Recently I turned 25 and in doing so I came to acknowledge how in the last 25 years we have been blessed with some of the best movies of all time, not to mention some great and iconic characters. To celebrate this milestone, I’ve formulated a list consisting of 25 of the best characters in cinema since 1990, considering not just my own opinions but also what I believe to be the widely regarded consensus. To condense this list I have not included characters that may have appeared in films post 1990 that were part of a franchise that started before 1990. For example, characters from the Back to the Future, James Bond and Indiana Jones films have not been included. I have also tried to make the list as varied as possible, using characters from different genres and avoiding more than one character from the same film. Naturally, some big names or favourites will be missed out, but with so many names to fit in a list of 25, some will inevitably be missing!
25. Steve Stifler
Film: American Pie, 1999
Portrayed by: Seann William Scott
Arguably what made the American Pie series one of the most popular comedy franchises of all time was Steve Stifler. He was the guy everyone knew at school: the loud and obnoxious sex freak that we can’t help but love.
24. Iron Man/Tony Stark
Film: Iron Man, 2008
Portrayed by: Robert Downey Jr.
One of the most beloved superheroes of all time, Tony Stark has all the qualities of a great hero: arrogance; courage, and; an abundance of money.
23. Maggie Fitzgerald
Film: Million Dollar Baby, 2004
Portrayed by Hilary Swank
Maggie Fitzgerald is the vicious unstoppable boxer with a huge heart in Clint Eastwood’s boxing masterpiece. A truly complex character who shows Rocky just how it’s done.
22. Oskar Schindler
Film: Schindler’s List, 1993
Portrayed by: Liam Neeson
Based on the real-life Oskar Schindler who helped save Jews from been taken to Auschwitz, his remarkable story makes him a true hero.
21. The Driver
Film: Drive, 2011
Portrayed by: Ryan Gosling
The silent vigilante of contemporary cinema who epitomizes the classic anti-hero character, with a touch of Travis Bickle and The Man with No Name embedded into him.
20. Truman Burbank
Film: The Truman Show, 1998
Portrayed by: Jim Carrey
With multiple iconic characters from Jim Carrey’s library to choose from, it’s Truman Burbank that stands out the most. An incredible performance from a very diverse actor, Jim Carrey creates a loveable character that we can all relate to as he’s locked in an internal battle between the yearning for freedom and the fear of it.
19. Forrest Gump
Film: Forrest Gump, 1994
Portrayed by: Tom Hanks
The gentle and loveable Forrest Gump who just wants to live a normal life is given to us via a truly mesmerizing performance from Tom Hanks who continues to show why he is one of the most versatile and inspiring actors of his generation.
18. Mr Blonde
Film: Reservoir Dogs, 1992
Portrayed by: Michael Madsen
“Are you gonna bark all day little doggy, or are you gonna bite?” The stand out character from a film of stand out characters, Mr Blonde’s signature character traits were the foundation for future Tarantino characters.
Film: Toy Story, 1995
Portrayed by: Tom Hanks
Back before it was “Edward or Jacob?” it was “Woody, or Buzz?” And everybody loved Woody. He’s the tragic character who has it all, then descends into jealousy and bitterness when he loses it. It’s something we can all relate to and have felt at some point in our lives, which is what makes him such a memorable character.
16. Donnie Darko
Film: Donnie Darko, 2001
Portrayed by: James Duval
“Why do you wear that stupid man suit?” The mysterious time traveller who dresses up as a bunny has captured the imagination, leaving only more questions than answers in regards to his origin.
Film: V For Vendetta, 2005
Portrayed by: Hugo Weaving
The masked hero of V For Vendetta that inspired a generation to stand-up against tyranny and oppression. V’s mysterious persona only makes him that much more interesting as well as being a truly inspiring and complex hero.
14. Patrick Bateman
Film: American Psycho, 2000
Portrayed by: Christian Bale
The corporate drone who enjoys the occasional bit of murder, but really just wants to return some video tapes. The cold-blooded serial killer’s charm lies somewhere between his lust for murder and his constant competing with his fellow drones.
13. Jules Winnfield
Film: Pulp Fiction, 1994
Portrayed by: Samuel L. Jackson
The iconic Jules Winnfield of Pulp Fiction lives up to the name on his wallet, bringing fear and intimidation to his victims through scripture from the bible. Perhaps the role that made Samuel L. Jackson the actor he his today, nobody can deny Jules Winnfield steals the show in this film full of colourful and legendary characters.
12. Agent Smith
Film: The Matrix, 1999
Portrayed by: Hugo Weaving
Huge Weaving’s second appearance on this list, but this time it’s his role as a villain; the notorious agent smith. Weaving’s excellent personification of an AI program results in an emotionless, terminator-esque character with unlimited powers and resources that make him a truly memorable character.
11. The T-Rex
Film: Jurassic Park, 1993
The T-Rex needs no introduction. It’s a more modern equivalent of Jaws. The T-Rex is the iconic, destructive dinosaur that amazed children and adults alike, utilising the best in animatronics and bringing forth a new generation of CGI.
10. The Dude
Film: The Big Lebowski, 1998
Portrayed by: Jeff Bridges
There’s something you just can’t help but admire about a man who’s willing to go anywhere and take on just about anyone to get revenge for a damaged rug.
Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001
Portrayed by: Sir Ian McKellen
Everyone’s favourite Wizard, Gandalf is the gentle, heroic grandfather figure who has proved himself as a true hero with every film he has featured in. His knowledge, love and skill as a wizard makes him a true friend and powerful ally.
8. The Bride
Film: Kill Bill: Vol. 1, 2003
Portrayed by: Uma Thuram
The Bride is one of the most iconic Heroines of all time. Armed only with a deadly samurai sword and fueled by her thirst for revenge, The Bride has truly revolutionised the art of being a badass.
7. Col. Hans Landa
Film: Inglourious Basterds, 2009
Portrayed by: Christoph Waltz
The last character produced by Tarantino to make the list, Col. Hans Landa is charming, smart, and funny, but above all else, he’s a cold-blooded killer. Responsible for hunting down hidden jews in German occupied France, Christoph Waltz does an outstanding job of creating a truly awful character that has the ability to charm his audience.
6. Anton Chigurh
Film: No Country for Old Men, 2007
Portrayed by: Javier Bardem
One of the most intimidating villains of all time, the cold, mysterious, psychopathic killer shows no remorse in anything he does, which makes him terrifying. His enigmatic persona leaves us only wanting to know more about him.
5. Tommy DeVito
Film: Goodfellas, 1990
Portrayed by: Joe Pesci
The fast-talking, hot-headed gangster of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece is cruel and hilarious. The bully you can’t help but love.
4. Jack Sparrow
Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003
Portrayed by: Johnny Depp
Who doesn’t like Jack Sparrow? While the film’s sequels are currently spiralling out of control, they haven’t quite yet diminished the lovable pirate who you’ve pretended to be at least once in your life.
3. The Joker
Film: The Dark Knight, 2008
Portrayed by: Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger’s joker was inevitably going to feature on the list, but with the joker himself being one of the most iconic villains of all time, it was only a matter of time before someone came along and nailed the role. Now reborn with a new sense of insanity and set of ideas, The Dark Knight’s joker is not necessarily better than his predecessors, but different, which is what makes it so great.
2. Tyler Durden
Film: Fight Club, 1999
Portrayed by: Brad Pitt
The charismatic leader of the underground fight club is cool, energetic and destructive; all the qualities needed to make a character you can’t take your eyes off. Durden’s philosophy and creativity are powerful enough to influence his audience to question the world around them, making him one of the most inspiring characters in cinematic history. And yes, I did just break the first two rules of Fight Club.
1. Hannibal Lecter
Film: The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
Portrayed by: Anthony Hopkins
And finally, the pleasant psychopath who would give you nightmares, but not without making sure you were tucked in bed first. Everyone’s favourite serial killer has dominated the horror side of cinema since the 1990s and continues to be a true cinema icon to this day. His class and intellect make him a polite and likable character who would give even the scariest and most intimidating of monsters nightmares.