Some 10,000 readers of the movie magazine Empire recently cast their ballots for their favorite movie and television characters of all time. The latest issue of the magazine presents the top 100 in each medium. Each Top 10 list includes one woman, no more, no less. Is that good news or not-so-good news? Is the glass half empty, or is it one-tenth full? I could hazard a guess as to which option Ellen Ripley from the Alien films and Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would pick. Before they kicked our asses.
Lucky for us they’re fictional. Fictional heroes, superheroes, antiheroes, and bad guys populate both Top 10 lists. Joining Batman, James Bond, and Ripley on the movie tally are Darth Vader, The Joker as embodied by the late Heath Ledger, and The Big Lebowski‘s The Dude. Number one on the TV list is perhaps the greatest antihero ever seen on screen, Walter White of Breaking Bad – followed immediately by Tyrion Lannister, the clever, charismatic, conniving and murderous little person of Game of Thrones. Tony Soprano and Frank Underwood make the Top 10 too.
Ripley comes in at number five on the movie list, while Buffy made number seven on the TV roster right between Benedict Cumberbatch’s incarnation of Sherlock Holmes and 24‘s Jack Bauer.
Much of the reporting on this poll has focused on Harrison Ford appearing twice in the movie pantheon, with his Indiana Jones crowning the Top 10 and Han Solo close behind at number three. What’s more interesting is that the top movie characters are by and large from older films, while the TV winners hail from recent and current shows. John McClane of Die Hard and Indiana Jones date from the 1980s, Solo and Vader from the 1970s, Bond from the 1960s, Batman in his original comic book incarnation from all the way back in 1939. As for Ripley, we haven’t seen her since 1997’s Alien Resurrection.
As so many commentators have been pointing out, television is where we find today’s great flowering of screen creativity. So it follows that among TV fans, recent characters are uppermost in viewers’ minds. Breaking Bad ended its five-season run less than two years ago. The Sopranos, Sherlock, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, and The Wire are all (more or less) current, 21st-century babies, as is the ten-year-old Doctor Who reboot. Even the tired The Simpsons is still on the air, though it’s great moments of years past that earned Homer Simpson the number three spot on the TV list.
So it’s all the more remarkable – but also a little sad – that Buffy, the only female TV character to make the Top 10, hasn’t been seen since 2003. With all the great shows on now, aren’t there any remarkable, memorable, Top 10-worthy new female characters? Vote in Gloria, Sofia Vergara’s Modern Family character, and you’d get two for one: a modern female winner and a sitcom, both missing from Empire‘s TV Top 10.
One more point to note: with all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the slaying of hunky Jon Snow at the end of the latest season of Games of Thrones, it’s sneaky Tyrion who made Empire‘s list. Which leads me to suspect the respondents included more men than women. Just a hunch. But it makes me wonder what a similar poll restricted to female viewers would turn up.
Here are Empire‘s Top 10s:
The Joker (as played by Heath Ledger in 2008’s The Dark Knight)
John McClane (Die Hard)
Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
The Dude (The Big Lebowski)
The Doctor (Doctor Who)
Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Omar Little (The Wire)
Frank Underwood (House Of Cards)