There are some actors that can play many roles. There are others who are typecast and can never quite get outside of their comfort zone and play another character. There are still others that are forever linked to one particular character. That’s what this list is… the top 10 (in no particular order) “what character you think of first” list. For me, these are career defining roles for these actors. This is the first 10 that came to mind so I’m certainly not saying that there aren’t other career defining roles out there. Let the debate begin!
Harrison Ford – Han Solo (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
Honorable Mention – Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
This was quite possibly the most difficult on my list. In my mind Ford has played two of the most recognizable characters in movie history. Solo is the baddest smuggler in the galaxy and Dr. Jones is quite simply the coolest archaeologist in history (no pun intended). This would have been an even more difficult decision if Crystal Skull had never come out but with that stinker factoring into the equation I had to go with Solo.
Chevy Chase – Clark W. Griswold (Vacation, European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation)
Honorable Mention – Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher (Fletch)
This was another difficult choice. Fletch is one of my all time favorite movies but when it comes to a pure character study Clark is tough to top. The physical comedy is there and you simply can’t go wrong with the tirades that “Sparky” has in every film.
Bill Murray – John Winger (Stripes)
Honorable Mention – Carl Spackler (Caddyshack)
I imagine I’ll get some flack for this one as Carl “It’s in the hole!” Spackler is close to icon status with my generation. That said, when I think Bill Murray I think Stripes first. The “Big Toe Hulka” speech that he gives along with the ending where he’s got the troops all in line puts John Winger at the top of my Murray list.
Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
Honorable Mention – The Joker (Batman Animated)
I almost didn’t put this one on the list cause it’s just too damn easy. But after reflection I figured THIS is what the list is all about… a role that truly does define one’s career. Mark Hamill IS Luke Skywalker and Luke Skywalker IS Mark Hamill. No matter how many comic books and novels I read I’m always picturing Hamill. He’s gone on to do some great voice work but when it comes to the silver screen its Jedi all the way.
Sean Connery – James Bond (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Never Say Never Again)
Honorable Mention – John Patrick Mason (The Rock)
The character of James Bond is currently working on his 6th incarnation… but none of the subsequent versions have lived up to the original. Connery was the first and in my mind will always remain the quintessential Bond. No actor since has gotten both the suave and action sides of this timeless character. Shaken, not stirred please.
Marlon Brando – Don Vito Corleone (The Godfather)
Honorable Mention – Jor-El (Superman)
Often imitated, never duplicated. Brando’s Godfather has become synonymous with mob movies. Tony Soprano came close but when it comes to running the family Vito still stands at the top of the hill. Not only did Brando create an icon, but that film still holds up incredibly well today. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself.
Susan Sarandon – Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)
Honorable Mention – Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking)
These days Sarandon is better known for being Mrs Tim Robbins and for her political views. To me she’ll always be Annie Savoy. If you’re a baseball fan of any kind then this movie has been on your radar for years. The dialog in this flick is awesome and the interplay between Sarandon and Kevin Costner is amazing. This was a pretty easy pick for me in terms of “definitive roles”.
Sigorney Weaver – Ellen Ripley (Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection)
Honorable Mention – Dana Barrett (Ghostbusters)
The first Alien film is one of my all time favorites… and the second is above that. Weaver gives a performance that is matched only by the title character. Ripley is one of the most recognizable roles out there (male or female). In fact, AFI named her one of the top 10 greatest heroes in American cinematic history. That’s good enough for me!
Heath Ledger – The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Honorable Mention – Gabriel Martin (The Patriot)
This one is recent but just too damn easy. Ledger’s last performance before his untimely death won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor – and he SO deserved it. Prior to this Jack Nicholson held the title for “best Joker performance” and Heath ripped it out of his hands in convincing fashion. Ledger’s death is sad on so many levels – one of them being that he’ll never have an opportunity to reprise this amazing roll.
Tom Hanks – Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)
Honorable Mention – Josh Baskin (Big)
Tom Hanks has become one of the most well known actors of our generation. He’s won multiple Oscars, has directed and produced. He’s currently the #1 box office star in the world in terms of total gross (over 3.5 BILLION). All of that said, by far my favorite roll of his is the slow southerner that just loves to run. The film won 6 Oscars including Hanks’ Best Actor.
Just a couple of things that I realized/noticed while I was coming up with this list. Half of the characters listed here were only in one movie. I suppose those characters could be listed as even MORE iconic as they only had one portrayal to “make it stick”. There are two movies (or franchises) that appear twice on the list: The Star Wars Saga and Ghostbusters. This is most certainly due to my movie background bias. I also find it interesting that the character of The Joker appears twice on this list as well (though to be fair Hamill’s version is only my alternate). Just goes to show you what an iconic figure that guy is! As I said at the beginning… let the debates begin!