When we’re watching a movie, reading a book, or binging on a new tv show on Netflix, our attention is generally focused on the main character and their antics or adventures, and we sometimes pay little attention to his or her group of mates, if they happen to be surrounded by such, or the plucky sidekick that accompanies the dashing hero on his exploits (except Robin, because he’s just awesome).
But every once in a while, a character comes around who shows such exceptional depth and intrigue that our attention is focused on them, rather than the protagonist, stealing our interest and keeping us so entertained that we practically ignore the main character. So here are the top ten characters that, in my opinion, completely stole the show – needless to say, some spoilers lie ahead. Abandon hope all ye who venture ahead and ignore the spoiler warning.
10: Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) – Frozen
Frozen is easily one of the best animated films that Disney has ever produced, and this one took a slightly different turn from the generic love stories that most of Disney’s works encompass. In this icy-cool incarnation of the story of the Snow Queen, Anna and her sister Elsa are two young princesses who have become distant due to Elsa’s fear of hurting her sister with her cryokinetic abilities, and Anna’s memory of Elsa’s powers being wiped early in the film. Despite Anna being the central princess in the story, it’s Elsa who captures our attention most, with her tragic background and stunning song causing a worldwide Frozen frenzy. Although, while Elsa did have young girls everywhere squealing at the sight of her, you have to admit – was repressing her powers and shutting herself out really the best solution? Ah well. She got the crown either way – and became the poster girl for the entire Frozen franchise, too…
9: J. Jonah Jameson (J.K Simmons) – the original Spider-Man trilogy
I can’t believe this cigar-chomping asshole didn’t make an appearance in the Amazing Spider-Man series. His gruff demeanour, money-grabbing personality and fantastic moustache have made him a staple character in the web-slinger’s franchise for years. The thing that I liked most about ol’ J.J….J…in these movies (particularly in the lacklustre Spider-Man 3) was the fact that he was a bigger prat than all of the villains put together with Joffrey Baratheon thrown in. He didn’t seem to care at all about Peter’s well-being, and the fact that he hated Spidey’s guts just threw a little extra dynamic into the mix. We didn’t like him because he was so strongly opposed to Spider-Man’s heroics, but his crass, rude, greedy and miserly attitude and J.K Simmons’ goofy portrayal of him make the character completely and utterly hilarious. Much funnier that Peter’s little emo-dance in the third film. That was just plain creepy.
8: Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) – Primal Fear
Normally I’m not a huge fan of courtroom dramas, but this little gem, along with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, are two exceptions. Primal Fear tells the story of a hot-shot lawyer (Richard Gere) who’s assigned to the case of Aaron Stampler, an altar-boy accused of murdering a priest. Gere is excellent in his role as the arrogant attorney Martin Vail, working a case he seems to have no hope of winning, but it’s Edward Norton, in his breakout role as the seemingly schizophrenic Aaron with the psychotic alternate personality known as Roy, who really grabs the audiences attention like a vice and refuses to let go, right up until the chilling final moments of the film, where “Roy” surfaces and reveals his deception – “There never was an Aaron, counsellor.” Before Fight Club, this was the split personality that earned Norton international acclaim – a dangerous, calculating and remorseless psychopath masquerading as a helpless altar boy? Tyler Durden, eat your heart out.
7: Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) – the Harry Potter series
At first glance, we’re all led to believe that the greasy-haired, sallow-skinned Potions master of Hogwarts who secretly covets the Defence Against The Dark Arts job is a total piece of downright, generally nasty not-niceness. He openly despises Harry from the start, seemingly for no reason, and we can’t help but hate him a little bit for it ourselves. Until, that is, the series progresses, and we discover Snape’s true role as a double agent for Dumbledore…and his undying, unrequited love for Harry’s mother, Lily. It’s here that we find out the depth of Snape’s loyalty to the woman he always loved, and his courage in defying Voldemort for almost twenty years. This kind of morality isn’t shown in many characters in fiction nowadays – most characters in Harry Potter, including Harry himself, show flaws from time to time, but Snape’s seemingly biggest flaw turned out to be his greatest strength.
6: Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) – Breaking Bad
Yes, nobody quite matches the youthful, in-your-face attitude of Jesse Pinkman. And no character can compare to the icy composure and ruthlessness of Gustavo Fring (before he lost half of his face, of course). But did either of those guys get their own spin-off? I don’t think so! I’ll admit, when I first got into Breaking Bad, I wasn’t a huge fan of Saul. But as it went on, and the audience got to see more of Saul’s sheer talent as a lawyer (accurately described as a ‘criminal’ lawyer’ by Jesse), along with his quick wit and can-do, matter-of-fact attitude to Walt and Jesse’s business dealings, I was won over in no time at all. Whenever Saul is on the screen, he completely dominates it when he puts Walt in his place, making him a character that rivals Heisenberg himself for our attention and praise.
5: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – Marvel Cinematic Universe
Has there yet been a comic book villain – a Marvel one, at least – so perfectly portrayed on-screen yet? Tom Hiddleston as the adopted son of Odin/brother of Thor is a complete ace in the hole. Okay, Chris Hemsworth is substantially beefy and well-cast as the god of thunder, and Anthony Hopkins brings a sense of bad-assery to Odin that no other actor possibly could, but Loki is the one who commands our attention. Cool as a glacier, cunning as a fox and as underhandedly devious as a snake with dual personality disorder, Loki’s character is everything a great villain should be – intelligent, devious, and wickedly charming. No shame in admitting that he’s one of my three man-crushes…
4: Gollum (Andy Serkis) – The Lord Of The Rings/The Hobbit
I couldn’t make this list without mentioning the sneaky, skinny, Ring-obsessed Gollum, who is perhaps literature’s greatest tragic villain. Originally a hobbit named Smeagol who murdered his best friend to claim the ultimate prize, Gollum is masterfully played by Andy Serkis, the undisputed king of motion capture. Forget Aragron and his inner struggle with his royal lineage. Forget even Frodo, the central character of the whole thing. When Gollum is on screen, or on the pages, he’s the sole focus of our attention. From the scene where he engaes Bilbo in a game of riddles wth Bilbo’s life at stake, to the climax in the chasm of Mount Doom where ultimately, Frodo fails and Gollum finally claims the Ring, only to fall to his death in the lava moments later, his split personality and constant inner battles have us both hating him and pitying him at the same time. As Andy Serkis himself describes it, Gollum is like a drug addict, and we feel the same sense of empathy and revlsion each time we see him, which is a testament to Serkis’ talent as an actor.
3: Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) – Sherlock
It’s difficult to say who one admires more in the BBC’s excellent modern take on the Arthur Conan Doyle detective stories. Yeah, Martin Freeman does a great job of representing the side of humanity – and occasional insult or smack in the face – that Sherlock desperately needs, and Benedict Cumberbatch is completely unparalleled as Sherlock Holmes himself. But Andrew Scott just takes over everything when he’s on-screen as infamous criminal mastermind, Jim Moriarty. While several actors have played Moriarty for what he is – an evil genius – only Scott has done so with the unbalanced, boderline psychosis and exceptional camp that brings the character to life, causing him to totally outshine even Cumberbatch on occasion. “Did you miss me?” asks almost every electronic screen in Britain after Moriarty’s supposed demise at the end of Season 2. Yes Jim, yes we bloody well did. Roll on Season 4. Hopefully it will air before I’m thirty.
2: The Joker (Heath Ledger) – The Dark Knight
Several actors, namely Caesar Romero, Mark Hamill and Jack Nicholson, have brought life to the Clown Prince of Crime in their own special way – Romero as a goofy prankster in the 1960’s Batman TV series, Hamill as a wise-cracking criminal genius in the critically-acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series and Nicholson as a combination of the two in 1989’s Batman, but none of these men gave a performance equal to that of the late Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. People who saw the casting of Ledger in the role of Batman’s nemesis and scoffed at the idea were quickly forced to eat their words when they saw his purple suit, green hair and terrifying smile – a Chelsea grin in this incarnation – and the way Ledger portrayed the Joker in a way that no other actor had. Putting his own spin on the Joker but staying true to the character’s nature at the same time, Ledger completely outshone Christian Bale’s Batman and had audiences everywhere in awe as he laughed, murdered and exploded his way through the film’s trajectory. Ledger showed audiences what the Joker really is underneath the smile and bleached skin – far from being a prankster or a wise-cracking bank robber, he’s a twisted, psychopathic clown who wants one thing and one thing only: to cause complete and total anarchy, then sit back and laugh as the world collapses around him. Ledger’s posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor was well-deserved.
1: Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) – The Silence Of The Lambs
Brian Cox was good. Mads Mikkelsen is brilliant. Gaspard Ulliel was awful. But nobody, and I mean NOBODY, compares to Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter, a psychiatrist with a certain taste for murdering and then eating his victims. He’s intelligent, charming and completely terrifying as the aforementioned doctor, and while Red Dragon and Hannibal were both good films, The Silence Of The Lambs is the one that really opened people’s eyes to both Lecter’s character and Anthony Hopkins’ talent. The story may revolve mainly around Clarice Starling and her hunt for cross-dressing serial killer Buffalo Bill, but it’s Lecter who grabs the audience and almost holds their attention in a terrfying embrace….and the creepiest thing of all is that, apart from when he’s beating a security guard to death with his own truncheon, then escaping a mental institute by cutting off the poor bastard’s face and wearing it as a mask while faking injury, Hannibal is a complete gentleman. Honestly, he’s someone you’d love to introduce to your family (provided he wasn’t in the mood for dinner..), because despite being a psychopath, he’s one of the most well-mannered characters in all of fiction. And I have to mention it, but how many actors can boast an Oscar for Best Actor after only spending about twenty-five minutes in total on-screen? Not many, I’ll tell you that.
So there you have it – my personal favourites of the supporting characters that outshone the protagonists. If anyone thinks differently, please do tell me, or don’t. But if our opinions differ, I will have no plans to call on you, so I would like you to extend me the same courtesy, because you really don’t want to know how I got these scars….