The 100 Greatest 2010s Movie Characters (10-1)

The 2010s were a hell of a decade for film. Disney had a stranglehold on the box office. A24 cornered the market on low-budget cinema. Blumhouse made horror great again. Moviegoers finally embraced foreign film (kinda) and critically acclaimed movies were being shot on cellphones. The age of the mega-blockbuster essentially destroyed moderately budgeted films. Streaming provided hundreds of hours of new content (some of which was provided by some heavy hitters, such as Scorsese and the Coen Bros). Weird independent filmmakers were allowed the opportunity to direct huge movies. And previously thought impossible to see films such as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and The Other Side of the Wind were actually released. It was a decade in which the Oscars finally got it right (for two years at least) and which everyone tried and failed to be Marvel (RIP Dark Universe). Blank checks were cut regularly, resulting in some amazing titles such as Blade Runner 2049, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Irishman and not-so-great titles like A Wrinkle in Time, The Last Airbender, and Cats. The decade was impossible to pin down but what no one can dispute is the amount of indelible characters it produced. McConaughey had a career resurgence, DiCaprio was on fire and the MCU was a movie star-making factory. It felt like every new blockbuster introduced at least five new fan favorites, so limiting this to one hundred was a bloodletting but eventually we here at SAW did it.

These are the 100 Greatest 2010s Movie Characters.

10. Amy Elliott Dunne (Rosamund Pike) | Gone Girl (2014)

One of the most defining villains of the decade, Amy Dunne is the epitome of a psychopath. After she goes “missing” and her husband Nick is put under the microscope by the media and police as the prime suspect, we spend much of the movie sympathizing with this character who seemed to have been a devoted, patient wife to the neglectful, jerkish Nick. But then we learn the truth behind her disappearance and how cold and calculating Amy truly is. Her “Cool Girl” monologue is one of the defining moments of 2010s cinema, and while she is not a character to root for, we remain riveted by her until the very end.

–Romona Comet

9. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) | Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Stunt double. Green Beret. Medal of Valor recipient. Murderer (allegedly). Cliff Booth is a Hollywood myth inside of a Hollywood myth. Quentin Tarantino’s amalgamation of real and imagined people works a strange alchemy with Brad Pitt’s performance, turning the sidekick, the shadow, the guy who takes the punch and then disappears before the close up, into the main attraction in a film jammed with great performances. Dedicated to his friend and benefactor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), he’s a very laid back man who can get very violent, very quickly.

A lot of your investment in Booth can turn on whether you believe he killed his wife or not. (It can also turn on how you feel about Bruce Lee.) He’s obviously quick with his fists – as Clem finds out at the Spahn Ranch – but also seems to be more kind and calm than you would expect, given his past. Tarantino spells it all out in his novelization – though I understand that it’s supposed to be more of an alternate take on events – but I like the ambiguity of the film. Is he as dangerous as Dalton says? Or is he more and less at the same time?

I do sometimes wonder how much of what we see – especially anything that involves Booth – is from his own, somewhat self-aggrandizing perspective. Maybe a drug-fueled trip down memory lane sparked by that LSD laced cigarette. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter. The character is interesting, entertaining and just plain fun to watch. It’s nice to see a member of the film crew get their time in the sun, even if he’s a murderer (allegedly).

–Bob Cram

8. Ava (Alicia Vikander) | Ex Machina (2014)

Serving as a female version of Frankenstein’s monster, Ava is one of my favorite characters put to film. By overlaying a feminine identity onto the singularity conversation, it opens a whole other layer on the typical question of an AI movie: where’s the line between man and machine? But when that machine is a woman, being evaluated by two men, part of that question becomes “If a machine is a woman, would it still be viewed as an object?” Alicia Vikander is terrific in her role, making us feel that this is truly a machine we are watching, and yet also, very much a person like us. But the end of her arc leaves us guessing. How much is she truly like us, and how much were we fooled?

–Jacob Holmes

7. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) | The Master (2012)

PTA has a long history of writing some of cinema’s most iconic weirdos. Freddie Quell might just be the best weirdo of them all though. From our first moments with him, his beautiful idiosyncrasies jump off the screen. He’s absolutely captivating. His PTSD causes him to drink a bit too much, fornicate a bit too freely, and get into fights in department stores. Quell represents the often unspoken of American fallout from WWII – one that is completely lost and doesn’t know where to find itself. Once Quell meets Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd character, the movie really takes off. Both characters are so damn intriguing, and we get them both in the same movie! I could rewatch that first interrogation scene 1000 times over and never get bored.

–Raf Stitt

6. Caesar (Andy Serkis) | Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy

One of the best modern trilogies, and arguably ever, is anchored by the story of Caesar, the monkey rescued from a research lab and inadvertently given superhuman intelligence through contact with an Alzheimer’s cure. The character is great throughout the whole trilogy, from his humble beginnings struggling with whether he is a pet or equal to his owner/father (played by James Franco) in Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the Moses figure taking his people to the promised land in War for the Planet of the Apes. But the character is at his absolute best in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

In the middle chapter, Caesar must wrestle with the history of human-ape interactions and attempt to lead a nation of smart apes that share his intelligence, but still maintain much of the instincts of their primal origins. Playing across humans that, it turns out, are not so removed from that animal instinct themselves; Andy Serkis and the visual effects team give Caesar a nuanced and utterly believable performance of a leader grappling with his inability to stop an inevitable war.

–Jacob Holmes

5. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) | John Wick (2014)

I’ve been a Keanu Reeves fan since he uttered his very first, “Dude!” in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Over a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, he established himself as a prolific action star, from Point Break and Speed to The Matrix and John Wick. He’s not quite the style of actor we thought of as action star material in the ‘80s, but he forged his own special brand of understated badassery. In 2014, he cemented his place in ass-kicking history as John Wick, the retired hitman who reigns hell upon those responsible for killing his puppy. His stoic rampage through New York City is a sight to behold and worth every bit of hype it received. But even if you aren’t a fan of Keanu Reeves as an actor, surely it’s impossible to not be a fan of him as a person. In spite of his enormous success, he is consistently known as one of Hollywood’s most humble, down-to-earth celebrities. Nearly every day I come across a story in the news or on social media describing what a genuine, thoughtful, kind, and good-humored human being he is — nearly everything we’ve come to expect our film stars NOT to be. It’s sad that those traits should be so distinguishing rather than the norm, but at least we have Keanu.

–R.J. Mathews

4. Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) | The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Monsieur Gustave H. is something of a legend come to life in the Grand Budapest Hotel. As the story goes, his legend continues to grow. At the start, his legend is quite superficial. We know things like the smell of his perfume or his proclivity for sleeping with older women. By the end, we understand why he’s the hero of the story. His willingness to sacrifice himself for his loved ones is truly commendable. His desire to stand up for what’s right is second to none. Everything from his core principles to the wildly trivial factoids, and everything in-between (including the way he gracefully moves through the hotel, as if one with it) make him up to be one of the most enjoyable characters of the decade indeed.

–Raf Stitt

3. Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) | Whiplash (2014)

Terence Fletcher is an amalgamation of every hard-nosed teacher or coach that we all know, turned up to 11. Driven by a purpose to mentor a truly legendary drummer, Fletcher uses emotional manipulation and straight-up physical abuse in an attempt to burn off the chaff and find a drummer that will rise to the occasion. Played by the irreplaceable JK Simmons, the viewer is never quite sure how much the character really justifies his actions based on his desired results versus the sheer masochistic pleasure he receives from running down his pupils. That is, until the end of the movie when Andrew Nieman (Miles Teller) challenges him and pulls off such a drum solo, and we see that look of disgust turn to appreciation on Simmons’ face.

–Jacob Holmes

2. “Little” (Alex Hibbert) / Chiron (Ashton Sanders) / “Black” (Trevante Rhodes) | Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight is the 21st century’s greatest film about identity – both how it is learned and how it is performed. At the center of that confusion is one of the best movie characters we’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Spending time with him during his childhood, adolescent, and adult years, we get painted a vivid picture of this character’s life. We experience his most vulnerable public moments, and we get a glimpse into his loneliest moments of fear, self-doubt, and rage. There’s no world in which we don’t understand this character’s motivations. The world is so cruel to him that there’s no logical response other than the one he has. Telling the story of Little Chiron Black in these 3 separate yet seemingly parallel portraits is one of the most brilliant filmmaking techniques for character development ever deployed. It works like a charm here and gives us an all-time classic movie character.

–Raf Stitt

1. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) | Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

One of the greatest action heroines of all time, and you could drop that qualifier too. Certifiably badass with he iconic shaved head and the intimadating blackened scalp. When we see that Furiosa has a robotic arm, we don’t even question it, we know she lost that arm in a real fight— and that the other guy probably looked much worse. Charlize Theron brings a quiet intensity to the character, and even though the movie might be title “Mad Max,” we know this is Furiosa’s film from the moment she comes on screen. Furiosa is capable and caring, and far from indestructible. She should serve as a template for action protagonists for decades to come.

–Jacob Holmes

20-11 | Greatest 2010s Movies

What do you think of the selection so far? Who are some of your favorite 2010s characters? Maybe they will show up further on the list!