Last week’s Entertainment Weekly had pretty much one HUGE feature article: “The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years.” I had fun flipping through the list and then, at dinner the next night with my boyfriend, it turned into a really fun game, with him trying to guess who was on the list and me trying to remember what I had read at 2 am.
We quickly learned that it’s a fun guessing game because of the parameters. The magazine has been celebrating its 20th anniversary, which I believe prompted the time limit. But as we both scanned our brains for great characters, we realized that there must have been many more rules to help with the selection. You have to narrow it down somehow. Otherwise you could just have every character from The Wire listed as numbers 25-100 and call it a day.
First of all, I really appreciate that the list is about characters. Not the best acting performance, best movie, or best story. But that brought up questions of what the heck were they considering made a character “great.” Why this guy over that guy……….Best character arc? Most memorable? Largest influence on our popular culture? Coolest in the eyes of whoever was in charge of compiling this thing? Most recognizeable? A game-changer? I think that some of the influence/recognizeable idea could be ruled out, or a lot of really annoying, flat, not thaaaat creative characters, but ones that are still quoted now and had a huge influence in their heyday, would have been on there (i.e. I thought of Steve Urkel).
So we started guessing the rules and found ways to rule out our many good ideas. However now, looking back at the magazine with the list in front of me…I have no idea how they chose to do it. Our parameters, what seemed logical to us and made sense based on those I could remember, are all broken by the magazine.
First problem: that time period. 20 years gets confusing because there are so many remakes, sequels, and movies made for the first time from much older books that came out during that period.
Our parameter: The character had to have been first created between 1990 and 2010.
Proof: For example, there were no Lord of the Rings characters,*** but that seemed to make sense because the book came out much much earlier. This helped explain the absence of John McClane (Die Hard) because the first movie came out in 1988, though the others all were in the right time period.
EW’s Stance: No. See #33 – Sarah Connor from Terminator 2 (specifically listed as coming from the sequel). I call bull s**t. Sure she changed a lot by the 2nd movie but her character was created in 1984 in the original The Terminator (not to mention who knows when the idea occurred to James Cameron knowing his storymaking time schedule, but then that’s not how this is being counted either). Why include her but not any of the other amazing characters whose sequels came out after 1990? And The Joker from The Dark Knight? I suppose I can see how it’s such a different creation than previous Jokers, but that character has been around forever. And Tony Stark??? No way! Iron Man, the character, debuted in 1963!
Second problem: many great characters in one project.
Our parameter: Only one character allowed as representative of a show/particular actor/specific world to help maintain diversity.
Proof: It seemed they were trying to spread the love and that made sense. While stories with one great character often had many more, you had to choose so that you could have a broad diversity in every sense of the word. One Pixar representative (Woody from Toy Story), one Joss Whedon creation (Buffy), one Friend (Rachel Green), one from Seinfeld, one from The Wire, one Christopher Guest-universe character, one from Lost, one from The Office, I could go on and on. Why not others from some of these masterpieces? “Great” must mean “best.” I thought it was a rule.
EW’s Stance: Eh, not so much. There are two Johnny Depps (Edward Scissorhands and Jack Sparrow – the only actor repeat, not including voices of animated characters), two J.J. Abrams creations (Felicity, and Sidney Bristow from Alias), and two Tarantino’s (Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction and The Bride from Kill Bill). I suppose there are no two from one piece of art and maybe that’s it.
And while I love the diversity of genres they had – besides movies and tv shows, they drew from plays, books, and video games, and include cartoon characters as well, making it truly about the search for a great character – they may have taken it a little far trying to fill the slot of a certain “type.” Maybe this was to please their various readership (something for the teens – Twilight, I’m looking at you, for the old ladies, for the guys, etc…).
In the end, maybe there were no rules, and maybe it’s just a matter of taste and I just did not agree with all of their choices. I’m sure they’re receiving tons of e-mails telling them who they forgot. I’m thinking of writing one myself, however, I was going to try to stay within their parameters. But as #13 once said of the rules, “They’re really more guidelines.” To that end, here’s who the boyfriend and I would have added if repeats are fair game (though I still think the time period thing is crap and all of ours were publicly released between 1990 and 2010).
1. River Tam or Mal Reynolds, Firefly (2002) & Serenity (2005)
2. Some combination of Nemo, Marlin, & Dory, Finding Nemo (2003)
I also thought Wall-E should have gotten his own spot, not just in a sidebar of other couples below the chosen Noah & Allie from The Notebook (WHAT?).
3. Amélie Poulain, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain or Amélie (2001)
I wanted more internationally created characters (ones that did not start in America). There were very few and Amelie was only to be found in the notes below Jerry Maguire because Cameron Crowe was asked for his five favorites. That needs to be rectified.
4. Lola, Lola Rennt or Run Lola Run (1998)
5. Either Joel Barish or Clementine Kruczynski, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
6. Bubbles, The Wire (2002)
They could all be on here, and I was very glad with their choice of Omar, but Bubs was the other one we wanted to see and guessed immediately.
7. Yorick, Y: The Last Man (2003 – graphic novel)
8. Nancy Botwin, Weeds (2005)
9. Olive, Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
I would also accept Grandpa or brother Dwayne.
10. Adrian Monk, Monk (2002)
How, HOW???!!!!, was he not on their list???
Admittedly, my choices are certainly influenced by me, my taste in entertainment, my desire to see more women on the list, etc…
I guess it just depends on what you think makes a character not just good, but great.
I can’t link to their whole list (here’s the most you can get online, I think you’d have to buy the magazine*)**, but who would you like to see on there?
*And because I know you’re wondering, on their list, #1 is Homer Simpson and #2 is Harry Potter. You’re welcome.
**UPDATE: I just discovered the list recreated here, if you want to see who made it! – http://mix1041.radio.com/2010/06/02/the-top-100-character-of-all-time-so-says-entertainment-weekly/
***UPDATE #2: Okay, I’ll admit I was wrong. They do have Gollum on there. So who the hell knows what they were doing. I still say that if you say it’s from 20 years, then stick to those 20 years. John McClane, people, come on!