Question of the Week: Which literary characters in film are your favorites?

Characters are the main ingredients that can make or break a movie… even if the film is so-so, a great character portrayed on screen would still make a film memorable. The same is true on the flip side, even if a film is generally well-made, but if you don’t connect with the characters, you probably aren’t going to remember them much afterwards.

AustenlandPosterIn light of the recent passing of famed novelist/screenwriter Elmore Leonard, whose works have been adapted to the big screen several times, I thought I’d focus this week’s question on literary works and the movies. I’m guilty of having seen only one of Mr. Leonard’s work, but I LOVE the character Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma (2007) as played by Russell Crowe (he’s one of my picks of scene-stealing bad boys, natch!).

I’m also going to Austenland screening tomorrow night, a comedy inspired by Jane Austen‘s most famous work… and one of her most famous characters, Mr. Darcy. The synopsis reads: Obsessed with the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice”, a woman travels to a Jane Austen theme park in search for her perfect gentleman. I’m looking forward to this, sounds like a escapist entertainment type of movie for fans of period dramas like moi!

From classic authors like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, Emily/Charlotte Brontë and of course Austen, Hollywood has churned out interesting characters based on their works. There are also modern classic authors like Philip K. Dick, Michael Crichton (which my pal Terrence just did a Time to Vote Tuesday on last week), as well as those still living like J.K. Rowling and John Grisham whose popular works have translated to big bucks for the film industry. I’m also opening up my question to TV as well, as there are certainly some fantastic made-for-TV adaptations out there, especially from BBC. Speaking of which, did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed human character portrayed on film and TV according to Guinnes Book of Records??

Now, for the purpose of this discussion, I’m actually excluding graphic novels and comics as that’s kind of a whole different animal entirely. Oh, and let’s focus on human characters (no robots, toys nor fairies) just for the sake of this discussion.

I know it’s darn near impossible to narrow down to just 10, but I’m gonna try anyway, because well, it’s a lesson on decisiveness, right? :D

There are various reasons I picked these. For female characters I listed here, I admire them for their courage and strength, not all of them are admirable characters, I mean Scarlett O’Hara is a great example of an anti-heroine, but I admire her spunk and survival instinct in a time when women aren’t supposed to be fierce. Same with the guys, they’re not all heroes who save the day. In fact, Mr. Rochester and The Phantom are both deeply flawed characters, but they sure are unforgettable. Truth be told, I agonized over picking George Bailey over Atticus Finch (y’all know how much I love Gregory Peck & his astounding performance in that role), but ultimately I feel that I identify more with the troubled and disillusioned family man. As you can see, I have a penchant for tortured souls ;)


Ok, now your turn folks! Name at least one (or more) of literary characters on film that you love!

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66 thoughts on “Question of the Week: Which literary characters in film are your favorites?

    • You are so decisive! :D That’s from The Green Mile right? I couldn’t remember who he was for a minute. Great pick, he’s such a wonderful and fantastic character.

  1. I echo many of your selections, Ruth. I, too, would pick George Bailey just ahead Atticus Finch. Let’s see…if I would pick another literary favorite of mine on film (or TV miniseries) it would be Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey.

    • Hi Michael! It really took me some time to decide between Atticus and George as I admire both so much. But I guess I gravitate more to flawed characters :D

      Wow, that’s cool that you pick a character from Greek mythology, awesome!

  2. Great question!

    There are tons of literary characters out there, but mine would be Atticus Finch. He reminds me so much of my father. So kind and so true.

    • Hi Vinnie! That’s cool that you love Lizzy Bennett, I was thisclose to include her here but in retrospect, I really identified more w/ Elinor Dashwood, hence she made the list. Great to see you list Bond too!

  3. I’m glad you asked me that Ruth, as I think the answer will please you. My all time favourite literary character from a film, and a character whom I admire, is Col. Brandon from Sense and Sensibility played by Alan Rickman. “Truly the best of men”. Another good question Ruth.

    • Yay!!!! I’m so happy to hear you say that Ronan, especially coming from a guy!! I tell you, out of ALL the men in Jane Austen adaptations, I gravitate most toward Brandon as like you said, he represents ‘truly the best of men.’ He puts others first and even though he was in love with Marianne, he’s not all about instant gratification, even willing to let her go. I know most girls are crazy about Darcy but for me, Col. Brandon is THE MAN!! :D

  4. Is the woman referred to in the blurb for Austenland by any chance my wife? It sounds a lot like her. We’ve re-watched both the BBC series of P&P and Ang Lee’s S&S while on holiday so they’re both fresh in my mind and heart. My next Passnotes column features S&S this Friday, I’d be keen to have your thoughts on that Ruth ;-)

    • Ahah, Irina and I should definitely go to Austenland together :D

      Ooooh I’ll be there for sure! Pls remind me or tweet me when it’s up ok Ronan?

  5. I adore the George Bailey character. Quite honestly I think he was a good man through and through. Always sacrificing his dreams for those of others. Sure he was disappointed at times, but he was always willing to put others ahead of himself. His questions of frustration and doubt came in a moment of panic and overwhelming stress. How was he going to support his family? Is this all his life really amounted to? It took God to jar him back and show him what a wonderful life he has led. I’ve never seen him as flawed. Simply a man overwhelmed by his feelings of failure.

    Great question and discussion Ruth! LOVE it.

    • Oh my!!! You made me glad I chose George Bailey!! Amen to all you said, that’s why he’s relatable AND inspiring, I think when I say ‘flawed’ it’s not meant as a criticism, I mean we all fall short and sometimes we are overwhelmed by our problems, but he came out of it and like you said, he put others first.

      • Ok, I see what you’re saying. You’re exactly right. He is so relatable and a lot of that is due to Jimmy Stewart’s performance. He brings so much to that character. Love George Bailey. And can I just add that Donna Reed is stunning in that film. :)

        • I really need to see more Jimmy Stewart films, he certainly has that ‘everyman’ quality, but I think George Bailey is perhaps his best role. Ahah yeah Donna Reed is gorgeous indeed!

  6. Hi, Ruth:

    I’ll go with Federal Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) in Leonard’s ‘Justified’ as the coolest character in twenty years. Which is not surprising, since Elmore Leonard has spent a lifetime writing and creating memorable characters to become the coolest guy in the room.

    Been a fan of the recently late, great writer’s works since the days of ‘The Moonshine War’ and Alan Alda’s “Son” Martin, ‘Joe Kiddd’ and ‘Mr, Majestyk’.

    Also a fan of Ross Thomas and Charles Bronson’s failed criminal reporter turned buy back middle man, Raymond St. Ives. Also Chester Himes’ Harlem detectives, ‘Coffin Ed’ Johnson and ‘Gravedigger’ Jones. brought to life by Raymond St, Jacques and Godfrey Cambridge.

    • One of these days I gotta check out Justified! Sounds like a great character indeed, Jack.

      I’m not familiar w/ the names you mentioned, well other than Charles Bronson, but hey I’ll take your word for it, man :D

  7. OH what a delightful question, Ruth! Ilove Jane Eyre — and most all film versions. Also, Dorothy, Wizard of Oz. Hmmm. George and Lenny in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (directed by Gary Sinise). I could go on all day…..

  8. So many to choose from but the ones that spring to mind are Stanley Kuwalski in Tennesse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are two favourites of mine as well from The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, respectively.

    • Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! :D Ehm, sorry I can’t help myself every time A Streetcar Named Desire is mentioned, ahah. Oh geez, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep are two classic films I still need to see Mark, thanks for mentioning those! :D

  9. Tough question. There are so many good ones to choose from that it’s hard to narrow it down. I like Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo, even though it’s a much kinder, gentler version of the character. I like Merlin in Excalibur. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch was terrific. Too many possibilities.

    • Hi Morgan! Oh my, how could I’ve forgotten Edmond Dantes!! I LOVE Caviezel in that role, it’s also the first time I discovered Henry Cavill who I thought then would make a fine Superman :D Another mention for Atticus, he’s definitely an inspiring literary character.

  10. Good question, so many characters I love from the books, sometimes the film version match their written version. As Jack mentioned above, I love Raylen from Justified, I hope they’ll turn the show into big screen franchise after the series is over.

    Of course I love spy novels so I love 007, Bourne, Jack Ryan and John Kelly/John Clarke. Also, here are some of my favorites: James Fenimore Cooper’s Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, Tom Bell from No Country for Old Men, Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. If they ever get the film version made, Roland the Gunslinger, I’m just thankful that the studio never greenlight the version with Jarvier Bardem was cast as Roland, it would’ve a disaster. Love Bardem as an actor but he’s totally wrong as Roland.

    • I knew you’d have a lot of great answers Ted, you’re a voracious reader! I’d love it if you or Jack give an in-depth review for Justified, that’d be awesome [hint, hint]

      Oh my, Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans is great! I like Jack Ryan too, but my fave is actually Harrison Ford’s version, yes I know I think he’s not supposed to be an action hero as he’s an analyst but I quite like his Jack Ryan movies :D

      Yeah, let’s hope they’d cast the right guy for the role of Roland, Ted!

      • You know I can probably write something up about Justified soon, maybe for the new season starts, which I think it’s in January.

        I like Ford’s Jack Ryan too, just kind of wish Alec Baldwin never got booted from the role. Of course Ford was huge box office draw at the time, so whatever he wanted, he got. I’m curious as to why we still haven’t seen a single clip of the new Jack Ryan film yet. I wonder if they’re going to push it to next summer instead. It’s only 4 months away from the film’s release date and no footage have been shown yet.

        I’m still hoping Clive Owen will get the role of Roland if/when the film ever gets a financier.

  11. Anton Chigurh, one of the greatest characters ever created. A guy that is just scary from his look and demeanor. You don’t know if you’re going to die when you meet him but if you cross him, you’re fucked.

    • Funny you mentioned Chigurh, I couldn’t picture how that character would appear on the screen. But Bardem really made the character his own, I think he might be more scarier than the book version.

  12. Yep. I have to agree with Morgan. The first person that came to mind was Edmund Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo for me too. He’s a fave. I also quite like Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. And, of course, Ian McKellen as Gandalf.

    A wonderful thought provoking question, Ruth. Great post. Thanks for it…and thank you for the kind link. :)

  13. Ooh, George Bailey and Katniss Everdeen are great picks. I’ll have to go with some recent choices: Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander from the Milennium trilogy, as well as Hermione Granger from HP.

  14. Lisbeth Salander, Patrick Bateman, Marla Singer….good Lord those are only sociopaths. Let’s choose someone normal too…err….how about Catelyn Stark from Game of Thrones aka Song of Ice and Fire series :)

    • Ahahaha, you like those sociopaths don’t you? Btw, is Catelyn is Robb Stark’s mom right? See I don’t even watch the show yet I know who they are from YOUR posts :D

    • Ahah, your answer is similar to Sati’s, they’re all sociopaths, ahah. It’s true there are SO many great literary characters on film!

  15. Another interesting post! My fav literary characterd are mostly from King’s Book. I like John Coffey from The Green Mile, Red and Andy from Shawshank and Carrie from Carrie. I also like Forest Gump (of course). Sherlock (Absolutely) and Pippin from LOTR…yup my fav from LOTR (book and movie) is Pippin

  16. Great post, Ruth! Some of my favorites are “Popeye” Doyle from The French Connection, Bud White from L.A. Confidential, Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life.

  17. Michael Clark Duncan as John Coffey… Also enjoyed Tom Hanks in that one… overall actually The Green Mile was excellent, story as well as cast. I thought Alan Rickman was a perfect Professor Snape, though I firmly believe those movies should not have been made. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton made Fight Club phenomenal…

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