The 100 Greatest 2010s Movie Characters (20-11)

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.

20. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) | Django Unchained (2012)

Will Smith famously walked away from the role of Django because he wanted the film to be more of a love story and because he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Schultz. He argued that it doesn’t become Django’s movie until the last fifteen minutes and he’s right. I also think he knew deep down, he wasn’t a subtle enough actor to hold his own against three titans (Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson) with no dialogue. If he was cast, he would’ve tried to take attention away from Waltz, torpedoing the film and embarrassing himself in the project. Foxx was smart to get out of his way because he knew this role was a steamroller that you work with, not against.

While Hans Lands is his greatest performance (and arguably Tarantino’s best creation), I think Dr. King Schultz is his best character. QT got lucky finding Waltz for the role of Landa. It’s a role that required a German of a certain age that could speak four different languages and could effortlessly switch from charismatic to cold-blooded. If Waltz didn’t exist, Tarantino would’ve just had to settle for DiCaprio. But again, he got lucky. Django Unchained is a different situation entirely. He specifically wrote this role for Waltz (one of the few times he’s ever written a part specifically for an actor), which means he created a character that plays to his strengths. Feeling like the inverse of his character in Inglourious Basterds, Dr. Schultz is a loving, sympathetic bounty hunter who has no problem killing numerous people for money but has strong distaste fur slavery. He’s a hero with a moral code that bites him in the ass sometimes. Since so much of the film directly involves him, a strong case could be made that he’s the greatest side character. His name might not be on the top of the poster like Django’s is, but he’s most definitely the star of the show and Waltz is giving this performance everything.

–Sailor Monsoon

19. Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) | Marvel Cinematic Universe

Tony Stark / Iron Man, played effortlessly by Robert Downey Jr., was #5 on our 100 Greatest 2000s Movie Characters. While he didn’t crack the Top 10 here, his impact on the 2010s was nevertheless impressive. Iron Man (and RDJ) was the glue of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for its first three phases. Even when his trilogy ended in 2013, Iron Man continued to play an important role in the wider MCU. Whether that was creating Ultron with Bruce Banner, trading blows with Captain America in Civil War, or helping Peter Parker find his inner Spider-Man, Tony Stark became the face of the MCU. So, by the time Avengers: Endgame was released in 2019, the audience had been following Tony Stark’s journey from genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist to superhero for over a decade. As soon as Stark was shown wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, the fans knew what was about to happen. After 11 years, 10 films, and a career-resurrecting role, RDJ was saying goodbye to the MCU. And what a way to go out.

“And I… am… Iron Man.” *snap*

–Marmaduke Karlston

18. Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) | Holy Motors (2012)

Mr. Oscar isn’t a straightforward character at all and Holy Motors isn’t a straightforward movie. What is Mr. Oscar and what is the point of Holy Motors? What is the point of the character or characters that Mr. Oscar plays? Like many films that operate in the territory of the vague and suggestive rather than the literal and straightforward, that is going to depend on the viewer. It might even depend on the mood of the viewer at the time of the viewing. It might depend on who the viewer is watching the movie with.

And maybe that is the point of Holy Motors and the character of Mr. Oscar. Maybe Mr. Oscar is all of us. Maybe Mr. Oscar is a meditation on the ways in which we bend and meld and mold into different personalities depending on who we’re with, who we’re interacting with, where we are, how we’re feeling. Maybe it’s asking us to consider that our perceptions of ourselves and others may be limited or even myopic. And that is the beauty of movies like Holy Motors and characters like Mr. Oscar. It can be or mean different things to different people. It’s a movie you can watch again and again and get different things out of. It may mean something completely different to you in a different season of life than when you originally saw it. And that to me makes Mr. Oscar a truly great character. 

–Billy Dhalgren

17. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) | Her (2013)

After years of directing nothing but Charlie Kaufman-penned screenplays, Spike Jonze finally decided to write one of his own. The end result was Her, a charming and sublime romance that has a premise so strange and unique, it’s easy to make parallels to his former collaborator’s work due to his penchant for the fantastical but while the film is out there, it never alienates the audience. It’s a love story between a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) and an A.I. operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that’s played completely straight. Much like the equally bizarre love stories at the center of The Shape of Water or Spring, you never once question the romance. Because Phoenix is so earnest and lovably lonesome and because Johansson is so supportive and caring, you immediately buy why and how a man, this man, could fall for his phone. Any other actor would dial up Theodore’s eccentricities to the point where you can’t help but pity him but Phoenix plays him as less pathetic and more lonely, a nearly impossible high-wire act. You never once look down on him and if anything, are rooting for these two improbable love birds to make it. Her is the definitive love story of the technological age.

–Sailor Monsoon

16. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) | Black Swan (2010)

Not many of us can identify with the struggles of elite athletes or elite artists. The pressures they face. The demands put on them. That they put on themselves. But many of us can understand struggles with the self. Internal battles. Even the most cheerful, squared-away among us struggle with choices we’ve made or haven’t made, others’ expectations of us, past failures, future triumphs, etc. Nina Sayers’ world may be somewhat exotic to most of us, but she’s no less compelling or relatable because of it. Because in some ways, we are all Nina Sayers and she is us.

–Billy Dhalgren

15. James Howlett / Logan / Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) | Logan (2017)


When 2000’s X-Men helped to usher in the Superhero genre and make a star of Hugh Jackman, it was likely no one predicted the man would spend 17 years of his career (now 23 or 24 years thanks to Deadpool 3) developing the character. While Logan, aka Wolverine, appears in many iterations—from crowd-pleasers like X2 and Days of Future Past to stinkers like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and, well pretty much the rest—the spirit of the character remained wholly intact thanks to Jackman’s dedication and respect.

Enter 2017’s Logan, James Mangold’s follow-up to, and more or less remake of, his 2013 The Wolverine—a film that honors the character every bit as well as the actor embodying him. The film finds Logan alone, old, bitter, and in hiding, slowly dying from that which once made him so formidable. Along with a feeble Charles Xavier under his care, Logan is the sole surviving X-Man in a near future in which most mutants are eradicated. Making pitiful ends meet as a limo driver, Logan is badgered into escorting a child to freedom. The film very much becomes a road trip and not one that stands apart from those that came before like The Road, Children of Men, etc.

The film also is what a majority of the X films are not, a sobering character study that does not once shy away from the dramatic nature of the situation. Logan is a broken man who struggles with the bottle, his eyesight, hell, he even struggles with popping his trademark claws. A tormented figure like few others, despite his actions to the contrary Logan had long been in search of meaning, a home, love—things he had been denied due to both the misfortune of his “gifts” and the cruelty inflicted upon him by those wanting to exploit them. Is it any wonder then that his heroics are reserved and his simultaneous desire for isolation and acceptance keep his edges rough?

Logan is as much a study on the character as it is on Jackman’s tenure as one of the most longstanding, physically demanding film roles any actor could likely undertake. And so, after two final hours with the character (we aren’t counting Deadpool 3 just yet), his heroism, flaws, pathos, and a good deal that came before, are all bittersweetly paid respect to as Logan’s cinematic existence is respectfully and damn near perfectly closed out.



14. The Kim Family | Parasite (2019)

“A comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.” When we first meet the Kims, in their flooding-prone sub-basement apartment, they’re not that impressive or even likeable. Getting a wi-fi signal neer the (elevated) toilet. Leaving windows open to get that sweet, street-level city fumigation. Still, there’s something about them, maybe a sense of familial connection, that keeps us interested when Ki-Woo gets the opportunity to tutor a girl from a wealthy family. And there’s even a level of admiration as they maneuver, cajole, trick and inveigle their way into the entire family being employed by the same wealthy people.

I have friends who watched the film and came away thinking the Kims were the villains of the piece. I have friends who think it’s the Parks, the wealthy family whose largesse the Kims enjoy. I don’t think it’s either of them. I agree with director Bong Joon-ho’s quote at the beginning of this entry – there are no clowns or villains, though Parasite can be darkly funny. And the title can easily be applied to either the Kims or the Parks, depending on your point of view, or even just your current viewing.

If I have to choose a side to root for, though, I choose the Kims. Maybe because I relate more. Or understand them more. Or maybe it’s just because they, despite all their faults – of which there are many – are still a family. Still devoted to each other. They’ve adapted to their host – society – in the only way they know how – and managed to keep their love for each other intact.

–Bob Cram

13. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) | Nightcrawler (2014)

There have been a lot of great psychopaths/sociopaths put on screen, but Louis Bloom just might be the king of them all. An absolutely riveting performance from Jake Gyllenhaal imbues the character with this ratty charisma that just won’t stop until he finds success. When he finds the profession of nightcrawling Los Angeles, listening to a scanner and speeding to a gristly crime or accident scene, he finds a purpose and something he can really excel at, particularly because he has no empathy for the mangled people in his lens. He works as a personification of the worst kind of TV news that thrives off sensationalism and bloody images to make his money. And he keeps crossing that line just a little bit more each time until an exhilarating ending in which, in a twisted way, the protagonist achieves the American dream.

–Jacob Holmes

12. Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) | Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

On my first watch of Silver Linings Playbook, I was genuinely afraid that Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, would join the ranks of cinema’s manic pixie dream girls. She would be the free-spirited, quirky catalyst for Bradley Cooper’s Pat to get his life together without any personality or history of her own. Thankfully I was quickly proven wrong. She has her own demons, and perhaps she needs saving just as much as Pat does. Brutally honest and self-aware, Tiffany projects the kind of strength that almost dares those around her to challenge it, and yet regardless of her demeanor, Lawrence is able to project such emotion with just a mere look that you can almost physically feel the pain she’s going through.

I was a big slut, but I’m not anymore. There will always be a part of me that is sloppy and dirty, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

No, Tiffany is nobody’s dream girl, but she’s real which is why she’s one of my very favorite characters in film.

–Romona Comet

11. Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson) | Good Time (2017)

The Safdie brothers excel at making movies that are basically anxiety attacks dressed up as cinema. If Uncut Gems is like watching someone dig their own grave, Good Time is like watching someone race to their own toward their own demise. Robert Pattinson’s Connie Nikas is one of those characters that you wish you could reach into the screen and shake by the shoulders, tell them to “Stop! Get a. Grip on yourself! You’re just making everything worse!” But you can’t. All you can do is sit there and watch it play out, watch it unspool, watch Connie’s life unravel. And that’s kind of what life is like sometimes when we know that the choices friends and loved ones are making will lead to results that will cause them harm. We try to warn them. We try to steer them in better directions. Sometimes we even try to intervene in a more direct way, but they have to choose to go down different, better paths. And just like Connie, a lot of times they don’t. And the mess at the end is inevitable. 

–Billy Dhalgren

30-21 | 10-1

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!