The 100 Greatest 2010s Movie Characters (30-21)

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.

30. T’Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) | Black Panther (2018)

If there’s one Marvel movie decision I can get behind (beyond casting Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark), it’s their decision to not recast T’Challa. Chadwick Boseman so inhabited that role that anyone who would have stepped up would forever be in his shadow. I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sold on his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War, though. T’Challa in that film is merely a prince of Wakanda, moved to exact vengeance when his father is killed. While Boseman did everything he could with the part, there just wasn’t much for him to do other than glower and kick ass.

Black Panther, however… whatever you think of the story, T’Challa is the reason to be watching anyway. Watching the character grow, suffer, learn, and ultimately come to an equilibrium between his need to honor tradition and his desire to confront the world as it is, not as he wishes it to be. It’s T’Challa’s journey I care about, not Wakanda’s or even Killmonger’s. Boseman made me wish a character – a comic book movie character – was real. He invested his heart and soul into the role, even coming up with the accent and learning Xhosa from John Kani (who plays his father, T’Chaka, in the film).

I still haven’t seen Wakanda Forever. I will, I guess, but for me, T’Challa and Chadwick Boseman are what kept me interested. Without him, it just won’t be the same. Maybe I’ll just watch Black Panther again, instead.

–Bob Cram

29. Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) | Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gripped me from the first shot. Frances McDormand delivers a tour de force performance as Mildred Hayes that rightfully won her the Best Actress Oscar, and she is wonderfully played against Woody Harrelson as local police chief Bill Willoughby. The story’s themes of anger, empathy, and forgiveness balanced against bitingly funny and insightful dialogue make this one of the best films of the last decade.

–Jacob Holmes

28. Anne Laurent (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) | Amour (2012)

Every single one of us will experience death, few will live to old age and fewer still will spend that time with one partner. Georges and Anne have been together for fifty years and our now in their twilight years. They’ve been together through the good times, the bad times and now the end times. Anne is a former piano teacher who is now in her 80s and has developed serious health problems, including a stroke that leaves her partially paralyzed on her right side. She is a proud and independent woman who wants to maintain control of her life, even as her condition deteriorates. She is also deeply sensitive, and her experiences with illness and aging lead her to ruminate on the nature of existence and the meaning of life. Georges, on the other hand, is a retired music teacher who is devoted to his wife and cares for her tirelessly, despite his own advancing age. He is stoic, disciplined, and practical, but he also has a deep reservoir of compassion and tenderness that he displays in his interactions with Anne. He tries his best to keep their lives as normal as possible and to respect Anne’s wishes, but he must also grapple with the reality of her situation and the toll it takes on their relationship.

As the film progresses, we witness the slow decay of Anne’s health and her gradual decline into dementia. Georges struggles to cope with the changes and the increasing demands of caring for his wife, who becomes more and more dependent on him. We see his emotions range from frustration and anger to grief and despair as he watches the woman he loves slip away. Throughout the film, we see the complexity and depth of Anne and Georges’ relationship. They have shared a long and rich history together, and their love for each other endures even as they confront the painful realities of aging and illness. Their story is a poignant and honest portrayal of the challenges of a long-term partnership and the power of love to sustain us through the darkest of times.

–Sailor Monsoon

27. Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) | What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

What a great bunch of guys the What We Do in The Shadows crew are. Viago is the father of the group, organizing house meetings and trying his best to keep everyone in check. Vladislav is the lustful and (former) powerful warrior, embroiled in a battle for the ages with his ex. At only 183 years old, Deacon is the rebellious young bad boy of the group. And Petyr is, well, Petyr. I would love to go for a night out on the town with them, even though things might not end up so great for me. They manage to be funny, and pretty abhorrent vampires at the same time. But each of them also has an endearing side that makes them extremely likable, regardless of their murdering vampiric ways. 

–Lee McCutcheon

26. Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) | Inherent Vice (2014)

Thomas Pynchon is an author impossible to adapt. Many directors have tried and failed (PTA himself abandoned Vineland and Mason & Dixon for exactly this reason) but only Paul Thomas Anderson was able to finally wrestle the authors prose and plotting up on the screen. I would argue Inherent Vice proves maybe not all novels should be adapted (it has so many characters and tangents that go no where, it’s almost impossible to follow) but if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten some of the best performances of the decade, so I guess it was worth it in the end.

Played by Joaquin Phoenix, Doc is a private investigator who becomes embroiled in a bizarre conspiracy involving his ex-girlfriend, her new lover, a missing billionaire real estate developer and a whole cavalcade of wild characters. Doc is known for his long hair, bearded face, and hippie attire. He is often seen smoking marijuana, which affects his perception of reality and contributes to his quirky behavior. Despite his unconventional ways, Doc is a brilliant detective with sharp instincts and a knack for solving cases that others have given up on. Essentially he’s Elliot Gould from The Long Goodbye if he was a hippie.

He is depicted as a loyal friend to those he cares about, including his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), whom he still has feelings for, and his lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio del Toro), who is also a fellow drug user. Doc is also dedicated to his profession, going to great lengths to uncover the truth and help his clients. As he delves deeper into the investigation, he realizes that he is in over his head and that the case may be more than he can handle. Despite the dangers, he persists in his quest for the truth, risking his own safety to solve the case and protect those he cares about. Doc is a unique and memorable character who stands out from the typical tough-guy detectives of traditional film noir. His unconventional methods and personality make him a fascinating and entertaining protagonist, and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is an excellent portrayal of the character. As fun as Robert Downey Jr would’ve been in the role, I’m glad PTA decided to go with Phoenix. He adds a layer of hippie slacker authenticity Downey never could have.

–Sailor Monsoon

25. Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) | Take Shelter (2011)

When Take Shelter came out in 2011, I thought it was a well-directed and well-acted movie with a thought-provoking ending. I liked the movie a lot. But I can’t say that I identified at all with the plight of its main character, Curtis LaForche, a husband and father in the middle of some kind of mental breakdown. I’d never really struggled with mental health issues, and I had never questioned my sanity. Fast forward a decade, past a pandemic, through some rough personal issues, and I have to say that Curtis’s story hits differently now. 

But whether you identify with Curtis personally or not, Michael Shannon’s performance and Jeff Nichols’ writing combined work together to create a very real character grounded in a very real setting. Real enough to make our list. 

–Billy Dhalgren

24. Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) | Carol (2015)

Carol is a character that exudes confidence and class. Yet beneath that magnificent exterior, she is battling some enormous demons. She has a rich husband, an adoring family, and a beautiful home. The problem is, she has a habit of falling in love with women. Which in the 1950s, was not acceptable behavior for a lady of her stature. Cate Blanchett is stunning in every regard. From her look to the ability to portray the aforementioned confidence while always giving a sense that the character is not quite comfortable in her own skin. It’s subtly done but at the same time unmissable. One of the most glamorous characters ever put to screen, every frame featuring Carol could be a poster in itself. 

–Lee McCutcheon

23. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) | Boyhood (2014)

After completing his Before trilogy, which was three films released a decade apart from each other, Linklater pulled the ol’ “hold my beer” on himself. Shot over the course of twelve years, Boyhood is a day-in-the-life (or in this case, many, many days) drama about a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and the trials and tribulations that come with adolescence. We witness the evolution of his father (Ethan Hawke), the hardships of his mother (Patricia Arquette) and Mason himself go from a boy into a man. It’s an ambitious project that works as a snapshot of all the technological advancements and pop culture events of the era, as well as a great drama about growing up that feels so real, it feels like series of home movies strung together.

Linklater is once again trying to one-up himself with a 20-year-long musical project, and as ambitious as that sounds, I doubt it will have the same impact as this. That sounds like a gimmick designed to top this and for that reason alone, it will fail. Boyhood, despite what lazy critics will have you believe, is not a gimmick. He spent twelve years making it not to prove a point that he could but to depict every year in the life of one boy from adolescence to manhood. He wants to see a child grow up and experience life before our eyes and if that was all it had to offer, it would be regarded as little more than a 7 Up rip-off. But critics and moviegoers responded to it, not its gimmick because of Ellar Coltrane’s performance.

–Sailor Monsoon

22. Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) | Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

While not as clever as it thinks it is (Iñárritu needs to cut the makers of JCVD a check) nor as technically audacious as everyone else thinks it is (the “shot in one take but not really” thing was done 60 years earlier), Birdman still gets points for managing to (almost) bring all of its crazy ideas into a cohesive whole. The balls it’s juggling aren’t new or original but the fact it’s trying to juggle them all at the same time is impressive. The film would still work if it focused on just one of its elements — a character study of a has-been who’s desperately trying to kill the past or a drama about an acting troupe trying to put on a play or a daughter trying to cope with having a famous father or an egotistical actor trying to take over a troubled production — but the fact that it has as many as it does, while also being as meta as Being John Malkovich, is pretty remarkable. The film is a masterpiece of execution and is honestly held together with the audacity of concept and Keaton’s performance. He’s the lynchpin keeping it together and it’s a helluva weight for any actor to carry. This conclusively proved he’s so much more than Batman, which is why it’s so disheartening to see him go back to that role instead of getting more roles like this.

–Sailor Monsoon

21. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) | Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird’s high school experience speaks to so many of us. So many of us feel seen in at least one of the many obstacles she’s forced to face in her senior year. Whether it be her relationship with her parents, navigating early romances, or finding new friends, we can all relate to Lady Bird in some way. Despite the difficulty of almost every situation she finds herself in, Lady Bird always carries herself with a dignity and grace that allows our faith in her never to falter. They say to write what you know, and Greta Gerwig most definitely knows Lady Bird. The character is brought to life by the always wonderful Saoirse Ronan, who truly feels like the only actor who could embody this role.

–Raf Stitt

40-31 | 20-11

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!