[The Social Opportunist] Top Ten – Movie Characters (Part #1)

Written by Phil May 29, 2012

What does it take to build the right character?

While watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film The Dictator earlier this week, I saw exactly what not to do when trying to develop an iconic movie character (which was something Cohen’s Aladeen definitely was not). Afterwards, I forced myself to think back on some of my favourite movies and tried to pull out my top ten movie characters of all time. Needless to say, this was definitely a difficult task that took a great deal of my time and effort. A movie’s characters are often more important than the movie itself. Without memorable characters, some of the best movies of all time could easily have been lost to the ages and there might not have even have been a purpose to this blog. Thankfully, that’s not the case! But with so many great characters out there to choose from, I needed to really think about the ones that stood out in my mind as “top ten” material. Remember, this list is just my opinion. There were so many amazing movie characters that I wanted to fit onto this list, but unfortunately, I was only able to choose ten.

Alas, here are numbers 10 through 6…

10. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) – The Shining

Jack Torrance (The Shining)

This character was basically defined by his repeated line “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” I can’t even remember if Jack actually said these words aloud in The Shining, but they were so indicative of his eventual descent into madness that they represent everything that was done right with this character. Jack Nicholson was very believable in this multi-faceted role, both as a tormented man trying to regain some semblance of normalcy to his family and as a man slowly losing his grip on reality and succumbing to the murderous whims of the ghosts around him. Jack Torrance is a character that has been used time and time again as a foundation for numerous movies and television shows that followed (think The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror circa 1994 – “The Shinning”) to represent the pinnacle of crazy, showing just how effective and memorable this character was.

9. Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective & Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

Ace Ventura (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

Jim Carrey seems to be having more misses than hits these days, making me miss Ace Ventura, his most iconic and hilarious character, even more than ever before. The pet detective gave us some of the most memorable lines in comedy (“Do NOT go in there!”) and still seems to make me laugh to this very day. Nowadays, Carrey’s portrayal would probably have been viewed as overdone and overly stupid. But the difference between this character and today’s most ridiculous characters (think Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno) was that Ace Ventura was actually funny! People are still keeled over laughing when they watch Ventura’s shenanighans in action and will repeat almost every line the character had, showing the longevity that Carrey was able to give the character. Jim Carrey’s career would be better served if he reflected on this character for a bit and used it as inspiration to create a movie that had as much appeal as Ace Ventura. One can only hope!

8. Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) – Juno 

Juno MacGuff (Juno)

Teen pregnancy is basically a joke to me at this point, with the likes of Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnantbasically controlling the airwaves on MTV. But never has the subject seemed less ridiculous and more endearing than when it was helmed by the amazing Ellen Page in her Oscar-nominated title role as Juno MacGuff. MacGuff is one of the most sarcastic, witty and hilarious characters in recent movie history. Page was able to dominate pretty much every scene with a dryness that couldn’t help but draw the audience in. But she was able to make the character even more than simply laughs; there was a deep, emotional side to Juno MacGuff that Page was able to showcase with utter perfection. It can’t be easy to play a strong woman, a sarcastic joker and a tormented soul all at once, but she was able to pull it off. Some people might say that this character glorified the subject of teen pregnancy (as I know director Diablo Cody was criticized for this), however I think Juno MacGuff was dramatic enough to show that it really wasn’t a desirable position to be in.

7. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) – Iron Man 1 & 2, The Avengers

Tony Stark (Iron Man)

Other than Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man was probably the most well-casted superhero in the entire genre. I can’t think of another person more well-suited to play a billionaire, playboy philanthropist than Downey, especially since I’m pretty sure that is just his normal persona. Both Iron Man movies would probably have been easily forgetful if it hadn’t been for Downey’s portrayal of Tony Stark. Even The Avengers, which was chalked full of great characters and amazing actors, would have suffered if it hadn’t been for Downey’s participation. Despite the fact that he was given only as much screen time as the other main characters, Stark was able to stand out with each and every line he spoke. It’s strange to think that a character with so many unlikeable qualities, such as arrogance and self-centeredness, could be so likable by pretty much everyone. I can’t wait to see Downey jump back into the role for Iron Man 3!

6. Gandalf (Ian McKellan) – Lord of the Rings I, II & III

Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

As much as I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series and the always-awesome Dumbledore, there really is no comparison to be made when talking about Gandalf from the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Portrayed by Sir Ian McKellan, Gandalf was a badass wizard who always had the perfect line for any situation and could take on some of the biggest and nastiest foes singlehandedly. There really isn’t a better example of a character that was able to appear so infallible and utterly inspiring. On the flip side of that coin, McKellan was also successful in showcasing the character’s doubts, misgivings and sometimes, weaknesses. This dual role might have been a hard one for normal actors, but, as we all know, McKellan is no ordinary thespian. The character’s wise demeanor and righteous strength make him one of the most memorable characters not only in the fantasy/science fiction genre, but in the entire history of movies. And the fact that we get to see him again in the upcoming prequel The Hobbit is the icing on the cake!

Come back soon for “Top Ten – Movie Characters (Part #2)” to see the top 5 choices or visit The Social Opportunist!

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