Sam Sewell-Peterson’s 5 More of the Best Character Introductions in Movie History

3. Toothless

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How To Train Toothless

How do you give a silent character a voice? How do you make what is essentially an animal seem like it thinks and feels just like us? It’s all in the eyes; specifically how they, in conjunction with the rest of the creature’s physical features, are animated to respond with western animation’s trademark exaggerated emotion. Everyone who has ever owned a feisty cat or dog can relate to this sequence; the one in which How to Train Your Dragon hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) meets his dragon for the first time.

Hiccup is a great thinker and inventor but a terrible Viking. The son of a great warrior-chieftain (Gerard Butler) and a confusion to his father at best, a shame to him at worst, Hiccup gets a lucky shot when dragons attack his village and he manages to bring down a much-feared, legendary Night Fury. After tracking the dragon to where it crash landed, Hiccup observes and finds it crippled by damage to its tail and unable to fly unaided, so he decides to offer it an olive branch, or at least an olive… fish. We bond with this creature straight away just as Hiccup does – to see any animal suffer and not able to do what it was born to do is heartbreaking. Just like any skittish animal that has learned to be wary of humans, “Toothless” (as he will come to be known) cautiously accepts Hiccup’s proffered fish and encourages him to take a bite of the half he regurgitates into the boy’s lap. The dragon’s expressions are like a playful cat and, like a cat, he can be temperamental and change his mind on a dime. It’s their relationship that is given a strong a meaningful foundation from this scene; a relationship built on trust, on give and take.

This very scene kicks off a journey for Toothless and Hiccup, a journey to build trust and understanding, much as the audience is grappling with the same regarding this admittedly cute, but completely and utterly deadly, flying reptile. Hiccup’s fellow Vikings fear dragons for a good reason, but this scene gets us on the side of Hiccup and Toothless from the off – they’ll have a mountain to climb to convince everyone to give peace with dragons a chance, but the natural connection between boy and beast from their first meeting makes it all seem like an effort worth making.

Recommended for you: Every Dreamworks Animation Movie Ranked


4. Raoul Silva

Skyfall (2012)

Javier Bardem James Bond

Bond movies have always only been as good as their villains. For every Red Grant, Blofeld and Scaramanga you’ve got a Max Zorin or Dominic Greene. Colourful nemeses leave an impression on this franchise and its hero, but those with a personal connection to 007 are the most effective of all. Sam Mendes’ Skyfall was a celebration of all things Bond, and the introduction to the villain was among the very best of the long-running franchise.

There are many great monologues in cinema, but this has to be among the most striking. At an hour into Skyfall, we’ve had nary a glimpse of the big bad; a super-hacker and information broker going by the alias of Silva who is holding the entire British Secret Service to ransom. James Bond (Daniel Craig) has been captured and tied to a chair in a server room to await his fate. Elevator doors open at the distant end of the room and a flamboyantly dressed man starts waking purposefully towards 007, talking all the way. Silva (Javier Bardem) proceeds to tell Bond a story, a parable about sinking ships and rats eating each other. Not only is this speech full of veiled menace but it gives Silva an opening to make Bond even more uncomfortable via not-so-subtle flirtation, running his hands under the secret agent’s shirt as he finishes his story, a homoerotic series first. It turns out Silva could have been Bond before Bond, a former favourite of M’s (Judi Dench) and hugely resentful of her for abandoning him mid-operation when things became too hot. What you have here is the favourite son being punished by the black sheep of the family for the uncaring actions of their surrogate mother.

It’s the thematic and character subtext that made the 50th anniversary Bond movie stick. Having all the usual gloss and action pizazz but making it essentially an intimate story blown up on a massive scale – unloved sons and unready mothers, but with the world on the brink. From Silva and Bond’s first meeting it is immediately clear that this will be a conflict that can’t be solved with just guns and gadgets.




5. Quint

Jaws (1975)

Quint intro scene Jaws

In 1975, the summer blockbuster as we know it was invented. With Jaws, Steven Spielberg gave us a trio of mismatched characters for the ages all out to kill one big and very angry fish. Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) might be the lead, the most conventionally heroic of the shark-hunters and the character we spend the most time with, but it’s the wildcard that we remember.

Everyone knows this scene…

Residents and summer holidaymakers of Amity Island are being eaten at an alarming rate by a deadly shark. Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches but Mayor Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) says “no” as he’s unwilling to risk tanking their town’s key Fourth of July incomes. A town meeting is called, and locals and officials squabble until an awful sound rends through the air – it’s literal nails on a chalkboard. “Ya’ll know me. Know how I earn a livin’…”. Old seadog Quint (Robert Shaw) arrives on the scene like a slurring whirlwind, taking immediate charge, making his demands ($10,000 to catch and kill it himself) and proving his expertise in the behaviour of man-eating sharks above everyone else in the room (“This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go”) in one fell swoop. Everyone takes notice of this shabby shark killer slumped in the corner of the room nibbling on a cracker. You get the distinct impression he would’ve commanded enough respect to hold court at this crisis meeting even if he hadn’t gotten everyone to shut up in such an uncouth manner – men of the world hold power in this community, much more than displaced city cops and academic “experts”. Quint is an old-fashioned enigma and therefore immediately interesting.

Quint, Brody and Hooper are sent on an almighty adventure from here on. We want to see them succeed and see the shark caught, but moreso we want to get to know these characters. We’re caught on a line and Quint is reeling us in – though he puts on a good show in his first scene we don’t entirely trust him and we’re desperate to find out more about him while he goes about his unpleasant business. The trio crewing the Orca bicker and argue throughout their voyage, and their squabbles jeopardise their mission and their lives at multiple points, but this gives us ample opportunity for character study, all set so succinctly in this enticing introduction scene.

Recommended for you: the other entries in our 5 of the Best Character Introductions series


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