EW 100 Greatest Characters of Last 20 Years


Entertainment Weekly, to which I have a subscription and sometimes actually read, has one of THOSE lists. Naturally, they’re subjective, but I’m assuming they are supposed to capture not just popularity but the zeitgeist of the characters mentioned.

For some reason, I feel compelled to comment. Feel free to suggest who you would move up or down, or add or remove from the list. My comment of “yes” means that it’s placed more or less correctly on the list.

1. Homer Simpson – The Simpsons. The word d’oh has made it into the dictionary. Interesting how the program went from being Bart’s show to Homer’s. Homer has engendered theological discussion.
2. Harry Potter – seven books, the last five or six of which got people to stay up past midnight to pick up. Plus six films (and counting) plus a theme park. Arguably, could be #1.
3. Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Phenom, yet I think it’s a little high; maybe top 20.
4. Tony Soprano – The Sopranos. Never saw but four minutes of this, yet there was no arguing about the significance of the DEEPLY flawed character.
5. The Joker – The Dark Knight. Great performance and tragic ending, but can’t help but wonder if people will still be talking about it in 10 years.
6. Rachel Green – Friends. If for the hairdo alone.
7. Edward Scissorhands. I liked this movie, but I think it’s too high on the list.
8. Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs. Couldn’t get through the movie, yet I can quote dialogue from it. Definitely worthy of its placement.
9. Carrie Bradshaw – Sex and the City. Even if you hate the series, and apparently the second movie is cringe-inducing, significant.
10. Spongebob Squarepants – lots of adults actually watch this, including some that i know. Yes.

11. Cosmo Kramer – Seinfeld. Yes.
12. Fox Mulder & Dana Scully – The X-Files. Yes.
13. Jack Sparrow – Pirates of the Caribbean. Saw the first movie. More worthy choice of a Johnny Depp role that #7.
14. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski – The Big Lebowski. Possibly should be in the Top 10.
15. Shrek – Sure.
16. Bridget Jones – It WAS a phenom for a time, wasn’t it?
17. Lara Croft – not my cuppa, but seems rightly placed on the list.
18. Sue Sylvester – Glee. I LOVE this character. Still, I think it’s an awfully high ranking for a show with such a short history, compared to other choices.
19. Morpheus – The Matrix. Sure.
20. Ally McBeal – made the cover of TIME magazine re: the death of feminism, which wasn’t the message of the show, I don’t think. Worthy choice.

21. Rosanne Conner – she became the epitome of some blue-collar ethos. Yes.
22. Cartman – South Park. Guess so.
23. Austin Powers – shagalicious; is that still a word? (Was it ever?) Yes.
24. Felicity Porter – I know her getting a haircut was apparently a national tragedy, but this feels too high.
25. Woody – Toy Story. wouldn’t have thought of him, but yes.
26. Kavalier & Clay – comic book novel done right, but did it have a larger reach? Seems high.
27. Frasier Crane – as the epitome of a smart person lacking self-awareness, yes.
28. Madea – Tyler Perry’s creation is more popular than some folks might think; yes.
29. Vincent Vega & Jules Winnfield – Pulp Fiction. Yes, the smart dialogue reached well beyond those who actually saw the movie, which spawned countless imitators.
30. Stephen Colbert – The Colbert Report. Yes, though it wouldn’t have occurred to me to include.

31. Forrest Gump -Yes, you can quote lines from this movie, even if you didn’t particularly like it.
32. Bevis and Butt-Head -Yes, I’m afraid so.
33. Sarah Connor – Terminator 2 – Yes.
34. Cher – Clueless. saw the movie, recall enjoying the movie, but seems a bit high.
35. Dexter Morgan – Dexter. Haven’t seen one minute of this, yet I know a great deal about it. Maybe a little high.
36. Gollum – Lord of the Rings. Yes, that technological magic.
37. Kyser Söze – The Usual Suspects. Had its day in the sun, but too high on the list.
38. Elmo – Sesame Street. WAY too low. This is the go-to Muppet. If you’ve watched Sesame Street, he has his own segment. Toys with his likeness became difficult to find.
39. GOB Bluth – Arrested Development. Great character, and the actor is great on 30 Rock, but I think, most people wouldn’t know the name. Too high.
40. Ron Burgundy – Anchorman. Yes, though I never saw the film.

41. Harold and Kumar -Yes.
42. Sydney Bristow – Alias – Yes.
43. Cal Stephanides – Middlesex – Can’t say; don’t know it at all. Which, by definition, means too high.
44. Jack Bauer – 24. WAY too low. As much as I grew to dislike the character, “Jack Bauer” became code word for a certain tough, take no prisoners, do what you have to do attitude. Should be Top 10.

45. Stewie Griffin – Family Guy. Just caught a bit of Family Guy; remember why so many hate it. Yes.
46. Jerry Maguire – has a couple catchphrases said TO him, involving money and hello; too low.
47. Corky St. Clair – Waiting for Guffman. I love this movie, but I doubt its impact in the broader market. Too high.
48. Red – The Shawshank Redemption. Yes, from a movie with so-so box office, it’s done extremely well as a rental.
49. Vivian Ward – Pretty Woman. Had all sorts of sociological conversations about the Cinderella aspect of the story. Made Julia Roberts’ career. Yes.
50. Pearl the Landlord – Funny or Die video. Do people who aren’t online even know what this is? The first one I saw was funny, though it lost its enjoyment. Too high.

51. Omar Little – The Wire. the show as a whole is influential beyond its viewership. But do people know the individual characters? Too high.
52. Annie Wilkes – Misery. Yes. Saw this.
53. Edward Cullen – Twilight. As much as I’m REALLY NOT interested, this may be a bit too low, considering the phenomenon.
54. Juno – Yes. briefly was the source of debate about abortion, choice and how to deal with teen pregnancy.
55. Tracy Jordan – 30 Rock. Hmm. I would have picked Liz or even Jack from the show. Maybe a little high.
56. Barney Stinson – How I Met Your Mother -Yes, and it’s done wonders for Neil Patrick Harris’ career to boot.
57. Clayton Bigsby (blind white supremacist) – Chappelle’s Show. Was this watercooler conversation? Feels a little high.
58. Thelma & Louise – THE female buddy movie. The ending was greatly debated. Yes.
59. Master Chief – Halo. I’m the wrong demographic, but seems high.
60. Mary Jones – Precious. with the book, and the movie, yes or a little high.

61. Vic Mackey – The Shield. Yes. the epitome of the conflicted cop.
62. Jimmy Corrigan – Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Yes.
63. John Locke – Lost. Yes, or maybe it’s a little low.
64. Maximus – Gladiator. Yes.
65. Lorelai & Rory Gilmore – Gilmore Girls. Yes. I watched every episode.

66. Allie & Noah – The Notebook. Yes, I guess.
67. Borat – Yes, or maybe a little low. Generated a national controversy about taste and honesty. Did not see myself either film.
68. (Jennifer Hudson’s) Effie White – Dreamgirls. Yes. The debate here was whether it was appropriate to applaud in the movie theater after her big number, given the fact that the performer couldn’t hear it. (I say, “Why not?” If you can laugh at a comedy, or cry at a melodramatic moment…)
69. Miranda Priestly – The Devil Wears Prada. Yes.
70. Mary Katherine Gallagher – SNL, Superstar. REALLY? Seems high.

71. Det. Alonzo Harris – Training Day. You do know Denzel really got his Oscar for his other roles. Seems high.
72. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace – Battlestar Galactica. Yes.
73. Catherine Tramell – Basic Instinct. Oh, yes, if only for the interrogation scene and the dearth of vital apparel.
74. Don Draper – Mad Men. Yes, even though I’ve never seen it, the show has generated conversation about truth in advertising, women’s roles, and smoking. This character’s confused identity is a plus.
75. David Brent – The Office. Yes, without whom there would be no Michael Scott or other Office managers around the globe.
76. Tyler Durden – Fight Club. Yes.
77. Mimi Marquez – Rent. Yes, a moving musical.
78. Patty Hewes – Damages. Glenn Close’s award-winning performances. The reach is greater than the ratings. Yes.
79. Elphaba – Wicked. in both book and musical, it’s about seeing things from someone else’s POV. Yes.
80. Gorillaz, the world’s greatest virtual band (supplanting The Archies?) Yes.

81. Amanda Woodward – Melrose Place. No fan of the show, even I know this is Heather Locklear’s character. Yes.
82. Tracy Flick – Election. Great movie, but do people know this character?
83. Jen Yu – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes.
84. House – Yes to Doctor Grumpy.
85. Daniel Plainview – There Will Be Blood. Great performance, but will people still be talking about this movie?
86. Karen Walker & Jack McFarland – Will & Grace – Yes.
87. Tony Stark – Iron Man. Yes.
88. Napoleon Dynamite. Having never seen this, nevertheless think this is too low; gets mentioned often.
89. Wilkus van de Merwe – District 9. Saw this. Time will tell if this is too high or low.
90. Marge Gunderson – Fargo. Ah yup. I mean yes.

91. Hancock – REALLY? It was a popular movie, but will anyone care later? If I wanted a Will Smith role, I’d pick the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, or with Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black.
92. Christopher Boone – The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time – don’t know enough about it.
93. “Game Boys”: Nathan Drake – Uncharted, Kratos – God of War, Niko Bellic – Grand Theft Auto IV – certainly GTA has a huge sociological significance. Don’t know the particular players.
94. Truman – The Truman Show. YES. What’s real? Seems to presage the glut of reality TV we are exposed to.

95. Wilhelmina Slater – Ugly Betty. Yes to Vanessa Williams’ role.
96. Bernie Mac – The Bernie Mac Show. Yes
97. Violet Weston – August: Osage County. From a Broadway play that’s now touring, don’t know enough about this character.
98. Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Don’t know.
99. The Bride – Kill Bill. Yes. Totally NOT interested in seeing this, yet I know all about it.
100. Tim Riggins – Friday Night Lights. Yes. Probably a show I should watch.

0 thoughts on “EW 100 Greatest Characters of Last 20 Years”

  1. Actually, I don’t agree with most of the choices in the top 10. Harry Potter, OK. Jack Sparrow above Edward Scissorhands, for sure. Shrek. Forrest Gump. Why Morpheus and not Neo? Elmo, Barney!

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  2. okay, there’s definitely a lot of Yes, No and What were they thinking?! ^0^
    for you to point out every detail of it,. wow!
    to pick a few of my faves: Frasier, Friends, Sex n d city sans the movie, Damages, G.Girls, Juno and Usual suspects. ^0^

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  3. What I found most interesting was that 52 of the characters I had never even heard of, and maybe another 20 I had ONLY heard of but had never seen or heard more of. I guess I’m not too interested in pop culture, especially television; but then, I haven’t watched more than four hours a week of television in, oh, decades.

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  4. This list is a mess, frankly. I’m a bit more cognizant about pop culture than most of the people I know, so I was familiar with almost every character, but about half really seemed like they were reaching. As they don’t really have criteria, I have no idea why they chose certain ones. I mean, they point out that Edward Scissorhands broke Depp out of his “21 Jump Street” persona, so it’s important for him and, I suppose, movies in general (as he’s far more interesting an actor for it), but how great was the character, really? Important? Maybe, but great? They don’t really discuss whether they’re picking these characters for their pop culture importance or whether the performances were great or if the characters themselves have enduring brilliance. And then there’s stuff like Heath Ledger, who’s playing a character far, far older than the past 20 years and riffing on portrayals much older than 20 years old. It’s a great performance, but he didn’t create it from nothing. He used a template that is at least 25 years old, and you can go back to the Joker’s first appearance in 1940 to find traces of it.

    Sorry for the rant. I love lists!

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  5. I disagree with much of this list as well. I think with Buffy being third it showed right off the bat that this was going to be drastically bad. And I agree with those saying that Edward Scissorhands over Jack Sparrow is just crazy. At least his first performance as Capt. Jack got him an Oscar nomination.

    I was surprised by the characters included that were from books only (#26, #43, #92, and #98). I don’t think any of them other then Lisbeth Salander will really have a lasting impression on the general public. And the reason Lisbeth will is because she’s part of a series of books and being more crime fiction then anything are more accessible to the general public.

    Even with that said, all four books are very good. “Middlesex” is the one that has the greatest hold on my because of the unique nature of Cal, and that the story was set mostly set in Detroit.

    I plan on posting about these four soon. (Probably like tomorrow.)

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  6. Pingback: Characters
  7. To tell the truth, I’am voiceless. The Shawshank Redemption is marvelous. I’am quite young movie fan, actually, this film came out whenI was very young, and thus I’am to a greater extent used to films with fabulous special effects, edge-of-your-seat action, et cetera. This film has no of that, and nevertheless, it appeals so closely to me . The way Frank Darabont uses the story of Red to drive on the tale, the excellent the soundtrack used (note the mouth harp used just before Red finding the letter at the end). The entire movie, from starting to finish, from actions to sound, is a beacon of desire, judgment, and repurchase. The cast is pure, Morgan Freeman(Red) really brings about a fresh feel to the tale, and that is exactly what the film is, what a film should be. Highly recommended for each and everyone.

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