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Jan 11, 2008

The 20 Best Movie Characters of the Last 20 Years (part II)

(Editor's note: Part I ran Wednesday. It can be found here. Below is a quick recap of the first 10, followed by the second half.)

Character: Tyler Durden
Film: Fight Club
Year Released: 1999

Character: Wolverine
Films: X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand
Year Released: 2000, 2003, 2006

Character: Trent Walker
Film: Swingers
Year Released: 1996

Character: The Joker
Film: Batman
Year Released: 1989

Character: Napoleon Dynamite
Film: Napoleon Dynamite
Year Released: 2004

Character: Darth Maul
Film: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Year Released: 1999

Character: Silent Bob
Films: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II
Years Released: 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2006

Character: Forrest Gump
Film: Forrest Gump
Year Released: 1994

Character: Tracy Flick
Film: Election
Year Released: 1999

Character: Anton Chigurh
Film: No Country for Old Men
Year Released: 2007

Character: Doc Holliday
Film: Tombstone
Year Released: 1993
Chief traits: Loyalty, Perseverance
Trademark line: "I'm your Huckleberry..."
Additional comments: If you read just the script, you might think that Doc Holliday was some sort of a pansy. He starts nearly every sentence with "Why [Wyatt or whomever]!" and often says "You're a daisy!" (or the alternate "You're no daisy!"). But this is all part of what makes him one of the most interesting characters (especially for a Western) in all of film - as portrayed, he was smarter and deadlier than most any around him.

Character: Captain Jack Sparrow
Films: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Years Released: 2003, 2006, 2007
Chief traits: Mischievous, Lucky
Trademark line: "Savvy?"
Additional comments: Part of what made the first Pirates movie special is how out-of-nowhere it was. How high could the expectations have been for a flick inspired by, of all things, a theme park ride, when even video games (presumably a better source material) can't even be turned into quality films? So imagine everyone's surprise when not only is the film great, but Johnny Depp (of all people) stars and turns in one of the best performances of his career, full of quirks and winks to the audience? One for the ages (though the shtick got old in the sequels - too much of a good thing and all...).

Character: Gollum/Smeagol
Films: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Years Released: 2002, 2003
Chief traits: One-track mind, Schizophrenic (or MPD, I'm not sure)
Trademark line: "My precious."
Additional comments: Before you LOTR nerds tell me that Gollum was in the first film, I know - but it was only for a few seconds and he never spoke, so that hardly counts. However, the little CGI guy was probably the most compelling (and sympathetic) character on screen for the second and third films, with his puppeteer Andy Serkis playing him (in a way) as 3 different characters (the split personality Gollum/Smeagol and as the real-life Smeagol that is shown in the intro for ROTK. The back-and-forth internal battles (Smeagol: Master is our friend! Gollum: You don't have any friends; nobody likes you!) would probably be sufficient on their own for entry here - they're that good.

Character: Max Fischer
Film: Rushmore
Year Released: 1996
Chief traits: Involved, In Love
Trademark line: "The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then... do it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore."
Additional comments: One of the best written characters of all time, Max Fischer is not your typical high schooler ("Maybe I'm spending too much of my time starting up clubs and putting on plays. I should probably be trying harder to score chicks."). He's brilliant, involved, and loves his school so much that he neglects to, you know, study and get good grades, prompting his expulsion. He then decides to work in his father's shop as a barber. Oh, and he's in love with a Rushmore teacher (as is his millionaire friend) who lost a husband. A classic character and film.

Character: Hannibal Lecter
Film: The Silence of the Lambs
Year Released: 1991
Chief traits: Brilliant, Hungry
Trademark line: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."
Additional comments: From a review by Stephen Greydanus of Decent Films Guide: "Lecter fascinates us because he embodies qualities that we associate with civilized, reasonable existence, yet he is murderously sociopathic. In our therapeutic age, he’s a shocking reminder that, beyond all psychobabble about "behavior modification" and the like, there remains the sheer reality of good and evil. The doctor is in: God help us all."

Character: Bill Lumbergh
Film: Office Space
Year Released: 1999
Chief traits: "All that is soulless and wrong," Humorless
Trademark line: "Yeaaahhhh..."
Additional comments: Of all the characters on this list, Lumbergh might be the least drawn out, but that doesn't make him any less memorable. As played by the vastly underrated veteran character actor Gary Cole (The Brady Bunch movies, Talladega Nights), Lumbergh is basically the boss from hell - incompetent, insensitive and highly paid.

Character: Jules Winfield
Film: Pulp Fiction
Year Released: 1994
Chief traits: Audible, Spiritual
Trademark line: "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."
Additional comments: Jules was a study of opposites. A killer on one hand, a bible-verse-quoting spiritual man on the other. Cool on one hand, wearing dorky surfer bum clothes on the other. The question is: was Jules the character that MADE Sam Jackson, or was it the other way around?

Character: Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski aka "Duder" aka "El Duderino" (if you're not into that whole brevity thing)
Film: The Big Lebowski
Year Released: 1996
Chief traits: Lazy, Unmotivated
Trademark line: "That rug really tied the room together."
Additional comments: F*ck it, Dude - let's go bowling. (Edited to add: it's also worth noting that about three more characters, at the least, could be considered for this list, especially Walter and "the" Jesus.)

Character: Ace Ventura
Film: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Ace Venture: When Nature Calls
Years Released: 1994, 1995
Chief traits: Animal lover, Odd
Trademark line: "Ree-hee-heeally?"
Additional comments: Though the second film was seen by most as, well, awful, the first caught Jim Carrey at the height of his powers, taking a truly bizarre character (a spazz, for lack of a better word) and not only making him hilarious, but likable as well. Shameless, ingenious, and more than willing to literally talk out of his ass, Ace is nothing if not memorable.

Character: Dr. Evil
Films: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers in: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin Powers in: Goldmember
Years Released: 1997, 1999, 2002
Chief traits: Eeeevil (Duh!), Defrosted
Trademark line: "I demand the sum... OF 1 MILLION DOLLARS."
Additional comments: Mike Myers took a totally unoriginal character (he is said to be a combination of Lorne Michaels and Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, amongst other Bond villains) and made him the standout star of the series, above even the titular Austin Powers (who was funny but essentially a one-note joke).

Finally, here are some honorable mentions, to those characters that juuuuust barely missed the cut:

* Amelie Poulain (Amelie)
* Austin Powers (the Austin Powers series)
* Don Logan (Sexy Beast)
* Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)
* Garth Algar ( the Wayne's World series)
* Karl Childers (Sling Blade)
* Keyser Soze/Verbal Kint (The Usual Suspects)
* Lester Burnham (American Beauty)
* Raoul Duke (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)
* Shrek (the Shrek series)

26 people have chosen wisely: on "The 20 Best Movie Characters of the Last 20 Years (part II)"

Jess said...

I can get behind those choices. It is a little remarkable about the lack of female characters, but it is a bit harder to find really memorable female characters that are in the same vein as these male characters.

Nick said...

Nice choices. I can't believe I forgot about Jules. Though I'm surprised Jigsaw/John from Saw didn't come close on the list. Intelligent yet twisted man, him. Though I supposed Hannibal Lecter took that position. Oh, or John Preston from Equilibrium... or McLovin!

Mrs Fletch said...

Hmphhhh! Ace Ventura before Amelie Poulain??

Anonymous said...

Glad to see Tracy Flick in there.

Great choice, and an incredible film.

Fletch said...

Mrs Fletch - I loooove Amelie, but the fact remains that Ace is probably more popular overall than she is, at least in North America.

Nick - the same could probably be said for Equilibrium. I don't hardly anyone has seen that. As for McLovin, he is great, but I'm doubting his staying power (see Stifler, Steve).

Matt said...

I'm behind your choices here as well. Mmmm, now I'm determined to think of some noteworthy female characters. I'll get back to you on this one.

soundtrackgeek said...

Great list! Jules has got to be the coolest character there is. Bill Lumbergh is great, and so is The Dude and Ace Ventura :)

Robb said...

More intelligence from Mrs. Fletch, I have to say her taste is growing on me. ::grin::

But Amelie aside, you've made a great list. Fun to remember back to some of these.

Sheamus the... said...

HA...wow man your part 2 is perfect. I can't believe it didnt think of Doc. He was amazing. I still quote his lines.

joen05 said...

Your movie knowledge far dwarfs mine.. great list! Maybe this one'll get picked up by IMDB too.

Robb said...

Hmm, what about Tilda Swinton in Narnia? Or is that more performance over character? Either way she was hands down the best thing about that movie.

NFL Adam said...

I was going to say that you missed Jamie Blake, but that character was outside of the 20-year win. And I can only assume (I'm not looking it up) that Gunny Highway from Heartbreak Ridge also falls outside that window because he would have to be included in this list.

WaywardJam said...

Phenomenal post my friend! I love all the choices, but am a little disappointed at the lack of female characters. Still, the Dude abides. I should have gotten off my duff and contributed pre-post, huh?

I also agree with mrs. fletch Amelie was a must - I could have seen dumping Wolverine. and dude, WTF?! John McClane?! He should make the twenty years cut right?

Matt: I was thinking I'm gonna have to do my own Top 20 women now, but I'll have to wait for the feeling to return to my fingers first!

Nick: Jigsaw and Preston - great contenders to be sure!

Robb: I enjoy Tilda Swinton but no way I'd include the White Witch as a great character. Gabriel from Constantine or even Crowder from Michael Clayton was far better, imo.

The first great female xter I can think or is the Marla to your Tyler - "I haven't been f'd like that since grade school."

Anonymous said...

Jack Nicholson's Joker?! He was basically just Jack Nicholson wandering into a Batman movie. And Dr. Evil stopped being funny about 5 minutes into the second one. Ace Ventura was hardly a great character, more just an excuse for Jim Carrey to show off his manic-comedy to audiences.

Elizabeth said...

On the topic of female characters, I notice two things. One, all the characters I recognize here have an extreme duality to their character. Their whole personality is about balancing two opposite tendencies. Jack Sparrow; roguishly carefree and irresponsible but also practical and desiring to be the good guy. Tyler Durdan; open and charismatic but aggressive and punishing. Gollum/Smeagol; duh. I can't think of many female characters who have that same duality (River Tam, for example, is complex but in a different way). Second, for most female characters I've liked, I've liked them for acting, not character, for execution and not concept (Natalie Portman as Evey from V for Vendetta).

Anonymous said...

Max Fischer ??!?

Where's Bill the Butcher?

Anonymous said...

Darth Maul and Wolverine???

I enjoyed the others but those two could be replaced.

Anonymous said...

hmm where is at least one of bill murray's characters? the man is comedic genius.
there's "bob wiley" in what about bob or as "bob harris" in lost in translation and the best "phil connors" in groundhog day! no one could have played those parts and make them memorable...

Anonymous said...

Interesting list... as it's been said you need some more female characters. What about Ripley from Aliens? Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth? The Bride from Kill Bill? If you are looking for duality those are some good choices.

And I completely agree John McClane needs to be on this list.

Anonymous said...

ooh the bride from kill bill. she is classic!

Anonymous said...

I was also taken aback by the lack of female characters here. At the very least, Clementine Kruczynski from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deserves a spot on the list.

Fletch said...

@ Elizabeth - I think you summed it up great: performance over concept. the great characters just aren't there.

@ To the anon who suggested Ripley - she would have made it, but this is just from the last twenty years, and the first film in the series came out long before then. This is why Indiana Jones it not to be found as well.

@ In general to those shocked at the lack of female characters, please see the full writeups for Part I of this post, where I expand on this lack of women in the Tracy Flick detail.

(Part I - http://blogcabins.blogspot.com/2008/01/20-best-movie-characters-of-last-20.html)

Anonymous said...

didn't think it could get much worse in the second list, but then it did.

Anonymous said...

I was a little bothered by what seemed more like the choices of male teenagers than of a true movie buff (Ace Ventura, Wolverine, Dr. Evil), but I was definitely shocked that Leonard Shelby from Memento didn't make this list.