Episode 10: Top 10 Best Heroes and Villains

This week Dan and Rob tackle the American Film Institute’s list of the best heroes and villains. Much discussion is had about what makes a character heroic; Rob defines heroism very narrowly and then bad mouths two beloved American icons. Dan is bewildered. Rob is correct.

Fortunately, we agree a little more closely on the villain list.

What are your thoughts? Who would you put on the list? What makes Dan such a villain? Compare and contrast: Dan’s ugliness versus Rob’s handsomeness.



34 Responses to “Episode 10: Top 10 Best Heroes and Villains”

  1. You know, I can’t quite tell who updates the website. Is it Rob or Dan?

  2. Tim says:

    Rob and Dan, I think both of you would love Double Indemnity. It’s a film-noir about insurance fraud and is just wonderfully written.

    Fun episode!

  3. James Wymore says:

    Yes. Indy is a hero. He saved the world from nazis… The whole world. If anybody watched Raiders, there could be no doubt.

    Dan will only be a villain if, while in Germany he finds a device that transports him to the movie and he joins the nazis.

    Having a narrow view of villains doesn’t make Rob one… Unless it was his machine transporting Dan.

    I want to hear Robs definition, please.

    • admin says:

      How did he save the world from Nazis? The power of ark killed the Nazis all by itself with no help from him. All he did was try (unsuccessfully) to stop them from getting it.


      • Micah says:

        Are you saying that a person has to be successful to be a hero? Trying to defeat evil is not enough??

        • admin says:

          Trying unsuccessfully doesn’t stop you from being a hero. My point, in the above comment, is that Indy doesn’t stop the Nazis in the slightest. They would have all been killed by the power of God whether he was there or not.

  4. Great podcast and discussion. Like Dan said, there are different types of heroes with different motivations. To me, the hero is the person you root for in the story (or in this case, movie). So in Indy’s case, whether he is a gold digger or an Anti-Nazi do-gooder, he is still the one you cheer for.

    I think the position on the top 10 list all comes down to likability and ability to relate to them. Everybody loves Atticus Finch so it isn’t a big surprise to find him #1.

    To me, I like and admire those who stand up in the face of fear. Atticus did that. It is why I liked Rocky, you could smash him in the face with a train and he’d still get up (in most of his movies). It is why I loved Clarice Starling and think she should get higher on the list. It is also why I wouldn’t put James Bond very high on the list. He has no fear and saving the world is slightly more complicated than preparing dinner.

    There are other things that make a hero likable. Being funny and clever helps, which earns some points for Indiana Jones. Character growth does as well, which I think takes away points from Indiana Jones.

    My two cents.

  5. Micah says:

    High Noon belongs on the list more for the political nuances of the movie with HUAC – I understand John Wayne’s perspective if you take it out of context, but in that context, he deserves to be on the list.

  6. This list sounds more like Protagonists vs. Antagonists than Hero vs Villian. Hero’s have cowardice and Villian’s can show great courage but you still root for the protagonist. Dr. Horrible is a Villian but we root for him, while the big baddy in Serenity has great courage and heroically fights for what he believes in, but we cheer as he’s defeated.

    There is no way that I don’t see Indiana Jones as a hero. It’s not fair to judge from our POV if someone is showing courage for the right reason. He is a defender of the antiquities he hunts. He doesn’t sell the on the black market he educates about past culture with them.

    Sure it’s easy from our current political correctness stand point to say he’s a grave robber but he doesn’t see it that way. He is paying homage to people that came before him.

    It’s internal perception that makes them heroic. Batman is braver for running after the bad guy than Superman because Batman doesn’t have super powers and there is greater risk behind that action.

    The Hollow City really illustrates this I think. Perception is key. He may have been fighting good, hardworking people only trying to help him but to him he was fighting for his life and freedom. The outside world might see his actions as irrational and crazy but he was doing the sane and rational thing with the information he had available to him.

    So, from his POV was Indy doing the right thing? Yes, he was protecting knowledge of the past which is paramount to an archeologist. Motivation about Nazi’s aside, by that definition his actions are heroic.

    Also I love that you guys constantly tell each other, and your audience how wrong and dumb they are. I like it!

    • Adam says:

      I didn’t read your comment before I posted mine, but you’re right, the list is more Protagonist vs Antagonist than Hero vs Villain.

      But even thinking about it that way Hannibal Lecter doesn’t belong on the list, he isn’t a villain in Silence of the Lambs nor is he the Antagonist.

  7. Adam says:

    I’m really not sure how they created these lists, because it seems like they just took what they thought of as really good movies and picked characters from those movies and shoehorned them into either the Hero of Villain role.

    Rocky is a lesson is perseverance, but he’s not a hero. So he took a couple of hits to the head, that’s going to happen when you step into a boxing ring, which he willingly does. If you want a hero based strictly upon perseverance, pick Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption. He goes through a lot worse than getting punched around inside a boxing ring, and unlike Rocky, it’s completely against his will. I think The Shawshank Redemption is the greatest movie ever made, and I think that AFI never gives it the credit it deserves. It was left off their first list entirely and was #72 when they revised the list in 2007.

    As much as I love Dr. Lecter, in Silence of the Lambs he isn’t a villain, he’s a very dark character, but not the villain of the movie.

    It took me a minute to realize that Nurse Ratched was from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next, because I don’t think she’s a terribly strong character, nor do I think it’s a very good movie.

    On a side note, I just finished reading The Hollow City today, and I have to say thank you for getting the psychology right. I was a psych major in school and I hate it when people get basic things wrong, such as saying that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities. It’s blatantly wrong, and it’s annoying. So thank you for doing the research and getting it right. I loved the book and that was a big part of the reason why.

    Since you mentioned Kevin Spacey, I have to nominate his character in Seven for one of the top ten villains.

  8. Rob Wells says:

    This list was made in 2003. Who else would you guys add to it from more recent movies?

    One that we failed to mention is Anton Chigurh from “No Country For Old Men”. He definitely ought to be in the top fifteen, if not top ten.

    Who else did we miss?

    • Good question.

      As Dan said, the Joker for sure. For the list of villains, I loved Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission Impossible III. I think Gollum and Saruman might even be good considerations, too. Oh, and Voldemort, too. Aw, heck, throw Rose from the Titanic on there. There was room on the damn raft!

      As for heroes, Ironman and Batman might be considered. Harry Potter for sure. Most of the fellowship in Lord of the Rings, okay, maybe just Samwise and Gandalf. Maybe have Frodo crack the top 100 list. Though I’m not personally a huge fan, I think several would consider Katniss now that the movie is released. Hopefully next year we can consider Ender Wiggin. Of course, (spoiler alert!!!) he could also be the villain. That again falls under questions of definition.

  9. Micah says:

    Not to say that Mr. Potter necessarily belongs in the top ten, but he is guilty of much more than simple “petty larceny”. $8,000.00 in 1946 is akin to $100,000.00 in today’s dollars. Again, while this does not necessarily put him on the list, it certainly puts his “petty crimes” into perspective.

  10. Micah says:

    And the Wicked Witch of the West’s sister was not murdered! Besides, little girls don’t kill wicked witches, flying houses kill wicked witches.

  11. Klimpaloon says:

    I just wanted to nominate Mother Gothel for Disney’s greatest villain. And say Rob is right about Indy.

    That is all.

  12. Bruce says:

    Very entertaining podcast. I think Tim Roth from Rob Roy should be in the top ten villains. I don’t remember hardly anything about that movie other than how evil his character was and how much I hated him by the end of the movie. To this day, I stool remember the emotions I experienced while watching that movie and my realization that Tim Roth had pulled off a masterful performance. Hannibal, the Joker, are really the only others I can think of off the top of my head that equalled my reaction to Roth’s awfulnes. I also think these characters are more frightening and evil than Vader, the Wicked Witch, possessed kid, pyscho killer, or similar characters because the latter group all can blame their evilness to some extent on other components (the dark side, mental illness, a devil, being a witch). While, the Joker, Hannibal, and Tim Roth are people who chose to be awful and do horrific things because they enjoy it.

    And for something completely different, Fred Estaire’s character in Holiday Inn was totally a jerk and worthy villain.

  13. Chris Miller says:

    When you mentioned Ripley and her heroism for going after Newt, I also thought of the scene earlier in the movie when the team first finds the nest under the reactors. The aliens start attacking and Lt. Gorman freezes up. Ripley takes over. She jumps in a HUMVEE/tank and goes in to rescue everyone.

  14. Erin says:

    Rick Blaine definitely needs to be where he is on the list if you are defining a hero as someone who sacrifices themselves for the greater good. Rocky is an inspirational character but not necissarily a hero. Indy is awesome but not number two awesome. Gary Cooper is a hero in high noon because he recognizes the danger knows he needs help but when he doesn’t get it fights the bad guys to save the town anyway.

  15. Dan says:

    I was going to mention Chigur and forgot, so thanks to Rob for adding him in the comments. For the hero list, I wish we’d mentioned Frances Mcdormand from Fargo.

  16. shauna says:

    Avatar the Last Airbender has an amazing villain, the Fire Lord has made it terrible for any non-fire bender, attempts to make air benders extinct, he was a terrible person (and a really mean dad), and held his hold on the world for over 100 years.

    You looked at Disney villains but not heros, I think Mulan was an awesome hero, she cross-dresses risking her life to protect her father and even after she’s found out she doesn’t give up and ends up being the one to defeat their villain.

  17. Tomas says:

    I think Robison’s problem with Indiana Jones is that he’s confusing heroic sacrifice with religious conviction.

    Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine should be on the villains list.

    • admin says:

      The only reason I keep harping on religious belief is because, without it, Indy is just a gold hunter. Unless he believes in the religious power of the ark, then he’s not trying to save the world–he’s just trying to dig up the buried treasure before someone else does.

      • Tomas says:

        He doesn’t start out with wanting another notch on his belt, another star in his CV, another trophy for himself.
        His motivations are “this is an awesome artifact that should be shown to the public”, rather than “I’m doing this out of religious reasons”. And he fights nazis all the way to make that happen.

        Of course in a way he is a treachure hunter, but he doesn’t keep any treachures for himself. He gives them to the public museum and I don’t think he gets much compensation for it. It’s an idealistic thing for him.

        The religious arc for Indiana starts in raiders and ends in the holy grail movie.
        The second movie, temple of doom, is not part of that arc because it’s a prequel to raiders.

        I know this will not convince you, let’s just agree to disagree on the matter.

  18. Cyndi says:

    Will Smith in I Am Legend as Robert Neville makes an excellent hero. And I can’t help wondering…if this was a TV list, would Dexter be a hero or villain?

  19. Carol says:

    Sean Connery’s James Bond did have some weak points. In “Dr. No”, he vomits after killing the tarantula, and in “Diamonds are Forever”, he gets beat up by Bambi and Thumper.

  20. Rob is right about Indiana Jones.

    Atticus Finch is the best hero of all time, but George Bailey is right behind him.

  21. James Rogers says:

    Hey, I’m making my way through, slowly but surely. To this three-ish year old podcast about a (then) nine-ish year old list, I’d like to add two heroes and two villains. Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes (and honestly this whole cast is just fantastic), and Jared Harris as Moriarty are the first round of each. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki (another movie with a great cast) and Matt Damon in The Martian. I feel these four exemplify traits that should be found in any good character. Conflict, resolve, flaws, depth.

    Unrelated: I’ve never seen a rocky movie, but they always seemed so odd to me. Does he have to win, or is he getting how teeth knocked in for the sake of pride?


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