Indiana Jones. Hannibal Lecter. Seinfeld. Rocky Balboa. Walter White. These memorable characters are dynamic, puzzling, funny, terrifying, and inspiring by turn. Audiences crave characters that transport them to new worlds. They want characters who offer a vicarious thrill ride through lives they’ll never lead themselves – that’s part of the joy of movies.
Memorable characters are essential to good storytelling, so let’s take a look at a few crowd favorites that keep audiences coming back for more:
No. 1 — The Underdog
There are few variations on a hero as popular as the underdog. Watching a hero struggle to overcome nearly insurmountable odds is one of the purest narrative pleasures ever conceived. Absolutely everyone loves an underdog.
One of the most famous underdogs appears in Rocky (1976). This classic movie tells the story of a small-time boxer who is determined to make it. In the most famous sequence from the film, Rocky races up the steps in Philadelphia to a soundtrack that has become synonymous with overcoming the odds.
No. 2 — The Obsessive
Audiences love obsessed characters. They are gritty, goal-oriented, indomitable — and fun to watch. Their passionate energy magnetizes everyone around them, including the audience. Take one of the most haunting portraits of raw ambition ever committed to film: cult favorite Scarface (1983).
Scarface tells the story of Tony (Al Pacino), who is consumed with the desire to make it as a drug kingpin. Audiences are still electrified by watching Tony rise and fall, all the way to end when Tony grabs his M16 and utters his famous lines: “Say hello to my little friend.” Tony is shot more than a dozen times, his life ending in unforgettable bloody blaze.
No. 3 — The Naif
Everyone was young once. We were all naïve. Some of us still are — which is part of the enduring popularity of this character: we’ve all been there. Watching someone lose their innocence is painful and terrible and poignant and relatable, a recipe for a pretty great character.
Titanic (1997) shattered box office records when it hit the silver screen. The story follows Rose (Kate Winslet), a young ingenue who falls in love with a grifter (Leonardo DiCaprio) just before the ship famously sinks. She begins as a confused girl and ends a woman who knows who and what she wants. It’s an extraordinary coming-of-age tale and its character are some of the most beloved ever committed to film.
No. 4 — The Smart Aleck
We all love laughing, but we especially love a smart aleck. Consistently listed as one of the best shows ever to appear on television, Seinfeld featured a number of extraordinarily memorable characters. In fact, the show billed itself as being “about nothing” – the show was focused almost solely on the lives of its hilarious characters. And it all revolved around Seinfeld – a smart aleck.
No. 5 –The Adventurer
Very few of us would venture into a booby-trapped cave crawling with tarantulas to get a priceless ancient gold figurehead. But that’s exactly why Indiana Jones is such a compelling character: because we would never do the things he does. Audiences get a chance to live vicariously through adventurous characters. He’s handsome and interesting and brave and funny and all the things we all wish we were or wish we could find in a dreamy love partner. Indiana Jones is the consummate adventurer and one of the most memorable characters that has ever appeared on the silver screen.
No. 6 — The Avenger
Most of us have been wronged by someone. Most of us have imagined elaborate revenges that involve machetes and cleansing fire. (Well, at least some of us have.) Watching characters avenge grievous injustices is deeply cathartic for anyone who has ever been wronged. It’s a vicarious thrill ride.
One of the most popular revenge films centers on a dead dog and retiree. This doesn’t sound like a recipe for a captivating character, but John Wick (2014) makes it work. When Russian thugs steal his Mustang and kill his dog, John Wick comes out of retirement as a master assassin to kill everyone who had a hand in murdering the beloved canine. Is there any better reason for revenge?
These spellbinding types of characters enrapture audiences. Audiences remember them forever – and love them because of it.
What are your favorite types of movie characters? Why do you love them? Sound off below!