There has never been a decade in film quite like the ’90s. It was a time where foreign and independent films were as big as blockbusters. Unlike today where Disney has a monopoly on entertainment, it felt like cinema at that time was one giant sandbox where everyone could play. Auteurs from decades past were making movies alongside indie darlings. Hell, even documentaries were big. It was a fertile period for cinephiles and with that came a wellspring of iconic characters. There was bullet dodging hacker ninjas and Bible quoting hitmen. Charismatic cannibals, Scottish junkies, philosophical slackers and clerks who weren’t supposed to be here today. They made us start fight clubs, believe in ghosts and quote shagadelic spies ad nauseum. These are the characters that made the decade as beloved as it is.
These are the 100 Greatest ’90s Characters of All Time.
60. Scar (Jeremy Irons) | The Lion King (1994)
Out of all the iconic Disney villains over the years, Scar has a legitimate claim to the top spot. Jeremy Irons brings a dramatic flair that makes Mufasa’s brother both pathetic and terrifying. And of all villains, he may have the most despicable feat in the killing of Mufasa. Scar may briefly be the Lion King, but he’s a hyena at heart, the perfect foil for Simba. Simba’s confrontation to reclaim the throne would not have been nearly as good if it weren’t for the despicable actions of his uncle.
– Jacob Holmes
59. Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) | Wayne’s World (1992)
What could I say that hasn’t already been said?
Out of all the iconic characters on this list the pairing of Wayne & Garth may be the shining unicorn of them all. The brainchild of Saturday Night Live hall of famers, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, these two rock-n-roll and Heather Locklear loving dudes hanging out in their basement with a couple of cameras and silly shticks became legends. Legends in the sense of comedic TV and cinema and legends in a sense that these characters live on almost as full-fledged living, breathing humans on their own.
I mean, it’s Wayne & Garth, right? No one thinks of them as Myers & Carvey. Instead, these two loveable zany dudes live on. They’ve made their mark on society and we’re all the better for it even if they really didn’t accomplish anything.
Wayne’s World always and forever. “Party time! Excellent!”
– Mitch Roush
58. Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) | Ghost (1990)
Ghost was a huge commercial success in 1990, grossing over $500 million against a $22 million budget. Unfortunately, the film seems to be remembered more for the iconic pottery scene then for the performances. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are good in the film, but Whoopi Goldberg steals every scene she’s in as psychic Oda Mae. Goldberg definitely deserved and rightfully won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year. Only being able to hear Swayze’s Sam, she gracefully plays Oda Mae as someone who is constantly amazed, yet irritated with Sam. The amount of back talk Oda Mae gives Sam is hilarious! In my opinion, their constant bickering is really the selling point of the film. The pottery scene is fine, but it’s so overrated. If you’re trying to get someone to watch Ghost for the first time in the future, have them watch scenes of Oda Mae clapping back at Sam and not the pottery scene. Oda Mae is what will get fresh eyes on this beloved classic. Oda Mae is the best thing Ghost has to offer.
– Marmaduke Karlston
57. Max Cady (Robert De Niro) | Cape Fear (1991)
It was always going to be a tough task to live up to the standards set by Robert Mitchum when he played Max Cady in the original Cape Fear. If anyone could do it, it was going to be Robert de Niro, and he certainly pulled it off. His version of Cady is all sorts of evil. From the relentless religious preaching to the brutal violence. One scene in particular sticks with me, where he seduces teenager Juliette Lewis in the school auditorium. A scene with no violence or action of note, yet it still manages to send a shiver up my spine every time I see it. A classic villain.
– Lee McCutcheon
56. Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) | American History X (1998)
American History X is a film that lingers. You remember the first time you watched it with incredible detail; not so much in a transformative sense but rather it seers itself into your psyche. A “I can’t unsee this” sort of thing. But it’s supposed to be that way.
Noteworthy as one of the decade’s more immersive and important indie titles. There are a lot of reasons for that, but all of them are in line behind Edward Norton’s performance as the lost and angry yet born-again Derek Vinyard.
One of the bigger Oscar snubs in recent memory, at least for this one reviewer’s opinion, a titanic performance in every sense of the word. Derek Vinyard supersedes the, “I once was lost but now I’m found”, sort of archetype and vaults into that rare air of magnetic and deeply distraught displays. Truth be told, I’m not sure there are adequate superlatives to capture the earnest and cautionary passion Norton taps into here without making it sound trite. It’s a character that carries baggage beyond many of its counterparts. A character that speaks to both the darkest underbellies of America and its desperate semblance of second chances. And a long lasting reminder that Ed Norton operates on a higher level than most.
– Mitch Roush
55. Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) | 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Despite the insane amount of teen movies released in the 90s, it seems like there are maybe a small handful of truly memorable characters. But Heath Ledger’s Patrick Verona is one of them, deserving of a spot up there with Stifler (American Pie) and Cher (Clueless). Ledger plays the typical high school bad boy who is bribed by another classmate to date Kat, a hard-headed feminist deemed difficult by most of the people in her life. Verona is mysterious and sexy, as most high school bad boys ought to be, but also charming and hiding a lot of heart beneath his scowl. He steals the show with his adorable rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” while avoiding authority on the bleacher stairs. Honestly, it’s Ledger’s performance that makes the character so memorable and it’s no surprise that he went on to become such a critically acclaimed actor before his untimely death.
– Romona Comet
54. Darth Maul (Ray Park & Peter Serafinowicz) | Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1994)
There’s plenty to be said in terms of how people feel about certain Star Wars movies, in case that’s escaped your notice. One thing that people tend to agree on—one of the things that hasn’t shifted much in terms of general consensus since the film’s release in 1999—is that Darth Maul is pretty cool. Cool looking, and central in one of the coolest fights in the entire series – which, lets face it, gives you legendary status in the Star Wars universe – people have often lamented that he was a bit wasted. A lot of those people went on to make novels, comics, and animated series where they bring the character back. At last we will have revenge.
– D.N. Williams
53. Mathilda Lando (Natalie Portman) | Léon: The Professional (1994)
Gary Oldman’s maniacal Stansfield usually gets most of the recognition for his amazing performance in Luc Besson’s 1994 film, and rightfully so, but Mathilda is the backbone of the film. Natalie Portman turned in a career-defining performance in her debut and she was only 12 years of age. Mathilda is an abused girl from a broken home when her family is brutally murdered and she has to turn to a hitman for help. Natalie shows ranges of emotions at a young age that most adult actors can only dream of having.
– Vincent Kane
52. Stanley Ipkiss / The Mask (Jim Carrey) | The Mask (1994)
This is the movie that made Jim Carrey a star. Oh yeah, he’d been on In Living Color and in Earth Girls Are Easy, and earlier in 1994 he’s starred in Ace Ventura (and later he’d be in Dumb & Dumber that’s a helluva year for him), but this was really his breakout hit (for a while it was the second highest grossing comic book movie, after Batman). And what a role – the Stanley Ipkiss part was fine, but when Carrey got to be The Mask? Pure magic. The man could already be a living cartoon, and honestly I felt bad for the ILM animators who probably just had to try and keep up. Maybe even tone it down a little. Thrown in Cameron Diaz in her first big role (though no one understood how funny she could be, yet) and it was just a damn funny, entertaining film. Sure, Carrey and his schtick would eventually wear out their welcome a bit (at least for me), but The Mask was like a shot of pure, comedy adrenaline.
– Bob Cram
51. Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) | The Big Lebowski (1998)
A character so quotable he could only belong to the Coen’s. A character so outrageous he would have to be based on an actual person. A character so larger than life he could only be captured by a generational talent.
Walker Sobcek is quite possibly the most ridiculous yet finely crafted character in the entire Coen Brothers extended universe. A Vietnam vet; a devout believer; a gun-toter; an iconic yeller; a passionate bowler; an investigator; a best friend; a dog dad; a next-level swear-er; and a lover of In-N-Out — yes, Walter Sobcek is nothing if not what true blue modern American cinema is all about. But also someone I’d never want to meet in real life. Not to mention, may have been the only one that understood that the rug really tied the room together. With all that being said, I leave you with one of the greatest comedic scenes of all-time.
– Mitch Roush
70-61 | 50-41
What do you think of the selection so far? Who are some of your favorite ’90s characters? Maybe they will show up further on the list!