My friend Mirriam recently blogged about her top ten on-screen characters, and I was inspired by it despite not having seen most of them in action. Here, in no particular order, are my current* top 10 on-screen characters.
Captain America/Steve Rogers (Marvel Cinematic Universe) – Steve Rogers is the man I wish I could be – so devoted to his ideals that nothing (not HYDRA, best-friends-turned-assassins, or even bullies on the streets of New York) can stop him from defending and realizing those ideals. He isn't perfect, but he strives to hold himself to his code of truth and freedom, seeking to punish bad guys and save good guys – and maybe even redeem a few of those bad guys along the way. He's not afraid to confront those he disagrees with, but he never quite crosses the line into showing disrespect (unless he's dealing with Tony Stark, in which case that's the only way to be heard).
Merlin (various works, including Disney, Hallmark, BBC) – Merlin is my absolute favorite wizard ever, so much so I started a book series about his descendants. From my first Merlin in Disney's The Sword in the Stone to Hallmark's miniseries about Merlin's origins to BBC's five-year series about a young Merlin who's a peer and contemporary of Arthur rather than his tutor, I love to watch and read about this wizard who, for all his flaws, tries desperately to help the country he loves find peace in the rule of just men and women. He never quite gets there most of the time (and occasionally winds up sabotaging his own efforts), but he never stops trying.
Lucy Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia) – Lucy Pevensie is a character who is hard not to love. Though some people inexplicably found Georgie Henley's portrayal of Lucy in the Walden productions a bit cloying, I thought that her characterization was the most spot-on from the book next to Edmund's. The reason Lucy wins out over Edmund for this list is that she has the faith and heart I wish I had. (I'm noticing a theme here. ;-) ) She believes in Narnia and in Aslan the best and the hardest of all the children in the series, though after his conversion Edmund is almost even with her. She is quick to take Aslan's rebukes when they come and is eager for his lessons. As an adult, she earns the title "Lucy the Valiant" for her dauntless courage in the face of trials and dangers, going so far as to take part in the battle of Anvard in order to help her friends in Archenland.
Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender) – Honooooor! Zuko is by far my favorite character in the Avatar universe. In the first season, he's a villain you love to hate because he's such a compelling character. By the middle of season two, Zuko has become a character the audience can sympathize with, separated even from the uncle he loves like a father (a relationship worthy of its own blog post) and outcast even further from his people. His crisis of conscience in the finale of season two is heartbreakingly complex and emotionally charged. He comes so close to the light in these moments and then turns his back on his uncle and chooses the darkness. It's that choice that makes his journey in season three from devoted son of the Fire Lord and (purported) Slayer of the Avatar to the Avatar's firebending master and close friend so compelling. I'm a sucker for redeemed villains, but Zuko is one of the most wonderful of these because he doesn't have a quick about-face when it suits the plot. He meditates on the paths his life can take and, even after losing his way, turns to the light full force.
Alphonse Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) – In the world of cinnamon roll characters (footnote), Alphonse Elric is one of the most cinnamon roll-y. The younger brother of titular character Edward Elric, Al is Ed's reason for fighting, as FMA: Brotherhood demonstrates so well in its final chapters. It's Al's unwavering faith in his brother and in the right thing that endears him to me. But Al isn't just the kid brother who tags along for the journey. He is a powerful alchemist in his own right, equal to Ed in his ability and skill. Al is also the conscience of their group most of the time, voicing concerns about Ed's brashness and the thirst for revenge so many around him have in the wake of their friends and loved ones being murdered by the Homunculi. Al also holds a special place in my heart because a friend once compared me to Al in the days before I'd seen either show; now that I have, I am very flattered by the comparison.
Minerva McGonagall (the Harry Potter series) – Sassy Dame Maggie Smith is sassy. Seriously, who doesn't love Professor McGonagall? Even in the books, she's one of the best teachers and mentors around, and casting Maggie Smith in the role sealed the deal for moviegoers. She is able to display a range of emotions from stern teacher in the first few films to worried foster mother to her students as the dangers at Hogwarts grow to kick-butt duelist in the final film and even giddy schoolgirl when she gets to use a spell she's been waiting for years to utilize. McGonagall is one of the teachers that I would aspire to be if I could bring myself to step foot in the classroom.
Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings) – The heart of Tolkien's work and Tolkien's own choice as the hero of The Lord of the Rings, Sam is one of the most loyal "sidekicks" in fiction. He never abandons Frodo (despite Jackson's films) and is always dedicated to serving and protecting his friend and master. The most powerful aspect of Sam's character for me comes when he must leave Frodo's seemingly lifeless body behind to finish the quest which brought them to Mordor. After a heart-breaking "Don't go where I can't follow," Sam takes the Ring, Sting, and the Phial of Galadriel, and prepares to march the rest of the way to Mount Doom – solo. It's a powerful moment in both book and film, and it sets up two more scenes which help propel Sam to my top ten. In the first scene, Sam charges into the Orc-held (though slightly depopulated) Cirith Ungol, striking fear into the remaining orcs who start yammering to each other about the Elf warrior who's invading. When Sam rescues Frodo and returns the Ring, there is a moment of tension as Sam wishes to carry the Ring further for Frodo. As skillful as Peter Jackson's Return of the King is, this scene actually stands out more in my mind due to the animated Rankin/Bass version, which highlights Sam's journey from Shelob's Lair with a thrilling and chilling reminder of the Ring's power to seduce. The word "Beware the mighty wearer of the Ring" bring to the forefront Tolkien's description of the visions Sam sees of what wielding the Ring could do for him, a thematic thread that ends with the final scene of Sam's be-awesomeness. As they reach Mount Doom, Frodo's last strength gives way, and Sam determines to finish the quest once more. This time, however, he does what he was unable to before – he carries Frodo AND the Ring. "I can't carry it for you," he tells Frodo, "but I can carry you!"
The Doctor (Doctor Who) – Let's face it, the Doctor's just awesome, and he accessorizes so well (though I tend to favor the scarf over the bow tie). He travels through time and space, helps people, and is generally very clever and brave. Sometimes, he's not so smart or compassionate, but he always surrounds himself with people who will bring out the best in him. I think that's one of the Doctor's best qualities – his ability to choose good friends. He changes a good deal over the centuries, but the heart(s) of the Time Lord remain(s) constant.
Sherlock Holmes (Young Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett, RDJ, Sherlock, etc.) – Sherlock Holmes is the first character for whom I can remember having anything like an obsession. I watched movies, read stories, listened to radio shows, and even dressed as Holmes for Halloween once. Mom made me a deerstalker by connecting two baseball caps with a plaid slipcover. It was one of the best costumes ever. Holmes is brilliant and sarcastic, but somehow manages to remain human, with failures and faults and loved ones. Young Sherlock Holmes – for all its lack of canonicity – is still one of my favorite stories about the famed detective because it manages to show his humanity so well. ("I have only seen Holmes cry twice.") The new films with Robert Downey, Jr. do a fine job of taking a slightly more steampunk approach to the stories, and Sherlock is great fun for a modern take on the stories; I haven't seen enough of Elementary to comment on it, sadly. But far and away my favorite Holmes is Jeremy Brett, whose renditions I borrowed from the library on several occasions.
Kermit the Frog (The Muppets franchise) – If I were a Muppet, I would probably be Kermit or a very close relative of his. No other Muppet so closely captures my personality – protective, in charge whether I want to be or not, and generally calm until my patience has been worn thin. My mom is notorious for loving green characters like Yoda, the Grinch, Shrek, and Oscar the Grouch. Kermit is not on her list because he's "too nice" but when you get Kermit fired up, he's as loose a cannon as Miss Piggy. And that pretty much describes me in my family dynamic. ;)
* This is subject to change at any given moment, and this list was incredibly difficult to narrow down. I foresee a series of Top 10 lists that will take into account all the various subgenres of my fictional enjoyments, so keep your eyes peeled.