The 100 Greatest 2010s Movie Characters (50-41)

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.

50. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) | The Shape of Water (2017)

When Del Toro first announced this film and started putting together the cast, I was under the impression that Sally Hawkins and Michael Stuhlbarg were going to be a couple (since they were among the first to get cast) and I remember thinking, “that’s an odd pairing”. You can imagine my surprise when I finally saw the film and realized it was going to get a whole lot more odd. Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute janitor who works in a government laboratory during the Cold War era in 1962 Baltimore. She was born with a physical deformity in her neck that left her unable to speak, which also resulted in her being abandoned as a baby. As a result, Elisa was raised in an orphanage, where she developed a passion for music and dance.

Her disability has left her unable to speak, and as a result, she developed a strong ability to communicate through sign language. Elisa feels isolated and alone due to her disability but finds solace in her routine and in the music that she listens to on her record player. Despite her outsider status at the laboratory, Elisa forms a bond with a mysterious amphibious creature that has been brought in for study. She feels a connection to the creature that others do not understand. As she spends more time with it, she realizes that it is not a vicious monster, but a gentle being that she grows to love. And since this is a Del Toro movie, their love is more than just platonic. They have sex. It’s an actual love story that doesn’t shy away from the reality of their romance. As a child, Del Toro was always frustrated that the Creature from the Black Lagoon or King Kong never ended up with the lady and decided to finally let the monster win. In any other director’s hands, the premise would be gross and/or exploitative but he treats it like any other love story. It’s romantic, tender, and sweet. It’s two societal outcasts finding each other, one just happens to be a fish god.

–Sailor Monsoon

49. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) | Winter’s Bone (2010)

Ree Dolly is a 17-year-old girl who lives with her younger siblings and mentally unwell mother in the Ozarks of Missouri. She is a tough and resilient young woman who has been forced to grow up quickly to survive in her harsh surroundings. She takes on the role of caregiver for her siblings, cooking meals, cleaning the house, and looking after her younger sister, a tough and determined young woman who takes on the responsibility of caring for her family after her father disappears and is presumed to be involved in illegal activities.

Ree has faced an extraordinary amount of hardship in her relatively short life, including poverty, abuse, neglect, and the loss of her father. Despite this, she remains fiercely loyal to her family and is determined to keep them together and safe, even if it means challenging the dangerous criminal underworld in her community.

She is a skilled hunter and has a deep knowledge of the Ozarks and its traditions, reflecting her close relationship with her father prior to his disappearance. She is also fiercely independent and unafraid to speak her mind, regardless of the consequences.

Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree Dolly embodies the character’s strength, bravery, and vulnerability. She is both fierce and tender, embodying the complex humanity of a character who faces extraordinary challenges with unrelenting determination. It’s the role that made her a star and it’s a performance so good, it overshadows everything else she’s ever done. It’s hard to care about the big-budget franchise she’s attached to when you know she can give a performance this good.

–Sailor Monsoon

48. Winfried Conradi / Toni Erdmann (Peter Simonischek) | Toni Erdmann (2016)

It’s no surprise that their was plans to remake this almost immediately after it came out but what is surprising is that it keeps falling apart. If memory serves, Kristen Wiig was attached with Jack Nicholson and while this isn’t exactly the type of movie or role he should end his career on, it is exactly the type of character he would really bring to life. It obviously never happened but if you’ve seen the movie, you’d know why it would’ve been incredible to see him keep escalating his insane schemes.

Winfried Conradi is a retired music teacher living in Germany, who has lost touch with his only child, Ines (Sandra Hüller), who lives and works as a consultant in Bucharest, Romania. Winfried is a playful and adventurous character who constantly tries to connect with his daughter, only to be met with rejection and disinterest. Feeling lonely and disconnected, Winfried decides to visit his daughter in Bucharest, unannounced. There, he attempts to rekindle their strained relationship by making jokes, playing pranks, and generally disrupting Ines’ tightly-scheduled and stressful life as a businesswoman. In an effort to get through to her, Winfried adopts the guise of Toni Erdmann, a bizarre, wig-wearing character who challenges Ines’ conventional lifestyle and pushes her out of her comfort zone. As Toni, Winfried is able to uncover hidden emotions and vulnerabilities in his daughter, and they begin to rediscover their connection.

Throughout the film, Winfried/Toni struggles with his own feelings of loneliness and dislocation, as he adjusts to life without his wife and old friends. He uses humor as a coping mechanism, but it often masks a deep sadness and longing. Winfried Conradi/Toni Erdmann is a complex, multifaceted character who embodies both the joys and sorrows of life. He is a loving and supportive father who wants nothing more than to reconnect with his daughter and make her laugh, but he is also a lonely man searching for meaning and purpose as he navigates the challenges of aging and loss.

–Sailor Monsoon

47. Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) | Sound of Metal (2019)

As cheesy as it is, the film’s tagline – Music was his world. Then silence revealed a new one – really does succinctly reveal what the film is ultimately about. If the film was just about one man’s journey in dealing with his deafness, it wouldn’t be half as interesting nor would it be if it was just about a man struggling to come up with the funds to get the surgery to fix it. Making the lead a former addict adds another layer on top of what easily could’ve been a clichéd melodrama. He got over his past addictions by fixing it. He applied his inherent need to fix things to his own life and worked at it till he overcame them. His sudden hearing loss is now another thing he needs to fix and it’s this character trait that makes the film fascinating.

While on the surface he comes off as a stubborn asshole who refuses to accept his new life, he’s actually just a frustrated fixer who just became impotent. There’s a scene towards the beginning of the film after he’s checked into the facility, where his counselor (Paul Raci) tells him to just go to his room and just write, where he smashes the donut he’s holding out of frustration and immediately after obliterating it with his fist, he immediately reconstructs the crumbs into a new donut, which he then precedes to destroy. But it’s that act of piecing it together first that reveals everything you need to know about that character. He’ll self-destruct, try and fix it and then self-destruct again. It’s only when he leaves the donut alone that he’ll finally find peace.

–Sailor Monsoon

46. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) | Django Unchained (2012)

There was a significant portion of DiCaprio’s career where it seemed like he was at war with his image. Even up to and including his role in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning remake of Infernal Affairs, The Departed, when naysayers would claim it was a struggle to accept the erstwhile teen heartthrob and his boyish good looks pulling off a tough guy act in the criminal underworld of Boston. Cut to six years later and DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, one of the most purely villainous characters imaginable, and few would suggest they didn’t buy every ounce of threat, menace, and pure, ghoulish evil that DiCaprio brings to the part. The gleefully malevolent slave owner, cushioned by all the respectability the position affords him, is one of the most memorable characters of the 2010s, hands down.

–D.N. Williams

45. Laura (Scarlett Johansson) | Under the Skin (2013)

Scarlett Johansson gives an amazingly underrated performance in Under the Skin as Laura, who barely has a name in the film. Not much is known about the character’s origin: she is an alien of sorts and appears to have a mission of enticing men to come to her home, where she … eats them? Suspends them in a weird gooey state? It’s unclear but mesmerizing. The character is striking in her lack of agency early in the film, a deadness behind her eyes, a monotone voice, and yet remains somehow compelling as this force of nature bringing bad men to their demise. That gradually begins to turn as Laura appears to meet a man that is not immediately concerned with getting her to bed. Ever so slightly, Laura seems to become more human, making the character’s tragic ending all the more wrenching as we grapple with who the real monsters are. It’s a character few people could pull off.

–Jacob Holmes

44. Miles Morales / Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man used to be my jam when I was a kid – I collected the comics, watched the cartoons, and was annoyed when my mom made a Spider-Man costume for my brother, but I had to be a ghost. (Still bitter, sorry.) It’s been a long time since I read the comics, though, and while I vaguely knew that Miles Morales was a Spider-Man in the Ultimate universe, that was the extent of my awareness. Then Into the Spider-Verse arrived and I find myself wanting to head to the local comic shop and rectify, because I loved that character. While I enjoyed all the other Spider-Folk, particularly Peter B. Parker and Spider-Gwen, Miles is the heart and soul. A kid who is on the brink of adulthood, trying to do the right thing and screwing up sometimes. He goes to the heart of what I loved about the original Spider-Man comics. The real person, with real world struggles – family, friends, school – that also has this huge responsibility and does his best to live up to everything. Dealing with failure and success as well as a real person would – which is sometimes great and sometimes not so much. Shameik Moore is fantastic, giving an animated character that spark of life that transcends the screen. One of my favorite animated characters.

–Bob Cram

43. Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) | Blue Valentine (2010)

Dean is a troubled and complex character who struggles to find his place in the world. He is a handsome and charming man who uses his wit and humor as a defense mechanism, masking his deep insecurities and inner turmoil. He is a high school dropout and works as a house painter, living a humble life with his daughter Frankie and wife Cindy. Dean is a romantic at heart, constantly yearning to try and cover up his deep-rooted insecurities and vulnerabilities. Growing up, Dean faced several challenges, including a difficult childhood and a broken family. As a result, he has a hard time trusting and connecting with people.

Despite his struggles, Dean has a heart of gold and genuinely cares for those he loves. He is deeply committed to his wife Cindy and their daughter Frankie and will do anything to protect them. However, his low self-esteem often leads to him making impulsive and self-destructive decisions that ultimately end up jeopardizing his family.

Cindy, on the other hand, is a sensitive and passionate woman who is trying to figure out her place in the world while also balancing her responsibilities as a wife and mother. She is smart and ambitious and has always had big dreams of becoming a successful doctor.

However, Cindy’s dreams are put on hold after she becomes pregnant with Frankie. While she loves her daughter deeply, Cindy begins to resent the fact that she had to put her own aspirations on hold. She begins to feel trapped in her life and resentful towards her husband Dean.

Throughout the film, you see how different life events and circumstances have shaped Dean and Cindy into the complex and flawed characters that they are. While they both have their own struggles and issues, the love they have for each other is undeniable. However, their inability to communicate effectively and address their issues ultimately leads to the breakdown of their marriage.

–Sailor Monsoon

42. Deputy U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) | True Grit (2010)

For some people, John Wayne is Rooster Cogburn. But for my money,y nobody plays the character better than Jeff Bridges. How can you not love this character? A perpetually drunk US Marshal with questionable tactics reluctantly helps a girl hunt down her father’s killer. While he has a tough exterior, the girl gradually coaxes out the softer side of the character, leading to that stunning finale as he races her across the plains to have her treated for a snakebite. Bridges imbues the character with such a humor that makes him a joy every second he is on screen.

–Jacob Holmes

41. Kayla (Elsie Fischer) | Eighth Grade (2018)

I’ve been a fan of Bo Burnham since damn near the beginning of his career. I remember his Internet shorts, I was the only one who watched Zach Stone Is Going To Be Famous and I saw his evolution as a comic. At just 32 years old, I believe he’s already cemented himself as one of the all-time greats. With each new endeavor, he takes comedy to greater heights. You would think after consistently raising the bar, I would be ready for whatever came never but I wasn’t ready for Eighth Grade. I had no idea he was capable of this. He transports you back to a very specific time in life with pinpoint accuracy. Even if you don’t relate to Kayla or even identify with most of her problems, you still know what she’s going through because he makes you feel everything she’s feeling.

Kayla is an introverted and shy girl who spends much of her time making self-help videos for her YouTube channel, which are meant to uplift her viewers as well as herself. In these videos, Kayla often talks about how to be confident and overcome anxiety, but she has trouble living up to her own advice. She is very self-doubting and struggles to make friends, often feeling left out and isolated at school.

Despite her social struggles and low self-esteem, Kayla is a hardworking student who is passionate about writing. She dreams of being a successful author and even gives a speech at her school about the importance of speaking up and following your dreams. Throughout the film, Kayla faces a number of challenges, including being invited to a pool party by the popular girl in school, Aiden, who she has a crush on. She also struggles with her father, who she feels doesn’t understand her and puts too much pressure on her to be successful. However, as the film progresses, Kayla eventually gains confidence and learns to accept herself for who she is, while also strengthening her relationship with her father. She is a relatable and endearing character who shows the struggles and anxieties that many young people face as they transition into adulthood. Even though he’s made three of the greatest stand-up specials ever, I think this movie, and Kayla in particular, will be forever his ultimate legacy.

–Sailor Monsoon

60-51 | 40-31

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!