Here are the undisputed top ten most memorable characters in film history. Could one or two of them switch spots? NO! This was done scientifically by thinking about them relative to each other, making cuts, rethinking, more cuts, and then finally adding in Dracula because I forgot him. I hope I will not have missed anyone else unintentionally, because I know that people will kill me in the comments for it. Please feel free to weigh in there and to read what others have said. And if you missed #11–25, read those first. Or later.
10. Princess Leia (Star Wars, Carrie Fisher) – “Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” With that wit under pressure, Princess Leia managed to show tenderness, vulnerability, but still great strength. She is the first heroine of cinema that ever pops in my mind. A very brief clip.
9. Col. Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz) – Nazis make great villains, but Hans Landa took my breath away and kept it away. His calm demeanor, proper manner, and murderous mentality stuck with me longer after the basterds and the dames had left. “What a tremendously hostile world that a rat must endure. Yet not only does he survive, he thrives. Because our little foe has an instinct for survival and preservation second to none… And that Monsieur is what a Jew shares with a rat.”
8. Han Solo (Star Wars, Harrison Ford) – “Laugh it up, fuzzball.” When I was a kid I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. But as you age it’s the scoundrel Han who sticks out. When he first appeared he already had the defining role of his career. Sure, Indiana Jones may be as famous, but beyond a dislike of snakes I have to say that there is more to remember about Han.
7. Verbal Kint (The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey) – So far I have not cared about spoilers, but this is the one place I would hate to spoil. Just watch the movie already; his walk alone stands the test of time. “Who is Keyser Soze? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” If I had not chosen Verbal Kint I would have definitely gone with Keyser Soze at this point.
6. Kikuchiyo (Seven Samurai, Toshiro Mifune) – This is the most famous of the seven, and the most famous Japanese samurai actor ever. Watch him as he rants against the farmers whom the samurai have been hired to protect. “What do you think of farmers? You think they’re saints? Hah! They’re foxy beasts!” Kikuchiyo is, at least to me, the most memorable hero in the history of film. Disagree with me and I will send him to cut you down.
5. Rev. Harry Powell (Night of the Hunter, Harry Mitchum) – “Ah, little lad, you’re staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I’ll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t’other. Now watch ’em! Old brother left hand, left hand he’s a fighting, and it looks like love’s a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love’s a winning! Yessirree! It’s love that’s won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!” Frightening! The movie is not that great, but Reverand Harry Powell is unforgettable. Especially the way he would walk around singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” He is the first of five most memorable villains of all-time. Brrr!
4. Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men, Javier Bardem) Would you let him call you friend-o? He is legitimately one of the most subtly frightening characters ever. You feel like if you took your eyes off him for a second he could take everything away from you. Maybe just with a coin-flip. “What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?”
3. Frank (Once Upon a Time in the West, Henry Fonda) – That was once the face of American optimism and wholehearted goodness. See his work in 12 Angry Men and The Ox-Bow Incident. Thence he became the face of evil in this elegy to the Western. Having been ordered to scared some people, he killed them, when asked why he replied, “People scare better when they’re dying.” Here is a clip of him coming to confront the protagonist, Harmonica.
1. Darth Vader (Star Wars, David Prowse, James Earl Jones) – Could it be anyone else? “If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” Even people who have not seen Star Wars know Darth Vader. He singlehandedly made science fiction a movie genre to be reckoned with. He was not just Luke Skywalker’s father, but Star Wars‘s daddy. He is the most memorable of the memorable.