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.
40. The Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
SO many comic book characters in this list, right? For most of these I have a long history with the originals, but not so much for Guardians. I never really read the comics and only had some minor awareness of some characters in the Infinity Gauntlet series. So the Guardians of the Galaxy film came out of left-field and gobsmacked me. While an essential part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it felt like something new, with unfamiliar characters and a complete change of venue. And the characters felt like the most important part of the story. Yeah, there was a plot about bad guys and power stones and something about destroying planets, but what I really cared about was Rocket, and Groot, and Gamora, and Drax, and, yes, even Quill (sorry, Star-Lord). It’s a tired trope, the band of lovable losers that somehow make an informal family, but dammit I love it still. And adding Yondu and Nebula somehow didn’t screw it up. I still haven’t seen the most recent film, but I will. Not because of the plot – I guess Adam Warlock is in it? – just because I want to know what happens to these characters I’ve grown to love.
39. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) | The Master (2012)
Lancaster Dodd is a charismatic and enigmatic leader of a new religious movement called “The Cause,” which is a thinly veiled parallel to the Church of Scientology. Dodd is a complex character with many layers and contradictions. On the surface, he is charming, charismatic, and exudes confidence but just below the surface lies a power-hungry opportunist who uses his belief system to get whatever he wants. He sees himself as a spiritual leader, and his followers regard him with reverential awe.
Dodd’s teachings, while inspiring, are also controversial. The organization faces backlash from the scientific community who dismiss it as pseudoscience and journalists believe he is nothing more than a con artist. Nevertheless, he continues to gather followers and gain popularity despite the criticism. If we were to see him only through the eyes of his believers, we’d only get a part of his complexities and if the film spent any time with him alone, we’d get none of them. In order to understand him or at the very least, get a clearer picture of who he is, you have to look at the two most important people in his life: his wife and his newfound protegé. His relationship with the former is complicated, and it’s clear that she holds a great deal of power over him, despite his public position of authority and his relationship with the latter is more challenging.
The auditing scene between Hoffman and Phoenix is so good, it feels like a short film that was then expanded to full length. Phoenix runs away with the film. He has the best character in the film but not the most important. Yet, there is no The Master without Hoffman. He could never do what Phoenix did in his role and Phoenix could never pull off a convincing L. Ron Hubbard analogue. It takes a special kind of charisma and charm to convincing play a cult leader and Hoffman has both in spades.
38. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) | The Social Network (2010)
Facebook was all the rage when it first hit the scene. I didn’t know about it upon its initial inception, but I did have a profile early on when it finally started appealing to the masses in 2007. It was fun! This was a way of connecting with people and seeing what was happening in their lives before smartphones and facetime came around. and then something happened: it got a little too popular and everybody and their Grandmother suddenly had a profile. It was no longer the cool new hip thing to be a part of. I’m not sure how accurate The Social Network truly is — and even though Mark Zuckerberg is a real person — Jesse Eisenberg gives a damn good performance of somebody who is driven to succeed no matter the cost. No matter who got hurt or the destruction that was left in his wake, it’s a cautionary tale in a way. But considering the amount of success that Zuckerberg has had with his social media platforms, it is quite evident that his hard work certainly paid off … but time will tell who gets the last laugh.
37. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) | Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Llewyn Davis is the ultimate cinematic lovable loser. His whole story is that of a sad sack. As an audience, we don’t even really want to see him triumph; we just don’t want to see him continue to fail. Oscar Isaac plays the down-on-his-luck musician to perfection. You can’t help but sympathize with his sad and tired eyes. You can feel that pain bleed into his music, which is what makes it so beautiful. The Coen Brothers are relentless in their assault on Llewyn – constantly putting him in awful situation after awful situation. He never fully gets the happy ending he deserves, but you can’t help but love going along for the journey with him.
36. Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) | Creed (2015)
Creed is one of the best examples of how to successfully reboot a franchise and how to use legacy characters correctly. Whoever’s idea it was to shift the focus from Rocky to the son of his greatest professional rival/friend, deserves free money forever. It was a risky gamble making a sequel to a beloved franchise where the lead is now relegated to the sidelines but it paid off in spades. And that’s due to Ryan Coogler’s unreal direction and Michael B. Jordan’s dedication to the role. He wanted to make sure he was helping to create a character that could sit alongside the other iconic characters from the franchise and he succeeded. The son of Apollo Creed, the former heavyweight boxing champion who died in the ring before Donnie was born, he grew up in juvenile detention centers and foster homes before being taken in by Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widow.and his character is a young and ambitious boxer who is determined to follow in the footsteps of his legendary father, Apollo Creed.
Despite Mary Anne’s reservations, Adonis becomes determined to pursue boxing and seeks out Rocky Balboa, initially refuses but eventually sees the same potential in Adonis that he saw in Apollo. His drive and natural ability lead is ups were to a shot at the championship, but not without setbacks and challenges. He struggles with his identity as Apollo’s son and the pressure to live up to his father’s legacy. He also falls in love with his neighbor, Bianca, who supports him but is dealing with her own dreams and health struggles. Throughout the film, Adonis proves himself as a skilled and determined fighter and earns the respect of Rocky and the boxing world. He also reconciles with his father’s legacy and creates his own path in the sport. He is driven by a desire to prove himself and honor his father’s memory while carving out his own legacy as a boxer. And art seems to be imitating life because that is what it looks like Jordan is doing in real life by directing the third one himself.
35. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) | 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Solomon Northup was a free-born African American man who lived in New York during the mid-19th century. He was a skilled carpenter and musician who lived a comfortable life with his wife and children. However, in 1841, he was lured by two men who promised him a job as a musician in Washington, D.C. However, upon arrival, he was kidnapped, beaten, and sold into slavery. He was given a new name – Platt – and transported to Louisiana.
Solomon spent the next twelve years in slavery, working on several plantations. During this time, he experienced and witnessed the horrors of slavery, including physical and emotional abuses, separation from family, and forced labor. Despite these difficulties, Solomon remained resilient and resourceful. He maintained his identity and dignity despite the constant attempts of his captors to strip him of both. Solomon’s character is an embodiment of resilience, courage, and resourcefulness in the face of unimaginable adversity. It’s an insane true story and is a once-in-a-lifetime role for any actor brave enough to tackle it. Thankfully Chiwetel Ejiofor had the talent and fearlessness to do it. He turns what easily could’ve been misery porn into the ultimate fight for survival and eventual triumph.
34. Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) | Phantom Thread (2017)
It’s no easy task for an actor to bring a character to life that rivals a character being played by the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis. However, that’s exactly what Vicky Krieps does with Alma. Paul Thomas Anderson is able to pull the absolute best out of Krieps for this performance. She also is given so much juicy material to work with; this character is so wonderfully written. All that being said, it’s not lost on me that Krieps is just as responsible for how wonderful this character is as PTA. Alma is one of those great characters who is quietly the film’s main player without being what we traditionally think of as our protagonist. She controls things with an understated confidence that constantly reminds DDL’s Woodcock of who’s really in charge.
33. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) | Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
On the surface, Rick Dalton is the quintessential Hollywood actor: dashing good looks, a penchant for portraying the rugged type throughout his film and television career, and a good deal of fame to see him at least on to the next role. Beneath the surface, Rick Dalton is a frazzled, self-sabotaging drunk who might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer and holds lofty aspirations of rising to the top of the heap. All in all, he’s the prefect reflection of a Hollywood era gone by (and probably not too far removed from an era still in play). Yet one cannot help but root for the hippie-bashing actor to succeed as we follow him around set acting the hell out of a villain-of-the-week part or settle with him in his abode mixing whiskey sours or chilling with his stuntman-turned-buddy Cliff Booth.
Played to a tee by Leonardo DiCaprio, complete with neurotic stutters and twitches and drunken self-hating tirades, Rick manages to captivate the audience every bit as much as the suave, mysterious Cliff Booth in the same movie. A proper two-hander is found in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…, yet it’s easy to overlook Rick (and DiCaprio’s performance) in favor of the more dynamic—and more bloodthirsty—Cliff. Perhaps that’s only appropriate given the character’s well-founded fears of being lost to the wayside in his career and life.
In the end, Rick isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Go back and spend some more time with him (and Cliff).
32. Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig) | Frances Ha (2012)
When I first watched this movie, I felt Frances Ha was the most annoying character I had ever seen in a movie. So annoying to the point where I only wanted to wring her little neck. But then something occurred to me and I realized why I felt that she was annoying. Here’s a secret; I am a Frances too. I’m a total Frances. I’m motivated by different things than Frances and I don’t make the same mistakes but there are embarrassing moments in my much younger life where I’ve acted like I saw Frances acting in this movie. It’s totally embarrassing and when I first watched this movie, I was mortified by some of the things that Frances said and did because I saw myself in her. But the only reason I feel that way was that was going through a period of self-reflection and I don’t think I would’ve been able to connect with her has I seen this movie at any other time in my life. We can all be a little annoying, needy or unsure of who we are or what we’re doing and Frances Ha perfectly portrayed youth’s ignorance.
31. Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) | Uncut Gems (2019)
In many ways, this feels like the role that Adam Sandler was born to play. It certainly helps that the Safdie Brothers wrote the character specifically for Sandler. It also helps that this is a character that all three men seem to understand so deeply. I can’t imagine many people outside of New York City truly knowing someone like Howard Ratner, but I can assure you that similar folks exist (even if not to the same extent as Howard). Few people play charming underdog who is also kind of a huge scumbag quite like Sandler. Howard’s flaws and crimes somehow seem more forgivable because of how endearing he is. It’s a shame that Sandler wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for this. Few performances or characters have ever been more deserving.
50-41 | 30-21
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!