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The 20 Most Influential Characters In Movie History

22 October 2013 | Features, Other Lists | by David Zou

influential movie characters

There are so many great movies populated by wonderfully unforgettable characters, it is quite hard to create a list of Top 100 Characters, let alone a Top 20.

Empire Magazine did a related list a few years ago though without any rules, and that’s where that list differs from my own choice of characters. Influential characters are not just memorable, but are also original, they are the prototypes of similar characters. Thanks to them, without them the movie world wouldn’t be so colorful and the movie characters wouldn’t be so human and complex today.


20. Darth Vader (Star Wars)


Impact: Be honest, if there anybody under the age of 40 who hasn’t tried to imitate Vader’s respirator rasp?

For once, here was a movie where it was the villain, rather than wet hero Luke Skywalker, who became the one to copy.

Influence: Vader raised the stakes for sci-fi bad-asses, both in the visceral presence of that fetish-gear shock troop clobber and George Lucas’ unprecedented decision to have the whole story revolve around him.

It’s possibly this confusion that led Dick Cheney to admit he was the Darth Vader of American politics, and actually be proud of the fact.

If He Hadn’t Existed: Dave Prowse would still have the Green Cross Code man royalties.


19. Gollum (The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers)


Impact: In George Lucas’ imagination, it should be Jar Jar Binks on this list. But that all-CG creation’s impact proved a negative one, earning fanboy scorn and showing up the difficulties inherent in mixing live action celluloid with animated characters.

Peter Jackson, aided by WETA’s FX bods, went one better by filming the actor – Andy Serkis – in character (albeit dressed in a big mo-cap suit covered in balls) and using his movements and nuances to make Gollum an integral part of the on-screen action.

Influence: Mo-cap is now the industry standard means of creating CG characters at the top end of Hollywood, with Robert Zemeckis making it second nature.

James Cameron refined the technology to new depths of visual subtlety in Avatar, but it’s Serkis and Jackson who remain the go-to guy for breathing life into characters, with their King Kong improving upon Gollum.

If He’d Never Existed: The Jar Jar backlash would probably have led to Hollywood using hand puppets.


18. Jim Stark (Rebel Without A Cause)


Impact: Brando beat James Dean out of the gates in the teen rebel stakes, but The Wild One proved too uncouth to make an impact beyond the initial scandal.

Dean, in Stark contrast, sweetened the outrage to define the American teen as misunderstood and melancholy – an air of vulnerability that Dean’s own death only enhanced.

Influence: The default setting for screen teens ever since. Paul Newman and Steve McQueen took on the mantle left by Dean, while Robert Pattinson’s bequiffed vampire Edward Cullen is the latest to borrow Jim Stark’s proto-emo angst.

If He’d Never Existed: We’d be nicer to our parents.


17. Wolverine (X-Men)


Impact: Along with fellow Aussie Russell Crowe’s Maximus Decimus Meridius, Hugh Jackman’s admantium-clawed mutant ushered in a new breed of man’s man to kick 90s irony into touch.

The film’s impressive box office take, against a relatively small budget for a blockbuster, proved that taking things seriously would work.

Influence: Comic book heroes, so often prone to camp on screen, showed their true, multi-faceted, colours with psychological frailties and convincing characterisation.

Jackman himself made a star, but more importantly proved that unexpected casting would work. Next stop: Christian Bale as Batman and RDJ as Iron Man.

If He’d Never Existed: Half the blockbusters currently in production would be gone, replaced with spin-offs of old TV shows.

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  • Aravindh Sachidanandam

    Where is Travis bickle?

  • pollitttyler

    Charles Foster Kane???