The quality of a movie depends a great deal on its main characters, of course. A movie with uninteresting or implausible protagonists might still do well at the box office — just ask Michael Bay — but it will never be much more than an empty shell. What elevates a movie to greatness, though, is often the quality of its secondary characters.
There are two kinds of minor characters: the kind that are there for a good portion of the movie and help the plot along its way; and the kind that appear in only one or two scenes but manage to make themselves instantly memorable. The first kind of part has to be carefully apportioned throughout the film lest they become so interesting they distract from the main characters, but you’re often just enough intrigued by them that you’d like to see more. The second, since they’re only there for a brief time, often run away with their scenes, distracting completely from the main characters but only for a minute.
Here is our list of the top ten, of both kinds, from geeky movies, TV shows, etc. Enjoy!
10. Winston “The” Wolf from Pulp Fiction – Being played by Harvey Keitel is a good start, of course, since he tends to be memorable no matter what his part. But this is a guy who goes to black-tie cocktail parties at 8:00 in the morning but will readily leave them to clean up a messy situation. Plus, just the mention of his name is enough to get Samuel L. Jackson to clam up, and that’s just badass.
9. Bard the Bowman from The Hobbit – OK, so he’s not in a movie yet, unless you count Ralph Bakshi’s version, which we don’t. But he’s so intriguing: you get a few glimpses of him while Bilbo and the dwarves are in Lake-town, but then he becomes incredibly important later. Suddenly he’s the dragon-slayer and the rightful king of Dale, and, if you’re anything like me, you’re left wondering about the parts of his story you’re not told.
8. Wedge Antilles from the original Star Wars trilogy – You never find out much about him, but there has to be more to him: he’s the only minor character who regularly goes into perilous situations to survive all three movies! The assault on the first Death Star is survived only by Luke, Han, Chewie, an anonymous Y-wing pilot, and Wedge. And then he survives the assault on the second Death Star, too! There has to be more to this guy, but we never find out what that might be.
7. Bad Horse from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – He appears on screen for only a few brief seconds at the very end (just enough, really, to show that he is in fact meant to be an actual horse), but his influence affects the whole story. It’s his approval as the leader of the Evil League of Evil that Dr. Horrible covets, and his threat on Dr. Horrible’s life that sets the stage for the tragic climax of the story. We hope to see more of Bad Horse in the sequel, and maybe even to hear his “terrible death whinny.”
6. Jordan Cochran from Real Genius – Michelle Meyrink deserves most of the credit for Jordan’s appearance on this list: she managed to elevate a character who could so easily have been a boring stereotype into one of he most memorable parts of a great movie. Who can forget her coming into the men’s room and talking with barely a pause to breathe while Mitch tries to pee? It was easy to see why Mitch liked her so much, though it did always seem a bit skeevy that the fact that he was only 15 was never brought up as an issue with their relationship.
5. Valerie from The Princess Bride – Quick exercise: Try to picture Valerie chasing Miracle Max around their hut hollering “Humperdinck, Humperdinck, Humperdinck!!” without at least smiling at the memory. If you can do that, you have more self-control than I do, and I must have seen the movie at least a hundred times. Carol Kane, almost unidentifiable under the movie makeup, still managed to thoroughly steal her scene from Billy Crystal — a Herculean task if ever there was one. It was tempting to put the Impressive Clergyman on the list, because I still can’t watch the wedding scenes without laughing, but Valerie gets the nod because she was more of an actual character.
4. Professor Filius Flitwick from the Harry Potter books and movies – His bizarre unexplained reverse aging between the second and third movies aside, Warwick Davis managed to create an intriguing on-screen presence with little time and very few lines of dialogue. In the books, fortunately, the character is explored in much more depth, and it’s clear he is meant to be a brilliant wizard with exceptional skill at Charms (of course) and as a duellist. He figures in many key Hogwarts scenes in the books, and acquits himself well in several of the battles. Every time I reread the books, I think Flitwick, of all the secondary teacher characters, would make an excellent subject for a spinoff book or two.
3. Shepherd Derrial Book from Firefly/Serenity – Shepherd Book could, and had he been created by a lesser writer probably would, have been steeped in stereotype. Instead the character is far more than the audience, or indeed his fellow characters, would be inclined to expect. We only get hints at his past: that he clearly holds some kind of authority with the Alliance; that he has knowledge of and exceptional skill with weapons and hand-to-hand combat; and that he has clearly been on one side or the other in criminal enterprises. Sadly, we never really find out much more than that in the cruelly short TV series, and Joss Whedon even pokes fun at the audience about the subject: when Book tells Mal that he doesn’t have to tell Mal about his past, he’s really telling us.
2. Dr. Sherman “Doc” Cottle from (the reimagined) Battlestar Galactica – In many ways he’s a typical gruff doctor, in the fine tradition of Leonard McCoy. But Dr. McCoy never chain-smoked, and rarely had to deal with ethical considerations like treating humans and Cylons the same. Cottle figures prominently in many crucial moments in the series, from saving Commander Adama’s life after he’s shot to delivering and participating in the faked killing of Athena and Helo’s daughter Hera. He also provided just enough sarcasm to alleviate some of the tension in some of the more dramatic moments of the series.
1. Boba Fett (from you-know-very-well-where) – Boba Fett falls into that strange category of characters who are glimpsed only rarely and heard from even more rarely, but who nonetheless manage to garner huge amounts of attention. From the moment we first see him in The Empire Strikes Back (I’m ignoring the prequel trilogy, The Clone Wars, and such) he is clearly a force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with. His armor is just… awesome, really, with its different colors here and there and the scuff marks making it clear he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. You know he’s a badass before he even opens his mouth, and he manages to keep that impression going all the way until just before his ignominious end in the belly of the sarlacc. All that while never actually showing the audience his face — impressive, most impressive.
There are plenty more where those came from, of course. Who are your favorites? Please let us known with a comment.