big Smoke makes multiple references to his desire to be remembered after his death.
Big Smoke appears to speak some Spanish, as seen in the mission Running Dog. He tries to get weed from some Vagos members and after being cursed at, he threatens one of the Vagos members who then responds with “Chinga a tu madre, pendejo” which roughly translates into “Fuck your mother, dickhead”.
Big Smoke was born in Los Santos, likely in Ganton due to his close relationship with Sweet and Carl Johnson, and he later joined the Grove Street Families. He rose through the ranks of the gang until he became Sweet’s right-hand man, Carl’s departure in 1987 following his brother’s death helped Smoke and Sweet develop a closer relationship.
Big Smoke quotes from the Bible on many occasions, hinting that he may be religious, though Carl claims he’s “still talking shit.”
Ryder is a high-ranking member of the Grove Street Families who later joined forces with the Ballas, Vagos and C.R.A.S.H.
Ryder is a drug user, something known by both Sweet and Carl, and he can usually be seen with or searching for his “water”, which is in fact PCP. During the mission Home Invasion he can be seen frantically searching for it in his garden, having already dug numerous holes with a shovel.
Ryder’s short stature is often commented on by many characters, with Kendl, Cesar Vialpando and a Well Stacked Pizza Co. employee (among others) calling Ryder a “midget”.
Ryder is depicted as loud, wild, and unpredictable. He is known to go into rampages and always attempt the impossible. Ryder has a peerless mean streak and an extremely short temper, making him the loose cannon of the Grove Street Families. He also has delusions of grandeur and a possible Napoleon Complex, stemming from his short stature. He sees himself as a “genius” and thinks he is too intelligent for school. Furthermore, Ryder is also very brusque, as he rudely states his terse opinions of CJ since the latter’s return to Los Santos and has the tendency to belittle him.
Though Ryder is very passionate of the Grove Street Families, he is also easily convinced by Big Smoke to make a little cash despite the fact that it means turning on his own gang. Ryder’s impulsive and wild attitude is possibly due to his drug addiction, for he is almost always seen holding a joint in each cutscene he appears in. Though his history is unknown, it is implied that he was once a rebellious and belligerent child due to CJ saying in the mission Robbing Uncle Sam that he once beat up a teacher just for wearing purple, which is a color used by the Ballas.
Despite turning on his own gang and CJ, in the whole series of events, including the deadly hunt on him by CJ, Ryder never shows any attempt to kill or harm CJ, even when the latter finally kills him in the mission Pier 69.
10. Johnny Klebitz
Jonathan Klebitz was born in 1974 in Acter, Alderney to a Jewish family. In Off Route, after Johnny steals a prison bus, he sometimes says, “Mom always told me I’d be a bus driver.” He has an older brother, Michael Klebitz, who used to be friends with Billy Grey when Johnny was 10. Ironically, Michael is a soldier serving in Iraq, and a law-abiding citizen, and criticizes Johnny’s biker lifestyle and criminal association with Billy.
Johnny is relaxed and laid back most of the time. He wants to think all plans and actions through and doesn’t want to make any risky decisions. He is very easily angered and will become aggressive and violent when provoked. He shows some hesitation about killing people whom he thinks deserve it. However, he also has his limit about killing.
He is reluctant to kill Brian Jeremy and Billy Grey because he considered them as his friends in the past. He also asks Elizabeta if killing so many people is really necessary. Overall, Johnny’s attitude about murder seems to be that he is capable of doing so in cold blood but believes that the murder should be justified. Johnny will always carry out orders given to him even if he disagrees with them, but will vent his frustration when doing so. Over the course of “Clean and Serene”, Johnny claims that he has given up on faith and instead believes in religion. Johnny has an anti-war and anti-politics stance, claiming both exist to “make the fat cats fatter”.
Johnny has a strong disliking for cars, referring to them as “cages”.