Monday, December 8, 2008

Empire Online's 100 Greatest Characters Ever

I'm going to be honest - I actually saw this list a couple days ago, but needed time to digest it all, and contemplate whether I was going to write about it. I mean, I understand...I get it...internet lists can never be 100% agreed upon, and they're created to cause discussion and debate, which leads to more web hits. I am savvy enough not to fall into the trap.

Or so I thought.

Seriously, go take a look at the list of 100 Greatest Movie Characters of all time, and get back to me. I'd apologize for the horrific format of having to click through 100 pages, but I had nothing to do with it. If I did, I'd now have a self inflicted bullet wound somewhere.

Never mind the fact that it's simply impossible to have a list like this without some kind of parameters. Let's throw that away at the beginning and for the sake of argument say a semi-cohesive list of 100 greatest movie characters is possible to create. To say the list that Empire came up with is anywhere close to that is an abomination.

I've looked around and I can't seem to find any qualifications or criteria people used. It looks like it may have been reader submitted, which leads me to believe I hate Empire Online's readership. But I also hate Empire Online, for someone there decided to publish the list after seeing it.

I take this all back if this is some sort of Andy Kaufmanesque piece of sublime humor. I don't think that's the case for a second, but I reserve that one tenth of a percent chance. Bravo - you got me.

On the flip side, a dissection of the list.

I first saw this list over at the very enjoyable Other Crap website. Please go there for their dead-on analysis. In fact, I almost didn't write this because they did it much more succinctly, but still the rage inside me after actually going through this entire list has to come out somewhere, and why not here like a messy afterbirth (you know, as opposed to all those clean afterbirths?)

Let's slice this fat bastard up...

100. Riggs (Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon)
If the list stopped right here, I'd be fine. I'm cool with accepting Riggs as the 100th best character from film. I don't agree, but whatever, it's not a terrible choice. Unfortunately, it's also one of the last not terrible choices we're going to see.

99. HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)

98. Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles, Citizen Kane)
97. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, Silence of the Lambs)

Both Kane and Starling seem a little high, though after seeing who else was picked it's amazing they were even included - i mean one is only the main character from one of the best film from the 90s and the other is only the main character from arguably the best film ever made.

96. Ethan Edwards (John Wayne, The Searchers)
95. Freddy Kreuger
94. Buzz Lightyear (A Toy Story)

Buzz Lightyear? Really? I guess is the "clever" choice (incorrectly labeled as the first of two animated characters on the list, even though there are 3 - nice proofreading Empire!). I would have chosen Woody from Toy Story, as he had a little more depth to his character and added some heft to the movie, but I was disqualified as I was using sense.

93. Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack, Grosse Pointe Blank)

We're seven in and we have gotten the first completely absurd pick. Blnk maybe makes my top 5 for John Cusack characters...

5. Blank (ignoring Cusack's characters inHigh Fidelity, Being John Malkovich and Pushing Tin)
4. Roy Dillon (The Grifters)
3. Lane Meyer (Better off Dead)
2. Hoops McCann (One Crazy Summer)
1. Lloyd Dobler

I realize he played the same character in 2 and 3, so fine if needed, I could flip a coin and pick one. (Hoops - I never understood why Better off Dead got more love than One Crazy Summer). But also realize this - Martin Q. Blank is the only character Cusack has on this list. No Lloyd, no Lane, and no Hoops.

92. Randall Graves (Clerks)

Randall Graves is a fine addition to appeal to the Kevin Smith nerds out there I guess, but choosing Jay is much easier and wiser, since his character spans multiple movies, so you have more data to look at. And when you get right down to it, they're the same character anyway. But don't worry, we're done with Kevin Smith characters here too, so don't get your hopes up thinking you're going to see Dante or Brody.

91. Scarlett O'Hara (Gone with the Wind)
90. Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz)
89. Princess Leia (duh)
88. Jessica Rabbit

Second of 3 animated characters on this list, and while she'd certainly make the list of "Most fuckable movie characters," her inclusion here is a little bizarre to me. In fact, I think now is the perfect time to give my list of "characters that I would include from the top of my head:"

Inspector Clouseau (I wouldn't have a problem if he was #1)
Chris Knight (Kilmer, Real Genius)
Leon (Jean Reno, The Professional)
Any Bruce Lee character
Ron Burgundy
Newman/Redford from The Sting
Newman/Redford from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Shaft (Richard Roundtree)
Anyone from Heat, but specifically DeNiro or Pacino
Ty Webb (Chevy Chase, Caddyshack)
Lee Marvin in Dirty Dozen
McQueen in Great Escape (or Pleasance or Garner or Bronson, but I wasn't going to hold out for any of them)
Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas, Wall Street)
Willis and Rickman from Diehard
Willie Wonka
Robin Hood (Errol Fucking Flynn)

That's 22 characters that I feel should be on the list. So let's play a quick game. Pick a number of how many show up in the next 87 spots. I'll take the under. It's not a trick - there are some in there. To make the game more interesting, see if you can guess which ones)

87. Dracula
86. Roy Batty
85. Vincenzo Cocotti (Christopher Walken, True Romance)

Ok, c'mon. I realize that length a character is in the movie shouldn't be a qualification if the character is that memorable, but really? He was part of a great scene, but he played a fairly stereotypical mob boss, for about 6 minutes of screen time. He's one of the top 100 movie characters ever? A more inspired choice would have been Walken's character Frank White from King of New York. But that would mean people would have had to see King of New York, and that's not going to happen because Tarantino didn't direct it.

84. Agent Smith (The Matrix)
83. Mr. Blonde (Reservoir Dogs)
82. Marv (Mickey Rourke, Sin City)

This is getting silly and we haven't gotten through 20 names yet. I wasn't that big a fan of Sin City, but I can see why people were, and I can see it's stylistic significance and homage to the comic book it inspired. But to call out any character from it...I mean I would have gone with Harley Davidson before Marv.

81. Wolverine

Fine. It's hard for me to muster up caring anymore.

80. Norman Bates
79. Boba Fett

Kinda cool in Empire Strikes Back, Fett built up a huge swell of support and admiration after the original trilogy, even though his death scene in Return of the Jedi is a little farcical. (Seriously, go back and watch that - Han is blind, and that whole barge thing is more Marx Brothers than cool).

If only that were enough, but then Lucas has to go and destroy the character in the next three movies, making him the blueprint of the clone for that later became the storm troopers. Much as I'd like to think this list is a grand joke Empire is playing on me and everyone else, I'd like to think Lucas did the same thing with Fett, making a minor character everyone loved for some reason into even more of a vanilla, cardboard figure that was technically in all the films. Sadly, I doubt either empire or Lucas is came up with either scenario.

(I also love that Empire decides to pretty much ignore the prequel back story for Fett, even though he's a major character in them. I can't help Lucas decided to do that with his own character. But you can't ignore it when including him on the list! That's like ignoring the killing of the Jews by Hitler because he had a cool mustache!)

78. Axel Foley
77. Ed (Shaun of the Dead)
76. Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future)
75. Marge Gunderson (France McDormand, Fargo)
74. E.T.
73. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, The Shining)
72. V (V for Vendetta)

I didn't see the movie, because it looked bad. I didn't think anyone else saw it either, instead choosing to boycott projects the Wachowski brothers were involved in after making Matrix III. Of all the anarchists in the history of film, we get V?

71. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, Escape from New York)
70. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mickingbird)

I guess I should be happy he's on the list at least, even at 70. I mean, his character only symbolized man's plight for equality in this country.

69. Keyser Soze (possibly Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects)
68. Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite)

Yeah, he should definitely be ranked lower than Atticus Finch. Makes a ton of sense.

67. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet)
66. The Bride (Uma Thurman, Kill Bill)
65. White Goodman (Ben Stiller, Dodgeball)

That this character is included and not Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin in The Jerk for all you troglodytes) is further evidence why this list should have been burned instead of published. White Goodman? I bet I could go out on the street, ask 1000 people to name Ben Stiller's character from Dodgeball, and less than 10 would know the answer.

64. Withnail (I have no idea who this is. I'll plead ignorance)
63. Wall-E (robot from the movie of the same name)

Sure, a character from a movie that was out less than six months ago should be able to make this list. I'm sure he'll have staying power.

62. Mathilda (Natalie Portman, The Professional)

Again, I think they picked the wrong character from the movie. Why not choose Leon, here? He's the one that has to grow as a character and do the most. Mathilda simply reacts to everything around her. Silly choice.

61. R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
60. Ace Ventura
59. Tommy Devito (Joe Pesci, Goodfellas)
58. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca)
57. Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell, Ron Burgundy)

If anything, Ron Burgundy was an ensemble piece. How you pick one of the newsguys over the others is stupid. Sure, Brick had some good lines, and I'm sure he's here for his "I love lamp," but Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) was just as funny with Sex Panther. Why distinguish? Also, why would anyone from this movie make the list of top 100 movie characters?

56. Juno (Ellen Page, Juno)

Stop it.

55. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen, Naked Gun)

At least he beat out Juno.

54. Luke Skywalker
53. Luke (Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke)
52. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life)
51. Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, Serenity)

Robert Urich in Ice Pirates would have been a more sensible choice here.

50. Quint (Robert Shaw, Jaws)

Oh, sure, 50 sounds good for a larger than life character. Taking my 1000 people on the street test, I'd be willing to bet more than half would know the captain of the boat in Jaws. I'd argue he'd be good for the #1 position.

49. Walter Sobchuk (John Lithgow, The Big Lebowski)

Oh yeah, much more popular than Quint.

48. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man)

I have an idea. Why not trot this list out every year, so that we can all see if characters from movies that were out less than a year ago can, you know, hold up to some of the legendary ones? If they can, then they make the list. I'll be impressed if Iron Man is considered a classic. You want to see a good Robert Downey Jr. performance? Rent fucking Zodiac.

47. Blade (Wesley Snipes, Blade)

I'm close to giving up.

46. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men)
45. Amelie (Audrey Tatou, Amelie)

Were we running out of iconic female characters at this point? It's a sad state of affairs when of the 9(!) women characters, Amelie is one.

44. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray, Ghostbusters)
43. Man with no Name (Clint Eastwood)
42. Alex DeLarge (Roddy McDowell, A Clockwork Orange)
41. Marry Poppins (Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins)
40. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale, American Psycho)
39. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, Back to the Future)
38. Donnie Dark0 (Jake Gyllenhaal)

A nifty little cult movie that has some ineresting ideas but never really comes together, I don't understand the hype Donnie Darko gets. I also don't understand why he would be a top 100 character. I'd have less of a problem seeing Donnie Darko on a list of the 100 best movies. I'd still have a problem, just not as big of one as here.

37. Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp)
36. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)
35. Maximus (Russell Crowe, Gladiator)

Personally, I find this movie horribly overrated. It was good - not great. Unfortunately though, Crowe has had many other roles more memorable than this one:

Hando - (Romper Stomper)
Bud White (L.A. Confidential)
Jeffrey Wigand (The Insider)

I realize none of these guys carried a sword, so they won't beat out Maximus, but I'll also say all three were more memorable, especially to their stories. I guess I'm preaching to the wind though.

34. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone)
33. Tequila (Chun Yow Fat, Hardboiled)

Why bother going international? It would have been much easier to keep this list within the confines of Hollywood, so as not to offend an international audience. Oh well.

32. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, Bourne Identity)

I can at least appreciate him not beating out James Bond, since the character was basically a rip off of the iconic spy.

31. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen, Lord of the Rings)
30. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Saw)

Why not? Sure. I'd hate to have Mike Myers on the list, because he's so boring. And he only spawned the entire slasher genre - so how could he ever make this list of memorable characters in a movie?

29. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood)

Talk about stealing a milkshake, you get in the top 30.

28. Gandalf (Ian McKellan, Lord of the Rings)
27. Tony Montana (Al Pacino, Scarface)
26. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell, Anchorman)

The first person I named on my list that made it on this list. And it's Ron Burgundy. At 26. That sounds about right.

25. Yoda
24. Ash (Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead)
23. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry)
22. Red (Morgan Freeman, Shawshank Redemption)
21. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino, The Godfather)
20. Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks)

It astounds me that this movie got all the critical acclaim it did. I contend it was simply for its technological marvels of placing Hanks in historical footage. Go rent Zelig if you want to see a good movie though.

19. Jules Winnfield (Samule L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction)
18. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver)
17. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, Diehard)
16. Neo (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix)

I can't wait to see his character from The Day the Earth Stood Still on the list next year.

15. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick)
14. The Terminator (Arnold Schwartzenegger)
13. Gollum (Lord of the Rings)
12. John McClane (Bruce Willis, Diehard)
11. James Bond

This might be the biggest travesty of the list. How James Bond doesn't make the top 10 is beyond an oversight. The character has starred in 20some films, spanning almost 5 decades. He's done just about everything. He's spawned dozens of knockoffs. He's been played by six different actors. He's a global icon. But here's he's only ranked 11th. Ludicrous.

10. Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando, The Godfather)

I love how Empire describes Brando's performance as "trademark performance of a lifetime," and then suggests he gave six or so of those for his entire career. And yet this is the only Brando performance on the list. That makes a lot of sense.

9. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, Alien)
8. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean)

This makes complete sense. Of course he's more memorable than James Bond.

7. The Dude (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski)

Personally I would have mentioned his role in Tron before this one.

6. Indiana Jones
5. Hannibal Lechter
4. Han Solo
3. The Joker (the Heath Ledger version)
2. Darth Vader
1. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, Fight Club)

I love the fact that the #1 came from a film that grossed 37 million dollars at the box office. Fight Club the movie was a dud, which means hardly anyone saw it, which means it's kind of hard to suggest it would have a memorable character that a majority of people would know. That he's #1 just gives us more evidence to invalidate the list.

So, let's take a look at the tally of characters I listed off the top of my head:

Ron Burgundy
John McClane
Hans Gruber

3. No Clouseau. No Bruce Lee. No Errol Flynn. No Spicoli.

As I said before, I have no idea how this list was created. Perhaps it was the editors of Empire Online, in which case they should never write another thing about movies. Perhaps it was compiled from votes from readers, in which case Empire Online has some awful readers that know very little about movies.

But I'm not done here. Tomorrow, I'll post my own top 100. And then I'll give you the chance to vote on which list is better, or at least more comprehensive. Until then, please let me know what you think - whether Empire Online got it mostly right, who they missed, or if I'm just an idiot, in the comments section below.


Cline said...

I hate lists without defined criteria. They basically provide a list of answers to a question that hasn't been asked.

I agree that there's too many recent characters. "Memorable" implies that they've passed the test of time. Some of these newbies may, but most won't.

I think you put too much emphasis on mass appeal and how it translates to "memorable". It's a factor, but even though Fight Club bombed at the box office, it's going to be remembered far longer than a "hit" like Date Movie. I'm not saying Durden should be #1, but box office totals shouldn't immediately DQ it.

If you factor only popularity and longevity, then yes Bond should be higher. But personally, I don't think he's that interesting a character. The acting performances vary, but they're essentially the same guy. He's an icon, but a repetitive one.

I watched 78% of the original Die Hard and was reminded how well done it was. Rickman especially, but Gudonov and the guy that goes "Hans... bubbe..." weren't bad either. And to think that if it weren't for DH's success, we would never have Urkel.

As my living room decor suggests, I strongly second Errol Flynn & Jean Reno as glaring omissions. Other ones you didn't list:

(*) William Holden as Sefton in Stalag 17. One of the best anti-heroes ever. ("If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner, just let's pretend we've never met before.")

(*) Donald Sutherland as Oddball in Kelly's Heroes. It's a smaller role, but I can't stop thinking about him as a proto-hippie in a WWII movie.

(*) Chevy Chase as Clark Griswald. The James Bond of family outings gone wrong.

(*) Mike Myers as Austin Powers. Not saying I want to remember him, but I do. So do a lot of people.

(*) Sharon Stone's Labia as Catherine Trammell's Labia in Basic Instinct.

(*) John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig in Hedwigh and the Angry Inch

(*) Evan O'Neill in Once. Heart-stopping.

(*) Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. Underrated and forgotten in the wake of her career nose dive.

(*) Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

(*) Jeff Bridges in Stick It. Just kidding. Sorta.

Goose said...

You missed my point about Tyler Durden. I'm not using box office draw as a gauge, I'm saying if not a lot of people even saw the character, then he doesn't even have a chance to be memorable in the first place. Being considered cool on the internet does not equal 100 most memorable movie characters.

As for James Bond, the reason you think he's repetitive is the amount of characters he has influenced over the years. I would argue that every action hero on the list has been influenced by Bond. Hey, I didn't make the rules. He's a top 5 character regardless of what you think about him. Globally, I'd be willing to bet he's more well known than anyone on the list. I'd say that counts as being somewhat memorable. Sure, he's been in over 20 movies but there's a reason the character has longevity. People like him.

The internet isn't the be-all end-all of movies, which sadly this list seems to think.

Cline said...

I think a lot of people have seen the Durden character via DVD & TV in disproportionate #s compared to it's theatrical release. I couldn't find any kind of definitive top-selling DVD list, but I'd be willing to bet Fight Club is in the Top 10 of most-watched/rented/purchased movies of the last 10 years (or however long it's been available).

And it speaks again to the lack of criteria. Is it "most memorable to the masses" or "most memorable to film buffs" or "most memorable to people 20 years from now".

Unless you want to argue that the McClanes of the action movie world are a direct rebellion against the glamrous super-spy Bond, I don't see how Bond influenced them. If you do want to argue that, then fine.

Goose said...

Because there is no criteria, you can only go with what they give you. Top 100 Movie Characters. Tyler Durden might make the top 100 on a normal list. At least that's a better argument than whether he should be 1. I found a website that ranked the sales at 51 all time. I'm not sure whose argument that supports.

Of all the criteria you listed, Durden still isn't #1.

I disagree with your statement that Bond isn't an interesting character either. I agree some of the Bond movies simply play for action and ridiculous stunts, but others go much deeper into the Bond mythos and explain why he's the type of person he is. Especially these most recent films with Daniel Craig, but I'd also argue that On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which isn't always remembered since it starred Lazenby as Bond, was a huge turning point in the series, as it is when Bond gets married. I won't spoil it if people haven't seen it, but it not only gives SPECTRE (Bond's nemesis) more depth, it gives Bond more humanity.

And yes, I would argue that McClane is spawned (however indirectly) from Bond. If you don't think the one man against insurmountable odds doesn't owe at least a little to Bond, then I ask you where you think it comes from. McClane is way more Bond than you're giving him credit for.

hendge said...

It's a truly absurd list overall. There are some valid selections that are placed horribly -- but that's a matter of the context and the criteria and because the former is awful and the latter is nonexistent, they are overshadowed. Like everyone else, I immediately had some names pop into my head, then discovered that they were glaring omissions. I'll reserve those names for now until I see your Top 100.

Anonymous said...

So they really didn't list any criterea anywhere? We spent most of Friday night shouting out characters and Goose saying, "nope." Pretty shameful. I'll give a nod toEvan Oneil in "Once" but just cause I know him. Though the list should have more female characters, goose is wrong on knock Amelie. I should have stopped reading at "Wall-E," though.

Goose said...

My argument with Amelie is more abous us as Americans thinking we know better. The enormous crime with the list is that there are 2 foreign film performances - Amelie and Chun Yow Fat. Now, I in no way feel I have any right to judge foreign film performances, as I have seen but a tiny fraction of foreign cinema; what this list is suggesting is that those two performances (tatou and chun yow fat) are the best of what foreign film has to offer. I don't believe that. Tatou might have been a great performance, but according to this list, it is the second greatest foreign film performance in the history of film. I can't in good conscience agree with that.

Unknown said...

Amelie's a good pick
Where are Bob and Doug McKenzie, and Wesley from the Princess Bride, Mrs. Robinson.

I guess I'm most mad with characters that have NO REASON to be on this list (regardless of their placement):
Buzz Lightyear
Martin Q Blank
Jessica Rabbit
Marv - from Sin City?
Tony Stark - Iron Man
Jigsaw - Saw

It's as if people filled out a list of the 100 best characters and instead of saying " well, I only have 20 here, I should probably stop because I don't want to water down the list with crazy suggestions," - they decided to fill in the rest with crazy suggestions.

I don't agree with Evan O'Neill from - "Once," but I do like Evan O'Neill from "System to Get Down." (I couldn't remember the name of that one - I had to look it up.)

This list...

One Premier released, seems to be better thought-out.

Anonymous said...

Where the heck is Sasha Baron Cohen as Borat? People still do impressions of him. Verrrry Nice!

Anonymous said...

The writer of this article is a fag.

Goose said...



Cline said...

To be more precise, Goose is actually a turbo bottom.