By Jeppe Kleijngeld
Sometimes a character is introduced in a movie in a way that immediately tells you all you need to know. Is this character friendly, bad, cool or slick? Is he/she the ultimate hero? The ultimate badass? The ultimate gangster? In this list you will find 22 character introductions that stick. If you’ve seen the movies, chances are you probably remember them. Enjoy!
22. Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather
Played by: Marlon Brando
First lines: “Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first?”
Why memorable: What better way to introduce the mighty Don Corleone than to show him during a day at the office? We learn a lot of things from this. For one thing, he has power, lots of power. He has everybody in his pocket. Respect and honor matter more to him than money. Don Corleone knows how to treat a friend, but when you’re in his debt you can expect him to ask something in return. Through three little visits by relations we learn exactly how the Don works (a favor for a favor), what his principles are (“you can act like a man!”) and how he sees himself (“we’re not murderers, despite of what this undertaker says”). Marvelous.
21. John Tuld in Margin Call
Played by: Jeremy Irons
First lines: “Please, sit down.”
Why memorable: He arrives by helicopter, the CEO of a big Wall Street bank, at the brink of the mother of all market crashes. The moment he enters the conference room, he hypnotizes everybody, including the audience. Jeremy Irons completely rules in this scene. He has great lines to work with (“Maybe you could tell me what is going on. And please, speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever. It wasn’t brains that brought me here; I assure you that”), and his delivery is completely mesmerizing.
20. Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene in Con Air
Played by: Steve Buscemi
First lines: “He’s a font of misplaced rage. Name your cliché. Mother held him too much or not enough.”
Why memorable: The fun thing about Con Air is the high density of insane criminals on board of a hijacked airplane; Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom; Johnny 23; Diamond Dog; et cetera. When you think you’ve got them all, a new bunch arrives, including Garland Greene aka the ‘Marietta Mangler’, who slaughtered 37 people. “Should be interesting”, Grissom says. Greene’s entrance is pretty hilarious; a steel security truck; a gimp-like suit; loads of guards and impressed remarks by the toughest of criminals. Then Grissom has his mask removed and we look at…Steve Buscemi, a creepy Steve Buscemi no less. Later, he surprisingly turns out to be pretty friendly.
19. Isaac Davis in Manhattan
Played by: Woody Allen
First lines: “Chapter 1. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Uh, no. Make that; he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better.”
Why memorable: This particular scene really nails Woody Allen. While we view beautiful black and white images of Manhattan, we hear him in a voice-over describing why he loves this city. Typically Allen, he does so in a really neurotic way, changing his description about six times in only a few minutes. Boy, can he talk! Arguably Allen is not portraying Isaac Davis here, but he is really playing himself. In either case, you get to know the man right away with this intro. Whether that is positive or negative is a matter of taste.
18. Django in Django
Played by: Franco Nero
First lines: “Whatever I’m doing here is none of your business.”
Why memorable: What a great way to start a movie! First, we get a credit sequence in which we see a mysterious man carry a coffin behind him through the desert. We don’t see his face. The campy credits seem to come straight out of an old Italian horror flick. The title song ‘Django’ plays and not only is it beautiful, it also tells us the story; once you’ve loved her, whoa-oh…now you’ve lost her, whoa-oh-oh-oh…but you’ve lost her for-ever, Django. In the scene after, Django eliminates five sadistic bandits that want to burn a girl alive. It is confirmed, Django is a bloody hero! No matter what happens next, we will be with him.
17. Amélie Poulain in Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain
Played by: Audrey Tautou
First lines: “Les poules couvent souvent au couvent.” (‘The chickens cluck more often than the rooster crows.’)
Why memorable: The romantic fairytale Amelie, opens with a depiction of the childhood of main character Amélie Poulain in Paris neighborhood Montmartre. Because of circumstances and the personalities of her parents, Amélie grows up at home, where she retreats into her own fantasy world where vinyl records are made like crepes and crocodile monsters come to visit her. This introduction gives us the perfect sense of who Amélie will become as she grows up; a woman who wants to make people happy with little things and a woman impossible not to love.
16. Bill in Kill Bill
Played by: David Carradine
First lines: “Do you find me sadistic? You know I’ll bet I could fry an egg on your head right now if I wanted to.”
Why memorable: His handkerchief tells us who he is; Bill from the title. The guy that needs to die! What he does in the first scene is unforgivable; shooting the lovely Bride (Uma Thurman) through the head. Yet, there is this duality about Bill that makes him interesting. He is a cold blooded bastard here, but the way he touches the Bride and the things he says, tell us that he really cares about her. We want to learn more about him. The fact that we don’t see his face only adds to his mystery. Add to that his awesome voice (David Carradine’s) and you’ve got a character (and bad guy) entrance to dream of.
15. Lolita in Lolita
Played by: Sue Lyon
First lines: “Goodnight (kisses mother). Goodnight (kisses Humbert Humbert).”
Why memorable: The middle-aged college professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) immediately rents the room of the house he is checking out when he sees 14-year-old nymphet Lolita in the garden. “What was the decisive factor?”, asks landlady and Lolita’s mom Charlotte Haze. “Was it the garden?”
“No, I guess it’s your cherry pie”. Yeah right Humbert, you horny old goat. It is understandable though. Actress Sue Lyon looks terrific and plays the seductive vamp Lolita completely and utterly convincing. Mason’s facial expressions in response to Lolita are hilarious.
14. Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Played by: David Prowse (body) and James Earl Jones (voice)
First lines: “Where are those transmissions you intercepted? WHAT have you done with those PLANS?”
Why memorable: The ultimate sci-fi baddie makes his introduction right at the start of Episode IV. His evil nature and his power are apparent from the first frame; his black cape, his helmet, his breathing, et cetera. The way he chokes a rebel to death makes us fear him. Darth Vader is evil, incarcerated, or rather incyborgated. A really great introduction to a brilliant character.
13. Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men
Played by: Javier Bardem
First lines: “Step out of the car please, sir.”
Why memorable: In his first two scenes in No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh is like the Devil himself. Although his haircut is something awful, this man surely is frightening. Even the hardened sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones thinks so. First, Chigurh uses his handcuffs to kill the cop who arrested him. He does so with a sardonic pleasure, almost as if he is possessed. Afterwards he immediately kills another man, a civilian this time, using an oxygen tank. This is beyond much doubt the most brutal introduction to a mad killer ever.
12. Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction
Played by: Linda Fiorentino
First lines: “I can’t hear you people! You maggots sound like suburbanites. 50 bucks for a lousy coin set, you sell one at the time. I got a hundred bucks for the next sucker who makes a triple sale.”
Why memorable: The greatest of femme fatales is Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction. Right from the get go her deadliness is obvious. Yet, she is still stunningly sexy and irresistible. In this scene, she is bullying men around in a sales office. Her aggression is off-putting, yet she could pull in any guy like a magnet. Bridget is a woman you just don’t say no to, no matter how obviously bad for your health she is.
11. Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West
Played by: Charles Bronson
First lines: “And Frank?”
Why memorable: Three men that look like bandits are waiting for a train. When it arrives nobody exits. Then, when they are about to leave they hear the music. Hello Harmonica. Our mysterious hero plays rather than talks. He seems to be looking for a man named Frank, who the bandits work for. It is not hard to guess his purpose with Frank when he kills the three men. Harmonica does not only play, he knows how to shoot too.
10. Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday
Played by: Bob Hoskins
First lines: “Good old George.”
Why memorable: Our favorite British gangster Harold Shand, is introduced when he arrives at the airport. He walks around in a cool white suit and with a very cool, tough guy expression. The musical score is awesome. This is a guy who is in control. He is the man! We definitely want to spend more time with Harold. A great character like Harold Shand deserves an introduction like this.
9. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Played by: Harrison Ford
First lines: “This is it… This is where Forrestal cashed in.”
Why memorable: The first thing we see are his whip and his hat, the two most important items Indy carries with him. He wouldn’t be Indiana Jones without them. We don’t see his face though. That comes later when one of his companions wants to shoot him in the back. He turns around and uses his whip to take away his revolver. You don’t surprise Indiana Jones like that! From here on we know; this is the greatest adventurer in the world and we will gladly follow him to the darkest places.
8. Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Played by: Betsy Brantley (performance model) and Kathleen Turner (voice)
First lines: “You had plenty money nineteen twenty-two. You let other woman make a fool of you.”
Why memorable: When you hear the name Jessica Rabbit, wife of wacky toon character Roger Rabbit, you just assume you are dealing with a rabbit. Wrong! She is the most beautiful woman ever animated. Gorgeous, voluptuous shapes and a face to dream off; Jessica oozes sex. Private detective Eddie Valiant is stunned when he sees her perform in a nightclub and with him the audience.
7. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
Played by: Johnny Depp
First lines: “What do you say to three Shillings and we forget the name?”
Why memorable: The pirate of all pirates is introduced brilliantly. Jack Sparrow is seen standing proudly on a mast in a beautiful tilting shot, supported by epic-sounding music. But, as it turns out; the ship is not as impressive as it initially appears. It is a small sized sloop and it is sinking. The best part is that Jack exactly makes it to the shore; the second he puts foot on land, his ‘ship’ is gone. That immediately makes clear the dilemma of his character; he is a pirate without a ship. And he walks kind of funny, but hey; it is Johnny Depp after all.
6. Jesus Quintana in The Big Lebowski
Played by: John Turturro
First lines: “Are you ready to be fucked, man?”
Why memorable: Talking about unforgettable… Everybody who has ever seen The Big Lebowski remembers this scene: the purple outfit, the one polished nail, the bowling ball licking, the perfect strike and his Latin dance to celebrate. Jesus Quintana is forever branded in the collective cinematic consciousness thanks to this moment. This is truly legendary stuff.
5. Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Played by: Gene Wilder
First lines: “Welcome my friends”
Why memorable: Which kid wouldn’t want to meet a master chocolate maker? Before his entrance in the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, he is already presented as legendary; he was born to be candyman. Then we meet him 40 minutes into the movie and we think; so this is the guy? Hehehe. Gene Wilder puts one quite the show. He first fools the crowd by acting as a cripple and then he charmingly invites the lucky golden ticket winners into his factory, including poor kid Charlie Bucket and his granddad. Heart-warming and lovely.
4. Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd.
Played by: Gloria Swanson
First lines: “Have him come up, Max.”
Why memorable: A screenwriter, Joe Gillis, has a blow-up and walks up to a fancy Hollywood house to get a spare. Then he meets her; Norma Desmond, a famous actress from the Hollywood silent pictures era. Her motto: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” Her madness is apparent from the beginning as she takes Gillis for the funeral director there to bury her deceased chimp. Then they start talking about movies and we learn her narcissistic personality, forever ruined by her career. She is both sad and dreadful, a wonderful character, and introduced very poignantly.
3. Jill in Once Upon a Time in the West
Played by: Claudia Cardinale
First lines: “Sweetwater. Brett McBain’s farm.”
Why memorable: You don’t need words for a great introduction, director Sergio Leone shows us. In this beautiful scene we witness how a strong, independent woman arrives in the Wild West and things are about to change. The music by Ennio Morricone is breathtaking and so are the images of Jill walking through the town looking for her escort. We don’t need an explanation; just seeing her on that train station tells us all we need to know.
2. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs
Played by: Anthony Hopkins
First lines: “Good morning. You’re one of Jack Crawford’s aren’t you?”
Why memorable: Hannibal is introduced as the character was originally envisioned; deeply scary and fascinating. It is the anticipation that is created before meeting him that makes his introduction work like hell. FBI agent Starling is nervous about the meeting and so are we. FBI-boss Crawford tells Starling; don’t tell him anything personal, you don’t want Lecter inside your head. Prison director Chilton calls him a monster. Then, when Starling finally arrives at his cell, he is already standing there; this is enough to give you the chills. In the conversation that follows we learn that he is charming, extremely intelligent and psychopathic, but in a very complex way. This whole scene is unforgettable.
1. Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West
Played by: Henry Fonda
First lines: “Now that you’ve called me by name.”
Why memorable: Henry Fonda originally turned down the role of Frank. Director Sergio Leone flew to the United States and met with Fonda, who asked why he was wanted for the film. Leone replied: “Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera pans up to the gunman’s face and…it’s Henry Fonda!” (source: IMDb). Until then, with one exception, Fonda had only been cast in ‘good guy’ roles. Leone wanted the audience to be shocked. And it works like hell. Combined with his own theme music (all main characters in OUATITW have musical leitmotifs that relate to them), it is the most powerful character introduction ever. Those deep blue eyes, that sardonic smile… this is what evil looks like.
Originally published on FilmDungeon