Rather that attempt to quantify the infinite complexities that make up a character, I am going to to rank the all-time best character names.
Unlike characters themselves, the quantifiable appeal of character names is always evident. 100% of the time.
I place a lot of stock in the names of movie characters, and I’ve thought long and hard about what the best ones are.
An interesting name can really help sell the feeling of a character. Whether it’s loaded with meaning, has an appealing sense of the ridiculous, or simply sounds cool, a great name will always make me sit up and take notice.
Here I am going to list what I consider to be the 50 best character names in movie history, and chime in on some of them as to why I think they are so great.
These must be movie names first and foremost, so I’m excluding characters from non-fiction films, and films adapted from books or plays or songs or comedy routines. Which immediately rules out a bunch of pearlers. Like ‘Dr. Frank N. Furter’ from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (based on a play), ‘Nada’ from They Live (based on a short story) or ‘Pee-wee Herman’ from Pee-wee's Big Adventure (previously existing character).
50. Hunt Stromberg
Okay this isn’t a movie character, but an actual writer, director and producer who was highly active during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I figured I was allowed one real person, and this name is so cool it sounds like the world’s best screenwriter made it up. Hunt Stromberg. It just has such authority.
49. Grant Grant (Played by Michael Rooker in Slither, 2006)
Rooker’s performance as the slimy sheriff-turned-slimy ball of skin in this underrated comedy horror is greatly enhanced by the blandly hilarious name given to him by writer/director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy).
48. Dwan (Played by Jessica Lange in King Kong, 1976)
This is one of those character names where I’ve never been quite sure that there wasn’t a missprint at some point, and everyone just went with it. Is ‘Dwan’ a name? Has anyone ever met a ‘Dwan’? Missprint or not, I like this name, because it is just so darn silly.
47. Newt (Played by Carrie Henn in Aliens, 1986)
James Cameron’s best film earns that status largely thanks to its raft of memorable characters — an all-too rare element in genre films. One of Cameron’s subtlest, yet most effective gestures was in picking such a weird name for the kid character. It really threw me at first. But by the end of the film, I was ready to punch anyone who insisted on calling her ‘Rebecca’.
46. Wilma McClatchie (Played by Angie Dickinson in Big Bad Mama, 1974)
45. Rick Blaine (Played by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, 1942)
44. Blane McDonnagh (Played by Andrew McCarthy in Pretty In Pink, 1986)
43. Stacker Pentecost (Played by Idris Elba in Pacific Rim, 2013)
It seemed like screenwriter Travis Beacham was trying to make some sort of point with the cray-cray character names he came up with for Pacific Rim (others include ‘Herc Hansen’, ‘Newton Geiszler’ and ‘Hannibal Chau’), but I’m still not sure what it was. Whatever the reason, he gifted the world the sublime ridiculosity of ‘Stacker Pentecost’, and for that I am grateful.
42. John Matrix (Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, 1985)
There’s a long, proud history of action movie heroes named John (‘John Rambo’, ‘John McClane’, ‘John Truckasaurus’), and since First Blood was based on a novel, I’ve chosen to celebrate the name Arnie sports in this Rambo ripoff that is better than Rambo. The youthful Wachowskis were clearly paying attention.
41. Pressure Maxwell (Played by Edward G. Robinson in Larceny, Inc, 1942)
Amongst all the great movie gangster names, even just those sported by characters played by Robinson (‘Rico’ from Little Caesar is another favourite of mine), the one that always tickled my fancy the most was Pressure Maxwell. He’s the big cheese in this cute comedy which was later unofficially remade by Woody Allen as Small Time Crooks (2000).
40. Cole Trickle (Played by Tom Cruise in Days Of Thunder, 1990)
39. Phillip Vandamm (Played by James Mason in North By Northwest, 1959)
38. Elle Driver (Played by Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill Vol. 1, 2003)
37. Lee Christmas (Played by Jason Statham in The Expendables, 2010)
36. Dr. Christmas Jones (Played by Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough, 1999)
We could easily fill several lists with shamelessly suggestive female character names from the James Bond franchise, but somehow they all seem coy next to ‘Christmas Jones’, a gloriously ridiculous name that exists solely to serve a painfully inevitable film-ending sex-pun.
35. Archer Maggot (Played by Telly Savalas in The Dirty Dozen, 1967)
The Dirty Dozen features a shit-tonne of cool names (‘Max Armbruster’, ‘Victor Franko’, ‘Vernon Pinkley’), but none more searing than that of Archer Maggot, a vile character played by Telly Savalas. According to Wikipedia, Jack Palance turned the role down because of Maggot’s racism. Which was surprising to read, as I’d always presumed they’d tailored the character name for Savalas, given that he, y'know, kinda looks like a maggot.
34. Rick Von Sloneker (Played by Will Kempe in Metropolitan, 1990)
Writer/director Whit Stillman restrained his considerable gift for words in naming the characters in his Trilogy of Manners (which also includes Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco), giving them believably generic handles for the most part. But he allowed himself a doozy for Metropolitan’s awesomely snooty villain. Von Sloneker (Slonn-eh-kerr) is often discussed by the film’s main characters, all of whom articulate his name with the venom its composition naturally provokes.
33. Max Dembo (Played by Dustin Hoffman in Straight Time, 1978)
Max Dembo. Say it with me. Max Dembo. It just feels good to articulate the words. The name also accurately expresses the pent-up tension projected by Hoffman’s recently-paroled con in this fantastic crime drama featuring great supporting turns from Gary Busey and Theresa Russell, both shockingly young. Also M. Emmet Walsh gets naked. Even though this is based on a book (by thief-turned-writer-turned-movie crime consultant-turned-actor Eddie Bunker, who was in Reservoir Dogs), I’m making an exception and putting it on the list because this name is simply too cool to ignore.
32. Vince Majestyk (Played by Charles Bronson in Mr Majestyk, 1974)
Legendary crime novelist Elmore Leonard wrote the the screenplay for this classic thriller starring Charles Bronson as a melon farmer (with the name of a Vegas stage magician) who takes violent revenge after rural gangsters mess with his melons. Leonard based the novel of the same name on his own screenplay, so this still counts as a ‘movie first’ character name.
31. Stathis Borans (Played by John Getz in The Fly, 1986)
David Cronenberg has a gift for re-inforcing the creepiness of his films with out-of-it names. ‘Seth Brundle’ is an all-too-appropriate name for a character who turns into a fly — it positively bristles with insectiness. The name that has always stuck with me though is that of Brundle’s romantic rival Stathis Borans. Is ‘Stathis’ even a name?
30. Verbal Kint (Played by Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, 1995)
29. Lancaster Dodd (Played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, 2012)
28. Dr. Chase Meridian (Played by Nicole Kidman in Batman Forever, 1995)
27. Sy Snootles (A puppet voiced by Annie Arbogast in Return of the Jedi, 1983)
Star Wars creator George Lucas has a real knack for names, and several other creations of his appear on this list. What I love about Sy Snootles is how efficiently her name conveys everything you need to know about the character: she’s a blousy, long-legged lounge singer from space. Of course her name is Sy Snootles.
26. Mr. Hand (Played by Ray Walston in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982)
25. Vincent Vega (Played by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, 1994)
24. Otis B. Driftwood (Played by Groucho Marx in A Night at the Opera, 1935)
23. Lili Von Shtupp (Played by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, 1974)
22. Mister Shhh (Played by Steve Buscemi in Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, 1995)
21. Cosmo Brown (Played by Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In The Rain, 1952)
20. C.C. Baxter (Played by Jack Lemmon in The Apartment, 1960)
Boy, movie character names sure aren’t what they used to be. Was there ever a more appropriate name for a Jack Lemmon character than ‘C.C. Baxter’? It’s simply too perfect. If Lemmon’s ability to always get a park in front of wherever he needs to go in all his movies was a name, it would be ‘C.C. Baxter’. Other great names in The Apartment include ‘Fran Kubelik’ (Shirley Maclaine) and ‘Jeff D. Sheldrake’ (Fred MacMurray).
19. Barton Fink (Played by John Turturro in Barton Fink, 1991)
The Coen brothers have come up with innumerable awesome character names, but none of their creations ever embodied the feel of a movie as effectively as the one that adorns the protagonist of this ode to the horror of writer’s block. The words ‘Barton Fink’ sound like something a writer might exclaim in a moment of particularly maddening frustration.
18. Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Played by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, 1955)
17. Broomhilda von Shaft (Played by Kerry Washington in Django Unchained, 2012)
Outside of the Kill Bill movies, Quentin Tarantino’s gift for cool names hasn’t been applied to a huge number of female characters. But he went a long way to making up for it with the spectacular name he came up with for Kerry Washington in Django Unchained. Is she supposed to be an ancestor of John Shaft, the private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Yes.
16. Santanico Pandemonium (Played by Salma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996)
15. Donnie Darko (Played by Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko, 2001)
14. Charles Foster Kane (Played by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, 1941)
13. Indiana Jones (Played by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)
Would this character’s iconic status have been compromised if they’d gone with the name as written in the original script — ‘Indiana Smith’? Probably not, but Jones sounds cooler anyway. It was director Steven Spielberg who apparently didn’t like ‘Smith’, so producer George Lucas offered up ‘Jones’ instead and history was made.
12. Sidney J. Mussburger (Played by Paul Newman in The Hudsucker Proxy, 1994)
The Coen brothers’ underrated Golden Age pastiche features a whole raft of hilariously classic names — ‘Waring Hudsucker’ and ‘Norville Barnes’ are two others — but it is Paul Newman’s character whose name most accurately encapsulates the film’s reverential aesthetic.
11. Eve Harrington (Played by Anne Baxter in All About Eve, 1950)
‘Margo Channing’ is about as perfect a name as one could imagine for a graceful Broadway star. ‘Addison DeWitt’ is the perfect moniker for an acid-tongued theatre critic. But few character names ever suited their character as perfectly as ‘Eve Harrington’ suits the ambitious, social-climbing title character of this Oscar-winning classic. The name projects the ready-made glamour the character clearly sees in herself, but also hints at the rotten core in the way the word ‘Harrington’ begins cheerfully and ends corrupted.
10. Snake Plissken (Played by Kurt Russell in Escape From New York, 1981)
Even just on a mechanical level, this is a name deserving of wonder. The second half of ‘Snake Plissken’ turns anyone who says the name into a literal snake. ‘Plissken’. Plus it’s a perfect representation of Snake’s sneering insouciance — you can’t say the name without adopting at least a little bit of his attitude.
9. Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Played by Steve Martin in The Man With Two Brains, 1983)
Just as Steve Martin, the actor, has a gift for embodying unique characters, Steve Martin, the writer, has a gift for coming up with uniquely hilarious character names. As co-writer of Three Amigos!, he helped create ‘Ned Nederlander’, ‘Dusty Bottoms’ and ‘Lucky Day’. Martin’s finest creation however is the unpronounceable moniker wielded by the hero of this high-concept Carl Reiner collaboration. Just wait for the moment he meets the Sissy Spacek-voiced ‘Anne Uumellmahaye’.
8. Norma Desmond (Played by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, 1950)
There’s an art-form to naming fictional movie stars, and Sunset Boulevard’s fading diva is the all-time gold standard. ‘Norma Desmond’ just reeks of wilted glory and forgotten dreams. It also functions as the aural equivalent of the tragically overwrought facial expressions Swanson sports throughout the movie.
7. Luke Skywalker (Played by Mark Hamill in Star Wars, 1977)
Not only was George Lucas a master of coming up with cool-sounding names that had instant appeal to a wide audience, he also somehow ensured that his hero’s moniker could function as a mission statement for the film as a whole. One of the many names Lucas considered and rejected for the character remains an enduring favorite of mine also — ‘Luke Starkiller’.
6. Han Solo (Played by Harrison Ford in Star Wars, 1977)
I didn’t want this to become a giant Star Wars–fest, but credit where credit’s due: George Lucas had a serious knack for cool-ass names. As with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo’s name conveys everything we need to know about the character. Solo’s swagger is informed to no end by the hint of samurai-cool that comes with his name.
5. Buckaroo Banzai (Played by Peter Weller in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, 1984)
This film’s reputation as an all-time cult classic could easily have been generated by the name alone. What’s so great about it is how the film itself lives up to the promise of a such an awesomely gonzo-sounding lead character. It’s one of the coolest names ever to go with one of the coolest movies ever.
4. Darth Vader (Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in Star Wars, 1977)
Is it too late to ask what a ‘Darth’ is? I suppose the fact that I’d never questioned this until now proves how effective a character name this is. So ominous. So powerful. It could perhaps be argued that Darth Vader is more of a rank or title than a name, but there was nothing in the original Star Wars to suggest this. That was just his name. He was little Darth from down the street, Paul and Vivian Vader’s kid, the one who grew up to rule the galaxy.
3. Shack (Played by Ernest Borgnine in Emperor of the North aka Emperor of the North Pole, 1973)
Set during the Great Depression, Emperor of the North chronicles the plight of the hobos who illegally ride trains. Shack is the vicious train master who ruthlessly chucks them off, usually to their death. Borgnine is a force of nature here, and his elegantly simple, appropriately powerful name perfectly captures his rough nature.
2. Cigaret (Played by Keith Carradine in Emperor of the North, 1973)
The world of the hobo during the Great Depression throws up all sorts of glorious possibilities, name-wise, and Emperor of the North does not disappoint in this (and every other) regard. A youthful Keith Carradine is fantastic as the awesomely-named sidekick, a young ’bo trying to learn the ways of the hobo from the greatest ’bo that ever was...
1. A No. 1 (Played by Lee Marvin in Emperor of the North, 1973)
It takes a special kind of name to live up to Lee Marvin’s imposing cinematic presence, and A No. 1 (‘Ay-number-one’) nails it better than any other. It’s simply the coolest character name I’ve ever encountered. The film’s original title, Emperor of the North Pole, refers to the pyrrhic nature of being King of the Hobos, which is exactly what A No. 1 is, and his name beautifully reflects it. He’s one of the most no-nonsense characters ever committed to screen, and his no-nonsense name stresses that emphatically. Whether he’s berating Cigaret or squaring off against Shack on top of a moving train (see above), he never once lets his steely facade drop. This man truly is number one. He’s A No. 1. And nobody does it better.