To quote King Theoden about two & a half hours into The Two Towers, “And so it begins…” If you thought that numbers 26–50 were memorable you will not be able to forget these next 15. They range from proficient killers to robber barons, from hard workers to lazy layabouts. But that’s just, like, my opinion man.
25. Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson) – More than any other character, Jules made the world of Pulp Fiction cool. “I’m sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn’t mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions. What’s the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort. What does Marcellus Wallace look like?”
24. Michael Corleone (The Godfather saga, Al Pacino) – Take your pick, war hero Michael, avenging Michael, Don Michael Corleone, or Old Michael; he always presented one of the great (anti)heroes ever. “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”
23. Quint (Jaws, Robert Shaw) – “Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.” I love when Quint sings that. I love the look on his almost mad face. Later in the same scene, Quint unforgettably tells the tragic tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and why he will not put on a life jacket ever again.
22. Lynn Bracken (L.A. Confidential, Kim Basinger) – “Some men get the world. Others get ex-hookers and a trip to Arizona.” Lynn Bracken made an ex-hooker and a trip to Arizona seem like that world.
21. The Man with No Name (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, & The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Clint Eastwood) – He is the greatest badass in the history of Westerns, no offense Ethan Edwards fans. When he says to the town’s coffinmaker, “Get three coffins ready,” he seems like a badass. After he has his gunfight his apology, “My mistake. Four coffins…” is epically badass.
20. Mark Gor (A Better Tomorrow, Chow Yun-Fat) – “If you don’t stop pointing that gun, you’ll have to use it.” Mark’s raw emotion is difficult to watch at times, since he is a broken man. But he had pride for a reason before his fall, and a blazing nobility just aching for an opportunity resurface. I would say that he is no phoenix, but Chow Yun-Fat is in both sequels to this Hong Kong classic.
19. Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon a Time in China series, Drunken Master & Legend of Drunken Master, Jet Li, Jackie Chan) – While this may not be Jet Li’s most famous role in the US, this is his defining role. He is a cinematic hero to China and Wong Fei Hung is China’s greatest folk hero. Who else have both Jackie Chan and Jet Li played? Chan’s young louse is also quite memorable as well. Here is the classic bamboo fight between Wong Fei Hung and Donnie Yen’s chief of police.
18. Col. Kurtz (Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando) – Both this film and this character in particular impressed me as a teenager. They stuck with me. They challenged me. Even now, Kurtz’s character is an enigma. “I worry that my son might not understand what I’ve tried to be. And if I were to be killed, Willard, I would want someone to go to my home and tell my son everything. Everything I did, everything you saw, because there’s nothing that I detest more than the stench of lies. And if you understand me, Willard, you will do this for me.” And of course, this is a different tone from when he cuts down Capt. Willard by calling him an errand boy.
17. Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings, Ian McKellan) – “You shall not pass!” Gandalf is the power and the personality in The Lord of the Rings. He makes you accept him and with that you enter Middle Earth and the story. Even as Gandalf the White he is not beyond flaws and those are what make his greatness all the more remarkable.
16. Borat (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen) – “Great! When I uh, buy my wife, at the start she was uh, cook good, her vazhïn work well, and she strong on plow. But after three years when she was fifteen, then she become weak, her voice become deep: BORAT BORAT, eh, she receive hair on chest, and vazhïn hang like sleeve of wizard.” Borat held up a mirror to US society and got us to open up by being so naively offensive that we let our guard down. Oh and was a damned funny character too, damned funny. Here is the trailer.
15. Rod Tidwell (Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding, Jr.) – “Anyone else would have left you by now, but I’m sticking with you. And if I have to ride your ass like Zorro, you’re gonna show me the money.” It is not that Jerry Maguire was a forgettable character, or that Rene Zelwegger’s was either, but 16 years later Cuba Gooding, Jr. still gets yelled at to show me the money.
14. Jen Yu (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang Ziyi) – Who can forget the greatest female fight scene of the first 100 years of film? How Jen’s character comes through in the way she uses her superior weapon against a more experienced foe. And her final words to her lover, “Make a wish, Lo.” Even reading those four words I cannot help but get a little misty-eyed.
13. Mrs. Wilson (Gosford Park, Helen Mirren) – This role so defined Helen Mirren for me, that seeing her early career has shocked me. Her role as a head of the household staff comes to mind even before those great staff members from Remains of the Day. “What gift do you think a good servant has that separates them from the others? Its the gift of anticipation. And I’m a good servant; I’m better than good, I’m the best; I’m the perfect servant. I know when they’ll be hungry, and the food is ready. I know when they’ll be tired, and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves.”
12. Charles Foster Kane (Citizen Kane, Orson Welles) – Kane sticks out far more distinctly in my memory than Harry Lime—from The Third Man—does. And Kane was from eight years earlier! Although I suppose that between 71 to 63 years ago, eight years is not that long. Further, it was this character, Kane, that inhibited Orson Welles from enjoying a more successful career; it also made the character infamous. “I always gagged on the silver spoon. You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.” Full scene with Kane’s old guardian (Thatcher) and former newspaper employee (Bernstein) here.
11. The Dude (The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges) – To quote Sam Elliot’s character, “Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles.” The Dude endures what life has thrown at him with a stoner’s acceptance. Contrasting him with the fiery Walter Sobchak, he offers one quotable line after another. To choose one was hard, what sums him up best? For me that is: “Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!”
Up next will be the ten most memorable characters. Until then, hey, the dude abides.