The 2000s. It was a time of bad fashion, worse music (nothing but boy bands and nu metal), and political strife but it wasn’t all bad. Television was entering its golden era with shows like The Sopranos; The Shield; The Wire and Six Feet Under, the internet was slowly becoming a major part of all of our lives and movies were getting better and better. The auteurs of the ’70s and ’80s were still cranking out masterpieces and the film brats of the ’90s were already inspiring damn fine copycats. Big budget spectacles shared theater space with no-budget indies and nostalgia hadn’t become omnipresent. It was a glorious time to be a movie fan. We were spoiled with good movies and even better characters. Characters that have lived with us for so long, that they make us forget that we first saw them over twenty years ago. The new millennium might’ve been a long time ago at this point but its films and the characters therein, haven’t aged a day.
These are the 100 Greatest 2000s Movie Characters.
10. Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) | Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
It wouldn’t surprise me if the vast majority of people who love 2006’s Borat didn’t know that Borat Sagdiyev actually originated on Sacha Baron Cohen’s British television series Da Ali G Show, which also introduced his other well-known fictional personas: Ali G and Brüno Gehard. However, despite Ali G being the namesake of the satirical series and receiving a solo film first, Borat ended up being the most popular character, starring in two widely successful films and cementing both himself and Cohen into pop culture history. “Very nice!”
I consider Borat to be one of the greatest comedy films of all time. The mockumentary style, which would never work nowadays (despite Borat 2 suggesting otherwise), adds a whole other level of humor to the jokes since the civilians actually think Borat is a real human being and not a facade created to make fun of the unsuspecting. I’ve probably seen Borat a dozen times, but at least five of those watches happened within a span of a week back in my senior year of high school. A buddy of mine and I were working on an art project at his house and every day after school, we’d pop Borat into his DVD player and watch the film as we procrastinated actually finishing up the project. I laughed my ass off every single time. Borat is the gold standard for mockumentaries and no other comedian will ever come close to replicating the “Great success!” Cohen has had with Borat. “High-five!”
9. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) | No Country for Old Men (2007)
Who is Anton Chigurh?
I guess the most literal way to answer this question is to say that Chigurh is an enforcer for organized crime. His job is to bring back the money that was lost. Pretty simple. But his character is anything but simple.
And as it turns out, there are several theories that attempt to describe who or what he really is—beyond the obvious information the plot gives us. These theories run the gamut from identifying Chigurh as being symbolic of capitalist excess to symbolizing evil itself. One YouTuber even theorizes that Chigurh is a figment of Llewelyn’s imagination.
And you probably have theories of your own. Or maybe you don’t. And that’s why this character is unforgettable. Whether you read him at the surface level as simply one of the scariest villains in the history of film or something more than that, the character works. Either way, Anton Chigurh is one of cinema’s most unforgettable characters.
8. The Fellowship (Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom) | The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)
We’ve given plenty of space in this list to members of the Fellowship – Frodo, Sam and Gandalf in particular – but what about the rest of the psuedo-family that forms the heart of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy? Merry and Pippin, the childhood friends and stalwart defenders of Frodo, Sam and each other. Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd fill their characters with heart, camaraderie and comedy – while remaining strong and true as only hobbits can. Aragorn, scion of the house of Isulder and heir to the throne of Gondor as well as being Strider, the unsavory Ranger from the North. Could you imagine anyone in that role but Viggo Mortensen? Even now when I watch the movie I can’t help but think if he asked for me to stand with him in battle I would, as useless as I would be. John Rhys-Davies as Gimili embodies everything I ever imagined about Dwarfs, as gruff, stout-hearted and loyal as could be. Orlando Bloom as Legolas is an equal joy in his dry humor and absolute Elf-ness, whether he’s walking on top of snow others struggle through or being an absolute badass with a bow. The friendship that grows between Gimli and Legolas is one of the joys of the series as they go from reluctant allies to bosom (if competetive) friends. And then there is Sean Bean and Boromir. I’d read The Lord of the Rings several times before the movies were released and if you had told me I was going to cry like a baby at Boromir’s death I would have called you a liar. Bean plays the man of Gondor as less a man falling into evil as a man struggling to do the right thing and uncertain – until the last – what that is. It’s Boromir and his actions that sell the evil presence of the ring more than any other thing in the film, at least to me. And yes, damn you, I cried.
I play D&D on the regular and the Fellowship is the template for every adventuring group since roleplaying games started. We all hope for a group like the one Tolkien first wrote about and Peter Jackson and these fine actors brought to life. Friends, companions, family. The Fellowship and their dedication to each other and the quest is what I always come back for. Even in the face of the ultimate darkness they stand true. With all the joy and danger that the movies bring, it’s truly these nine characters that bring me back to the films again and again, when I can pretend to be one of their number, at least for a while.
7. Standartenführer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) | Inglourious Basterds (2009)
How many villains from all of cinema history can you think of that match Hans Landa’s combination of charisma and air of terror? The man exudes both, sometimes in the same scene. Like a terrible inversion of Sherlock Holmes, Landa does, as his nickname suggests, hunts Jews and he’s shockingly proficient at his job. He can sniff them out like a truffle hunting pig and has no problem executing entire families.
He’s also morally complex. Disposing of Jews is only one facet of his personality. On one hand, he’ll kill traitors that betray Germany but then on another, he’ll kill Hitler himself, in order to secure the best plan for himself. He played the game as well as he could have but he sorely underestimated Aldo Raine, which would prove to be a huge mistake. Can’t win them all.
6. Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo (Uma Thurman) | Kill Bill (2003-04)
The Kill Bill series probably falls pretty low on the list of best Quentin Tarantino films for most people, but I love a good revenge story and find Beatrix Kiddo to be an interesting character to root for. Once the deadliest woman in the world, Beatrix (Uma Thurman) is brutally assaulted while pregnant by her ex-lover Bill (David Carradine) and his not-so-jolly band of assassins. She awakes from a coma — with no baby bump — and embarks on a mission to kill the people who wronged her. She leaves an impressive trail of bodies over the course of two movies, quietly simmering hate across multiple continents and overcoming some fairly impressive obstacles (like being buried alive in a scene that pushes my claustrophobia into overdrive). The final showdown between Beatrix and Bill is a fast but satisfying conclusion that hits all the feels.
5. Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) | Iron Man (2008)
I was never much of a comic book fan as a kid. I remember watching X-Men: The Animated Series in the ’90s, but that was about the extent of my experience. I couldn’t have told you what Marvel or DC meant, and sadly, the name Stan Lee didn’t hold much meaning for me beyond knowing he was a famous comic book writer — knowledge I gleaned from watching Mallrats as a teen (don’t judge me). While I still may not be the world’s biggest comics fan, after watching Iron Man for the first time, I was certainly a proud member of the Tony Stark Fan Club.
Robert Downey Jr. completely owns the role, delivering every witty line with perfect roguish charm. And while the eternal sexiness that is RDJ undoubtedly excels at playing a world-renowned billionaire playboy, he’s equally convincing as the uber genius with an insatiable thirst for creation and discovery. For every badass moment of saving the world in his flashy red and gold armor, there’s an equally un-badass moment of him hilariously failing and proving he’s still human (and with even more flaws than most of us). Tony Stark may not be the sarcastic, egotistical, brilliant, billionaire superhero we deserved, but we should count ourselves lucky that he’s the one we got.
4. Shrek (Mike Myers) | Shrek film series (2001-10)
Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) is a smelly, grumpy, antisocial, sarcastic ogre who seems to delight in being alone in his swamp and scaring the hell out of anyone who comes across him. After his swamp is invaded by fairytale creatures who have been banished by evil Lord Farquaad, this reluctant hero agrees to rescue Princess Fiona for Farquaad in an effort to buy back his peace and quiet. Maybe not the noblest of goals, but certainly relatable.
As the movie progresses, we come to see Shrek not as the monster he tries to pass himself off as, but as a sad ogre who shuns the world so that the inevitable rejection will hurt less. Under that gruff exterior is a deeply caring and lovable green giant who has a tremendous capacity for love and loyalty. His evolution is accomplished with enough humor to keep kids and adults chuckling throughout the film, as well as a healthy dose of awkward charm.
3. Gollum (Andy Serkis) | The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)
Before Peter Jackson, Weta Digital and, most importantly, Andy Serkis created Gollum, motion capture was… uneven, at best. Probably the best known motion capture character before Gollum was Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequel movies. Whatever you think of that character – and yes Duke, I know, “Justice for Jar Jar!” – it didn’t lead to a revolution in motion capture or talk of Oscar nominations. Gollum is a child of many parents, with facial expressions and other elements changed from the original performance to better fit Jackson’s vision, but Serkis is the heart of the character and his work since then (particularly as Caesar in the Planet of the Apes trilogy) has proven his skill at what he now calls “performance capture.”
Gollum as a character is an essential part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a dark reflection of Frodo and a reminder of what the Ring is doing to him as he carries the burden. A premonition of what he could become. Gollum is already lost, but Frodo has to believe that there is a way back even for a creature brought so low, and it’s this inner hope as much as pity that stays his hand. If Gollum had been simply a monster, a conniving and weak thing existing only to provide plot, we wouldn’t have cared – and care we do. He’s awful, but his inner struggle – as portrayed so magnificently in that scene in The Two Towers where he converses with the two aspects of his nature – is one we can all relate to. And like Frodo believes, it shows there IS something redeemable in Gollum, as awful as his life and choices have been.
Gollum was the first digital character we cared about in movies, the first to feel like a fully realized person. Hobbit-thingy. Whatever. For good or ill he was a premonition of what was to come. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy it’s Gollum who destroys the Ring (and himself), saving Middle Earth, albeit unintentionally. He also changed film-making, with movies now full of characters either wholly or partially digital. From King Kong, to the Na’vi in Avatar to half of the characters in any given Marvel or Star Wars movie. Motion performance has even allowed actors to reprise roles played by their younger selves (like Luke Skywalker). Like any tool, how well it works depends on the people wielding it, and Gollum showed us how it could be done when everyone involved is at their absolute best.
2. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) | Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
If you were to ask a group of people to describe and/or imitate a pirate, they would almost immediately do the stereotypical “pirate accent” (which is basically just overemphasizing the letter ‘R’ in words, such as “Yarrr” or “Arrrr”) and then they’d rattle off the classic iconography associated with pirates: an eyepatch, a wooden leg, a parrot and a hook. That’s what pirates have been for 100 years. That is, of course, till Jack Sparrow.
Originally written for Hugh Jackman, Captain Jack Sparrow was envisioned as a classic swashbuckler ala Errol Flynn but once Johnny Depp got the role, he took it in a radically different direction. Instead of the typical buccaneer we’ve seen a million times, Depp reshaped the character to be an effeminate drunkard who’s barely skilled at swordplay. His decision to model his performance on Keith Richards instead of Robert Newton, resulted in not only one of the most entertaining characters of the aughts but redefined the image of a pirate forever. No generation post Pirates of the Caribbean will ever again say “Arrrr” when imitating a pirate, they’ll just quote Jack Sparrow.
1. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) | Harry Potter film series (2001-11)
Has there been any other character in the 2000s who had more impact on pop culture than Harry Potter? If you’re being honest with yourself, you know that the answer is no. The Boy Who Lived sparked a global phenomenon that resulted in a plethora of merchandise, spin-offs, and a deeply loyal fanbase. Harry, whose parents died when he was a baby, is sent to live with his horrid Petunia and uncle Vernon. On his eleventh birthday, he is finally given his letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and told that, yup, he’s a wizard. We discover that Harry is not only a wizard, but the only person to ever survive the killing curse and now his (im)mortal enemy Voldemort is determined to kill Harry for good.
Harry Potter is arguably one of the best coming-of-age stories. We get to watch him grow up. He’s fearless, loyal, and not without his flaws, wonderfully acted by Daniel Radcliffe from beginning to end. The first book was released in 1997… the first film in 2001. And here we are in 2022 and Harry is still as relevant, inspiring countless imitations that can never quite reach the cultural impact as the Boy Wizard, and probably never will.
What do you think of the selection so far? Who are some of your favorite 2000s characters? Maybe they will show up further on the list!