Most Popular Movie Characters: With an unmistakable appearance, endlessly quotable lines, great heroism or terrifying deeds, they have secured their place in popular culture forever:
20 of the most popular characters that have ever appeared on the big screen! Incidentally, despite – or perhaps because of – their dominance since the early 2010s, we have excluded characters that originally came to fame through comics in advance. In one and a half cases, however, the well-known rule-confirming exception had to be made. In addition, the obligatory spoiler warning is hereby pronounced!
1. Rocky Balboa
- Portrayed by: Sylvester Stallone
- Popular by: “Rocky” series
The character: An amateur boxer on the verge of poverty gets the chance of a lifetime and proves to the world that it doesn’t matter how hard you deal – what matters is how many blows you get can take it and still carry on.
Iconic moment: Without a trace of doubt, the training montage from the first part, in which Rocky climbs the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Bill Conti’s grandiose “Gonna fly now”. Nowadays, the scene is honored with its own statue on site – can it be even more iconic?
2. Jack Sparrow
- Portrayed by: Johnny Depp
- Popular with: “Pirates of the Caribbean” series
The character: Captain Jack Sparrow, as the pirate, staggering from one adventure to the next, would probably emphasize with a slightly indignant undertone. After all, the Black Pearl is the pride of the cheeky Caribbean pirate, to say the least, who hardly misses a chance at a whispered saying!
Iconic moment: The first sword fight in the long-running film series is also their best. The duel between Jack and Will Turner is highly entertaining, actively contributes to figure formation and shows that the captain should not be misunderstood as a mere laughing stock.
3. Darth Vader
- Portrayed by: David Prowse & James Earl Jones
- Popular with: “Star Wars” series
The figure: Dressed in black from cape to toe, Darth Vader is initially the emperor’s cold-hearted enforcer, before he balances power despite all detours.
Iconic moment: by the end of “The Empire Strikes Back”, Vader had long been established as the ultimate antagonist. The revelation that he’s also Luke Skywalker’s father turned the dynamics of the saga completely upside down! One of the best twists in film history – all the more strange that it’s so often misquoted.
4. Marty McFly
- Portrayed by: Michael J. Fox
- Popular with: “Back to the Future” series
The figure: If you suddenly find yourself in the past, accidentally preventing you from getting to know your parents and finally having to fend off your mother’s advances, that’s good advice expensive! All the possible pitfalls of time travel are known to film fans, especially through the youngster who wears a vest, Doc Brown and his DeLorean.
Iconic moment: The “inspiring” performance of a rock’n’roll classic in the first part has its charm, but the self-lacing sneakers and the hoverboard from the second album are still the stuff dreams are made of!
5. Vito Corleone
- Portrayed by: Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro
- Popular with: “The Godfather” series
The figure: Before he became the Don of a criminal family, Vito got his own hands dirty. Nevertheless, he does not want to be associated with heroin in post-war New York – an honorable principle that at the same time sets a spiral of violence in motion.
Iconic moment: The meeting in the back room on Connie Corleone’s wedding day. At some point, or possibly never, someone will choose a different scene for a list like this. If you want to look at the matter chronologically, Vito’s assassination attempt on Don Fanucci is at least a legitimate challenger!
- Portrayed by: Heath Ledger
- Popular with: “The Dark Knight”
The character: Some people just want to see the world burn – and the Joker is one of them: The unpredictable anarchist with a penchant for clown disguise brings principled Batman into a bitter feud to take Gotham City to the brink of resilience.
Iconic moment: Even the perfidious bank robbery or the magic pencil trick deserved a place, but Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the joker has made the history of its striking scars timeless: “Why so serious?” Became one of the most famous film lines of all.
7. Hannibal Lecter
- Portrayed by: Anthony Hopkins
- Popular with: “The Silence of the Lambs”
The character: According to the American Film Institute, no less than the greatest villain in film history! Dr. Lecter is a well-read man of the world with elegant manners … who calmly enjoys the liver of pollsters with a few fava beans and an excellent Chianti when he feels like it.
Iconic moment: Anyone who has not yet perceived Hannibal as threatening as part of his “quid pro quo” psycho game with Clarice Starling should revise this view at the latest when Senator Martin is mocked or the bloody escape from the town hall.
8. Katniss Everdeen
- Portrayed by: Jennifer Lawrence
- Popular with: “The Hunger Games ” series
The character: In the totalitarian-led Panem, the so-called Hunger Games are held to provide the people with an entertaining demonstration of power. Katniss Everdeen uses her successful participation in the ruthless competition to death in the medium term to force an urgently needed overthrow of the oppressive system!
Iconic moment: As the provider of her broken family, Katniss offers herself at the beginning as a participant in the 74th Games in order to save her innocent sister Prim, who was actually intended for this, from worse – at least for the moment.
9. Forrest Gump
- Portrayed by: Tom Hanks
- Popular with: “Forrest Gump”
The character: What Forrest Gump may lack in intellectual possibilities, he makes up for with two unexpectedly capable legs, remarkable kindness and an incredible feeling for the great events of world history.
Iconic moment: “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you will get”. Here it is, after all, wisdom passed on to Mama Gumps on the park bench is by far the most cited part of the multi-Oscar-winning film!
10. Ellen Ripley
- Portrayed by: Sigourney Weaver
- Popular by: “Alien” series
The character: When an eerie creature from an alien world makes its way onto her freighter, in the middle of a colony or on a prison planet, Ripley turns out to be among hardened Space Marines, shady criminals and others Alpha males again and again as the most capable person in the respective group. Then as now, a big thing for the role of women in action cinema!
Iconic moment: Ripley, ready to fight, uses a loading robot as an exoskeleton to face the alien queen in a final confrontation.
11. James Bond
- Prepared By: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig
- Popular by: “James Bond” series
Figure: An elegant secret agent working for the British MI6, who in addition to his job-related skills on a downright magnetic attraction towards the opposite sex. No movie figure on this list accompanies us – albeit with a changing cast – as long and regularly as 007!
Iconic moment: almost every drink order or introduction by name, of course! Which actor has the most charm is probably more of a topic for another list …
12. Henry “Indiana” Jones
- Portrayed by: Harrison Ford
- Popular with: Indiana Jones series
The character: An archeology professor who, with the best will in the world, can’t stop at dry theory and who has fought for more than a breakneck race for fabled artifacts over the course of his long career.
Iconic moment: Sure – you could just name the style-defining and, for Indy, extremely laborious acquisition of the idol figure at the beginning of “Hunter of the Lost Treasure” and put the proverbial pen aside. However, Dr. Jones’ incredibly uncomplicated answer to the threatening gestures of a swordsman in Cairo is simply one of the best badass scenes in cinema history!
13. Tyler Durden
- Portrayed by: Brad Pitt
- Popular by: “Fight Club”
The character: Based on brawls in bar cellars, Tyler Durden gradually challenges the entire social order. He is daring, charismatic, potent, attractive and confident; in short, the almost perfect man – at least for the nameless narrator whose fantasy he is.
Iconic moment: Tyler’s philosophical statements can be found on countless covers and toilet walls, but no monologue is as well known as the haunting proclamation of the rules of the Fight Club … about which we have now lost far too many words.
14. King Leonidas
- Portrayed by: Gerard Butler
- Popular with: “300”
The character: In this generously fictionalized portrayal of the battle of Thermopylae, King Leonidas leads selected Spartians in the hopeless but heroic struggle against the Persian superiority of the supposed god-king Xerxes.
Iconic moment: In general, Leonidas is by no means at a loss for fabulously quotable speeches full of pathos. The scene that seals the departure of the 300 is unsurpassed in its cult factor: three resolutely shouted words, one courageous step – through “This is Sparta!” An unforgettable performance was born.
15. John J. Rambo
- Portrayed by: Sylvester Stallone
- Popular with: “Rambo” series
The figure: A misunderstood and internally torn Vietnam veteran who was despised, harassed and captured when he was back at home. Nevertheless, he should not be able to escape his supposed destiny as a weapon incarnate into old age …
Iconic moment: As a muscle-packed symbol of the American eighties action cinema, John J. Rambo is an icon in itself. His name has made it into common parlance to describe brutal action. And nobody explains the function of blue light more beautifully!
16. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa
- Portrayed by: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher
- Popular by: “Star Wars” series
The character: Nobody destined for heroism, his rascal friend and the princess. You simply cannot and will not name one without the other two! Using classic ingredients, George Lucas has created a fairy tale for the modern age whose pop cultural influence need not be further emphasized.
Iconic moment: Since we have committed ourselves to the trio as a unit, we choose the first common fear of death: While Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi are dueling, the team (including Chewbacca) manage to escape from the Death Star’s garbage compactor at the last second.
17. The Bride
- Portrayed by: Uma Thurman
- Popular with: “Kill Bill” series
The character: Heavily pregnant, The Bride is gunned down at her own wedding; all of society included. When she comes to after years in a coma, she keeps it with an old, Klingon proverb: revenge is a dish that is best served cold.
Iconic moment: The acquisition of the Pussy Wagon and the circumstances that preceded it have certainly burned into my memory. That is why it is all the more cathartic to be able to admire The Bride dressed in yellow a little later in a skilful sword fight with the Crazy 88!
18. Antonio “Tony” Montana
- Portrayed by: Al Pacino
- Popular with: “Scarface”
The character: A hot-headed and cold-blooded Cuban exile who strives for the top of a drug empire in Miami in the early eighties. Greed, a chronic violation of the “don’t get high on your own supply” rule and, of all things, a touch of morality lead to its ultimately inevitable decline.
Iconic moment: Tony’s tirades in the restaurant, office or whirlpool may be legendary, but nothing beats the “Say hello to my little friend!” Final scene, which is taken up countless times in other works.
19. The Dude
- Portrayed by: Jeff Bridges
- Popular with: “The Big Lebowski”
The character: Jeffrey Lebowski is satisfied within his means as long as he can indulge in whale songs, White Russians, bowling, bathtubs and soothing herbs. A fateful mix-up with a namesake suddenly leads to a peed favorite carpet being one of the dude’s lesser worries …
Iconic moment: That the carpet made the room really cozy … yes, you know, that might be your opinion, man. However, a single moment in a film so revered for its eccentric dialogues can hardly be highlighted!
- Portrayed by: Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Popular with: “Terminator” series
The figure: A cybernetic organism; living tissue over a metallic endoskeleton. With an Austrian accent. And the most unconditionally self-sacrificing father substitute imaginable! Thanks to the young John Connor, the former killing machine has acquired a little bit of humanity …
Iconic moment: … why his “Hasta la vista, baby!” Is not only infinitely cool, but also of deepest importance. The same applies even more to the famous thumb, which a few scenes later reliably makes even the angular chin shiver!
It is a popular phrase among lists like this one, but we simply have to allow it at this point: The limit to 20 entries was sometimes unbearably difficult! Loved characters like John McClane, Ash Williams, Peter Venkman, Michael Corleone, Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, Gollum, Snake Plissken, Travis Bickle, Vincent Vega, Jules Winnfield, Inigo Montoya, Maximus, Frank Drebin, Harry Potter, Ace Ventura, Harry Callahan, Keyser Söze or Captain Kirk and Mister Spock were only sorted out with the greatest grinding of teeth. At the end of the day, the sheer selection showed once again what a great story we were able to witness in front of the big screen!