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.
70. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) | Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Hushpuppy is a six-year-old girl who lives in a remote, isolated community called “The Bathtub” in Southern Louisiana with her father, Wink. Played by Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only five years old at the time of filming and later received an Oscar nom for her performance), Hushpuppy is a determined, curious, and adventurous young girl who is deeply connected to her land and her father figure Wink. Despite her young age, she is headstrong, resilient, and determined to survive in the harsh, unpredictable environment of The Bathtub.
Her tough-loving father, who is harsh with her at times, deeply loves her and is dedicated to preparing her for the rough life she will have to lead. Despite his strictness, Hushpuppy has an independent streak and often rebels against his rules. She lives in her own world where she makes the rules. That is until her rules bump up against forces stronger than her.
Those forces manifest themselves in the form of mythical Aurochs, giant boar-like creatures from prehistoric times that she believes are coming back to earth to reclaim their land. When a powerful storm called “The Big One” floods The Bathtub and forces the community to evacuate, Hushpuppy and her father stay behind. As they struggle to survive in the aftermath of the storm, she learns more about her place in the world and the strength she possesses.Throughout Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hushpuppy is portrayed as a symbol of resilience and hope in the face of adversity. Despite her young age and difficult circumstances, she is a fierce and determined character who refuses to be held back by the limitations of her environment.
69. Pastor Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) | First Reformed (2017)
A former military chaplain who lost his son in the Iraq War, and as a result turned to alcoholism and walked away from his marriage, Toller is a broken man who turned to God for salvation. For the past twenty years, he’s been residing over a small, historic First Reformed Church in upstate New York that’s just as empty as he is. There’s just enough parishioners to feel like he’s doing something but not enough to make any real difference. For them or himself. His faith is shaken and he drinks heavily to numb his pain. Toller is a deeply introspective and spiritual man who often struggles with his beliefs. He keeps a journal where he records his thoughts and feelings, which he views as his own form of prayer. He is a solitary figure who feels disconnected from the world around him, including his parishioners who seem more interested in the church’s historical significance and tourist appeal than in faith.
When a young couple, Mary and Michael (Amanda Seyfried and Philip Ettinger), seek Toller’s guidance, he becomes more deeply involved in their lives and their struggles. Mary is pregnant and Michael is an environmental activist who is convinced that humanity is destroying the planet beyond repair. Toller becomes increasingly disturbed by the state of the world and the apathy of those around him. He begins to question his own faith and beliefs and wonders if there is any hope for redemption in a world that seems to be on the brink of destruction.
Throughout the film, Toller grapples with his own mortality and the guilt he feels for his son’s death. He struggles to find a way to make a meaningful impact in the world and to reconcile his past mistakes. As he becomes more radicalized, he starts to believe that violence may be necessary to wake people up to the urgent crises facing humanity. Pastor Ernst Toller is a complex and deeply nuanced character who is brilliantly portrayed by Ethan Hawke. His journey reflects our universal search for meaning and purpose in a world that can often feel overwhelming and hopeless.
68. Minerva “Minny” Jackson (Octavia Spencer) | The Help (2011)
Minny Jackson is a middle-aged black woman who has been working as a maid for different white families in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s, where racial segregation and discrimination are rampant. Minny is portrayed as a smart and witty woman, who is not afraid to speak her mind even in the face of danger. Her sharp tongue and quick comebacks often get her into trouble, especially with her employers, and she has a reputation for being unpredictable. However, her boldness and defiance are also what make her a highly respected and admired figure among her fellow black maids. In her personal life, Minny is a devoted mother and wife, who is constantly trying to protect her three children from the harsh realities of racial injustice.
She is married to Leroy, a husband who is abusive towards her both physically and emotionally. Although she faces many challenges, Minny remains fiercely independent and determined to create a better life for herself and her family. Throughout the film, Minny engages in a rebellious act of resistance against the white supremacy that dominates the society. Despite the risks, she joins her friend Aibileen in their project of writing a book that exposes the appalling treatment of black maids by their white employers. Her courage and determination to fight for justice, inspires her fellow maids to join the cause, and the book ultimately becomes a powerful tool for social change. She’s one of the great examples of a scene stealer, a supporting character so good and memorable, they end up the actual lead of the film. The Oscar curse definitely robbed of us of tons of quality work from Spencer.
67. Alien (James Franco) | Spring Breakers (2012)
Spring Breakers might be one of a24’s most controversial films, but what shouldn’t be controversial is James Franco’s amazing performance as Alien, a rapper who lives in the seedy underbelly of St. Petersburg, Florida. Where most people have a whirlwind spring break and then return to their normal lives, for Alien it’s “Spring Break forever,” his catch phrase which often hauntingly chimes in the background. Alien is living on the edge of society and captures an extreme character that is almost in the world of caricature but ultimately feels true-to-life.
66. Rayon (Jared Leto) | Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Rayon is a transgender prostitute who is HIV positive. She becomes the unlikely friend and business partner of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), the protagonist of the film. Born as Raymond, Rayon struggles with her own identity and is rejected by her father. She turns to drugs and sex work to make a living, often facing discrimination and violence because of her gender and HIV status. Despite her tough exterior, Rayon has a kind heart and a love for fashion and beauty.
When she meets Ron, she initially tries to use him for drugs but eventually becomes a loyal friend. She helps him navigate the LGBTQ+ community and introduces him to Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), a sympathetic doctor who becomes an ally in their fight against the medical establishment.
As the business grows and Ron becomes increasingly successful, Rayon’s health declines. She becomes addicted to drugs and eventually dies from complications of AIDS. Her death devastates Ron and serves as a poignant reminder of the human cost of the medical system’s failures and discrimination against marginalized communities.
Jared Leto’s performance as Rayon earned him critical acclaim and a well deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It’s far and away his best performance and he’s so good in it, it makes me defend all his other terrible shenanigans*. He brings sensitivity and depth to the character, highlighting both her inner strength and vulnerability. Rayon is a tragic and complex figure, whose story sheds light on the realities of being transgender and living with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.
65. It / Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) | It (2017)
Arguably Stephen King’s most famous character, Pennywise the Clown, has the ability to manifest as our deepest fears, paralyzing us before we become its prey. It could have easily been an over-the-top and silly performance, but actor Bill Skarsgard brings a menacing aura to the Dancing Clown, and there was nothing more terrifying than watching a dull, vacant expression come over Pennywise’s face before the scene would take a monstrous turn. Audiences had already seen Pennywise come to life by Tim Curry in 1990, but it was Bill Skarsgard’s physically intense performance as Pennywise in Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation that propelled the character to join the ranks of horror’s greatest villains.
64. Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) | Django Unchained (2012)
Imagine how uncool the character of Django would’ve been if Will Smith ended up playing him. No offense to Smith, he’s a great movie star. But this is not the role for him. Django needed someone who can bring the effortlessly cool vibe that Jamie Foxx possesses. Above all else, Django Freeman is a badass. A spaghetti western cowboy icon for the modern movie fan. Although Calvin Candie and King Schultz overshadow Django as standout characters in his own film, Django remains the star. He’s such a good character that he can share the shine. Jamie Foxx is such a confident performer that he can allows to take center stage for a moment. Don’t be fooled though, Django is still the focal point of what makes this movie awesome.
63. Thanos (Josh Brolin) | Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
When you’re building a cinematic universe revolving around superheroes, you need a villain who provides a true threat to humanity, someone not easily beaten, considering the strengths and abilities of our heroes. Thanos is introduced mid-credits in The Avengers (2012), and while he’s mentioned several times, he’s only physically present in five MCU films. But he makes the most of his arc, determined to wipe out half of the galaxy’s population. In his mind, this would bring stability to the universe. Fewer people meant more resources and supplies. What makes Thanos a great character is that his motivation wasn’t entirely off base. He wasn’t looking to conquer the world and make those beneath him his slaves. He’s trying to save the universe. However, decimating life is a big no-no, and so our Avengers had to come together to try and stop him. I loved that Thanos succeeded because so often, the great villains lose before our heroes are truly challenged. The MCU has had some amazing protagonists, but few have come close to topping Thanos.
62. Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel (Suraj Sharma) | Life of Pi (2012)
One of the most visually stunning films of the 2010s, Life of Pi sinks if you don’t care about it’s one and only central character. It’s just Pi and the tiger Richard Parker on a boat after a shipwreck, and we journey with him as he goes from the threat of the tiger on board to being unlikely compatriots as they both face the prospect of starving, drowning, or baking underneath the hot ocean sun. Life of Pi is a crushing portrait of one man’s survival against all odds and the way we make sense of our hardest trials. Pi Patel is our anchoring force as the movie could otherwise be lost at sea.
61. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) | Moneyball (2011)
Billy Beane is a former Major League Baseball player turned general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Pitt portrays him as a highly intelligent, opinionated, and determined individual who is willing to challenge convention and take risks in order to achieve success. He is obsessed with finding new methods to evaluate players and build winning teams without spending huge amounts of money. Frustrated with conventional wisdom and the game’s reliance on outdated scouting methods, Beane became a champion of “Moneyball” – a data-driven approach to building a winning team.
As Beane navigates the pressures of being a general manager, we see his personal life unfold as well. He is a single father to his daughter Casey, and their relationship is a central part of his character development. Beane is shown to be a caring father who wants the best for his daughter but is also struggling with a past of his own. He is a complex character who is driven by a desire to win and a deep-rooted belief in his own abilities. He is fearless in challenging established norms and has the courage to take bold gambles that often pay off. His relentless pursuit of success and his unwavering commitment to doing things his way has made him a legend in the world of baseball. The real life Beane will be remembered forever for how he revolutionized the way the game would be approached for all times and Pitt’s version of Beane is so human, you’ll never forget it.
80-71 | 60-51
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!