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.
20. Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) | The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)
Samwise Gamgee is the hero of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and among the most honorable characters ever conceived in a book or film. Samwise is Frodo Baggins’ gardener and best friend. After being caught eavesdropping on a conversation about The One Ring, he is unwittingly recruited by Gandalf to escort Frodo to the nearby village of Bree. Over the course of the trilogy, he follows Frodo through rain, snow, and fire to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth.
Played with poignant innocence by Sean Astin, Samwise never wavers in his loyalty to his friends or to the mission of destroying the Ring. No matter what obstacles are thrown at him, he trudges forward with steadfast determination, persevering and overcoming obstacles that bring even battle-hardened warriors to their knees. Were it not for the pure goodness of this hobbit, all of his friends would have perished in their fight and Sauron would rule Middle Earth. And when his task is done? He returns home to his normal life. He starts a family with the woman of his dreams and remains a faithful friend.
19. Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) | Elf (2003)
In the wrong actor’s hands, the role of Buddy the Elf could have come across as unbearably obnoxious. But Will Ferrell managed to take the role of a simple and sweet-mannered human-raised-as-an-elf and turn it into one of the most loveable holiday characters in history. Having been raised in the North Pole with Santa Claus, of course he’s cheerful and naive and lives by the code of the Elves. Being thrust into New York City to find his biological father, he’s challenged by the rough and tumble of the real world – not to mention his dad, Walter (James Caan). But Buddy manages to maintain his eternal optimism and Christmas spirit, helping save Christmas, as well as his family.
18. Regina George (Rachel McAdams) | Mean Girls (2004)
“So you agree, you think you’re really pretty?”
Mean Girls is a cult classic for good reason. Highly quotable and hilarious, the now 18-year-old high school comedy has rightly been able to stand the test of time. One of the reasons is its fun, quirky cast of characters — not least of which is the mean girl in chief herself, leader of the Plastics, Regina George. Even within the world of the movie, she’s legendary: “one time she punched me in the face, it was awesome” is an actual thing that is said about her. It’s an incredible performance from Rachel McAdams, who between this and Game Night has proven herself to be a formidable comic talent.
17. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) | Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
I just want to start off by saying that Ron Burgundy has one of the most iconic movie mustaches of all time. I also want to point out that he has an absolutely killer wardrobe. His cannonball in the opening party scene is in perfect form. He is in every way the legend he claims to be when we first meet him. Despite the obvious idiocy of the character, we can’t help but root for him on his path to redemption. It might be because we find him so bizarrely relatable. I mean, who hasn’t been stuck in a glass case of emotions? You stay classy, Ron Burgundy.
16. Juno MacGaff (Elliot Page) | Juno (2007)
If she had as big a career as Wes Anderson or even M. Night Shyamalan, I truly believe Diablo Cody would be the most divisive writer in Hollywood. It’s like she sits in a coffee shop all day, listens to as many hipsters talk about whatever shit they talk about as she can, and then goes home and turns out into dialogue. It’s a specific type of quirky (for lack of a better word) that you’ll either love or hate. And if you hate it, you most likely despise it. Some viewers feel like every line and every other scene is accompanied by a giant neon sign that says “look at how unique and clever I am”, while others enjoy the fact that nobody talks like this. It’s artificial but so was Shakespeare. Wherever you land on it and the quality of the film itself, I can’t imagine anyone who thinks negatively about this film can’t at least appreciate how well-written the titular character is. Diablo Cody didn’t just get the Oscar because her script was wholly original, it won because of the strength of just that one character. The rest of the movie could be utterly forgettable and it would still be worth it for just Juno. The combination of Reitman’s creative decisions, Cody’s characterization, and Page’s performance make her one of the all-time great characters. She’s a pregnant 16-year-old who enjoys sitting on a recliner in the front yard of her house pretending to smoke out of a Sherlock Holmes pipe while drinking Sunny D as the high school track team run by in their tight, little shorts. She once pretended to hang herself with red vine candy, she talks to her best friend on a hamburger phone and they read the Penny Gazette for fun. There are a million little details like that that help flesh out her character by giving her some depth and interesting quirks but it’s Page that brought Juno MacGaff to life.
15. Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) | Harry Potter film series (2001-11)
While Hermione might have gotten off on the wrong foot with Ron and Harry, the trio soon became fast friends after a harrowing troll adventure in a Hogwarts bathroom. Hermione is the kind of female role model that all young women hope to see in film, especially when the Chosen One is a guy. Smart and capable, Hermione is a fountain of magical knowledge, which is even more impressive considering she’s Muggle-born. Hermione never tries to dumb herself down in order to be liked and she has never shied away from speaking her mind. Without Hermione, Ron and Harry would have likely failed in half of their goals and Ron said it best in The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 when Harry was trying to sneak away from the Burrow to find the Horcruxes on his own, leaving behind Hermione. “Are you mad? We wouldn’t last two days without her… Don’t tell her I said that.”
14. The Joker (Heath Ledger) | The Dark Knight (2008)
The Joker is one of the most prestigious comic book roles in history, with two different actors winning Oscars for their performances in the role. Heath Ledger, of course, was the first to do so, winning the award posthumously after his untimely death. Ledger’s Joker is the perfect blend of chaos and control. His monologue on “How I got these scars” pulls you into this sad, twisted backstory. But then later he tells a completely different, just as affecting story and you realize you can’t believe a word of it. But the performance sells it anyway. Joker works best without a backstory, and Ledger’s performance somehow makes it simultaneously believable that the Joker has a tragic background and that he has no background at all. Everything seems to be layered on something, yet it’s impossible to peel it back and find a foundation. It’s exciting to see new takes on the classic character, but it will be hard for anyone to ever surpass Ledger’s work as the Clown Prince of Crime.
13. Fogell / McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) | Superbad (2007)
The true genius of Superbad is the emotional core of Seth and Evan’s relationship. The necessary dramatic turmoil can’t be possible without Fogell. Not only is Fogell an incredibly important character in Superbad, but he’s easily one of the funniest. The phrase “show stealer” was made for characters like Fogell. His storyline with Officers Michaels and Slater could be its own feature-length film. The scene revealing the McLovin fake ID is one of the most memorable comedic scenes in movie history. Fogell’s ultimate triumph is the inspiration for all the underdogs out there that their time to shine will come sooner or later.
12. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
I had never heard of Lisbeth Salander (or Noomi Rapace) the first time I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’d never read the books and didn’t know what the story was. This was back in the days when streaming was still relatively new and we were still adjusting to the fact that we could find foreign movies and watch them with a few presses of a button. And if you didn’t have a video store (or a good video store), you might never even hear of some of these movies. And of course it was before everyone checked the Rotten Tomatoes score before committing to watching anything. It’s crazy to think of 2009 as “simpler times”, but I think I’m less likely in 2022 to jump into a two and a half hour foreign film that I know nothing about than I was then.
But I did, and I’m glad I did.
The central mystery of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is interesting and engaging, but there’s no way a movie this long works without a character as complex as Salander. Salander feels like a whole person, maybe even someone you’ve known. Someone who is clearly carrying around stuff but who nevertheless functions or even thrives. Someone you could work with for years and never know what that stuff she’s carrying is. She’s badass, sure. But she’s also vulnerable, and the movie allows the character enough time to breathe and reveal those vulnerabilities and complexities rather than rushing from one thrilling moment to another.
There are no shortage of goth-y or punk, badass female protagonists in cinema (especially from the 2000s). It’s easy to lump them all into one category, because so many of them are essentially paper-thin tropes. But Salander is so much more than a Mohawk or black leather jacket, and she makes the movie.
And, for the record, Noomi Rapace will always be the Lisbeth Salander in my eyes. She owns this role.
11. Jason Bourne / David Webb (Matt Damon) | Bourne film series (2002-16)
Have I ever mentioned I’m a sucker for amnesia stories? I can’t remember. Found adrift in the Mediterranean with bullets and a microchip inside him, the man who would become known as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) starts off with no memory of who he is or how he came to be where he was. As the first film progresses and he learns more about himself he begins to suspect that who he was and what he did were both bad. And he’s right. It’s very bad.
The thing about Jason Bourne – or David Webb – is that he’s nothing much like the other action movie characters of the day. He’s not loud, he’s not full of confidence and he’s not particularly witty. He’s the blue collar version of an action movie star, doing the job but not taking pleasure in it. Not acting like it’s just another day. When there’s a need for violence it’s brutal, effective and short. Half the time Bourne even acts disgusted by what his instincts and training allow him to do. And he’s not out to save the world, or stop some dastardly super villain. He’s trying to figure out who he is, protect the people around him and, when pressed, trying to stop the forces that have controlled his life until now from re-asserting their hold on him (or stop them from trying to kill him). His abilities are uncommon, but his motivations are completely understandable to the average person. To know who we are, why we’re here, and to be allowed to live the life we choose.
While the character of Jason Bourne would influence action movie characters that followed – most notably Daniel Craig’s James Bond – the influence of the movies he appears in were even more dramatic. The quick and brutal fight scenes that put us in the middle of the chaos, the shaky cam action sequences that traded visual composition for frenetic energy and visceral punch (sometimes literally). Man, that shaky cam got over-used, didn’t it? Still, it’s Damon’s performance as Bourne that holds the whole thing together, a compromised and tortured soul just trying to find a way to live with himself and the things he’s done, even if he can’t remember them.
30-21 | 10-1
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!