As you learn more and more about the movies in America, a few faces stand synonymous with the silver screen. Darth Vader, James Bond, Dorothy Gale, Dirty Harry- there are countless others I could name, but that’s not the point of this post. What are the new screen icons, the characters that will join the ranks of those immortal celluloid figures 50 years down the road? Here are my choices for 10 movie characters who burned their towering images into the silver screen.
1. Gollum- I choose this endearing figure from the Lord of the Rings trilogy not only because of the beguiling performance of Andy Serkis, but because Gollum also marks a transition in filmmaking. If this is the digital age, it’s only because Serkis and Peter Jackson proved you could do it without sacrificing emotional intensity or credibility. When Gollum talks to himself as his alter ego Smeagle, you believe in the new power of special effects.
2. The Bride- The blood-splattered angel of Quentin Tarantino’s gory genre exploitations is portrayed by Uma Thurman with both the suave of a genuine action star and the grit of a truly great actress. The yellow jumpsuit-wearing, samurai sword-wielding incarnation will remain in movie watchers’ minds for years to come.
3. Jack Sparrow- Though the Pirates of the Caribbean films never really got the gold treatment, Johnny Depp sure gave it to Captain Jack Sparrow. This is just one of many characters to defy blockbuster standards, to show that maybe characters of complexity could exist in a movie with a big budget.
4. The Joker- Speaking of character complexity in a big-budget film, try this one out for size. Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime is regarded as many, me included, as the definitive version of not only the character, but the representation of evil and madness in a modern film.
5. Juno MacGuff- If ever there was an indie icon, it’d be this sassy pregnant teenager from the smart-tongued Diablo Cody. No matter how you feel about the film, you cannot deny the influence Ellen Page’s snarky character had. It helped redefine a woman’s role in the movies much as Diane Keaton did in Annie Hall. You can thank her later, after she gets off her hamburger phone.
6. Borat Sagdiyev- When comedian Sacha Baron Cohen brought his jaw-dropping satire to the United States in the form of this witless Kazakh reporter, nobody really knew how to handle it. He dismantled American ignorance with his own brilliant, controlled form of it. The grinning mug with the 70’s porn mustache will live in the comedy hall of fame forever.
7. Shrek- Who would’ve thought that the most iconic animated character of the new age of movies would come from someone other than Pixar. Though no one can beat them in quality, Dreamworks managed to create a whole slew of memorable characters in the original Shrek, but none endured more than the title character. Mike Myers found a way to revitalize his career by toning down the dumb and amping up the charm. Is he the best animated character? Not by a long shot, but everyone has seen the movie, and everyone recognizes him.
8. Maximus- One of Ridley Scott’s greatest triumphs as a director is in this intriguing revenge fantasy set in Ancient Rome. Russell Crowe plays Maximus, seeking revenge against the grotesque Caesar who usurped power, murdered his family, and sold him into slavery. Crowe acheives screen immortality because he, like The Bride, melds perfectly action star screen presence and fantastic dramatic acting.
9. Dory- If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, you incorporate “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,” into your daily life. Hell, even if you haven’t you may still. Ellen Degeneres voices this short-term-memory-loss-ridden fish with such charm and life that it comes alive more than any other Pixar character. Dory, more so than her other Pixar contemporaries, gave Disney a new way to make money as well as satisfy the idea that animation can indeed be an art form.
10. Harry Potter- Sure, J.K. Rowling’s immortal boy wizard will be in literary canon until the end of time, but few fictional characters can become as iconic in both books and movies. Daniel Radcliffe has grown up playing Harry, and he now knows how the character moves and breathes. His Potter will be etched into movie history for a long time, whether you like it or not.