The 2010s introduced cinephiles to memorable characters that span time and genre, TV and film. They were powerful with their presence and left us with some of the most indelible impressions most of us have experienced in TV or film.
What makes them stand out is purely subjective, but you can’t ignore profitability, headlines, trolls, and a healthy discourse of social media rancor and debate. Let’s focus on those things and determine some of the most memorable characters of the decade…
Eleven, Stranger Things
Not only did Netflix strike 24K gold with Stranger Things, but the makers of this stellar series made us believe in the mind and heart of a young girl who could change the world. Well, two of them actually (no spoilers).
Played brilliantly by Millie Bobby Brown, she led the metaphysical troupe from Hawkins against the meanest of Demogorgons with her supernatural knack of cracking her neck and kicking some monster ass. Moreover, we learned the power of smart acting without words. Her savvy of body language, eye contact, and the untold words of her character expressed vulnerability and strength — often in the same scene.
Writing is back in TV. Regretfully for all those advertisers, it’s not on ABC, CBS, FOX, or NBC. Like, at all.
Frank Underwood, House of Cards
Washington, the gig is up. We’re onto you.
Groan all you want about the man behind the mask (and he hid some ish from all of us) but Kevin Spacey etched a microcosm of what we all believe is really going on in Washington. Maybe not the heinous acts of pushing someone on the subway tracks, but pretty dang close.
Frank Underwood embodied the vile nature most cynics see, hear, and think exist in the fabled halls of the U.S. Capitol and The White House. Party aside. Politics be damned. This guy had a plan and stuck to it. Regardless of how you care to vote, that is how you win elections these days. He was the centrifuge of water cooler talk during and even after “he” died.
How else do we know the power of Spacey’s prowess in this role? Not even the stank of his alleged, reprehensible acts in real life could direct people to watch Robin Wright Penn’s sorely underrated work in Season Six of one of the most acclaimed series we’ve seen in a while. From the first trailer, she was great…and no one noticed because Frank (and seemingly Kevin’s career) was gone.
June / Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu tapped into a source that all people in Hollywood desire and few can master — serendipity. #MeToo was raging. The villains behind every veil were being outed. #GirlPower was celebrated like never before in American history. And then comes June Osborne turned Offred, unwilling — and unrelenting — concubine of a theocratic maniac.
So many connections weaving in and out of real-life drama. This series did more than captivate this nation — it inspired women to find their own voice and shout from the rooftops to the ills of society that were shouting at them. And none of that would have been possible if Elisabeth Moss wasn’t so amazing at her job and personifying more than an iconic image but a sterling moment in time.
Few people have made their characters on the screen into a living example for fans to follow and become. This was one of those rare times.
Leading Cast, Game of Thrones
How do you splice apart these people? Try. You can’t. This ensemble was the glue of this show. When you are done with your tears and jeers for one character, you immediately bump into another and go through the crazed range of emotions all over again.
HBO delivered arguably a glowing cavalcade of some of the most memorable characters of all time — in one show called Game of Thrones. Jon Snow; Tyrion, Jamie, and Cersei Lannister; Sansa and Arya Stark, or even Daenerys Targaryen and Brienne of Tarth. Each of these gifted people controlled the orbit of this planet week in, week out. What they did, we discussed as if that damn cursed place was real.
It takes true mastery of craft and magic pixie dust untouched by anyone to do to fans what this series did to all of us. Yes, even you trolls who thought HBO should rip of the paychecks of D.B. Weiss and David Benioff when a certain dragon flies away from the scene of a most unexpected crime (again, no spoilers, but you know).
They all reached into our souls and will be regaled for it, probably forever.
Don Draper, Mad Men
Although this trip down amnesia lane set in the stirring 1960s began in 2007, the AMC juggernaut traipsed well into the teens, with its acclaimed swan song (one of the few series finales that did not disappoint) in 2015.
It’s not often when the writing for a movie, show, or series is so spot-on that stereotypes actually become validated. When you watch Don Draper, the enigmatic and surly advertising executive, you see what TV advertising was rumored to be then and how some people in the non-stop world of New York encountered life. He made chain-smoking, Old Fashioned-guzzling, and blatant womanizing everyday conversation for some of the most conservative of viewers, because even they know great television when they see it.
That bewildering journey made Jon Hamm a household name in Hollywood and Don Draper into a TV icon (not to mention took Elisabeth Moss outside of The West Wing into the real world).
Walter White, Breaking Bad
G’head. Say his name.
Speaking of that magic to control a nation in the palm of your hand, this dude used methamphetamine to make us all high watching each passing episode of Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston was known as a fun-loving TV dad before Vince Gilligan came knocking on his door. Out of the quaint family home in the burbs to a seedy, beat-down RV and we were privileged to meet the devolving Heisenberg.
Typically, when a noteworthy character transforms from community beloved to federal agency bemoaned, there are plenty of hiccups. Walter White’s journey from mild-mannered Chemistry teacher to sinister drug underlord was without detours, potholes, or closings. It was absolutely fluid — smoothly retrograding into evil; yet, we begin rooting for this blossoming meth head because he loves his family and has a death sentence (lung cancer for those not in the know).
Mr. White is absolutely one of those characters on any screen that film students will aspire to become and fans will cherish any day of the week. One of the best, ever, on any screen.
T’Challa, Black Panther
When we were first introduced to T’Challa, the young Prince of Wakanda, only the nerdy understood what we were about to behold. “We” were enjoying Captain America: Civil War. The rest of America could have cared less. Then, T’Challa became a permanent fixture within the MCU and the rest of the world was to meet the boy king.
And, as “they” say, the rest is history for Black Panther — literally.
Not even Kevin Feige and director Ryan Coogler could prepare for what happened once the trailers began hitting home televisions and unveiling Chadwick Boseman to all those other not-yet-fans. While, in the cinematic sense, Black Panther wasn’t the first black superhero (that honor went to Wesley Snipes and Blade, as many seem to forget), he will always be known as the most important.
Boseman and T’Challa became a beacon of hope for young African-American children around the globe spreading hope to become who you are destined to be and belief in accomplishing the impossible. From the pages of a comic book to hearts of children. Shoot, even Denzel cried when he saw it because it meant more than, well, a comic book would, could, or even should.
Diana Prince, Wonder Woman
Much like Chadwick Boseman did for black superheroes and African Americans of all ages, Gal Gadot did for female superheroes and women anywhere with her triumphant portrayal as Wonder Woman. More importantly, at least to the CBM fan, she proved that all the massively popular female characters in comic book history, regardless of publishing house, could lead a movie.
They can say what they want about the market, timing, and interest — it was fear. And when Gal Gadot first appeared in Batman V. Superman, everyone knew it was possible and that yellow streak turned into cash green. Heroics no longer required a man in the comic genre of film or TV; it only requires purpose.
Wonder Woman had it. Gal Gadot personified it. And now, thanks to her and the polished and bold moxie of Director Patty Jenkins, we all get to enjoy it.
John Wick, John Wick
Do you realize Keanu “Whoa” Reeves was 50 when he was cast as the beloved and ruthless assassin?! Now imagine that old fart not playing this amazing role in John Wick. You can’t! No one can. Ironic the line that was stapled to every trailer of its inaugural effort, “Oh yeah, I’m back.”
Keanu went the way of a few syrupy Hallmark Channel-esque movies and a few failed blockbusters (i.e., Constantine, The Day the Earth Stood Still) following the paradigmatic trilogy of The Matrix. Suddenly, Keanu was indeed back.
What should have been unbelievable with an acclaimed assassin who loves dogs coming out of retirement like some star athlete who just can’t get it out of his system became as believable as any person in your life. It took a stellar story, skilled writing, steady acting, and supreme choreography to make this character someone who could really exist.
He does. And he’s not going anywhere.
Imperator Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road
While many people were focused on how Tom Hardy could reinvent the mythical “Mad” Max Rockatansky, played perfectly by Mel Gibson a few decades back, or how the great George Miller could show how a post-apocalyptic world with supercharged vehicles should appear, the attention pierced toward Charlize Theron‘s marvelous role of Imperator Furiosa.
Whether her bravery to stand up to the sardonic Immortan Joe, her vulnerability to befriend a fugitive in Max, or her absolute determination to provide the lesser-than in her life freedom she never enjoyed herself, Furiosa became a hero in the last place we expected one.
You have a woman with a mechanical arm and a burden of an untold community screaming in the wind and kneeling in the sand. Our hearts were wrenched watching her realize the futile journey she was on; yet, she sucked it up and showed any young woman (or man, for that matter you sexist pigs) that anything, with belief, is possible.
While America was screaming #MeToo, Furiosa showed how liberation and determination could turn that yell into #IAm. She was that awesome.
Before you sneer, did you see this movie? Toni Colette’s powerful role as ‘Annie’ in Ari Aster’s film did so much more than create the glue that congealed a most imaginative plot. She was also the most significant Academy Award snub in recent history. Two genres that continue to get purposely overlooked by Old (White) Man Oscar are superhero and horror, and that has not been so apparent as in this case.
As we delve through trauma and secrets through the generations, we see something else this movie, and specifically, Toni Colette created — a refreshing renaissance of horror movies.
Original plots, scenes that created anaphylaxis instead of featuring gore, and characters that have meaning and true acting chops. Anything James Wan, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and Jordan Peele brings us has proven that, but probably no more captivating than what we discovered in Hereditary. Your turn to catch up, Oscar.
Leading Cast, The Avengers
C’mon! Like you can pick a favorite — one that stands apart from the rest?! Sure, most may get to Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans as the collective heart and soul of the Avengers, but to pick one?! Yeah, it’s down to a fierce contest of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Good luck with that.
Every one of these people had a strong role to play in this original group of billion-dollar superheroes. If it weren’t for the on-screen chemistry and the off-screen story, this empire doesn’t happen, we are not crowning Kevin Feige as Monarch of all things geek, and Avatar is still sitting atop its perch in the box office. (And really, how the hell did that happen anyway?!)
The Avengers will always be the template of how a comic cinematic multiverse should be crafted and pieced together, and it all began with the precise casting of these six people–seven, if you include Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Nick Fury. They will all be revered for their work throughout the molding of this 20-film masterpiece. They will always be celebrated at any form of a Comic-Con. And they are all deserving of their own origin story. (Yes, even Hulk. You know, again.)