Romanticised outlaws are stock characters found in a number of fictional settings.
This was particularly so in the United States, where outlaws were popular subjects of newspaper coverage and stories in the 19th century, and 20th century fiction and Western films. Thus, "outlaw" is still commonly used to mean those violating the law or, by extension, those living that lifestyle, whether actual criminals evading the law or those merely opposed to "law-and-order" notions of conformity and authority (such as the "outlaw country" music movement in the 1970s).
The colloquial sense of an outlaw as bandit or brigand is the subject of a monograph by British author Eric Hobsbawm: Hobsbawm's book discusses the bandit as a symbol, and mediated idea, and many of the outlaws he refers to, such as Ned Kelly, Mr. Dick Turpin, and Billy the Kid, are also listed below.
The point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported. This relation between the ordinary peasant and the rebel, outlaw and robber is what makes social banditry interesting and significant ... Social banditry of this kind is one of the most universal social phenomena known to history.— Eric Hobsbawm
The stereotype owes a great deal to English folklore precedents, in the tales of Robin Hood and of gallant highwaymen. But outlawry was once a term of art in the law, and one of the harshest judgments that could be pronounced on anyone's head.
Main article: List of American Old West outlaws
The outlaw is familiar to contemporary readers as an archetype in Western films, depicting the lawless expansionism period of the United States in the late 19th century. The Western outlaw is typically a criminal who operates from a base in the wilderness, and opposes, attacks or disrupts the fragile institutions of new settlements. By the time of the Western frontier, many jurisdictions had abolished the process of outlawry, and the term was used in its more popular meaning. Some Old West outlaws, such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James, became legendary figures in Western lore both in their own lifetime and long after their deaths.
Main article: Bushranger
In Australia two gangs of bushrangers have been made outlaws – that is they were declared to have no legal rights and anybody was empowered to shoot them without the need for an arrest followed by a trial.