A recent online post asks a sweeping question: “Who is your favorite character of all time?” This idea is not limited to movies but involves television shows, books, and real-life documentary stars (I’m looking at you, Tiger King). Here are the stars of fiction and reality the Internet voted for — in no particular order.
1. Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
I will begin with my personal choice, Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. I am unsure how much of Nick Offerman’s personality is within Swanson’s character, but nobody in American comedy has better one-liners than Ron. Such diamonds as “When I eat, it is the food that is scared” or “If there were more food and fewer people, this would be a perfect party” couldn’t come from anyone else.
2. Lisbeth Salander, the Millennium Trilogy
Lizbeth Salander is the central character in late Swedish author Stieg Larson’s Millennium trilogy. While most heroines these days seem unrealistic, taking on their male counterparts with their physical strength (and forgetting basic science along the way), Salander is far too smart for that. Her revenge for being abused, beaten, or kidnapped is using her network of hackers to bring their entire empire crashing down.
3. Hal Wilkinson, Malcolm in the Middle
Before Bryan Cranston became Walter White, he had already conquered the family comedy market with Malcolm in the Middle. The sitcom lasted seven seasons, putting Cranston on the map as America’s favorite hapless dad (before Phil Dunphy showed up). When referring to the infamous roller skating lesson scene, a fan says, “I just hope I can embarrass my kids to the point of giving me Malcolm’s face in that scene.”
4. Tywin Lannister, Game of Thrones
Not all great characters need to be likable; however, a truly dastardly antagonist is just as powerful as a heroic protagonist. “I actually really, really like the show’s Tywin Lannister,” argues a fan. “Yes, he’s done despicable things, but he has such a commanding presence in any scene he is in.” Charles Dance is a big reason for this admiration; the man’s presence is a pure screen menace.
5. Marge Gunderson, Fargo
Now, we move to the positively shining Marge Gunderson. In the great Coen Brothers’ movie Fargo, we meet the nicest detective on this side of the Great Continental Divide. We all love Marge Gunderson, whether it is encouraging her mild-mannered stamp painter husband, her irrepressible cheerfulness, or her bravery in the face of pure danger.
6. The Joker, The Dark Knight
“I’m gonna make this pencil disappear” is quite possibly the greatest opening line for any movie character, let alone one from the Batman canon. Heath Ledger shocked the world with a world-class performance as Batman’s famous arch-nemesis, winning the Academy’s second-ever posthumous acting award — after a fellow Australian, Peter Finch. No Batman villain ever came close and perhaps never will match the ferocity with which Ledger inhabited his character — it’s no surprise he was burned out after filming wrapped.
7. Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
America’s great novel has been on school curricula across the Anglosphere and beyond since the book’s release in 1960. After reading the book, a contributor speaks of tearing up, but not for the wonderful ending. “I realized that I will probably never find a man as magnanimous, strong, and gracious as Atticus Finch,” comments the reader. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t deserve him.”
8. Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
I am unsure if Katherine Hepburn’s effortless femininity made this character so appealing, but her book counterpart is just as fun. If she isn’t partying in her New York apartment or catching breakfast outside Tiffany’s, she is just being charming. Ironically, Hepburn felt she was too introverted to play such a socialite. Little did the actress know she would become a perennial glamor icon forever.
9. Clarice Starling, Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs trilogy is one the greatest book collections I have ever read, and Clarice Starling’s character is the epitome of understated bravery. Stoic, unassuming, and fiercely intelligent, Clarice’s backstory drives her to uncover grim crime after crime. She is the most underrated heroine in literature history, in my opinion.
10. Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
I recently rewatched The Sopranos in its entirety (something I recommend anyone who has seen the series should do), and only then did I realize what an absolute heavyweight actor James Gandolfini was. His mannerisms, diverse facial ticks, and emotional tells only complement his physical dominance on screen. Even seasoned New York mobsters couldn’t believe the show’s accurate portrayal of life in the Mob; they even thought its writers were stealing their ideas.
11. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation
On a par with Michael Scott is his kind of female version, Leslie Knope, Pawnee’s Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation. Like Marge Gunderson, Leslie’s positivity is infectious. In an early episode, when given the green light over a new park in Pawnee’s suburbs, she whispers, “This could be my Hoover Dam!” Moreover, Knope is dedicated to her team, creating working folders and PostIt notes for anyone lucky enough to work alongside her. Leslie, your nation thanks you.
12. Omar Little, The Wire
Everybody needs to see The Wire, and if they haven’t already, what is keeping them? This series makes it to most serious TV viewers’ best-ever lists, and for good reason. However, the greatest character (sorry, Stringer Bell) by far is Omar Little, a non-conformist bandit with even the toughest drug syndicates shaking in their boots as he robs them. His famous line: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”
13. Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
Ah, Homer Simpson. He has been in my life for 30 years, and I cannot think of a cartoon character I love more. In the early years, the show focused more on Bart’s antics, then as more people tuned in, they realized Homer was the show’s favorite, becoming the de facto protagonist. “I have three kids and no money,” says a commenter, quoting their yellow-skinned hero. “Why can’t I have no kids and three money?”
14. Darth Vader, Star Wars
“Darth Vader had only 12 minutes of screen time in Star Wars: A New Hope and managed to become an icon for an entire generation in this time,” asserts a Vader fan. “If that’s not an achievement for a character, nothing is.” It is weird how, as kids, we loved Luke and abhorred his Sith father, but as we grow older, we love Vader even more than Luke. I would have loved to see a version of Star Wars: A New Hope where they use the original David Prowse dialogue.
15. Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David is to comedy what Elon Musk is to space travel — he will rub everyone up the wrong way, but the man is a born genius. Whether getting an aunt’s obituary catastrophically wrong in the newspaper, bringing a sex worker to use the carpool lane, or even murdering a rare black swan on the golf course, Larry David is doomed to mess up pretty much every social situation he finds himself in.
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