Entertainment Weekly recently had an issue with their top characters of the last 20 years, so I’ve been compiling my own list. As I mentioned before, I love making lists because while they’re not definitive, I take any opportunity to look back on my favorite things.
My list is slightly different. For one thing, I’m only including characters that have debuted since 1990, knocking out folks like Homer Simpson. Also, this isn’t a list of most important or influential characters. These are simply my favorites.
1. Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone – book)
Created by J.K. Rowling
Yes it’s a predictable choice for number one, but sometimes the public is right. Star Wars is that great of a movie. The Beatles are that great of a band. Harry Potter is that great of a book character. The thing that most makes Harry great is no matter how fantastic or scary the world outside him gets, his thoughts and actions are very true to a real kid his age.
2. Easy Rawlins (Devil in a Blue Dress – Book)
Created by Walter Mosley
I can’t remember all the details of the mysteries in Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series. That’s fine, because what I really cared about was Easy himself and what was happening in his life. One of the most fascinating aspects of the character is the difference between how we view him as the reader versus the other characters in his world. We see him as a guy doing the best his times and situations allow. They mostly see him as a troublemaker who runs with lowlifes.
3. Omar Little (The Wire – TV Series)
Created by David Simon and Michael K. Williams
Out of all the characters from The Wire, none haunt me like Omar. His less-than-typical moral code (he was a thief who only stole from other criminals) made him interesting from the beginning. The episode in court where he gets the best of the series’ slick criminal lawyer is what really put him over the top.
4. Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan – Comic Book Series)
Created by Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson
Spider is a gonzo journalist in the future who Hunter S. Thompson would’ve told to slow down. What makes Spider a great character and not just a cartoon is he wears his humanity on his sleeve. Sure he shoots the President of the United States with a Bowel Disruptor, but it’s only because he cares.
5. David Brent (The Office – TV Series)
Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
There is no character in the history of entertainment that makes me cringe like David Brent. There is no character that will ever match him in terms of his complete absence of self awareness. His U.S. counterpart, Michael Scott, pales in comparison.
6. Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld – TV Series)
Created by Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and Michael Richards
Speaking of lacking self-awareness, we now come to Kramer. He’s my favorite sitcom character of all time because I start laughing the second I see him appear on camera.
7. Tony Soprano (The Sopranos – TV Series)
Created by David Chase and James Gandolfini
Before Tony had his first panic attack in the first scene in the first episode of The Sopranos, I would’ve told you there was nothing left to explore with the “mob boss” character. I’m glad these guys felt otherwise. I especially loved that whenever we started to sympathize with Tony, he’d do something awful to remind us who he really is.
8. Benjamin Linus/Hugo “Hurley” Reyes (Lost – TV Series)
Created by Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, Carlton Cuse, Michael Emerson, and Jorge Garcia
I’m not going to write much here, because I’m about done writing about Lost. I’ll just say these two characters are the ones I will miss the most now that the show is wrapped. I think it’s only fitting they wound up working together in the end.
9. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (The Big Lebowski – Movie)
Created by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, and Jeff Bridges
If you don’t know about The Dude, then I don’t know what to tell you about The Dude. I can tell you he abides.
10. Raylan Givens (Pronto – Book)
Created by Elmore Leonard
I love Raylan because he’s an old-school lawman trapped in the modern world. He’s a straight line in a world of squiggles. Being out of step with the times may keep him from having much in the way of healthy relationships, but it does allow him to cut through the crap and surprise the hell out of the killers and other assorted criminals he goes up against. The show Justified has taken what was a great character to begin with and added more. You should check it out if you haven’t already.
11. Ron Burgundy (Anchorman – Movie)
Created by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
If nothing else, he’s the most quotable character of the last twenty years. My favorite for this week: “San Diego, which is German for a whale’s vagina.”
12. Hellboy (Hellboy – Comic Book Series)
Created by Mike Mignola
The story of a demon protecting the world he was born to destroy could be overbearing and melodramatic (see X-Men). What makes Hellboy great is the character’s blue collar attitude. Though I prefer the comic’s “haunted house” feel to the movies’ approach, this attitude keeps them both interesting.
13. Jay and Silent Bob (Clerks – Movie)
Created by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes
They may have gotten cartoony by the end of Smith’s New Jersey series of movies, but Jay and Silent Bob still kept me entertained. They were my favorite part of Clerks and gave me my only laughs in Clerks 2 (with the exception of the porch monkeys scene).
14. Lucius Vorenus & Titus Pullo (Rome – TV Series)
Created by Bruno Heller, John Milius, William J. MacDonald, Kevin McKidd, and Ray Stevenson
In Julius Caesar’s book about the Gaul Wars, he makes a brief mention of Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, officers who started off hating each other before becoming good friends. The creators of Rome took that nugget and ran with it to create characters who gave us a unique, trench-level view of Ancient Rome from the military to the streets of the Aventine Hill. Also, they kicked all kinds of ass along the way.
15. Phoncible P. “Phoney” Bone (Bone – Comic Book Series)
Created by Jeff Smith
Phoney is the everyman character in Bone. He’s the one who always wants to do the right thing for his cousins, Rose, Grandma Ben, and The Valley. He’s the heart and soul of a great comic book series.
16. Yorick Brown (Y: The Last Man – Comic Book Series)
Created by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra
Yorick is the last man on earth. If that conjures up images of Will Smith in I Am Legend, then let me correct you. He’s the last man on an earth where a mystery plague has killed every male of every species with the exception of Yorick and his monkey Ampersand. In most stories like this, guys like Yorick start out a weenie and gradually turn into an action hero. Yorick doesn’t. Instead, he matures and develops along a more believable path, making the tragedy at the end all the more heartbreaking.
17. Liz Lemon (30 Rock – TV Series)
Created by Tina Fey
I used to watch 30 Rock for Alec Baldwin. Then I watched it for Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer. These days, I’ve come to realize that without Liz, the show would fly of its axle. It takes a lot of spark to be the straight man and still make people laugh. Also, without her we wouldn’t have “Whuck?”.
18. Harley Quinn (Batman: The Animated Series – TV Series)
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
Harley Quinn, the Joker’s girlfriend, is the greatest Batman character from the past 20 years and if you get a chance to read the comic “Mad Love” or see the episode that adapted it, you get a real appreciation for the character.
19. Rob Gordon (High Fidelity – Book)
Created by Nick Hornby
I really like Rob in Hornby’s original novel and I love him as interpreted by John Cusack. Rob is a selfish, undeveloped guy who becomes an adult (emotionally, not chronologically) while sifting through the wreckage of his last relationship. He’s also a collector, purveyor, and snobbish fan of popular music. He reminds me of myself and several other guys I’ve known, though it’s sometimes painful to admit it.
20. Mulder and Scully (The X-Files – TV Series)
Created by Chris Carter, David Duchovny, and Gillian Anderson
The great faith versus science team up of Mulder and Scully would’ve been higher on this list had the last third of the series not been a train wreck. Before this happened, they were a consistently entertaining duo.
Dang that took a long time to write. Is there anyone you’d add or even knock off?
After sleeping a night, I realized that though I own all seasons of Entourage on DVD, I somehow neglected to put Ari Gold on this list. He should be, though I’m not sure where. Also, though he’s technically an adaption of Gareth Keenan from the UK series, Dwight Shrute from The Office should probably be here too.