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.
40. Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) | Tropic Thunder (2008)
Kirk ‘fucking’ Lazarus… just a dude playing the dude, disguised as another dude. How brilliant is that? RDJ came in to this film and successfully pulled off blackface and didn’t get the boot from Hollywood. It’s easily one of the best roles he’s ever had (Tony Stark wins) but seriously it’s just a completely ridiculous part that works so damn well.
The whole idea of him playing an Australian Method actor who gets so deep into his roles a la Daniel Day Lewis is awesome. And the backstories (and movie trailers) created for him are some of the best gags in a comedy. Here’s just a couple of them: “He also took part in a film about Neil Armstrong and was so caught up in his character that he tried to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere with a refrigerator in Burbank, CA. Lazarus also supposedly had an affair with Jennifer Love Hewitt, as the Tabloids magazine conjectured.”
39. James Bond (Daniel Craig) | Casino Royale (2006)
James Bond is a fixture of my childhood, a regular feature on weekend afternoons on cable. I never took any of the Bond movies seriously, and they never really asked me to. (Except for Timothy Dalton, and I never really enjoyed those films.) The suave, debonair and oh-so British super-spy was a live-action cartoon for me – enjoyable, no doubt, but not something I could ever take seriously. Whatever else you can say about the (admittedly uneven) series of Bond films starring Daniel Craig, they DO want you to take 007 seriously. Or at least as seriously as any action movie character.
Craig’s version of Bond is rough around the edges, flawed, and almost casually brutal. When he wears a tuxedo it just feels wrong, like putting a costume on an attack dog. In the effort to return the character to its roots in the Flemming novels the filmmakers could easily have turned James Bond into an emotionless killing machine, a British reflection of the ’80s American action hero. Luckily Craig is a much better actor than that and leavens the casual violence with an emotional core. As enjoyable as the film is as a whole, the scene I remember most clearly is the one in which James comforts a shaken Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in the shower, sitting down in the water fully dressed, his enormous frame dwarfing the shivering woman. Craig made you believe this beast, more charismatic than handsome, had a heart in there somewhere. And made you believe it could be broken.
38. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) | Shrek film series (2001-10)
Shrek and Donkey are arguably the most famous animated pairing outside of Toy Story‘s Woody and Buzz. The Shrek films have always been about parody, from riffing on classic children’s stories to straight-up mocking Disney’s animated classics. If we follow that same logic, it’s not hard to see that the films are using Shrek and Donkey to poke fun at buddy cop films, specifically Lethal Weapon. Shrek is Roger Murtaugh, who is too ogre for this shit and just wants his swamp back, while Donkey is Martin Riggs, absolutely unhinged and willing to do whatever it takes. Eventually, the two learn how to work together and we see them save the princess and stop the evil Lord Farquaad.
While a whole generation grew up with Murphy as the star of SNL, Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming to America, a different generation was raised solely on his voice. First as Mushu in 1998’s Mulan and then as Donkey in the Shrek films throughout the 2000s. Donkey is Murphy’s spontaneous energy come to life. He’s one of the funniest characters in the Shrek franchise and a perfect foil to Shrek (and later Puss in Boots). Yet, Donkey’s most endearing quality is his loyalty. He has Shrek’s back no matter what. If you find yourself someone who is willing to make you waffles in the morning, hold on to them. They’re a rare find. Just like a talking donkey.
37. Ocean’s Crew (George Clooney, Bernie Mac, Brad Pitt, Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Don Cheadle, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, Matt Damon) | Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Heist films are some of my favorite films, but they’re only as good as the team and plan behind the heist. Luckily, George Clooney’s Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt’s Rusty Ryan know how to plan a heist and assemble a talented team of criminals and specialists to get the job done. It seems like a simple enough job at first. I mean, all they have to do is steal $160 million from casino owner Terry Benedict, the lover of Ocean’s ex-wife. Of course, everything is not always what it seems, and plans quickly change at a moment’s notice. But that’s the whole point of a heist film. It’s the unpredictability and tense feeling the audience gets when they feel like the whole plan is about to go off the rails and up in flames. Seeing these characters, performed by Hollywood veterans, A-listers, and up-and-comers, interact and work together to successfully pull off this heist is the highlight of the film. It’s a shame the sequels, which I’ll still heap praises onto for the cast dynamics, fail to match the rewatchable and quality of Steven Soderbergh’s first Ocean’s film.
36. Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) | Gladiator (2000)
“Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
So there’s a scene in Sleepless in Seattle where… what? Yes, this is relevant. Sort of. Anyway, it’s the scene where Sam and Greg pretend that The Dirty Dozen is an emotional touchstone for them like An Affair to Remember is for Suzy (and Annie). It’s a joke, but in some weird way Gladiator really was that kind of emotional touchstone for my brother Jeff and I. I think we saw it in the theater five or six times. It was the guy version of Beaches. Does that make any sense? Ah, probably not.
ANYWAY, the heart of the film is Russell Crowe’s Maximus Decimus Meridius, who has to be believable as both a magnificent badass and as a loving family man and true friend of Rome. I’m not even that big a fan of Russell Crowe, but damn if I don’t I love Maximus. I’m invested from that first battle. The story is a simple one, really, about vengeance and justice and family, and there’s a heaping helping of melodrama that fattens the filme considerably, but I honestly don’t care. I care about Maximus, and his friends, and about epic fights and villains defeated and about not crying when Juba (Djimon Hounsou) buries the figurines in the earth of the stadium. I think Maximus is one of the best creations of either Ridley Scott or Russell Crowe. Oh yes. I AM entertained.
35. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) | The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)
Ask many Lord of the Rings fans who the true hero of the story is and many, if not most, will say Samwise Gamgee (myself being one of them), but it’s hard to deny how important Frodo is to the story, the true ring bearer who courageously volunteers to take the ring of power to Mordor to destroy Sauron once and for all. Yes, the ring begins to corrupt him, but given how easily and quickly it had taken over everyone who touched it before, the fact that he was able to resist its dark power for as long as he did says plenty about his character. He suffers because of the ring, both externally and internally, but remains steadfast in his determination to get to Mount Doom. At his core, Frodo is a tragic hero, one who sacrificed everything to save Middle Earth and yet is denied a truly happy ending.
34. Wall-E (Ben Burtt) | Wall-E (2008)
Wall-E might be the only character on this list who doesn’t speak any actual words of dialogue in their movie. Wall-E is able to communicate more emotional depth with just a tilt of the head and slight eye movement than most characters can with scripted lines. As far as cuteness goes, Wall-E has to be top of the list. It’s damn near impossible to not be fully captivated by his adorable little antics. It also doesn’t hurt Wall-E’s case that he helped save humanity from its catastrophic and self-destructive tendencies.
33. Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) | Legally Blonde (2001)
By coincidence, I recently watched Legally Blonde right before sitting down for this write-up. I was reminded of what a joy the character of Elle Woods was, proving to women everywhere that you can be pretty, perky, and smart. Elle’s reasoning for working her ass off to get into Harvard Law was to win back her boyfriend, but once she gets there, she realizes she doesn’t need a ring on her finger to be someone. She’s an underdog story and a feminist role model for young women everywhere who are constantly told they’re not good enough.
32. Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) | Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
This bitch. The killer of Sirius Black (and Dobby) and possibly the most hated character in Harry Potter after Dolores Umbridge, Bellatrix Lestrange is a secondary antagonist for Harry and his friends that is more unhinged and unpredictable than Voldemort. She’s a Death Eater that simply loves to torture and kill muggles and other wizards. Helena Bonham Carter perfectly brings Bellatrix to life on screen through the last four live-action film adaptations, giving fans all the more reason to despise this character. When Bellatrix finally meets her end in Deathly Hallows – Part 2, you’d be hardpressed to find a Potterhead that wasn’t cheering at her demise. And personally, that’s how I know an actor did a good job at bringing a character to life. Whether it’s openly cheering a vile and ruthless villain’s death or being genuinely shocked and in pain at a beloved house elf’s death, an actor’s performance can make or break a character. Bonham Carter luckily performed her heart out and gave us a Bellatrix Lestrange for the history books.
31. William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) | Gangs of New York (2002)
The always great Daniel Day-Lewis giving another one of his all-time performances. Bill the Butcher might be DDL’s most menacing character, as well as his only supporting role. Bill the Butcher represents an unfortunate aspect of Americana. Many of our harshest, coldest, and most cynical tendencies are apparent in him. In what is probably DDL’s strongest scene in the film, Bill the Butcher describes the admiration and respect he had for Liam Neeson’s Priest character (despite brutally murdering him) while draped in an American flag. The power of Bill’s presence is undeniable. He overwhelms you whenever on screen and remains in your mind long after viewing.
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!