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Most Memorable Characters of All-Time #1–10

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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.

Hans Landa san pipe

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.”

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

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.

Verbal in the lineup

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.

MIFUNE!!

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.

If only I could show you the H-A-T-E

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!

Anton Chigurh

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?”

Henry Fonda as Frank

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.

2. Count Orlok (Nosferatu, Max Schreck) – His image will haunt your dreams. They even made a movie about Schreck actually being a vampire. If you watch Nosferatu you might wonder yourself.

Darth F'n Vader

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.

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Most Memorable Characters of All-Time #11–25

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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.

Jules Winnfield

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.

Kim Basinger looking amazing in LA Confidential

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.

Chow Yun-Fat 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.

YOU – SHALL NOT PASS!

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.

Rod Tidwell in the bath

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.

Helen Mirren as Mrs. Wilson

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.

Jeffrey Lebowski

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.

Most Memorable Characters of All-Time #26–50

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What makes a character memorable? Sometimes it is a look. Sometimes it is an accent. Sometimes it is what that character says. But once the film is over you remember that character. Sometimes in your dreams and other times in your nightmares. You might not remember who played these characters, or even their films as much as them. These are not necessarily the best performances by the best actors, but these are 25 of the most memorable characters in the history of cinema.

50. Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino) – “HOO-ah!” (I could not find a clip of him yelling it, apologies.)

49. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz, Margaret Hamilton) – “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!”

48. Dracula (Dracula, Bela Lugosi) – There have been many Draculas, but the first has defined the role and the look.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

47. Brodie Bruce (Mallrats & Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Jason Lee) – This was the sarcastic nerd who captured the slacker anti-hero perfectly. “Listen, not a year goes by, not a year, that I don’t hear about some escalator accident involving some bastard kid which could have easily been avoided had some parent – I don’t care which one – but some parent conditioned him to fear and respect that escalator.”

46. Fenster (The Usual Suspects, Benicio del Toro) – “Flip you. Flip ya for real.”

45. Captain Jack Sparrow (The Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp) – “This is the day you will always remember as the day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow.”

44. Spock (Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy & Zackary Quinto) – Okay, so this is 99% Nimoy. Most famous line/movie is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.”

43. Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall) – “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like victory.” Link to the clip.

42. Janine “Smurf” Cody (Animal Kingdom, Jacki Weaver) – “And you’ve done some bad things sweetie, haven’t you? I want this part to be clear this is not about you doing me a favor or, me blackmailing you or anything like that. It’s just a bad situation for everyone.” If you have never seen her before, when you do, you will not forget her. Oh and this boy she is talking about, is her grandson.

41. Lt. Frank Drebin (The Naked Gun, Leslie Nielsen) – “I’d known her for years. We used to go to all the police functions together. Ah, how I loved her, but she had her music. I think she had her music. She’d hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony. I don’t recall her playing an instrument or being able to carry a tune. Yet she was on the road 300 days of the year. In fact, I bought her a harp for Christmas. She asked me what it was.”

40. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Gregory Peck) – Who knows how many people decided they wanted to become lawyers because of this character.

Atticus Finch

39. Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart) – The classic film noir detective! “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it. And it happens we’re in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it’s-it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.”

38. Eli (Let The Right One In, Lina Leandersson) – She is an eternally youthful vampire. It is a touching and emotionally challenging character to face.

Eli, who is hundreds of years old

37. Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride, Mandy Patinkin) – “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.” Sword fight!

36. Juno (Juno, Ellen Page) – “Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine’s Day. And I’m like, ‘Thanks a heap coyote ugly. This cactus-gram stings even worse than your abandonment.'”

35. Vito Corleone (The Godfather Parts I & II, Marlon Brando & Robert De Niro) – I do not know how some people forget how interesting young Vito was in Part II. And he has no lines as memorable as “I’m going to make him an offer he won’t refuse.”

34. Alex (A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell) – “What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolent.”

Not a good droog

33. Rick Blaine (Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart) – Fact: my grandmother can quote every line of his when she watches the film. “I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

32. John McClane (Die Hard, Bruce Willis) – “Yippie-kay-yay mother fucker.”

31. The Joker (The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger) – “See, this is how crazy Batman’s made Gotham! If you want order in Gotham, Batman must take off his mask and turn himself in. Oh, and every day he doesn’t, people will die, starting tonight. I’m a man of my word.”

30. Eve Harrington (All About Eve, Anne Baxter) – “I’ll never forget this night as long as I live, and I’ll never forget you for making it possible.” She speaks with an innocence and an honesty that make her so, so endearing. Is it possible not to trust this face?

Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington in All About Eve

29. James Bond (The Bond movies, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig) – “The name’s Bond, James Bond.” ALL of them.

28. Arthur Burns (The Proposition, Danny Huston) – “Slowly now, Sergeant. Put your privates back in your pants and turn around. Come to steal my brother a horse, and we find ourselves a copper.” Here’s a different clip, turn the sound up because it is quiet.

27. Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List, Ralph Fiennes) – “This is very cruel, Oskar. You’re giving them hope. You shouldn’t do that. That’s cruel!” It is hard to find a greater villain this nazi scum.

26. Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski, John Goodman) – I do not think that anyone has done angry better than Walter. “Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t drive a car, I don’t fucking ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as shit don’t fucking roll!” SHOMER SHABBOS!

I will have numbers 11–25 up soon, until then, let us keep the sabbath holy and not bowl from sundown Friday until the third star appears in the sky Saturday night.