We’ve come at last to The Top 10. These are fiction’s greatest heroes. The people who encapsulate what protagonists can truly do in the best stories and franchises. From the depths of space to the ancient world, these heroes are truly some of fiction’s most influential characters. Whether they are defined by their portrayal by a single actor or have been reborn time and time again, these people have become part of the public consciousness.
Audiences are drawn to these characters for a wide variety of reasons. But above all, they are dynamic and inspiring as they struggle against overwhelming odds. Personally, these are the characters who draw me into stories both new and familiar, propelling great narratives through the strength of their personalities while also being put in amazing stories by fantastic writers and/or directors.
Have your own personal favorites or your very own Top Ten? Let me know in the comment section below!
10. Han Solo – Star Wars
He’s a no good scoundrel who proves time and time again that he has a heart of gold, even if he hates to admit it. While Han was originally pulled into the fight against The Empire against his will and with a high suspicion of the existence of The Force, he quickly becomes one of the greatest enemies of Darth Vader and his galaxy-spanning armada. In truth, Han is not much more than a simple smuggler, looking to make a profit and stay alive. But he’s quick-witted, funny, dangerous with a blaster, and the owner of the coolest spaceship ever – The Millennium Falcon. There may be more powerful heroes in the Star Wars series, but Han is simply the most awesome.
Moment of Awesome: Behind the wheel of The Millennium Falcon with co-pilot Chewbacca, Han desperately tries to outrun The Empire’s massive fleet in deep space without a functioning hyper drive. Swooping through an asteroid field (“Never tell me the odds!”), escaping a giant monster, and hiding on the side of a Star Destroyer, Han helps save his friends. For a little while, at least.
9. Aragorn – The Lord of the Rings
Heroes in the world of The Lord of the Ringscome in every shape, size, and race, but none beat the courage and overall amazing nature of Aragorn. Over the course of the trilogy, Aragorn transforms from mysterious traveler to the shining king of men. Along the way, he must face the burden of his noble heritage, which he ran away from, and massive evil forces which seek to crush all hope before they consume the world. But he perseveres, trusting in his friends, risking everything to save countless lives, and playing a vital role in saving the world. Plus, he’s a fierce warrior, with Viggo Mortenson’s portray on film taking part in some of the most simultaneously spectacular and brutal fights in movies.
Moment of Awesome: With the armies of Mordor surely on their way to destroy the forces of good at Minas Tirith, Aragorn embraces his heritage as king. Enlisting the forces of the Army of the Dead under Dunharrow, Aragorn brings massive reinforcements to the Battle of Minas Tirith, helping to turn the tide and beat back the odds, saving the lives of legions.
8. Aang – Avatar: The Last Airbender
He’s the young boy who tried to run away from his responsibilities as the Avatar, but when Aang embraced his calling, he became an extremely powerful force for good. As the Avatar, Aang is the only person in the world able to wield all four elements, while the rest are able to only bend air, fire, earth, or water. He’s also the world’s last Airbender, as the rest of his people where killed by the forces of the marauding Fire Nation. While Aang is forced to shoulder such a heavy burden at a young age, he still maintains a sense of fun and adventure, focusing on the importance of friendship and love. He’s thrown into numerous dangerous situations, but seeks to maintain a pacifist way of life, despite wielding enormous power. Through it all, Aang is both inspiring and relatable.
Moment of Awesome: Faced with a superpowered Fire Lord in the series finale, Aang must put the sum total of his learning to use. Truly harnessing the power of the Avatar State, Aang overwhelms the Fire Lord by using all four elements at once. But rather than killing him, Aang bends his opponent’s energy, permanently taking away his bending powers and saving the world.
7. Robin Hood
He’s one of the earliest heroes in fiction, only being predated by mythological protagonists (those guys are pretty flawed), but Robin Hood has endured because of the strength of his character and tales. Everyone knows the story – a noble-born man who becomes an outlaw to protect the innocent victimized at the hands of Prince John. Stealing from the rich to feed the poor, Robin is a pinnacle in self-sacrificing. But this isn’t a droll and dark hero. Rather, the best interpretations keep him as a grinning yet determined swashbuckler. Swinging from ropes, clashing swords with dangerous foes, and displaying his impeccable marksmanship, Robin is a deadly opponent who has a never-failing moral compass. Who wouldn’t want to be one of his Merry Men?
Moment of Awesome: Storming Prince John’s castle in Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, our hero does battle with a legion of armed forces. It all culminates in a swashbuckling duel through the halls of the castle with the evil Guy of Gisborne. It’s easily one of cinema’s greatest sword fights of all time and it ends with Robin’s greatest triumph.
6. James Bond
Who is James Bond? While he’s changed from actor to actor over the years and been adapted to numerous cultural climates, Agent 007 is always smooth, cool, and deadly. He’s also misogynistic and an alcoholic, but that just makes him more complicated. No matter how dangerous his enemies and how inescapable his predicaments may seem, Bond will always come out on top. Armed with classic cars (can’t beat the Aston Martin DB5), countless gadgets, and copious one-liners, 007 is the preeminent action star. While everyone has their own favorite portrayal and favorite movie, it’s the strength of the character that keeps people coming back for movie after movie, even after every single Ian Fleming book has been drained of ideas. Bond himself promises action, style, and suspense. When it comes to spies, nobody does it better than Bond.
Moment of Awesome: Bond’s film career has been filled with countless amazing moments, but the best has to be the beginning of Casino Royale. After a black and white battle in a bathroom with a thug, Bond pulls out his gun, shooting his foe at the last moment in the style of the classic James Bond gun barrel sequence. Bond is back and he’s better than ever.
5. Ellen Ripley – Aliens
Has any hero had it worse than Ellen Ripley? Fighting the dreaded Xenomorphs across space and time due to her cryogenic freezing and eventual cloning, Ripley has been forced to fight the heinous aliens again and again. But while she started off as a desperate yet intelligent lone survivor in Alien, she quickly transformed into a kickass action hero who’s just as tough as any hero on this list. When faced with overwhelming odds and the impending death of the people she cares about, Ripley tools up and takes it to the aliens. That’s pure courage and attitude in the face of the most terrifying monsters in fiction.
Moment of Awesome: After going through hell on LV-426 in Aliens, Ripley and the young Newt are confronted by the Alien Queen onboard the Sulaco. With no help left, Ripley jumps into the cockpit of the giant powerloader, diving into hand-to-hand combat with the enormous Xenomorph in one of cinema’s most thrilling and awesome moments.
4. Spider-Man – Marvel Comics
Peter Parker was just a bullied outcast in high school struggling to make it one day at a time when he was bitten by a radioactive spider and given extraordinary powers. But it wasn’t until the murder of his Uncle Ben, a murder that he could have prevented, that he took on the great responsibility that came with such great powers. Spider-Man is a hero that appeals to every age equally. It’s partly the colorful costume, partly the envious powers, and partly the strength of the young man under the mask, but it’s all the brilliance of creator Stan Lee and the many writers since who have given the hero a rich history and an amazing array of villains. Peter has never had it easy, with both a tragic personal life and a challenging superhero career that often overlap at the worst moments possible. But through it all, Spider-Man triumphs and soldiers on to save New York and inspire new legions of fans again and again.
Moment of Awesome: Trapped by tons of metal debris, Spider-Man is faced with a feat that even his super strength may not be able to overcome. It’s through his own force of will and a determination to save the people that he loves that Peter lifts the giant pile of metal and sets himself free in easily one of the hero’s greatest moments.
3. Indiana Jones
If adventure has a name, it’s Indiana Jones. That’s more than just a poster’s tagline, it’s the truth. Inspired by the pulpy serials of the 1930’s and ’40s, Indiana Jones is everything we want in a world-travelling adventurer distilled down to one iconic performance. Harrison Ford was simply born to play Indy, even moreso than he was born to play Han Solo. his dashing good looks and magnetic charm are perfectly tempered by a world weariness and a fallible humanity. Indy always wins in the end, but he takes plenty of bumps, bruises, and cuts along the way. Numerous classic moments within wonderful overall films have made the character far more iconic than heroes that have been around for centuries. He’s such a strong character in fact that even the terrible Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can’t tarnish his legacy. And that’s saying something.
Moment of Awesome: While he’s been in plenty of classic scraps, Indy’s tank chase to save his father and friends in The Last Crusade is the crowning achievement. Dueling with a tank on horseback, fighting dozens of Nazi soldiers, and surviving the aforementioned tank’s tumble off a cliff all make this Indy’s greatest challenge. Through in plenty of high stakes emotional investment and this is the only scene you need to know why Indy makes it to Number 3 in the list.
2. Captain America – Marvel Comics
The Star Spangled Avenger has been a hero and an inspiration for decades, with a storied history that rivals any other character in fiction. From propaganda-inspried comic book hero of the 1940’s to today’s morally-driven man out of time, Steve Rogers is the pinnacle of what Marvel Comics dares to offer it’s readers. Thanks to the Super Soldier Serum coursing through his veins, Captain America is the peak of what a human being can be while still be vulnerable and fallible. He’s the perfection of what Superman stands for, yet he’s a much more dynamic character since he is not impossibly overpowered. Armed with his amazing unbreakable shield, Captain America is an exhilarating fighter and his character is flexible enough to fit stories ranging from intergalactic epics to superpowered slugfests to taught political thrillers. Most importantly Rogers transcends the red, white, and blue costume as a character that stands on his own even without powers. Whether on page or on screen, Captain America can’t be beat. At least, not in Marvel Comics.
Moment of Awesome: Captain America is worthy of Mjolnir! Dogpiled by dozens of Hydra goons, Cap is surely going down for the count when he sees Mjolnir nearby, Thor’s mystical hammer that has been temporarily lost by the God of Thunder. In a feat only accomplished by a handful of people ever, Captain America lifts Mjolnir, knocking out his many opponents and proving himself truly worthy. Wielding unmeasurable power, Cap still knows that the hammer belongs to Thor, and willingly returns it to his friend.
1. Batman – DC Comics
Could it be anyone else? After 75 years, Batman has simply become legendary. Yet he’s an iconic hero that means something different to every fan. That’s thanks in part to his perfect origin and also because of the thousands of stories he has been cast in over the years. With a wide array of comics created by many of the industry’s greatest writers and artists and both films and TV shows that cover nearly every type of storytelling tone, Batman has become a flexible character that works in myriad settings while still retaining what makes him great. The idea of a man without powers turning himself into the world’s greatest detective and one of its premiere superheroes, one that fights alongside heroes with godlike powers, is a captivating notion. His tortured psyche may make his life unenviable, but it also adds layer upon layer to Batman. As The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is dedicated to justice rather than vengeance as he seeks to create a world where no one would have to watch their parents be murdered in front of their eyes, unlike the trauma he experienced at a young age. He’s inspiring, magnetic, and has been part of many of fiction’s greatest stories. He’s simply the best.
Want more Batman? Keep reading in my Dark Knight Discussion Section.
Moment of Awesome: Batman announces his presence to some of Gotham’s biggest crime lords by literally crashing their party during Batman: Year One. Cutting the lights and blowing a hole through the wall, Batman snuffs out the last remaining candle in the midst of the terrified criminals. “You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on — none of you are safe.” So begins Batman.
Honorable Mentions: Tarzan, Max Rockatansky, Master Cheif, Snake Plissken, Jason Bourne, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, Catwoman, Mario, Sora, Sonic, Gromit, The Terminator, The Flash, Rocky Balboa, Luke Skywalker, Sam & Dean Winchester, Samwise Gamgee, Hermione Granger, Mulan