Celluloid Heroes: Best Characters of the Decade

There are a lot of variables that go into making a successful movie – actors, writers, directors, producers, and all of the other overlooked crew members – but even if everything is done exactly right, it doesn’t mean anything without a good character. And at the end of the day, that’s what people remember the most when they leave the cineplex. As part of our look back at the movies of the 2000s, I present you with a list of the best characters of the decade. Obviously, some cuts had to be made (notable omissions include The Joker, Batman and Derek Zoolander), so feel free to comment on which of your favorite characters didn’t make the cut.

spiderman

10. Spider-Man

The web-slinger would probably make a list of best characters in any decade-end review of comic books, but this is the first time he can even be considered for a movie list. Thank Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” for that, because without its success, there’s a good chance we may have never seen Spider-Man jump to the big screen. Sam Raimi definitely deserves credit for adapting the character without all the cheese of the 60s TV series, but it’s Tobey Maguire’s strong performance that really brings the character to life. Although many claim the second film to be the best in the series, we think that all three have their own strengths and weaknesses. Sure, Peter Parker may lose some of his appeal when he goes all emo in “Spider-Man 3,” but seeing Spidey rock the black symbiote suit was just as cool as anything he did in the first two films.

Memorable Quote: “You know who I am. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

jigsaw

9. Jigsaw

Say what you will about the deteriorating quality of the “Saw” films: Jigsaw is right up there with Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger as one of the ultimate horror icons. What makes him so different from the others, though, is that he’s a fairly regular guy (when he dies, he really dies) who isn’t so much a villain as he is someone who goes to radical extremes to get his point across. Though his argument that he doesn’t ever kill anyone could be debated for eternity, Jigsaw is still a pretty badass dude. Not only is he one of the most inventive baddies to ever grace the silver screen, but the fact that he’s doing all of this while dying from cancer is beyond impressive. Tobin Bell may never be remembered for anything other than his work in these films, but his limited appearances are so memorable that we wouldn’t really mind.

Memorable Quote: “I want to play a game.”

wolverine

8. Wolverine

Though it’s difficult to think of anyone other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine, it certainly could have ended up that way. You can go ahead and thank the comic book gods for interfering, because if Dougray Scott hadn’t gotten hurt while shooting “Mission: Impossible 2,” “X-Men” fans might have seen a decidedly different take on their beloved adamantium-laced berserker. And since Wolverine has since become the mascot for those films (even earning a mediocre spin-off of his own) that also would have affected the movie as a whole, which might have stopped the whole comic book movie revolution before it even began. Just think about that the next time you see Jackman in his role as the wise-cracking, cigar-chomping mutant, because without his charismatic, star-making performance, this list would look a lot different.

Memorable Quote: “I’m gonna cut your goddamned head off. See if that works.”

napoleon_dynamite

7. Napoleon Dynamite

Undoubtedly the most controversial of my choices, I still stand by it for the simple fact that when “Napoleon Dynamite” fever caught in the summer of 2004, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t know about this curly-haired social reject from Idaho. That alone earns him a spot as one of the greatest characters of the decade, but it’s ultimately Jon Heder’s fantastically awkward performance that makes it official. Heder certainly made the most of his 15 minutes of fame by booking as many gigs as possible, but he never even came close to replicating the success he found as Napoleon Dynamite. Love him or hate him, Napoleon helped lead a geek chic film movement that has continued to grow to this day. Plus, you have to admit: even if you didn’t like the movie, you probably still laughed at Heder in that ridiculous getup.

Memorable Quote: “You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”

jack_sparrow

6. Capt. Jack Sparrow

They made three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies for a reason, and while money was certainly a big factor, Disney never would have made a dime if they hadn’t trusted Johnny Depp’s risky portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. Though you can understand why a studio would be hesitant about their lead actor parading around like a gay pirate doing a Keith Richards impression, it turned out to be the right call. Depp’s hilarious performance as the boozy Capt. Jack not only earned him his very first Oscar nomination, but it convinced Disney execs to completely redesign the classic “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme park attraction around the character. Many people in the industry thought it meant a pirate renaissance was just around the corner, but thankfully, no one followed through. And wisely so, because there’s no way you can top Jack Sparrow.

Memorable Quote: “Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly… stupid.”

frodo_baggins

5. Frodo Baggins

UK movie magazine Empire recently ran a similar feature on the best characters of the decade, and while I agree that Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” deserves to be represented in some form, I was surprised to see Aragorn selected instead of Frodo Baggins. Not only is Frodo the heart of the story, but he’s the reason there’s even a story to begin with. Anyone that accepted the role had to know they would forever be associated with the famous hobbit no matter what they did before or after, but Elijah Wood embraced the situation completely, and in doing so embodied everything that Frodo is supposed to stand for. He may not have any of the great lines or partake in many battle sequences, but Frodo will always be the face of “LOTR.”

Memorable Quote: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

jason_bourne

4. Jason Bourne

You could probably swap Jason Bourne for James Bond with little argument, but while Bond is certainly the more iconic of the two characters, Bourne had a much bigger influence on the decade, including Bond himself. Plus, it’s not like we don’t know what to expect with Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, but Matt Damon surprised moviegoers everywhere with his performance as Robert Ludlum’s title character. The actor had never even thrown a punch in a movie, much less carried an entire action film, and yet Bourne quickly rose to popularity as this generation’s action hero of choice. That’s not to discount the appeal of 007 (Bourne is neither charming nor has any of the fancy gadgets), but when you’re constantly on the run from trained assassins, there’s really no need for the former. As for the latter? Well, everyday household items seem to work just fine.

Memorable Quote: “Who has a safety deposit box full of money and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for an exit.”

harry_potter

3. Harry Potter

The Boy Who Lived was already a pop culture icon by the time the first movie was released, but in these past nine years, Harry Potter has become one of the most popular movie characters of all time. One of the reasons the character has continued to thrive is because J.K. Rowling did such a great job of giving the character room to develop throughout the course of all seven novels. That same approach has been taken with the movies as well, and while it certainly helps to have different directors offering their varied interpretations of the character, Harry Potter’s success has always hinged on the performance of the actor playing him. Though director Christopher Columbus could have never known that Daniel Radcliffe would grow into such a promising young actor, it certainly helps that he’s been able to handle the material. The same can be said of Harry’s partners in crime, but although Ron and Hermoine are just as deserving to be on this list, leaving off Harry would be like choosing Han Solo over Luke Skywalker. It might make sense, but it just wouldn’t feel right.

Memorable Quote: “But I am the Chosen One.”

the_bride

2. The Bride

After a six-year break from the film scene, Quentin Tarantino returned to the director’s chair in 2003 with a character so awesome and shrouded in mystery that she was simply referred to as The Bride. The brainchild of Tarantino and Uma Thurman during their time together making “Pulp Fiction,” The Bride was the kind of empowered female role that Joss Whedon only wishes he would’ve created. No offense to Buffy, but The Bride has better weapons (a Hatori Hanzo sword and a steeled determination) and better outfits (that “Game of Death”-inspired jumpsuit is practically an icon all its own) – not to mention Thurman’s unique blend of physical masculinity and sensual femininity that made her both a menacing threat and an alluring piece of eye candy.

Memorable Quote: “Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”

shaun

1. Shaun

Edgar Wright’s 2004 film, “Shaun of the Dead,” is a lot like Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy in that the movie doesn’t work without someone they can relate to cheer on. And although Shaun isn’t as big of a dimwit as Ash, he’s also not the brave leader that he tries so hard to become. Simon Pegg’s hilarious performance as the record-throwing, cricket bat-wielding hero might not compare to more mainstream icons like Harry Potter and Spider-Man, but it’s that Everyman quality that makes him so appealing. After all, who would have thought that hiding out at the local pub might actually work? And if he can take on an army of the undead with an unhelpful best friend at his side, then so can just about any slacker.

Memorable Quote: “Would anyone like a peanut?”

  

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