Last time, we went through film, television, and books to rank some of the greatest fictional heroes of all time. These protagonists range from everyday people who rise to make a difference to superpowered beings who feel the call to greatness. Whether they are costumed heroes who have been featured in thousands of comic book issues or protagonists who have only appeared in a single film, these heroes have left a lasting impression on audiences everywhere.
The only guidelines for the heroes in this list are that they are primarily heroic, not just good hearted protagonists. While everyone has his or her own ideas of what makes a hero, these characters are inspiring and fulfill an aspect of humanity that we all aspire to have. Have your own personal favorites? Let me know your picks in the comment section below.
30. The Man With No Name – The Dollars Trilogy
A nameless stranger who wanders into town and brings chaos with him, Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name may be out to make a profit as a bounty hunter, but he’s also a force for good. In all three entries of The Dollars Trilogy, this quick-witted crack shot is chasing after profit and bounties that would make him a rich man, but consistently find himself put squarely in the middle of a moral dilemma. Whether that is eliminating both sides of a gang war in A Fistful of Dollars, helping a fellow bounty hunter find revenge for his murdered sister in For a Few Dollars More, or finding mercy and friendship with a former bitter rival in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, he’s constantly challenged to answer the call to heroism. Plus, he’s truly the fastest gun in the west. And he never misses.
Moment of Awesome: After being insulted by a group of criminals when entering a new town, The Man With No Name tells an undertaker to get three coffins ready. After a tense showdown, he guns down four men in mere moments. “My mistake. Four coffins.”
29. Sherlock Holmes
The world’s greatest detective has never faced a problem he couldn’t solve or an enemy he couldn’t beat. Armed with an unmatched brain, a commitment to justice, and a keen intellect that is most likely informed by several serious disorders, Holmes lives to find new challenges as he combats criminals, most often with his wits, sometimes with his fists. All of these factors have made Holmes into a timeless character who has far outlived what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first thought possible when he invented him. Everyone has their own favorite version of Holmes. But these myriad versions all depend on the inherent quality of the character, which has survived through books, film, and television for more than 100 years.
Moment of Awesome: Faced with certain defeat at the hands of Moriarty, Sherlock makes the ultimate sacrifice play, sending himself and his mortal foe over a cliff and down the Reichenbach Falls to their death. The original story, The Final Problem, the Robert Downey Jr.-led A Game of Shadows, and the Season 2 finale of Sherlock all make this an amazing climactic moment. But don’t worry, Sherlock always survives.
28. Hiccup & Toothless – How to Train Your Dragon
Hiccup and Toothless are a smart boy and his best friend who not only helped save countless lives, but changed an entire people for the better. Their story is one of discovery, but also one of ending prejudice and ignorance. Going against everything instilled in his culture and the will of his father, Hiccup’s friendship with the hurt dragon Toothless resulted in wondrous moments of adventure and discovery. They have a beautiful friendship and are easily one of the best duos in animation. Together they map the world and inspire legions of fans.
Moment of Awesome: With the Vikings in over their heads after waking up giant Green Death dragon, Hiccup and Toothless race to the rescue. A fiery mid-air battle ensues, which takes out the monster at the cost of Hiccup’s leg.
27. Coraline Jones – Coraline
While Coraline’s curiosity and stubbornness may unlock the portal to another world filled with frightening creatures, they are also what ultimately save her family and her own life. As an imaginative and 11-year-old girl dealing with workaholic parents and a boring new home life, Coraline needs excitement to escape her stifling daily life. But when the Other Mother tries to take her soul, Coraline becomes a tough heroine who relies on her wits and strength of heart. She uses both her courage and intelligence to win in the end.
Moment of Awesome: With her parents kidnapped by the Other Mother, Coraline is forced to find piece of children’s souls hidden thoughout the alternate world. It’s Coraline’s smarts that keep her alive and free from terrifying harm, saving her parents and freeing the children’s souls.
26. Marty McFly and Doc Brown – Back to the Future
Doc and Marty are both amazing characters on their own, but it’s their dynamic that makes them a truly memorable and inseparable pair. Doc is the harebrained genius and Marty is the cool kid with lots of problems, together they travel through time, saving one another’s lives on numerous occasions when their own short comings have put them in dire straits. While the first Back to the Future was all about Marty keeping his future from being accidentally erased, it also focuses on saving Doc’s life. In Part II and Part III, the duo have to save the timeline, making them into true heroes. But what puts them on this list is that Marty and Doc are just plain fun.
Moment of Awesome: To fix the damage to the future in Back to the Future Part II, Doc and Marty team up to steal back the Almanac from Biff in the 1950’s. Using a hoverboard from the future, Marty and Doc face off with an angry Biff in a tunnel, stealing back the Almanac and saving the future through numerous missed calls.
25. Link – The Legend of Zelda
The Hero of Hyrule who is constantly reborn throughout the ages, Link is destined to save the world and defeat the evil Ganon again and again, no matter what challenges, time periods, or animation styles he faces. While Link’s Master Sword and Shield are his ultimate weapons, he’s also proficient in arrows, boomerangs, bombs, and more, not to mention the fabled Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Link has travelled though time, jumped through dimensions, been split into multiple beings, shrunk down to microscopic sized, and faced countless terrifying monsters. Through it all, he is dedicated to saving lives, all without saying a word.
Moment of Awesome: Link has defeated Ganon dozens of times across the centuries, but his victory in The Windwaker is particularly awesome. Slicing up the evil ruler and driving The Master Sword into his forehead, Link turns Ganon into stone, saving the world once again.
24. Mickey Mouse – Disney
One of animation’s first do-gooders, Mickey Mouse is also one of its best. Not constrained by any one specific storyline, Mickey has saved his friends and beat his enemies across the centuries and through countless challenges. In his first appearance, Steamboat Willie, Mickey had to contend with Pete, who stole his boat from under him. Since then, he’s gone on worldwide quests, gained magical powers, fought giants, and saved countless kingdoms. But it was in the Kingdom Hearts series that Mickey actually became a badass. As rule of the kingdom and wielder of immense power, Mickey is a killer keyblade swinger on a secret mission. Best of all, he’s done it with a smile on his face and an upbeat attitude.
Moment of Awesome: With hordes of Heartless pouring from the Realm of Darkness in Kingdom Hearts, Mickey and hero Sora close the alternate dimension from within, sacrificing themselves to save the world.
23. Wall-E – Wall-E
Wall-E is the little robot who never knew he was destined for great things, but always dreamt of something more. As a tiny garbage cleanup bot, Wall-E spent decades cleaning and compacting trash, slowly developing a personality and a desire for something more. Mostly due to watching Hello, Dolly over and over. When he finds Earth’s first living plant in hundreds of years, he’s rocketed on an intergalactic mission as he falls in love with Eve. Combining both a unique bravery that helps him face enormous odds and a great love for his fellow robot, Wall-E saves humanity and the Earth. Plus, he’s adorable. Johnny Five, eat your mechanical heart out.
Moment of Awesome: In order to get civilization to return to Earth onboard the Axiom, Wall-E sacrifices his life to return the tiny plant he has guarded throughout the entire movie to the detection center. It will definitely make you cry.
22. Ash Williams – Evil Dead
There’s only one unbeatable hero in horror films, and that’s Ash. Throughout the Evil Dead Trilogy, this boorish, braggadocios jerk has turned from coward to iconic hero, slicing and blasting his way through hordes of undead demons. He may not be the most reliable human being and is prone to fits of selfishness, but he knows how to take the fight to horror villains. Ash has not only defeated the Deadite legions, he’s taken out Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger in the comic books. And he’s done it all armed with a chainsaw hand, shotgun, and copious one-liners.
Moment of Awesome: Forced to enter the Deadite-besieged cabin in the woods and fight the horrifying demon below, Ash straps a chainsaw to his stump where his right hand used to be. Armed with his new weapon and a sawed-off shotgun, Ash stomps the Deadite in his way and beats The Evil Dead, sucking himself into medieval times along the way.
21. Sokka – Avatar: The Last Airbender
As the only non-powered member of Team Avatar, Sokka’s role was equal parts comic relief and unlikely hero, but over the course of three seasons, he became a force for good on par with his friends. While he’s often a bumbling dummy, Sokka is full of heart and has a great love for his friends. He’s also compelled by the journey to find his missing father and help stop the rampage of the Fire Kingdom. Over time, his developing skills with a boomerang and a sword turned him into a fearsome fighter. He’s also talented at developing unique and powerful battle strategies, many of which helped to turn the tide against the Fire Kingdom.
Moment of Awesome: The day of Sozin’s Comet arrives, super powering every fire-bender on Earth. To stop the death of millions, Sokka faces off against a dozen Fire Nation airships. Using his wits, boomerang, space sword, and backup from Toph and Suki, Sokka destroys every single one of them.
20. Superman – DC Comics
The original superhero and an iconic force for good, Superman has left his mark on the entire world. Sure, he’s armed with far too many powers (super strength, flight, super speed, heat vision, x-ray vision, freezing breath, super stamina, bullet-proof skin, and more), but it’s his strength of character that makes him a true hero. Clark Kent, or Kal-El, is the ultimate immigrant story. An alien from the planet Krypton whose arrival on Earth brings truly world-changing things. It’s Ma and Pa Kent who instilled Superman’s moral compass, turning him into a selfless hero who has saved Earth more times than you can possibly count.
Moment of Awesome: In the series finale of Justice League Unlimited, Superman must face off against Darkseid and his invading forces on the streets of Metropolis. Finally able to completely cut loose against his dangerous foe, Superman uses his might to send Darkseid rocketing through the air and multiple buildings, zipping behind him to smash him straight down to the ground.
19. Finn & Jake – Adventure Time
These two friends travel The Land of Ooo in search of fun and fulfilling their unhealthy obsession with adventure. Throughout the course of Adventure Time, Finn and Jake, adopted brothers, have grown as they encounter new obstacles and dangers that may actually destroy the world. Finn the Human, in particular, has grown as he ages in real time through his teenage years. Together, they may actually be the true heroes that The Land of Ooo needs. Of course, they still love to goof off, sing, and pig out, which makes them relatable and far more fun than the average stoic action hero.
Moment of Awesome: With The Lich freed from his prison, Finn and Jake must battle the ultimate evil to stop him from destroying the Land of Ooo. Compelled by his love for Princess Bubblegum, Finn rips off the top of The Lich’s skull, stopping the truly evil enemy, for now.
18. Toph – Avatar: The Last Airbender
From the moment she stepped on screen, Toph was just plain awesome. She’s a young blind girl who has turned her disability into an advantage by using her earth-bending powers in ways that no one had ever thought of before. By sensing the earth through her entire body (she refuses to wear shoes and has really nasty feet), Toph has developed a radar sense that not only sensing her surroundings, but also makes her at one with the earth far more than any previous Earth-Bender. She’s a powerful fighter whose opponents often underestimate her for her age, gender, and disability.
Moment of Awesome: Locked inside a tiny metal box, Toph is kidnapped by vengeful earth-benders. Using her vibrational understanding of the earth, Toph does what was thought impossible and actually bends metal!
17. Optimus Prime – Transformers
He’s the only Transformer to make the list, but Optimus Prime has been saving lives and inspiring legions of kids for decades in his never-ending war against the Decepticons. Sure, he may be technically a terrible leader (Falling asleep for thousands of years while the Decepticons take over Cybertron is a bad strategy), but he’s a true warrior with the heart of a champion. I mean spark of a champion. Armed with a giant gun and a glowing orange axe, Optimus can take out any enemy in his path. He may have made it higher on the list if it weren’t for his inexplicable obsession with dying. The dude LOVES dying. Can’t get enough of it.
Moment of Awesome: The absolute worst Transformers movie, Revenge of the Fallen, also has the best Optimus moment. Reborn and decked out with a giant set of fighter jet wings, Optimus destroys the Sun Eater, blow off half of Megatron’s face, rips off Starscreams arm, and cuts off The Fallen’s face. All in the matter of a few minutes. Day saved.
16. Maximus Decimus Meridius – Gladiator
“Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” Russel Crowe’s Maximus is the man who turned his rage and quest for revenge into a noble battle that reshaped the Roman Empire. His brutal and bloody fighting skills are tempered with mercy and a great love for his family, which make him an incredibly tragic yet inspiring hero. *SPOILERS* His death killing the Emperor and subsequent reunion with his family in the afterlife make him a truly fantastic hero.
Moment of Awesome: Set up to die by the snivelling Emperor Commodus, Maximus must fight against the greatest living gladiator in the Roman Empire while surrounded by tigers. Surviving a near mauling and an insane onslaught, Maximus is supreme, endearing him to the entire empire.
15. Iron Man – Marvel Comics
Sure, Tony Stark is a cocky, jerkish billionaire playboy philanthropist, but it’s all part of what makes him an even more memorable and iconic hero. His transformation from selfish arms dealer to self-sacrificing Armored Avenger on both comic page and movie screen made fans root for him even more. His constantly evolving armor adds even more to his character, keeping his story always changing and adding new weapons to his armory. Despite having no powers of his own, Tony’s genius-level intellect supplies him with the insight needed to create armors capable of taking on enemies as powerful as The Hulk!
Click here for Iron Man’s Greatest Armors!
Moment of Awesome: Deciding to upgrade his technology in the first Iron Man, Tony decides his first test run will be a wild flight. Soaring through the air above Santa Monica, Iron Man is truly born and in one of comic book movies’ most thrilling moments. “Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.”
14. Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird
Other heroes may stand up to alien invasions, world conquerors, and demons, but Atticus Finch stood up to a real world danger – racism. When Tom Robinson is accused of crimes that solely stem from his identity as an African American man, Atticus represents him at trial, using all of his skills as a lawyer to battle against the racism that has put his innocent client on trial. His struggle against the overwhelming odds of racial prejudice is an inspiration, as he sees that the evil in the world may overwhelm truth and justice. But he battles on anyway, inspiring not just the characters in the novel, but generations of readers. Truly one of fiction’s greatest fathers.
Moment of Awesome: Going on the offensive, Atticus dismantles the case against Tom, proving the false nature of the charges and taking apart every argument. While Tom is still convicted due to racial prejudice, Atticus has done everything in his power to make a stand.
13. Solid Snake – Metal Gear Solid
The greatest hero in videogames? Solid Snake is a military weapon who questioned authority, freed his mind, and changed the world. He’s easily one of the deadliest people in the world. Handy with every modern weapon and lethal in hand-to-hand combat, Snake has taken out both genetically altered and supernatural enemies thanks to his intelligence and training. As a conflicted military man, Snake is on the search for peace, yet he’s constantly forced into violent combat. Venturing alone into countless dangerous situations, Snake helped to save the world despite the insane odds stacked against him.
Moment of Awesome: Coming face-to-face with Liquid Snake behind the wheel of the enormous Metal Gear Rex, Snake is able to destroy the walking tank on foot with only a few rockets and bullets at his side. It wouldn’t be the last giant robot Snake took out.
12. Thor – Marvel Comics
A hero that travels through the Nine Realms in search of adventure and in pursuit of the most dangerous enemies ever known, Thor is bigger than life. With his trusty enchanted hammer Mjolnir by his side, Thor is one of the most powerful superheroes of all time. But unlike Superman, Thor must constantly prove himself worthy in order to wield such Earth-shattering power. He shoulders the responsibility well, throwing himself in harm’s way for the sake of fellow hero and innocent bystander alike. Together with The Avengers, Thor is a shining example of the complex nature of many Marvel heroes.
Moment of Awesome: Thor must face off against the Midgard Serpent, the Earth-encircling monster destined to kill Thor in battle. Suffering from a curse that prevents him from ever dying, but makes his bones as brittle as glass, Thor runs headlong into glorious battle, killing his foe in a nuclear explosion-like blow that destroys his body completely. He comes back thanks to his wits.
11. Daredevil – Marvel Comics
If you’re not familiar with The Man Without Fear, you may not immediately understand why he ranks so high, especially in light of that terrible Ben Affleck movie. Matt Murdoch is a lawyer who was blinded at a young age saving an old man from a speeding truck. But the radioactive material that spilled in his eyes heightened all of his other senses. When his loving washed-up boxer father was murdered by mobsters for his integrity, Matt suited up as Daredevil. Ever since, he has become a suffering hero who overcomes terrible personal defeat to protect the innocent in and out of his costume.
Moment of Awesome: Being reborn after his entire life and sanity are broken apart by The Kingpin, Matt Murdock returns to save the life of his friends in the guise of an avenging angel in Daredevil: Born Again. It all culminates in the heart-pounding race to save Karen Page, which ultimately leads to forgiveness and rebirth. Click here to read why this moment made me cry.