These champions come in all forms, from the everyman who has greatness thrust upon him or her to the force of unstoppable good that saves the world time and time again. The best heroes represent an indomitable aspect of the human spirit while serving as a model that each person can aspire to be more like.
Everyone has their own personal favorite heroes spanning film, television, and novels. But who are the greatest? These are The 50 Greatest Heroes of All Time, complete with some of their most defining moments.
As a rule, these characters must fit into the category of hero, meaning they are primarily heroic, although anti-heroes do count. It also means that good protagonists who aren’t really heroes cannot make the list.
50. Tallahassee – Zombieland
When the zombie apocalypse consumes the world, there’s no one else you’d rather have by your side than Tallahassee. This no nonsense, tough as nails man of mystery has some serious anger issues over the loss of his young son due to the monsters that destroyed the world. Now he only finds happiness in killing zombies. And eating Twinkies. Woody Harrelson does a great job making Tallahassee likeable through his roughness, creating an instantly iconic character in a single movie.
Moment of Awesome: Surrounded by dozens of zombies at Pacific Playland, Tallahassee boards himself up inside a game booth with only two pistols by his side. It looks hopeless, but he takes out every single zombie.
49. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
While every fan has his or her own personal favorite turtle, you cannot simply separate these four ninja brothers. Leonardo the leader, Raphael the fighter, Michelangelo the jokester, and Donatello the inventor, each represents a different side to what a warrior can be. Together, they can overcome any enemy through perseverance and their love for one another. Throw in some awesome weapons and an iconic look and it’s no wonder that the Turtles have thrived for decades and been successfully reincarnated in nearly every medium.
Moment of Awesome: Any time the Turtles must do battle with The Shredder you know that the four boys will be in for the fight of their lives. No one brings out the best in each member like their worst enemy.
48. Tin Tin – The Adventures of Tin Tin
Intrepid young reporter and world traveler, Tin Tin helps to solve mysteries and save lives on countless adventures. He’s handy with a pistol, can fly a plane, and is known to do fisticuffs when the occasion calls for it, but his brain is his best weapon. Teamed with his dog Snowy and the incorrigible Captain Haddock and Tin Tin can solve the strangest mysteries, even when he knows he’s clearly in over his head, all while keeping a smile on his face and a love for adventure in his heart.
Moment of Awesome: Tin Tin’s wild chase after the three parchment pieces revealing the answer to an ancient riddle in The Adventures of Tin Tin. One uninterrupted shot captures a race through a Middle Eastern town on motorcycles, down a river, through buildings, across rooftops, and filled with explosions. It’s incredibly thrilling!
47. Ashitaka – Princess Mononoke
Faced with the destruction of his world, Ashitaka stands between the forces of nature and the forces of mankind. Unlike many heroes, he’s clear objective is peace, but not at the cost of either side of the conflict being destroyed. A demon’s curse gives him supernatural strength while putting a ticking clock on his life, he originally sets out to find a cure, but puts aside his own life to protect others.
Moment of Awesome: Ashitaka interrupts the deadly battle between San and Lady Eboshi in the fortress of Irontown. Not wanting either to be hurt, he knocks them both out, carrying San to safety despite being brutally shot in the back by a soldier.
46. Hawkeye – Marvel Comics
He may have no superpowers, but Clint Barton is an impeccable shot with a tenacious will. Although he began as a criminal, Hawkeye quickly became a hero and one of the greatest Avengers thanks to the tutelage of Captain America. Today he fights alongside the most powerful people in the world against threats that could kill him in an instant. In his spare time, he protects citizens from everyday threats while trying to piece his messy personal life back together.
Moment of Awesome: To stop Baron Von Strucker from controlling the Cosmic Cube in an episode of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Hawkeye fires a perfect placed arrow with a miniaturized Ant-Man holding on to the head. Flying over multiple buildings and through windows, the arrow lands perfectly, letting a growing Ant-Man clock Von Strucker in the jaw at the last moment.
45. Wolverine – Marvel Comics
The definition of antihero, Wolverine is self-sacrificing and consistently badass. Beginning as a rough outcast who had lots of friction with his fellow X-Men, Wolverine eventually rocketed to popularity when unrestrained antiheroes became the most popular characters in comics. Combined with amazing powers and a mysterious backstory, this X-Man has been one of the world’s most popular heroes of the last several decades. While Wolverine may be the best character in the X-Men film franchise, he’s typically outclassed by more interesting, and less overexposed, superheroes in the comics.
Moment of Awesome: Slammed through multiple floors into the sewers below the evil Hellfire CLub, Wolverine gets back upon to take on dozens of goons. With the entire X-Men defeated, it’s up to Wolverine to fight back. Showing his brutal fighting skills and berserker rage, Wolverine claws his way to victory.
44. The Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel Comics
They may be a ragtag bunch that has just broken into mainstream culture, but The Guardians are one of Marvel’s greatest superhero teams. While the team has gone through multiple incarnations, originally being a team of heroes from the year 3000, they have always been made of strange individuals from across the galaxy who come together to fight back against cosmically powerful enemies. Today, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Gamora, Drax, and many more patrol the galaxy, fighting evil on countless worlds.
Moment of Awesome: Their most recent victory on screen, with the Guardians truly uniting to handle the power of the Infinity Stone. Linking arms, the Guardians take the pain to prevent Star-Lord’s destruction, unleashing the stone’s fury on Ronan the Accuser.
43. Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games
The Girl on Fire, Katniss is very much a reluctant hero. What began as an act of sacrifice for her little sister turned into a rebellion that would change her world forever. While Katniss is most interested in keeping her loved ones alive, she fights against the evil Capital when confronted with the true horrors they inflict on the districts under their control. By the end, she’s tortured and psychologically damaged, but she has shown how a single person can make a difference.
Moment of Awesome: Piecing together the mysterious conspiracy around her during the Quarter Quell Hunger Games in Catching Fire, Katniss destroys in force field with a single arrow, sparking a gigantic revolution.
42. Harry Potter – The Harry Potter Series
He’s The Boy Who Lived, a child who was famous for years and didn’t even know it because he defeated the seemingly invincible Voldemort. When The Dark Lord returned, it was up to Harry and his friends to permanently destroy the greatest threat the wizarding world had ever known. He’s beaten giant monsters, specters, and countless evil wizards all before the age of 18. On the other hand, Harry’s the luckiest hero in fiction, with most of his victories coming through last second discoveries and timely interventions. Voldemort would have been done in seconds if he faced most of these other heroes.
Moment of Awesome: Locked in final battle with Voldemort, Harry shows that his quick wits are his best weapons as he deduces that he alone has true power over the Elder Wand, which is being used by his mortal enemy. The result, a clash of spells and the final destruction of Voldemort.
41. Jean-Luc Picard – Star Trek: The Next Generation
The thinking man’s hero, Captain Jean Luc Picard is not as brash and bold as many other sci-fi adventurers or even many Star Trek protagonists. Rather, he’s a cultured and sophisticated man who has dedicated his life to discovery, peace, and the rights of others. Patrick Stewart made Picard into a serious and thoughtful man who still has a taste for highly cultured entertainment, such as his reenactments in the Holodeck. Through countless adventures in both television and film, Picard asserted himself as the greatest Star Trek captain.
Moment of Awesome: Assimilated by the Borg, Picard is turned into a member of Star Fleet’s most dangerous enemy. Through the efforts of his crew and his own iron will, Picard rejects the Borg and returns to his human personality, defeating the Borg in the process.
40. Malcolm Reynolds – Firefly
He’s just a rogue looking to make a buck and survive in a rough and tumble galaxy. At least, that’s what Mal would want other people to think. He may be an outlaw, thief, and smuggler jetting from planet to planet with his crew on the Serenity, but Mal is a rebel at heart with a terrible grudge against the corrupt Alliance that now controls the known worlds. When faced with the choice to save his skin or help others, Mal will do everything he can to help the people he loves.
Moment of Awesome: With the information needed to expose the evil deeds of the Alliance, Mal must fight the deadly Operative in hand to hand combat in the finale of Serenity. With a mix of hard-headedness, wits, and old battle scars, Mal wins a moral, physical, and galaxy-changing victory.
39. Green Arrow – DC Comics
Five years stranded on a deserted island left selfish millionaire playboy Oliver Queen with unmatched archery skills forged out of desperation and a desire to protect his home of Star City. As the Green Arrow, Ollie uses all manner of arrows (love that boxing glove one) to fight criminals and supervillains that would harm the common man. Whether it is on the comic page or on screen in Arrow, Ollie is a man of the people whose liberal political viewpoints and devil may care attitude balance out his past trauma.
Moment of Awesome: Deathstroke takes on the entire Justice League in a back alley and thanks to his enhanced body and pre-planning, he’s actually winning! But the tide is turned by the unlikeliest of the group – the non-powered Green Arrow, who jams an arrow into Deathstroke’s empty eye socket from behind, giving his fellow heroes a chance to beat the mercenary.
38. Wonder Woman – DC Comics
She’s part warrior, part princess, and part superheroine. Diana of Themyscira is a cultural icon and one of pop culture’s greatest female heroes. She’s also more complex than Superman, with her warrior heritage and moral conscience often leading to tough decisions most others would never have to make. The only reason that Wonder Woman is not higher on the list is due to most writers not knowing what to do with her character. But in the hands of the right creative team, Wonder Woman shines bright.
Moment of Awesome: To save thousands of lives, Wonder Woman must fight Medusa one on one. With her options running out, Diana chooses to blind herself with serpent’s venom to prevent her opponent’s fatal stare. She destroys her enemy, but is left without eyesight for many issues after.
37. Gandalf – The Lord of the Rings
Gandalf is a beacon of light in the ever darkening world of Middle Earth. When man, elf, and all other manner of creature is blinded to the encroaching evil forces of Mordor, it is Gandalf who rallies the people to fight back. While he may not strike the decisive blow, Middle Earth would have been doomed without his wisdom and guidance. While he fulfills all the elements that a classic wizard embodies, his goodness and connection to the afterlife make him more akin to an angel.
Moment of Awesome: When the Fellowship of the Ring is confronted by the unstoppable fiery Balrog, only Gandalf has the power to destroy the evil foe. Not only does Gandalf send the Balrog plunging to his doom, he duels with him all the way down!
36. Deadpool – Marvel Comics
Is he a hero? Is a he an assassin? Is he just insane? Deadpool’s all of the above, naturally. Wade Wilson was just your everyday assassin until he underwent an experiment to give him unmatched regenerating powers. Now he can’t be killed. The process also drove him insane. But he’s slowly committed himself to becoming a hero, offing countless bad guys and fighting some of the deadliest villains in the Marvel Universe. Most people don’t want The Merc with a Mouth on their team, because of his broken brain, motor mouth, and bad body odor, but Deadpool is one of comic’s funniest, deadliest, and most enjoyable heroes.
Moment of Awesome: What happens when a gigantic SHIELD helicarrier is taken over by an army of evil goons? Deadpool goes in solo, giving into his darker impulses and using acid, explosives, every gun he can get his hands on, and his two trusty katana to eliminate every last opponent on board.
35. Spike Spiegel – Cowboy Bebop
He’s a dangerous and cool loner with a dark and mysterious past. Spike Spiegel seems like a man without a care in the world, zooming around the galaxy onboard the Bebop in pursuit of the latest bounty. His cool kung fu moves, slick marksmanship, and spaceship skills alone would make him one of anime’s most memorable heroes. Dangerous and strange adventures throughout countless planets show spike to be a deadly bounty hunter with a good heart. But glimpses of a tortured past that haunt Spike and eventually send him on a suicidal quest for revenge and meaning in his previously bleak life.
Moment of Awesome: With nothing left to lose, Spike leaves behind his friends and goes after his nemesis, Vicious. Armed with his trusty Jericho 941 pistol and a cache of weapons, Spike decimated the Red Dragon Syndicate, ending in a brutal and fatal showdown.
34. John McClane – Die Hard
If Detective John McClane had only starred in the original Die Hard, he would have easily made this list. One man against a squad of deadly terrorists inside a high rise building on Christmas Eve leads to some of film’s greatest action sequences of all time. In the original film and it’s first two sequels, McClane is beat up, shot, cut, burnt, and otherwise put through the wringer, but he always gets the bad guys in the end. Yes, McClane has become a nearly invincible superhero in the last few sequels, which dims his star a bit, but it’s his original trilogy that cements him as a put-upon everyman hero.
Moment of Awesome: Figuring out the villains’ plans in the climax of Die Hard, McClane frees the hostages from the building’s explosives-rigged rooftop. To escape the coming explosion and gunfire from a helicopter, McClane ties himself with a fire hose and jumps off the building. It’s insane and nearly goes very wrong, but it works.
33. Bugs Bunny – Looney Tunes
He’s a rascal, a jerk, and a know it all. But Bugs Bunny is the shining example of how wits and a cool attitude can beat any enemy, no matter their size. His enemies are just as famous as he is, with the loud mouthed hare coming to repeated blows with Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, The Tasmanian Devil, and more. Each challenge him in unique ways, but he always manages to make them look foolish and win out in the end. Everyone wants to be Bugs Bunny, but we’re all truthfully more like Daffy Duck.
Moment of Awesome: When tormented by opera singer Giovanni in “Long Haired Hare,” Bugs gets his revenge at the Hollywood Bowl. Posing as a famous conductor, Bugs makes Leopold sing until he’s blue in the face, hitting a note that crumbles the stadium down on himself.
32. Hellboy – Dark Horse Comics
Hellboy shouldn’t be a hero. The spawn of a human woman and a demon, Hellboy isn’t just from the underworld, he’s the weapon that could destroy the entire world. That stony red right hand isn’t just an indestructible means for knocking enemies out, it can unleash the seven-headed Ogdru Jahad dragon, which will burn the world to a cinder. But Hellboy isn’t too concerned about that. He’s just a misfit trying to keep his adopted human home safe by fighting all manner of evil creatures. Armed with a sarcastic attitude, near invulnerability, and a really big gun, Hellboy is saving the world one tiny European village at a time.
Moment of Awesome: Fighting against a humongous creature at the climax of the first Hellboy movie, our big red hero finds the only way to defeat the creature – letting himself be swallowed and blowing it up from the inside with a belt full of grenades. “I’m gonna be sore in the morning.”
31. Obi-Wan Kenobi – Star Wars
Equal parts wise counselor and deadly warrior, Obi-Wan is the perfect encapsulation of the Jedi Order. While he was a mysterious link to the past whose Force Spirit helped to guide the young Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy, the prequels helped to flesh out his character far more, showing his rise to Jedi Master and his desperate attempts to save his doomed Order. He may have been unable to save Anakin Skywalker and prevent the downfall of the Jedis, but he also helped to stamp out evil across the galaxy, taking part in some of the series’ most spectacular battles as a brilliant general and masterful lightsaber wielder.
Moment of Awesome: Obi-Wan and his master Qui-Gon Jinn face off against the double-bladed lightsaber-wielding Darth Maul. When Qui-Gon is killed, Obi-Wan flies into a rage, moving at nearly the speed of light and overcoming the loss of his lightsaber to split his foe in half in one of the series’ greatest duels.