The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time

PREMIERE celebrates the most memorable movie characters and talks to some of the actors who brought them to life.

100. Roger "Verbal" Kint

Played by Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects (1995, dir. Bryan Singer)

He doesn't look like much — a balding, palsied, sad-sack thief with a limp. But one thing Verbal can do is talk, and after surviving a botched drug deal and ensuing boat fire that's left a slew of men dead, talk he does — to Special Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), a cool cat who figures he has this mouse cornered. Verbal's tale is fantastical, involving frame-ups, corrupt cops, a lawyer named Kobayashi, and an archvillain named Keyser Soze. His story's so good, in fact, that it lands him back on the street, easy prey for the evil forces manipulating him. Until he undergoes one of cinema's most unexpected transformations and disappears right before our eyes.

Defining Moment: Sitting alone in an office, awaiting interrogation, Verbal, seemingly bored, scans a bulletin board. You never know when you're going to need a few details.

99. Kevin McCallister

Played by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (1990, dir. Chris Columbus) and one later film

"He's only a kid, Harry — we can take him." So says burglar Marv (Daniel Stern) to his partner in crime (Joe Pesci) as they prepare to raid a home whose sole inhabitant is an eight-year-old boy who was accidentally left behind when his family went away for Christmas. As Bugs Bunny might put it, they don't know him vewy well. "This is my house. I have to defend it," Kevin vows, devising ingenious booby traps that send the crooks tumbling. But it's not just the cartoonish slapstick that made Alone one of the most successful comedies of all time: It's the sweet heart and courageous tenacity of the kid himself.

Defining Moment: Standing in front of the mirror, Kevin proceeds to make pop culture history when he slaps aftershave on his cheeks, letting out a startled, piercing "Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!"

98. Antoine Doinel

Played by Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows (1959, dir. François Truffaut) and four later films

He steals, he plagiarizes, he's lazy . . . and yet Antoine is cinema's most sympathetic bad boy. Sure, Léaud's winsome face helps, but what really sells the kid is Truffaut's complex conception and flawless execution—the movie shows us that Antoine's transgressions are the flailings of a not-yet-lost soul looking for love and understanding. Four more films—including the immortal Stolen Kisses—would show us where Antoine went from Blows' indelible final freeze-frame.

Defining Moment: As priceless as the final shot is Antoine's reaction when the reform-school shrink asks him if he's ever slept with a girl.

97. Ace Ventura

Played by Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994, dir. Tom Shadyac) and one later film

If, as a boy, Jim Carrey were to boast that one day he'd be a world-famous movie star, people might've said he was talking out of his ass. Well . . . witness Ace Ventura, the pet detective partial to animals ("I don't do humans," he says, rather disturbingly, at one point), crime fighting, and speaking out of his tush. While tracking down the kidnapped Miami Dolphins mascot (a dolphin named Snowflake) and Dan Marino, Ventura is unimpeachably gut-splitting with his ridiculous hair, his Matlock-on-crack sleuthing skills, and his cringe-inducing catchphrase "All ... righty then!"

Defining Moment: Lying to his landlord, Ace insists that he has no pets in his apartment. As soon as the landlord is gone, Ace calls his animals, and all manner of chirping, squawking creatures run and fly to him as he stands proud, a most twisted Noah.

96. Tommy DeVito

Played by Joe Pesci in GoodFellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese)

Calling this two-bit hood volatile is like saying Siberia is a little on the chilly side. A walking fireplug of seemingly inexplicable sadism and constantly wounded pride—you get the feeling he always wants to be insulted, just so he has an excuse to blow the insulter's head off—he is perhaps the single most irredeemable character ever put on film.

Defining Moment: The "How am I funny?" stuff is, of course, classic, but the one-sided showdown with Spider at the card game really demonstrates Tommy's heart of darkness.

95. Oda Mae Brown

Played by Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost (1990, dir. Jerry Zucker)

Goldberg's faux psychic–turned–authentic channeler brings an infusion of welcome comic electricity to this heavy story — a murder mystery on top of a definitive chick flick. With a combination of vibrancy and sass, Oda Mae steals scene after scene, alternately spooked by her sudden gift and infuriated with her newfound constant companion, Sam (Patrick Swayze). For imploring the Almighty ("I'll stop cheating, I'll do penance, just make that guy go away!") and being possessed by a roomful of the deceased, Goldberg walked away with an Oscar and elevated a by-the-numbers love story to something funny and touching and memorable.

Defining Moment: She's noblest when begrudgingly letting Sam use her body to touch Molly (Demi Moore) one last time, but nobility doesn't suit Oda Mae. Her best moment comes as she barrels down Wall Street with a check for $4 million in her hand — until Sam forces her to donate it to charity. "Hand her the check," he prods, prompting Oda Mae's explosively hilarious, tight-lipped growl, "I will!"

94. Rose Sayer

Played by Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (1951, dir. John Huston)

It is 1914 and repressed spinster Rose Sayer has spent the last decade as a Christian missionary in the Congo. After the German army burns down her village, Rose escapes on a rickety steamboat helmed by the rough-hewn Charlie Allnutt (Humphrey Bogart), and together they try to blow up a German warship. The unlikely duo fall in love, and Rose is transformed from what Charlie drunkenly refers to as a "psalm-singing, skinny old maid" into a feisty and passionate cocaptain.

Defining Moment: During an early rough spot on the river, Rose pulls at her pompadour, her eyes glittering with excitement: She has found emotional liberation. This transformation isn't wasted on Charlie. "I'll never forget the way you looked going over the falls," he says later. "Head up, chin out, hair blowing in the wind . . . the living picture of a heroine."

93. Harry Lime

Played by Orson Welles in The Third Man (1949, dir. Carol Reed)

Complimented on dominating a film in which he appears for less than 20 minutes total, Welles, with uncharacteristic modesty, told Peter Bogdanovich, "That's the part, you know. Every sentence in the whole script is about Harry Lime — nobody talks about anything else for ten reels. And then there's that shot in the doorway — what a star entrance that was!" The thing is, Welles had to maintain supercriminal Lime's mystique after that entrance. A diabolical wheeler-dealer in the moral limbo of postwar Vienna, the supposed-to-be-dead Lime is a character of volatile complexity, claiming to believe in God one minute and referring to his fellow humans as ants the next. Even desperately rushing through the city's sewers at the end of the film, he leaves some sinister power in his wake.

Defining Moment: The "cuckoo clock" speech, historical inaccuracies be damned.

92. Dil

Played by Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game (1992, dir. Neil Jordan)

Forty minutes in, she makes her first appearance, and what had been a tale about a terrorist kidnapping becomes one of the oddest and most poignant love stories ever filmed. Dil, the cross-dressing hairdresser (played by newcomer Davidson), is so seductive and — behind her bluff, tough exterior — so tenderhearted that once he knows the score, Fergus/Jimmy (Stephen Rea) still can't let her go. "Even when you were throwing up," Dil observes astutely, "I could tell you cared." Marketed as the movie with a secret, The Crying Game harbors an even more subversive truth: that, ultimately, the gender-bending makes no difference. Or, as Dil would say, "Details, baby, details."

Defining Moment: The big reveal, in which both lovers are equally shocked by their cluelessness.

91. Mrs. Iselin

Played by Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (1962, dir. John Frankenheimer)

The manipulative, domineering Mrs. Iselin — whom Lansbury likens to a "female Lear" — is perhaps the mother of all bad mothers. The powerful wife of a dim U.S. senator, she's a mass of contradictions — a red-baiting Communist who helps turn her son (Laurence Harvey) into a robotic killing machine but who also seems to harbor an incestuous love for him. "When I see it today I'm sort of astounded, because I think, ‘My God, you had a lot of sass and gall to play it that way,' " says Lansbury. "I certainly wasn't old enough to have enough life experience." In fact, Lansbury was only three years older than Harvey ("We had a laugh about that," she says). She isn't quite sure how she captured the character's supremely selfish malevolence: "I think it's because I'm so fearful of evil and nastiness. I know how to play it because I've watched it carefully."

Defining Moment: The pivotal scene that ends with a more-than-motherly kiss on the lips, "so shocking that John [Frankenheimer] said, ‘Put your hand up' " to partially block the audience's view and get it past the censors. It'll take more than that to shock viewers of the upcoming Jonathan Demme–directed remake, set against the Gulf War with Meryl Streep as Mom.

90. John Malkovich

Played by John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich (1999, dir. Spike Jonze)

In writer Charlie Kaufman's cinematic head trip, Malkovich gets the surreal opportunity to play himself (as a pretentious, horny fop) and himself as possessed by a number of other characters, most memorably John Cusack's envious puppeteer. Thus, we find the heretofore dignified actor dancing, shirtless and sweaty, as a human marionette; consorting with Charlie Sheen; encountering a roomful of John Malkoviches; and suffering a chase through his unconscious. It's a one-of-a-kind role, and Malkovich nails it.

Defining Moment: On the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike, he confronts his cerebral invaders, lamely yelling, "It's my heeeead!" A passing trucker hurls a can at him, taunting, "Hey, Malkovich! Think fast."

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