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.
80. Arthur Fleck / Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) | Joker (2019)
Every Joker, from the comedic to the gangster Juggalo, shares one thing in common: they are a plague upon Gotham. Their mere existence makes the entire city rotten. Gotham has always been bad but it’ll never be good as long as he lives. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is the first that’s a direct byproduct of the city’s rot. He was born in a corrupt, uncaring, and broken cesspool of a city that pushes him till he snaps. He’s not to be looked upon as a great antihero and you’re certainly not waiting to see him go up against Batman in any sequel. You’re supposed to pity him. This isn’t the Clown Prince of Crime, this is a mentally disturbed victim of systematic injustice. In Joker, the titular character isn’t the villain, Gotham is. In terms of casting, Jack Nicholson definitely comes closer to nailing the version we all know and love and as perfect as he is, every other actor Burton considered would’ve been just as great. Brad Dourif, John Lithgow, Tim Curry and David Bowie all could’ve been excellent choices and there are a ton of other actors throughout the years that could have and did do amazing jobs but for this iteration of Joker, I can’t see many doing as good a job as Phoenix.
79. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) | Arrival (2016)
We’ve seen a lot of macho, bravado men taking on alien threats before, but Louise Banks is different. When 12 massive alien spacecraft land all over the world, the U.S. military turns to Banks, a linguist, for help understanding the purpose of their arrival. Louise is calm, almost dreary, but has a sharp wit and a much deeper understanding of the situation than any of the military men around her. She runs circles around the top brass when they can’t understand why she is focused on such small linguistic building blocks. And when the world is on the brink of war, only Banks can do what it takes to force the globe’s leaders to do the one thing they are the worst at: communicate.
78. Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) | Easy A (2010)
A little white lie about her virginity spirals out of control for high school student Olive Penderghast. Her best friend is appalled, the “godly” students want to save her soul, and the boys are looking to score – or at least give the impression that they’ve scored. Throughout the movie, Olive, played to perfection by Emma Stone, transforms from an uncertain, awkward teen to a more confident young woman. She learns how to take back control of the narrative surrounding her situation without ever having to apologize for who she is. I have always found Olive to be a female character that teenage girls could look up to, and she’s definitely one of the best characters in the teen comedy genre.
77. Jang Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) | I Saw the Devil (2010)
In an era of elevated horror and experimental cinema, it’s quite refreshing to see a good old-fashioned serial killer. In saying that, there is nothing good about Kyung-chul. He is pure evil. A sadistic killer, rapist, and abuser, he takes pleasure in his actions and shows absolutely zero remorse throughout. He even partakes in a spot of cannibalism. The righteous protagonist of I Saw the Devil, Kim Soo-hyeon, stands up to the evil and is a great balance to his wicked ways. And although Kyung-chul might meet his maker by the end of the film, even then it feels like he got off lightly. And in shades of the movie Seven, it almost feels like he won.
– Lee McCutcheon
76. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) | Phantom Thread (2017)
Daniel Day-Lewis is always immensely watchable onscreen, and his portrayal of Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is certainly no exception. Allegedly the actor’s final performance, he plays a fastidious fashion designer in the 1950s whose guardedness is penetrated by an unassuming waitress that proves to be a perfect match for him in unexpected ways. DDL perfectly conveys Woodcock’s all-consuming obsession with his work, his brilliance, and his often detestable attitude, without ever losing the allure and mystique necessary to fulfill the story’s more romantic elements. Woodcock was instantly iconic, and easily one of the best characters of the 2010s.
75. Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) | BlacKkKlansman (2018)
Ron Stallworth is one of the great heroes of 2010s cinema. His righteous fight against the Ku Klux Klan is beyond admirable (even if it is a little outrageous and dangerous). He’s everything that we want a hero cop to be. Stallworth is clever, tough, determined, and stands up for what he believes in. He’s also cool as hell – sporting a sick afro and the hip clothes of his era. That coolness crosses over into his professional life too. In order to infiltrate and take down the local chapter of the KKK, Stallworth has to tackle the undertaking with a calm head. I’m sure almost anyone else would fold or explode in ways that Stallworth just doesn’t. Even in his long and prolific career as a filmmaker, it might be the case that Stallworth is the best character Spike Lee has given us.
74. Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) | The Babadook (2014)
There’s no easy character to like in The Babadook. Sam (Noah Wiseman), for most of the film, is more monster himself than child. A screaming, violent changleing that is a burden on his mother and a trial for everyone else (including the audience). Amelia (Essie Davis) is buried in her own misery, widowed on the night Sam was born she nurses her grief as if it was the only thing of her husband she has left. I know people who’ve gone or are going through this kind of situation – Not the Babadook part – the part where you’re a caregiver with no sleep and dwindling social contacts and no clear view of how or when it could possibly get better. I could almost feel the desperation in Amelia as her whole world contracts. The rage and hopelessness and resentment and love and grief. Man, the grief. It feels real, and brutal, and it makes me invest in Amelia (and Sam) and their journey through darkness and, hopefully, into the light.
73. Ben (Steven Yeun) | Burning (2018)
There have been many attempts at trying to craft a film whose plot makes you question everything you see. Filmmakers will usually rely on twist-heavy endings and/or surreal imagery to make the audience unsure of what they’re seeing. Burning doesn’t need to resort to such tricks to be effective. It seduces you with charm and then traps you with uncertainty. Jongsu (Yoo Ah In) is out on a job when he runs into Hae-mi (Jeon Jong Seo), a girl who he used to know and who he’s always had a crush on. She asks if he’d look after her cat while she’s away on a trip to Africa. On her return, she introduces Jongsu to an enigmatic young man named Ben (Steven Yeun), who she met during her trip. One day, when Haemi isn’t around, Ben tells Jongsu that he’s a serial killer. Is the mysterious Ben really a serial killer or is he just fucking with Jongsu to get him out of the picture? The film is a slow burn (pun intended) that wouldn’t work if the casting of Ben wasn’t on point and man, did the filmmakers hit paydirt with Yeun. His performance calls to mind Joseph Cotten from Shadow of a Doubt of Matthew Goode in Stoker — charismatic, enigmatic, and dangerous.
72. Paddington Bear (Ben Whishaw) | Paddington (2014)
In an era when studios are struggling to adapt classic cartoon characters into live action (looking at you, Disney) Paddington is the shining example of making the transition. He’s a bear in clothes, it’s patently unrealistic, and yet just like the characters around him, we don’t give a second thought to it. Because who cares? Paddington is one of the most wholesome, lovable characters in modern cinema, brought wonderfully to life by the voice work of Ben Whishaw. Insatiably curious and relentlessly positive about the world around him, Paddington makes the world a little brighter.
71. Martin Lang (Barry Keoghan) | The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Much like other Yorgos Lanthimos movies, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a dreamlike experience. What turns it into a nightmare experience is Martin, a teenager played by Barry Keough. He is invasive, persuasive, domineering, and downright disturbing. He starts out as a likable young man. Even though he seems to have some issues, especially vying for the affection of Father-like figure Steven, he seems pretty harmless. He turns out to be anything but. It’s a chilling performance from Keough, I can’t imagine the role being played by anyone else. And I never thought watching someone eat a bowl of spaghetti could be so creepy.
– Lee McCutcheon
90-81 | 70-61
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!