There are few visionaries quite like Jim Henson. For every genius you can name that changed the world of pop culture, few can confidently say they did it with actual magic. What Henson and Co. are able to do with just felt, their hands and a rod can only be referred to as magic. There’s no other word for it. They make you believe those puppets, excuse me, Muppets, are living, breathing things. Ventriloquism is the closest art form to Henson’s signature brand of hand puppetry and not a single person has ever been tricked into thinking a ventriloquist’s dummy is alive. It’s a trick only Henson and those inspired by him can pull off. Even as far back as 1957 with his coffee advertisements starring Wilkins and Wotkins (who didn’t make the cut), he showed he could put anything on his hand and make you believe it was real. These fifty characters (not including The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth) are the greatest examples of his magic.
These are the 50 Greatest Muppets.
20. Beaker | The Muppet Show (1977)
Before Groot there was Beaker, and his ‘meeps.’ The long-suffering assistant to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew could convey a ton of meaning using only the tone of his voice (and his bulging eyes). We love him because he was the unfortunate victim of constant (humorous) disaster, but also because he represents all of us on those days it seems like the universe has it out for us. An accomplished singer (he was in a barbershop quartet with Sam, Rowlf the Dog and Link Hogthrob), Beaker constantly shows us how so much can sometimes be done with so little. As much fun as it was to see Beaker suffer from the side-effects of Dr. Honeydew’s experiments, it was just as much fun to see the occasional times when the tables would turn, as when he was cloned multiple times and spent the episode chasing after the good Doctor.
19. Rizzo the Rat | The Muppet Show (1980)
Rizzo is a wise-cracking rat and serves very much as the comic relief in The Muppets gang. He can be seen either cracking jokes or making fun of others. Rizzo is a bit complex as one moment he is trying to manipulate people into getting what he wants and other times he is expressing his sensitive side. He is good friends with both Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn.
18. Bert | Sesame Street (1969)
Bert is Ernie’s best friend and roommate on Sesame Street. He could be considered the ‘straight man’ to Ernie’s ‘funny guy’ duo. I didn’t care too much for Bert when I was young because he seemed like the stickler whose idea of fun was ruining everybody else’s fun. However now that I am an adult, I can appreciate where Bert is coming from. He enjoys spending time with pigeons and has a very impressive paper clip collection.
17. Ernie | Sesame Street (1969)
Ernie is Bert’s best friend and roommate on Sesame Street. He could be considered the ‘funny guy’ to Bert’s ‘straight man’ duo. I absolutely loved Ernie was I was young as he seemed like the type who was always laughing and having fun, mostly at Bert’s expense. However now that I’m an adult, I can’t help but find him to be annoying. He enjoys pestering Bert every chance he gets and loves singing in the tub with his rubber ducky.
16. Miss Piggy | Herb Alpert and the TJB (1974)
Miss Piggy is very much a diva, or maybe prima-donna would fit better. She’s determined to do whatever it takes as she is very goal-oriented and able to accomplish whatever it is that she sets her mind to. She comes off as sweet and innocent but she can fly into a rage in less than the snap of a finger whenever she feels insulted or slighted. One of her famous moves is the karate chop. She has an on and off again relationship with Kermit the Frog.
15. Mr. Snuffleupagus | Sesame Street (1971)
Look, I don’t know exactly what Mr. Snuffleupagus is, and I don’t really care. He’s Big Bird’s friend and he’s awesome. (For the longest time I just assumed he was a wooly mammoth – I’m not sure why.) While Snuffy was always something of an Eeyore (understandably, given that no one but Big Bird believed he existed) he was always a great friend. I thought it was great when Snuffy was revealed to be real to the adults on the show (a decision made so that kids watching would be more likely to tell adults in their lives about something important). If only we could all have an imaginary friend who was that good, and that turned out to be real.
14. Count von Count | Sesame Street (1972)
Look, I’m not saying I learned to count from The Count, but I AM saying he made it fun. He’s also a vampire, which is genius, because one of the traditional lore things about vampires has them compulsively counting seeds/rice. I love that he’s probably most genial and personable vampire you’d ever meet, despite having fangs, living in the traditional gothic castle, and having a personal thundercloud that provides perfectly timed thunder/lighting. He’s got a more detailed personal life than some of the other Muppets, with a castle for a home and even a couple of love interests. (Personal favorite companion – The Countess von Backwards.) Also, that video of the Count doing the “Counting Song,” but censored so it sounds like he’s saying… something other than “count,” is more hilarious than it should be.
13. The Swedish Chef | The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)
Why does the Swedish Chef not have a Food Network show? He’s an obvious parody of TV cooks, and I think he’d be great – as a judge, if not a host. He’s got a great look – a toque, an apron, a bow tie and eyebrows as thick as his faux-Swedish accent. I’ve heard that Swedish people don’t find him very funny, but my god does he tickle my funny bone. Yes, he’s mostly incomprehensible, but it’s the occasional understandable word that sends me into hysterics. Usually as things go horribly wrong and the main course makes an escape (or gets its revenge). Have I yelled “bork bork bork!” as I cook, sometimes? Yes, yes I have.
12. Dr. Teeth | The Tonight Show (1975)
He’s a real doctor (at least in the world of Muppets) – Dr. Gerald Teeth Jr. I think that’s awesome. He’s bombastic, groovy and a joy to listen to. While some of the other performers in Tthe Electric Mayhem get more of the spotlight (Animal), the good Doctor has always been one of my favorites, with his long arms and slightly hippie-ish look. I understand there’s a show about the band, The Muppets Mayhem, that’s now on Disney+ and I am absolutely going to check it out. The Doctor is IN.
11. Grover | Sesame Street (1970)
Grover is a very unique character on Sesame Street. He has many roles to play as he wears many hats. The most notable one would be where he wears a knight’s helm and dawns a cape calling himself “Super Grover”. Grover would go through many different in carnations before the creators settled on his design. He also occasionally served as one of the hosts in the segments where kids would answer questions.
Who are some of your favorite Muppets? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!