Most Iconic Roles of Famous Movie and TV Actors
Some movies and TV shows stick with you for the plot. Others have emotional soundtracks or beautiful sets. And some stick with you for the characters. For better or worse, these characters are seared in our hearts and minds.
Actors have made a big cultural impact playing certain parts and built legendary careers. Using the art of the amazingly talented Ard Gelinck, we looked at famous movie and television stars, picked their most iconic role, and then ranked them.
Here are the most memorable and significant acting roles in film and television history.
50. George Clooney: Dr. Doug Ross
TV show: ER
Most memorable scene: George Clooney comes back to the show for its final season, reunites with Carol.
Iconic quote: Harper Tracy: "What do you do after a day like today?"
Dr. Doug Ross: "I tend to drink. I'm not the best role model."
Bottom line: George Clooney became the biggest sex symbol of the mid-1990s with his role as Dr. Doug Ross on "ER," which he played for five years. The series was an international success and became one of the most expensive television shows of all time when Warner Bros. strong-armed NBC into paying $13 million per episode — $286 million per 22-episode season — for three seasons beginning in 1998.
Clooney, rather than asking for more money, decided to leave the series in 1999 for a film career. He made $42,000 per episode and never complained, even though he was an audience favorite. That's a classy move from a classy guy who can impart some class on whatever role he plays.
As a character on "ER," Ross was a womanizer and children's doctor with a drinking problem. Clooney easily left this role behind, transitioning to blockbuster films within just a few years.
49. David Hasselhoff: Mitch Buchannon
TV show: Baywatch
Most memorable scene: Maybe this scene where Mitch ends up fighting in some kind of "Bloodsport" match?
Iconic quote: No idea. Here's a Mitch montage instead.
Bottom line: The photo shows Michael Knight from "Knight Rider," but David Hasselhoff is synonymous with "Baywatch." He basically is Mitch Buchannon, and "Baywatch" is the reason everyone knows the Hoff.
"Baywatch" was incredibly stupid, with increasingly ridiculous plot lines and an enduring popularity that existed solely to show good-looking people running in slow motion.
It sure is a one-of-a-kind show, though.
48. Sandra Bullock: Annie Porter
Movie: Speed and Speed 2
Years: 1994 and 1997
Most memorable scene: Annie Porter has to jump a gap in the highway and keep the bus speeding along at 50 mph when she lands.
Iconic quote: "I got gum on my seat! Gum!"
Bottom line: "Speed" is essentially "Die Hard" on a bus, with a bus that can't go below 50 mph or it explodes.
In "Speed," Sandra Bullock plays the role of Annie Porter, a passenger who is enlisted by Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) to drive the bus after the driver is wounded. Annie has to keep the bus moving through traffic as Jack figures out how to disarm the bomb. Later, she's taken hostage by Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), our bomb-happy madman who straps her with an exploding vest. And, of course, Jack and Porter kiss in the end.
Original casting for Annie Porter was for Halle Berry, who wasn't interested. The next person in line was Ellen DeGeneres, and that would have been a terrible choice. Ultimately, Bullock got the part after a reading because the two had actual chemistry together — Bullock had a crush on Reeves during filming.
Bullock reprised her role in the notoriously terrible "Speed 2" for an $11 million paycheck and 20th Century Fox's financial backing for "Hope Floats."
47. Angelina Jolie: Lisa Rowe
Movie: Girl, Interrupted
Most memorable scene: The "You're already dead!" scene in the tunnels, where Lisa has a total breakdown and tries to kill herself.
Iconic quote: "There are too many buttons in the world, begging to be pressed. They're just — they're just begging to be pressed, and it makes me wonder, it really makes me f----ing wonder, why doesn't anyone ever press mine? Why doesn't anybody reach in and rip out the truth and tell me that I'm a f---ing whore, that my parents wish I was dead?"
Bottom line: Angelina Jolie's portrayal of the charming, sociopathic-leaning Lisa Rowe is still her best role to date (and the only role that won her an Academy Award).
When this movie came out, many girls in high school and middle school wanted to be Lisa — or at least, have her best, non-psychotic qualities.
46. Hugh Grant: Daniel Cleaver
Movie: Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Year: 2001 and 2004
Most memorable scene: Mark and Daniel fight (terribly) to the tune of "It's Raining Men."
Iconic quote: "And these are, um, f--- me, absolutely enormous panties."
Bottom line: Hugh Grant plays the same character in every movie — himself— so deciding on his most iconic role comes down to which is his most memorable. For that, we're going with Daniel Cleaver from the first two "Bridget Jones's Diary" movies (Grant pulled out of the third one).
Daniel is a charming, womanizing boss who seduces Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger). But Daniel isn't exactly a great guy. He cheats on her and ultimately loses her.
He doesn't change in the second film, either. He's just that guy.
45. Neil Patrick Harris: Doogie Howser
TV show: Doogie Howser, M.D.
Most memorable scene: Doogie Howser tries to put the moves on a date, but is thoroughly rejected and offers up a game of Monopoly instead.
Iconic quote: All the best quotes from Doogie Howser aren't spoken from Howser's lips. They're written in his journal at the end of every episode. Someone actually went through and transcribed every single one of them.
Bottom line: Neil Patrick Harris was the main reason why "How I Met Your Mother" was worth watching, but Barney Stinson just isn't quite as iconic as Doogie Howser. Doogie Howser even predates the "naked man" joke (as can be seen in the Monopoly game clip linked above).
"You are Doogie Howser, M.D., and you will remain officially so for four years, and unofficially so, to some extent, for the rest of your natural life," Harris wrote in his choose-your- own- adventure autobiography.
Doogie Howser was a show with a simple premise: and A teenage genius becomes a medical doctor at the age of 14 and has to navigate the medical field and tumultuous teenage years. Every episode ended with Howser writing into his journal.
Although everyone remembers Harris as Doogie Howser, "Doogie Howser, M.D." did not have long staying power. Popular at first, ABC canceled the show after the fourth season in 1993 due to low ratings.
44. Julia Roberts: Vivian Ward
First appearance: "Pretty Woman"
Most memorable scene: The shopping scene, with Julia Roberts trying on all kinds of fancy clothes and later walking down the street to take revenge on a snobby store clerk.
Iconic quote: "Big mistake. Huge."
Bottom line: Julian Roberts was a virtually unknown actress until she snagged the role as Vivian Ward in "Pretty Woman." This hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold romantic comedy is a classic.
Is it Roberts' best film? Not by a longshot. But she realizes the character perfectly, and Vivian Ward will forever be a part of pop culture.
If this movie were made as originally pitched — as a serious, dark film about the dangers of prostitution — Richards' career would have been completely different.
43. Leonardo DiCaprio: Jack Dawson
Most memorable scene: Jack and Rose riding on the bow of the ship, totally in love, hair whipping in the wind, and they kiss. Oh, the romance.
Iconic quote: "I'm the king of the world!"
Bottom line: No matter how many amazing roles Leonardo DiCaprio has taken and how many incredible movies he's made since 1997 (and there are quite a lot of them), we're always going to associate DiCaprio with Jack Dawson from "Titantic."
Could you blame us? "Titanic" was number one at the box office for 15 weeks in North America and pulled in nearly $2.2 billion worldwide.
The movie remains a masterpiece in set design and special effects. While it received some backlash years later as fans turned on the saccharine storytelling, it's still a good film. Change our minds.
42. Richard Gere: Zack Mayo
Movie: An Officer and a Gentleman
Most memorable scene: The ending, of course. Zack, in full military garb, marches into Paula's factory workplace, kisses her, and carries her away while all the workers stand up, clap and cry.
Iconic quote: "I ain't gonna quit! Don't you do it! I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to…[sobbing]. I got nothing else."
Bottom line: The ending scene of "An Officer and a Gentleman" seals Zack Mayo as Gere's most iconic character.
Gere was initially against doing the ending, calling it "the dopiest ending" after such a "really tough movie." Directory Taylor Hackford agreed but also convinced him to shoot it anyway. Gere then later took a look at the scene set to different music until he found one that gave him "chills."
Years later, that scene, in all its corniness, has been parodied countless times. Plus, "An Officer and a Gentleman" is still a solid film.
41. Christina Applegate: Kelly Bundy
TV show: Married... with Children
Most memorable scene: Kelly is chosen to be a contestant on a trivia game show, with the prize being $10,000. The last question is 'Who scored four touchdowns in a single game at Polk High?" Of course, it's her father, Al Bundy, but Kelly forgot the answer because her head is full of other trivia.
Iconic quote: "This is what I spent all those years learning my ABDs for?"
Bottom line: Christina Applegate was a sex symbol in the 1990s, and it was all due to "Married With Children."
She made some other television and film appearances when she was younger, but she shined in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" opposite Will Ferrell in 2004. In that movie, she really showed her comedic side ... while not having a bunch of guys screaming "wooo!" and "YEAH!" every time she appeared on screen.
But as far as iconic roles go, Applegate's most memorable character is the airhead in "Married With Children."
40. Tom Selleck: Thomas Magnum
TV show: Magnum, P.I
Most memorable scene: The intro never disappoints.
Iconic quote: "So far this case had cost me my right to the wine cellar, the last cash in my pocket, and nearly my life. If that clerk was lying to me, I was gonna come back down here and shove that Robin Masters paperback in his ear!"
Bottom line: Tom Selleck made his career as Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." He played that role for eight years, until the final season in 1988. The Magnum character was originally going to be a suave, James Bond type of guy, but Selleck changed it to a flawed, everyman kind of character.
Because of his contractual obligations to the show, Selleck was unable to grab the role as Indiana Jones. Wonder what the Indiana Jones franchise would have looked like with Selleck at the helm?
There's a DeepFake for that.
39. Dwayne Johnson: The Rock
First appearance: WWE "Survivor Series"
Most memorable scene: The "Rock, This is Your Life" skit.
Iconic quote: "It doesn't matter!"
Bottom line: Before Dwayne Johnson was Hollywood's highest-paid action star, he was a professional wrestler. It was in the ring where he honed his persona, developing from a bland good-guy to a fast-talking catchphrase machine that significantly contributed to the pro-wrestling craze of the late 1990s.
As the Rock, Johnson created a pro wrestling character that is on the list of all-time greats. He's taken aspects of that character into each and every character he plays on the silver screen.
Johnson was destined for success beyond the limits of the squared circle. Although we're still waiting for him to make a classic film.
38. Will Smith: Will Smith
TV show: "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"
Most memorable scene: Will Smith breaks down while talking to Uncle Phil about his deadbeat father in an emotional scene.
Iconic quote: "How come he don't want me, man?"
Bottom line: Will Smith essentially played himself turned up to 11 in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," turning that show into a ratings juggernaut and subsequently launching his ultra-successful career in Hollywood.
"I was as widely creative and fearless than I have ever been," Smith recalled on his YouTube. "I would say or do anything."
"The Fresh Prince" is still a watchable show today, even if some of the jokes are corny and the references are outdated. A reboot with Smith as executive producer is in the works. Here's hoping he makes an appearance as Uncle Phil.
37. Ed O'Neill: Al Bundy
First appearance: "Married...with Children"
Most memorable scene: The "I'm Too Sexy" scene from those ridiculous London episodes.
Iconic quote: "...four touchdowns in one game…"
Bottom line: Ed O'Neill was the main reason for the success of "Married With Children." He connected with the Al Bundy character on a personal level — he was from the Midwest and "came from a family that kind of had a mean sense of humor. Dark Irish, gallows humor," he said during an Emmy TV Legends interview.
He also revealed that he really liked the show in the first few seasons, but thought it got worse as time went on.
While the Bundy humor doesn't exactly hold up today (and that's putting it lightly), Al Bundy is one of the most iconic sitcom characters ever created. O'Neill went on to play a similar version of Bundy— and by extension, a similar version of himself — as Jay Pritchett in "Modern Family."
36. Whoopi Goldberg: Celie
Movie: The Color Purple
Most memorable scene: Celie stands up to Albert during dinner.
Iconic quote: "Everything you've done to me, already been done to you. I'm poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I'm here! I'm here!"
Bottom line: Whoopi Goldberg put on a riveting performance as Celie, a Black woman in rural 20th century Georgia who is broken down by years of physical and emotional abuse, but finally gains the courage to stand up for herself.
Impressively, this was Godlberg's debut performance. She was so good she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award.
35. John Travolta: Tony Manero
Movie: Saturday Night Fever
Most memorable scene: John Travolta strutting down the street while the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" plays is one of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history.
Iconic quote: "A raise says like you're good, you know? You know how many times someone told me I was good in my life? Two! Twice! Two F----in' times! This raise today, and dancing, dancing at the disco! You sure as f--- never did, ass----.”
Bottom line: Most people remember "Saturday Night Fever" for igniting the disco craze of the 1970s and John Travolta's dancing. If you've never seen the film, you would be inclined to think it's the 1970's version of "You Got Served."
But "Saturday Night Fever" is a very dark movie that was based on a totally fictionalized 1976 cover story published in New York Magazine about New York City clubs and gang warfare. Travolta's Tony Manero is a paint store clerk who lives for disco. He's surrounded by terrible friends and is on track to make nothing out of his life or wind up dead because of his pals.
By the end of the film, he resolves to move out of Brooklyn, and along the way he dances. Oh, does he dance.
34. Dustin Hoffman: Raymond Babbitt
Movie: Rain Man
Most memorable scene: Charlie and Ray talk about underwear while driving.
Iconic quote: "I'm an excellent driver."
Bottom line: Dustin Hoffman won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Raymond Babbitt, an austic savant with a $3 million inheritance check that he doesn't know about. His brother, Charlie (Tom Cruise) conspires to take custody of Raymond to gain control of the money. Later, he takes Raymond to Las Vegas to count cards and win at the blackjack table.
Hoffman put on a phenomenal performance as Raymond and "Rain Man" was the highest-grossing film of 1988, pulling in $355 million worldwide on a $25 million budget.
"Tootise" may have come close to being his most iconic movie and role, but definitely not after all those accusations. Separating the art from the artist isn't an easy task.
33. Henry Winkler: Arthur Fonzarelli
TV show: Happy Days
Most memorable scene: Fonzie jumps the shark. When shows get too ridiculous, it's now called jumping the shark.
Iconic quote: "Aaayyy!"
Bottom line: Henry Winkler's role as Fonzie on "Happy Days" was originally set to be a secondary character, but he was so good at the role that Fonzie soon took over as the show's lead. The well-meaning, woman-obsessed greaser won the hearts of 1970s American audiences with his "Aayyy!" catchphrase and goofy antics.
Winkler won two Golden Globes for Best Actor and three Emmy nods for his role as Fonzie.
32. Emma Watson: Hermoine Granger
Movies: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and seven other Harry Potter movies (Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Deathly Hallows: Part 2)
Year: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010. 2011
Most memorable scene: There are many, but Hermione decking Draco Malfoy is a wonderful one.
Iconic quote: "Now if you two don't mind, I'm going to bed. Before you come up with another idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled!"
Bottom line: Emma Watson made her career by playing Hermoine Granger, the bookish mudblood who became one of the best witches in all of Hogwarts.
Watson went on to play memorable roles in several other movies after the "Harry Potter" franchise wrapped, including Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" and Meg March in "Little Women."
But she'll always be remembered for Hermoine Granger — a point that was made in "This Is the End," where she played an exaggerated version of herself.
31. Hugh Jackman: Wolverine
Movies: X-Men and eight other X-Men movies (X2: X-Men United, X-Men, The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocolypse, Logan)
Year: 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017
Most memorable scene: The final scene of "Logan," which is a beautiful send-off of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine.
Iconic quote: "I'm Canadian."
Bottom line: Hugh Jackman's Wolverine was always the best thing (and sometimes the only good thing) in the "X-Men" film franchise, but the character was always hamstrung by being an R-rated character confined in a PG-13 universe.
That all changed with "Logan," which allowed Jackman to show off the real character of Wolverine: a violent, tortured soul who was tired of living long enough to see his loved ones die.
Jackman played Wolverine for 17 years and was able to retire his character on his terms. He even took a paycut so the film would retain an R rating.
30. Elijah Wood: Frodo Baggins
Movies: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and two other Lord of the Rings movies (The Two Towers, The Return of the King) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Years: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012
Most memorable scene: Gollum and Frodo fight for the ring in the Cracks of Doom.
Iconic quote: "I'm glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things."
Bottom line: It must have been difficult trying to find the right person to play Frodo in Peter Jackson's epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but Elijah Woods was the perfect choice.
Woods' wide-eyed facial expression conveys a look of wonder, which is appropriate for a hobbit who has never left the Shire.
As a bonus, all that LOTR money has afforded Woods a career where he can pick and choose smaller, weird independent movies he's interested in, like "Come to Daddy."
29. Robin Williams: Dr. Sean Maguire
Movie: Dead Poets Society
Most memorable scene: After Dr. Sean Maguire is fired, he gathers his belongings and walks out of the classroom. In an act of defiance to their new, orthordox English teacher, Maguire's students stand on their desks as a final farewell and an act of respect.
Iconic quote: "Oh captain, my captain!"
Bottom line: We struggled with this one. Robin Williams' role as the Genie in "Aladdin" is certainly iconic, as is his titular role in "Mrs. Doubtfire." His role as Mork in "Mork and Mindy" (pictured here) is iconic for "nanu nanu," but was quickly eclipsed by his film career.
"Dead Poets Society" is not as popular as either of those films, but his role of Maguire is magnificent, and inspiring. He teaches his students, and the viewer, to live how they want to live, screw expectations.
As a character and as a film, themes of selfless inspiration and the battling against external and internal struggles reflect much of what Williams was like in real life.
28. Daniel Radcliffe: Harry Potter
Movies: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and seven other Harry Potter movies (Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Deathly Hallows: Part 2)
Year: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010. 2011
Most memorable scene: With eight movies to pick from, there are a bunch of memorable scenes from this series. We're going with the first Quidditch match.
Iconic quote: "Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now, students. If they can do it, why not us?”
Bottom line: Daniel Radcliff played the perfect Harry Potter. Through eight movies spread over 10 years, the audience grows with Radcliffe as he grows. Literally.
It's a rare feat for a franchise to be spread out over such a long period of time, and rarer still that the core cast is around for the entire thing (except for Richard Harris, who was replaced by Michael Gambon after his death following the second film).
At this point, it's impossible to imagine Harry Potter portrayed as anyone else.
27. Joaquin Phoenix: Arthur Fleck
Most memorable scene: The Joker dancing on the stairs like a lunatic.
Iconic quote: "The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don't."
Bottom line: Joaquin Phoenix brought a new angle to the Joker character. In this origin story, Arthur Fleck is a severely mentally ill loner who lives with an abusive mother. He has no friends, loses his job and loses his social safety net after budget cuts remove his local social work office.
Joaquin Phoenix plays him so well that it's uncomfortable. He even makes us sympathetic to Arthur for a while— at least, until he goes completely off the rails.
This is the newest movie on this list, but we're calling it early: We think this will end up being Phoenix's most iconic role. He won the 2020 Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.
26. Anthony Hopkins: Hannibal Lecter
Movies: The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon
Year: 1991, 2001, 2002
Most memorable scene: Hannibal Lecter makes his escape in "Silence of the Lambs."
Iconic quote: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. [Weird slurping noises]"
Bottom line: The first film appearance of Hannibal Lecter was in 1986's "Manhunter," and played by Brian Cox. While Cox did a good job, Anthony Hopkins brought Lecter into a new, terrifying reality five years later in "Silence of the Lambs."
Hopkins was already a lauded stage actor in Britain, and he arguably made his career on the brilliant cannibal with an unforgettable performance.
Saying "Clarice," no matter how terrible the impression, will get a reaction out of nearly anyone.
25. Tom Hanks: Forrest Gump
Movies: Forrest Gump
Most memorable scene: Forrest Gump's leg braces fall off as he runs away from bullies on bicycles.
Iconic quote: "Stupid is as stupid does."
Bottom line: We're not going to argue that "Forrest Gump" is Tom Hanks' best role, but we will argue that it's his most iconic.
Forrest Gump is an odd character, with dull wits and a saintly heart. Originally, John Travolta was slated to play the role but passed on it, instead opting to star in "Pulp Fiction." It turned out for the best, because only Hanks could have brought the lovable charm that "Forrest Gump" needed to succeed.
And, oh boy, did it succeed, wracking up a literal Wikipedia page worth of awards, including six Academy Awards, with Hanks winning Best Actor.
If you want to see what Travolta would have been like as Forrest Gump, there's now a disturbing DeepFake that imagines just that.
24. Tom Cruise: Pete "Maverick" Mitchell
Movie: Top Gun
Most memorable scene: The boys play volleyball.
Iconic quote: Iceman: "You can be my wingman any time."
Maverick: "Bull----! You can be mine."
Bottom line: There's so much to love about "Top Gun" that it was difficult to find the most memorable scene.
There's the sublimely awful love scene, Val Kilmer snapping his jaws and the tragic death of Goose. We love everything about this beautifully done film that embodies the 1980s, which made Tom Cruise an action star.
Sure, he's made more money in the "Mission: Impossible" series as Ethan Hunt, and "Risky Business" has that iconic dance scene, but Maverick is the most memorable.
23. Carrie Fisher: Princess Leia
Movies: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope and other Star Wars movies (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi)
Year: 1977, 1980, 1983, 2015, 2017
Most memorable scene: Jabba the Hutt makes Princess Leia his slave — and then she kills him.
Iconic quote: "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."
Bottom line: With the original "Star Wars" trilogy, Carrie Fisher became one of the most well-known actresses in the world.
She appeared in numerous films and television shows over the years, although mostly in cameos and voice acting (her longest-running stint was as Peter's boss, Angela, in "Family Guy''). Fisher was synonymous with the "Star Wars" franchise, and will always be remembered as the fearless Princess of Alderaan.
Fisher's death in December 2016 was sudden and completely unexpected, and capped off an already terrible year.
22. Charlie Chaplin: The Tramp
Movies: Kid Auto Races at Venice (short), Recreation (short), The Tramp, Shanghaied, The Mutual Comedies, A Dog's Life, The Essanay Comedies, The Kid, The Idle Class, Nice and Friendly, the Circus, City Lights, Modern Times
Year: 1914, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1922, 1928, 1931, 1936
Most memorable scene: Chaplin roller-skating blindfolded, inside a department store near a broken balcony.
Iconic quote: The Tramp was exclusively a silent film character. The one and only time he spoke was during a song, and it was a combination of French and Italian gibberish.
Bottom line: Charlie Chaplin's most iconic character is the Tramp, which he created in 1914 during the silent film era. Chaplin kept the Tramp a silent character through the talkies of the 1920s and even until the 1930s, retiring the character in 1936 in the silent film-style movie "Modern Times."
Chaplin's acting and comedic timing are so good that the Tramp still holds up today. Just check out the searching for smuggled nose powder scene in "Modern Times" or the Tramp saving a dog.
The Tramp was the most famous movie character in the world during the 1920s.
21. Jamie Lee Curtis: Laurie Strode
Movies: Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween Resurrection, Halloween (2018)
Year: 1978, 1981, 1998, 2002, 2018
Most memorable scene: Laurie Strode looks through her window and spots Michael Meyers in the yard, watching her.
Iconic quote: "You don't believe in the boogeyman? Well, you should."
Bottom line: Jamie Lee Curtis gave a phenomenal performance as in the original "Halloween," establishing herself as the greatest scream queen of all time.
There have been 11 "Halloween" franchise movies (plus an additional two that are scheduled for release in 2021 and 2022) and Curtis appeared in five of them as Laurie Strode. But her best performance as Strode came in the surprisingly good 2018 "Halloween" remake.
In that film, which takes place 40 years in the future (and serves as a direct sequel to the 1978 movie), Strode has been preparing for the return of Michael Meyers her entire life. She's no longer a scared girl with a coat hanger. She's now an expert shot and survivalist with only one goal: kill Michael.
20. Keanu Reeves: Neo (Thomas Anderson)
Movies: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions,
Year: 1999, 2003,
Most memorable scene: The first bullet time scene would draw a "meh" from modern audiences, but it was groundbreaking stuff in 1999.
Iconic quote: "I know kung fu."
Bottom line: Our love affair with Keanu Reeves started with "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," which, to be fair, is also an iconic role. But Reeves' most iconic role is Neo from "The Matrix" trilogy.
The fictional character who was born Thomas Anderson and also known as The One (an anagram for Neo) became an instant pop culture phenomenon. The sunglasses, the long leather trench coat, the black combat pants and black leather boots — Neo was the inspiration behind half of every awkward teenager's blunder years wardrobe.
And now he's making an impact on a new generation.
19. Gillian Anderson: Dana Scully
TV show: The X-Files
Years: 1993-2002, 2015-16, 2018
Most memorable scene: The Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog scene from the episode "Detour" in 1997.
Iconic quote: "The truth is out there, but so are lies."
Bottom line: Dana Scully is one of the most well-written characters in television history.
Scully starts out as a young, naive (at least for "The X-File" standards) medical doctor who was assigned to the X-Files division as a patsy to oust Fox Mulder. Throughout the show, she grapples with her belief in the government, her faith, and what can be observed versus what can't.
The show found its way to the big screen in 1998 with "The X-Files (also known "The X-File: Fight for the Future") and again in 2008 with "The X-Files: I Want to Believe."
Controversial take: Gillian Anderson brought a depth to Scully that made her a more interesting character than David Duchovny's Mulder. Overall.
18. Eddie Murphy: Axel Foley
Movies: Beverly Hills Cop, Beverly Hills Cop II, Beverly Hills Cop III
Years: 1984, 1987, 1994
Most memorable scene: Axel gets denied service at the Beverly Hills Hotel (this is NSFW).
Iconic quote: "[In a nasally voice] You're not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe? It should be more natural, brother. It should flow out, like this — 'Look, man, I ain't fallin' for no banana in my tailpipe!' See, that's more natural for us. You been hanging out with this dude too long."
Bottom line: Eddie Murphy was on fire in the 1980s, and he made "Beverly Hills Cop" into a blockbuster success. Axel Foley is a fast-talking, constantly cursing wiseass who is constantly falling in and out of trouble. He's also cool as hell.
Murphy brought his razor-sharp wit to the table and ad-libbed many of the movie's best lines, including the "supercops" scene and pretty much every sentence where there's swearing.
Really, there hasn't been any actor alive that could do half as good a job as Murphy in this role.
17. Mark Hamill: Luke Skywalker
Movies: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope and four other Star Wars movies (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi)
Years: 1977, 1980, 1983, 2015, 2017
Most memorable scene: Darth Vader slicing off Luke's hand, then telling him he's his daddy.
Iconic quote: "I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you."
Bottom line: As much as we love Mark Hamill's role as the Joker from the 1990s "Batman: The Animated Series" cartoon, it can't beat Luke Skywalker for Hamill's most iconic role.
Was Hamill the best actor in the movie? Of course not. But he had that fresh-faced charm and spirit to which audiences could relate.
16. Al Pacino: Tony Montana
Most memorable scene: The "Push It to the Limit" montage
Iconic quote: "Say hello to my little friend!"
Bottom line: While "The Godfather" was a much better movie and Al Pacino put on a master class in acting as Michael Corleone, his role as Tony Montana in "Scarface" is just a smidge more iconic in terms of cultural relevance (also because Pacino never stopped screaming).
It's a character that has been endlessly quoted and parodied throughout the years, and Pacino's transformation into the slimy, screaming, foul-mouthed drug lord is a joy to watch.
If you're a fan of the film, check out all the real-life mansions used in "Scarface."
15. Clint Eastwood: Harry Callahan
Movies: Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, The Dead Pool
Years: 1971, 1973, 1976, 1983, 1988
Most memorable scene: The ending scene of the original "Dirty Harry," which includes the most iconic quote of the franchise.
Iconic quote: "I know what you're thinkin'. 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
Bottom line: Clint Eastwood has made a long career playing the tough guy, from the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy" to Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino."
But his most iconic role is that of Harry Callahan, aka "Dirty Harry." It's the character that transformed cop and vigilante movies forever, and inspired waves of good-guy-with-a-gun vs. gangsters films for decades.
Could these films be made today? They push ideas that probably would not fly, but good golly are these movies fun to watch.
14. Sean Connery: James Bond
Movies: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Never Say Never Again
Years: 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1971, 1983
Most memorable scene: Bond strapped to a table, legs splayed apart, while a metal-melting laser beam slowly inches its way up in "Goldfinger."
Iconic quote: "Bond. James Bond."
Bottom line: Sean Connery was the first James Bond, and he set the bar high for subsequent Bond actors.
Connery's witty quips and raised eyebrow blended perfectly with the over-the-top, cheesy world inhabited by would-be world-conquering villains and women whose mothers had a very odd way of naming them.
13. Michael J. Fox: Marty McFly
Movies: Back to the Future, Back to the Future Part II, Back to the Future Part III
Years: 1985, 1989, 1990
Most iconic scene: The clock tower scene from the first film.
Iconic quote: "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it."
Bottom line: Could you imagine Marty McFly as John Cusack or Johnny Depp? Both wanted the part (as did others), but ultimately, and thankfully, Michael J. Fox nabbed the role.
The best thing about the character is that Fox pretty much is Marty, a baby-faced dork with a hero's heart. McFly's and Doc's adventures throughout the "Back to the Future" trilogy (you can't have one without the other) are pure cinematic bliss.
There's a little McFly in all of us.
12. Johnny Depp: Jack Sparrow
Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and four other Pirates of the Caribbean movies (Dead Man's Chest, At World's End, On Stranger Tides, Dead Men Tell No Tales)
Years: 2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2017
Most memorable scene: Jack Sparrow's first appearance, where he arrives at the dock while riding at the top of the sails of a sinking boat.
Iconic quote: "But why is the rum gone?"
Bottom line: Jack Sparrow is the scallywag rapscallion who could get away with everything with skill and a divine intervention's amount of luck. He's perhaps the best character to ever come out of Disney — and that's a serious compliment. (Seriously, does anyone actually like Mickey Mouse?)
Johnny Depp brought whatever was on the script to new life with his incarnation of Jack Sparrow, which he imbued with an entrancing physical fluidity and inimitable charm.
Depp used inspiration from the cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew and immortal Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards to form the character, and no one else on earth could have played Sparrow better.
11. Heath Ledger: The Joker
Movie: The Dark Knight
Most memorable scene: The Joker, dressed as a nurse, surprises Harvey Dent at Gotham Hospital. Then, after using some hand sanitizer (safety first, everyone), he blows up the whole building.
Iconic quote: "Why so serious?"
Bottom line: We don't think anyone is going to upstage Heath Ledger when it comes to playing the Joker. Joaquin Phoenix came close, but Ledger's Joker is perfect. He's the embodiment of anarchy and cruelty who comes out of nowhere to sow chaos for the sake of chaos. The scars, the makeup, the purple suit — none of it is explained, and the character is much better for it.
According to Ledger's family, Christopher Nolan planned to use Ledger in "The Dark Knight Rises," although it's unclear how large of a part the Joker would have played. Ledger died of a drug overdose several months after completing filming for "The Dark Knight," while the film was in post.
10. Bill Murray: Peter Venkman
Movies: Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II
Years: 1984, 1989
Most memorable scene: Venkman reacts to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Iconic quote: "Yes, it's true. This man has no d---."
Bottom line: The original "Ghostbusters" films are perfect movies.
Every Ghostbuster brings something great to the table (yes, even Winston), but Peter Venkman steals the show. He's a sarcastic, self-absorbed womanizing cynic who does not give more than half a crap about anything. He's the star of "Ghostbusters" and at the forefront of almost every funny scene.
Murray and the majority of the remaining cast are coming back to reprise their roles in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," which is slated for a 2021 release.
9. Sylvester Stallone: Rocky Balboa
Movies: Rocky and six other Rocky movies (Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, Creed, Creed II)
Year: 1976, 1979, 1982. 1985, 2006, 2015, 2018
Most memorable scene: The last scene of "Rocky," where Rocky takes a beating from Apollo Creed. He loses the fight, but Rocky's sheer determination and ability to go the distance with Creed makes him a winner. Surrounded by reporters, not even listening to the announcer call out the judges' scores, he looks out to the crowd and screams one classic line.
Iconic quote: "Adriaaaan!"
Bottom line: Sylvester Stallone's most iconic role is without a doubt Rocky Balboa. This shouldn't be a surprise — Stallone wrote the entire script. Rocky is Stallone, and Stallone is Rocky. United Artists even cooked up a whole meta "underdog" story as a publicity stunt.
The myth is that Stallone was so broke he sold his dog while writing the screenplay, but also was determined to star in the movie. When studios asked to buy the script from him, he refused unless they cast him as the lead. Then they tossed him a measly $18,000 for the script and let him star in it.
That story, which you may have seen on Facebook or Reddit, is "total horse s----," according to Gabe Sumner a former head of marketing at Universal Artists. It was all a publicity stunt. "I don't have to tell you how the press feeds on the underdog story."
Hell, Rocky isn't just iconic for Stallone, Rocky is the most American fictional character there is, especially when you consider the behind-the-scenes spin.
8. Bruce Willis: John McClane
Movies: Die Hard and four other Die Hard movies (Die Hard 2, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard, A Good Day to Die Hard)
Years: 1988, 1990, 1995, 2007, 2013
Most memorable scene: McClane crawling through the air ducts while comparing himself to a TV dinner.
Iconic quote: "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf-----."
Bottom line: Without a doubt, Bruce Willis' most iconic role in any movie is that of the constantly hungover, hardscrabble detective John McClane. (We know the photo is from "Moonlighting. Close enough?) This character has given us so many memorable lines, and each one is perfectly delivered by Willis.
Originally, the role almost went to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Had that happened, we would have received a drastically different movie, and probably more like "Commando." With Willis, we don't get any of the cheese that Schwarzenegger would have brought, nor would the underdog story have made any sense.
Willis was a believable everyman who cemented "Die Hard" as one of the best films ever made.
7. Robert De Niro: Travis Bickle
Movie: Taxi Driver
Most memorable scene: Travis Bickle practices unveiling his sleeve gun while talking to himself in the mirror.
Iconic quote: "You talkin' to me?"
Bottom line: Robert De Niro has been in a slew of fantastic films (including "Goodfellas" as Jimmy Conway, pictured here), but no character is quite as iconic as Travis Bickle from "Taxi Driver."
Bickle is a lonely, depressed and delusional 26-year-old taxi driver who fantasizes about "cleansing" the streets of criminals. He's full of hate but thinks he's a white knight in a baggy army jacket. He's determined to rescue the 12-and-a-half year-old prostitute, Iris, which is a noble cause — except he's going to murder several people to do so, and one right in front of her face.
But before that, he was willing to murder a popular political candidate, just so he could get revenge on the girl who scorned him — even though she snubbed him because he took her to an X-rated picture.
Ironically, Bickle's murdering of Iris' pimp and two other gangsters turn him into a hometown hero. Iris is reunited with her parents, while the papers laud Bickle for taking down scumbags.
It's weird to watch "Taxi Driver" today, because we no longer give these characters this kind of ending. We're too afraid of what the real-world consequences might be if we did.
6. Sir Ian McKellen: Gandalf
Movies: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, two other Lord of the Rings movies (The Two Towers, The Return of the King) and three Hobbit movies (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of the Five Armies)
Years: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2013, 2014
Most memorable scene: Gandalf shows up with the Riders of Rohan at the Battle of Helm's Deep and crushes the rear flank of the Uruk-hai, turning the tides of battle.
Iconic quote: "You shall not pass!"
Bottom line: Gandalf is a 2,000-year-old wizard and one of the most important characters in "The Lord of the Rings" franchise. Sir Ian McKellen knocked that role out of the park. He loved working on the movie, too. From 1999 to 2003, Mckellen blogged about his time on set. He wasn't even sure that he would be cast for the role.
"I am aware of the high expectations of Tolkien's fans — like myself. But, never having imagined that I would ever play any sort of wizard, I am ill-prepared," he wrote in 1999. "A big project. I wish them luck when 'The Lord of the Rings' starts shooting (without me) in October 1999."
Other actors that were offered the part of Gandalf but refused were Sean Connery, Christopher Plummer, Patrick McGoohan and Patrick Stewart.
5. Sigourney Weaver: Ellen Ripley
Movies: Alien and three other Alien movies (Aliens, Alien 3, Resurrection)
Year: 1979, 1986, 1992, 1997
Most memorable scene: The ending scene of "Aliens," where Ripley shows up in an exosuit and lays the smackdown on the alien queen.
Iconic quote: "Get away from her, you b----!"
Bottom line: All the characters in the original "Alien" script were written as generic and genderless, allowing the producers to cast whoever fit the part best.
For the leading role of Ripley, they chose a 30-year-old, unknown actress named Sigourney Weaver. It was one of the best casting decisions in sci-fi movie history, and Weaver made Ellen Ripley into one of the most iconic female leads of all time.
In 1979, there were few movies with women leads, much less one that could be just as tough as her male counterparts.
4. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Terminator/T-1000
Movies: The Terminator and four other Terminator movies (Judgment Day, Rise of the Machines, Genisys, Dark Fate)
Years: 1984, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2019
Most memorable scene: The Terminator being lowered into a vat of molten steel, then giving the thumbs up in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day."
Iconic quote: "I'll be back."
Bottom line: The greatest aspect about Arnold Schwarzenegger's role as the Terminator, or T-800, is that he switches from villain to hero in the first and second films. That's something we don't see very often — or ever, really — in movies.
Within just two movies, he made the change from being a chilling, nearly unstoppable killing machine to a lovable robot. The latter of which has been the T-800 we all know and love throughout the sequels, of course, but people always seem to forget about the first film after T2 became such a huge hit.
Schwarzenegger was originally going to be cast as Kyle Reese, and reportedly, Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson were both in the mix for being cast as the T-800 but turned it down (O.J. Simpson was considered by the studio, but James Cameron immediately rejected that suggestion).
Want to see what T2 would have looked like with Stallone as the T-800? There's a DeepFake for that.
3. Jack Nicholson: Jack Torrance
Movie: The Shining
Most memorable scene: So much of "The Shining" is memorable, but nothing quite beats the scene where Jack breaks down the door with a fire ax. Fun fact: Nicholson was a firefighter in the Air National Guard when he was younger. He broke down the prop doors way too fast, so the film crew installed a real door for him to chop through.
Iconic quote: "Here's Johnny!"
Bottom line: Jack Nicholson has had so many memorable roles throughout his career, yet none of them are as iconic as that of Jack Torrance from "The Shining." Nicholson kind of is Jack because Nicholson is kind of nuts in real life.
It's easy to showcase madness when you're close to it, and Nicholson really makes Torrance shine. His maniacal smile and unsettling, plotting stare are the stuff of nightmares.
2. Harrison Ford: Indiana Jones
Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark and three other Indiana Jones movies (Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Years: 1981, 1984, 1989, 2008
Most memorable scene: Indiana Jones triggers a trap and runs away from a boulder in the first movie.
Iconic quote: "Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?"
Bottom line: Harrison Ford has two iconic roles: Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Han is a classic character, but Indy is much a more realized and much better one.
Indy is a treasure hunter, but he's not the James Bond of the archaeology world. He's bumbling, frequently makes mistakes and is cocksure when he shouldn't be.
He's relatable, and no one else could play him like Ford.
1. Bryan Cranston: Walter White
TV show: Breaking Bad
Most memorable scene: There are so, so many, but we're going with Walt's speech to Skylar in the final episode.
Iconic quote: "I am the one who knocks."
Bottom line: Man gets cancer. Man needs money. Man manufacturers meth for money. "Breaking Bad" is a simple concept told masterfully.
It's one of those very rare television shows where every episode works, there are no plot holes and everything is tied up in the end. Even without Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad" would have been good, but it wouldn't be the masterpiece that it became.
We can't see him topping this role.
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