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.
30. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) | The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)
Gandalf has always reminded me of my paternal grandfather – oh, not physically. My Grampy was heavyset, a beer drinker and averse to wearing robes. No, it was in the way they told stories, the way the enjoyed life, the way they imparted wisdom, the way their eyes sometimes seemed filled with a secret pain (my grandfather was a veteran of World War II). Gandalf as played by Ian McKellen was ancient, kindly and a little bit scary. An older man with a heart of gold and a spine of mithril. Though there are two iterations of the character – Gandalf the Grey, who falls in Moria and Gandalf the White who returns “at the turn of the tide” – it’s the Grey I loved the most. He was more… human, I guess. Fallible. Lovable. The Fellowship felt safer while he was around (and I think I felt safer too) and the shadows in the film grow longer and darker after he’s gone. I lost my grandfather at an early age and when Gandalf falls in battle with the Balrog it broke me a little, despite knowing it was coming. I know, this is too much about me and my grandfather rather than the character, but I really did feel that connection. I think maybe more than a few of us thought of Gandalf in the same way, as a sort of cinematic grandparent, the one we all wanted or maybe even had, all too briefly.
29. The Parr Family (Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox) | The Incredibles (2004)
There’s an old saying that out of all the Fantastic Four films, Pixar has made the best one. The Incredibles gave audiences the perfect imperfect superhero family. They have their problems, but what family doesn’t? While The Incredibles starts as “The Mr. Incredible Story” it becomes a whole family affair by the time the credits roll. Seeing Dash and Violet finally embrace their powers instead of being forced to hide them and witnessing Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible repair their crumbling marriage through opening up to one another (while kicking ass) will always warm my heart, which Pixar is well known for doing at this point. Honestly, Marvel needs to hire Brad Bird for its Fantastic Four reboot because nobody understands family, and superhero, dynamics quite like him.
28. Mary Lee Johnston (Mo’Nique) | Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (2009)
I went into Precious knowing very little about it. I was smacked in the face with a number of surprises, including some really difficult subject matter, Maria Carey playing a social worker, and the central performance from Gabourey Sidibe as Precious. But nothing surprised me more than Mo’Nique’s turn as Precious’ mother, Mary Lee Johnston. Primarily known for her comedic work, to say her role here is a change of pace is an extreme understatement. She is an abusive, venomous, manipulative person who doesn’t have one redeeming feature. It actually made me angry watching her character on screen and to make me feel like that means Mo’Nique did her job perfectly. One of the most detestable characters of the entire decade.
27. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) | American Psycho (2000)
There’s only one character in cinema history who can make ’80s pop music the most terrifying thing in the world. There’s also only one character who almost had a full mental breakdown over a colleague’s business card. This absurd singularity is what makes Patrick Bateman such a memorable character. Director Mary Harron brilliantly takes inside the mind of a truly manic man and Christian Bale brings the character’s hectic psychotic nature to life. Bateman remains one of the most quotable movie characters of all time. Who hasn’t used the excuse of returning videotapes for missing plans or claimed that a restaurant has a great sea urchin ceviche? Maybe we all have a little Patrick Bateman in us.
26. Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) | Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Not since Scarlet O’Hara has there ever been such controversy over the casting of a popular female character. Whereas Brit beauty Viven Leigh was stepping into the petticoat of a Southern icon, Texan Renee Zellweger was to become the beloved Brit, Bridget Jones. She of the diary which details her desire to lose weight, find love and better herself. Bridget was the everyday woman, awkward and curvy, attracted to the wrong men. But she was also loveable and charming and it made sense that the Brits were protective of their Bridget. But Renee Zellweger knocked it out of the park, winning over audiences and earning Oscar and BAFTA nods for her performance. The character of Bridget Jones was so popular that she returned to the big screen for two more sequels – Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason in 2004 and Bridget Jones’s Baby in 2013.
25. Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) | Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-07)
There are certain cinematic characters, like James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Batman, and, of course, Spider-Man, that will be rebooted, reinterpreted, and reimagined until the end of time. And like any character that ends up having more than one actor portray them, there will bound to be discussions on which actor did a better job in the role or which actor is your favorite. Well, Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter Parker / Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy is my favorite version of Marvel’s web-slinger. Raimi’s Spider-Man films ooze emotion and you feel Peter’s everyday struggles. “With great power comes great responsibility” holds actual weight as Peter has to juggle paying the rent with saving New York City time and time again. Say what you will about Maguire’s Spidey lacking witty quips, but the actor nails the Peter side of the character. I really hope Sony and Marvel greenlight a proper fourth Spider-Man film with Raimi and Maguire because there is certainly more story to tell with this version of Stan Lee’s greatest superhero.
24. Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) | Training Day (2001)
Much like Henry Fonda’s Frank from the aforementioned Once Upon a time in the West, it’s always refreshing to see an actor primarily known for likable good guys take on something dark and that’s Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris. Harris is among the filthiest cops ever portrayed on screen. There’s something delightfully taboo about watching someone whose duty is to serve and protect, commit as many crimes as humanly possible in the shortest amount of time. The film is unfortunately still prescient but undeniably enjoyable and the lion’s share of that credit goes to Denzel Washington.
23. Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) | Harry Potter film series (2001-11)
Ah, Severus Snape, Hogwarts Potions Master, Head of Slytherin House and wizard we loved to hate. While there were darker figures arrayed against Harry Potter and his friends in the series, Snape’s animosity was always more personal, more grating. He didn’t cause a wound, he put lemon juice in it – if that makes sense. But Snape was always more than he seemed and there was no one better suited to the task of portraying that complexity than the late Alan Rickman. He managed to make us hate the character – and then make us… if not exactly love him, at least have sympathy for him. Bullied, belittled and having lost the love of his life, Snape could have continued down the path he had set for himself, a Death Eater in soul as well as name. Instead, he chose to fight for what was right, in the most difficult way possible, and defend his beloved Lily’s son – even if he couldn’t stand the kid. One of the best reveals in the series, and one of the more complex and interesting characters as well.
22. James “Logan” Howlett / Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) | X-Men film series (2000-17)
I can’t remember what my idea of Wolverine was before Hugh Jackman, that’s how good a job he’s done. I’m a comic book fan, and I remember as a kid laboriously copying panels from Wolverine comics because he was just so damn cool. I lived with a version of Wolverine in my head until the 2000 X-Men film when it was unceremoniously knocked unconscious and dragged offscreen to be replaced by Jackman’s portrayal. That he almost didn’t get to play the character – Dougray Scott was originally cast – is crazy. In a series that includes characters portrayed by actors like Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, Jackman’s Wolverine is arguably the most central and interesting. Certainly the only one capable of carrying a solo film (or three).
If I’m honest, I’m less interested in the character’s background than I should be. I didn’t need to know about Logan’s childhood in 1800’s Canada. I did like the opening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine where we see him (and his half-brother Victor) fighting through a century of armed conflicts, but it’s the modern day version of Logan I like the most, dealing with the consequences of his past and his spotty memory of the same. Trying desperately not to form attachments after lifetimes of loss. I’ve said before (most recently in the entry about Leonard from Memento) that I’m a sucker for amnesia stories, and Wolverine is a case in point. Wolverine is the original gruff-exterior/heart of gold character (might be hyperbole), and it’s that combination of affected disdain (“you’re a dick”) and single-minded loyalty that endears him to me the most.
It’s not often that a movie character gets to have their last film be their best one, but James Mangold’s 2017 Logan (Mangold’s second Wolverine film) is a great sendoff. It manages to encapsulate everything I liked about Logan – that broken heart now reflected in a broken body – and send off a classic character in emotional style. Marvel may replace Jackman at some point – Wolverine’s too valuable a character to leave dead – but I can’t imagine they’ll ever better the man’s performance.
21. Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) | Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo tells the epic story of a father’s love for his child. It is the heartwarming tale of an overprotective father, Marlin the clownfish, who overcomes his greatest fears to travel across the entire ocean and save his son Nemo. On this trip, he meets many creatures big and small, including the ocean’s greatest sidekick, Dory.
Dory is an adorable fish who suffers from short term memory loss, and despite Marlin’s brusqueness, she insists on coming with him to help find his son. Her forgetfulness is endearing and adds a delightful dash of humor throughout the movie. Her eternal kindness and optimism warms my perpetually pessimistic heart every time. She sees goodness in everyone and finds light even in the darkest depths of the ocean (never mind that the light is attached to a predator, the metaphor stands). While Marlin and Nemo’s relationship is the focus of Finding Nemo, it’s Dory who steals our hearts.
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!