What a year! 2016, for the record, might go down in history as the year that put the population through the wringer. Natural disasters, upteen celebrity deaths, and political upheaval captured our attention off screen. On screen, things fared about as well. The DCEU tried to kick into full gear with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The Potterverse returned with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The world became enamored of Stranger Things, and Better Call Saul continued the populace’s unhealthy obsession with crystal meth. With one of the most polarizing elections in American history, perhaps it comes as no surprise that superheroes faced off against one another, or that even the Rebel Alliance took issue with extremists in its midst.
At the worst of times, screens both big and small offer no shortage of interesting characters. Sometimes they helped make a hit show a success, while other times they provided the only light in an otherwise barren entertainment. We here at Screen Rant have spent the better part of the year discussing them, and compiled this list of our most beloved new characters who bucked the trend and stood out from the glut of would-be screen icons. Check out our list of 15 Characters That Totally Won 2016!
15. Barb & Eleven/Stranger Things
Netflix won 2016 courtesy of a collection of great new films and series, including Stranger Things. A mix of ’80s-kids-in-peril stories and Stephen King’s most macabre sci-fi, the show became a sensation and established a rabid cult following. That comes in part from the show’s potboiler serial style. It comes too from some fantastic characters, led by the telekinetic androgyne, Eleven. As played by Millie Bobby Brown, Eleven inspires her fellow pint-sized protagonists to heroism, and also reaps some of the show’s most satisfying moments. Stranger Things might rely on nostalgia and horror tropes to attract viewers, but fresh, compelling characters like Eleven earn true devotees. The season 1 finale of Stranger Things already teased more horror to come in season 2, so count on Eleven leading the charge into more creepy—and awesome—adventures.
If Eleven conjured memories of Firestarter and X-Men, another Stranger Things character had us opining for The Goonies and Sixteen Candles. Of course we mean Barb, the delightful nerd girl/best friend who meets one of the grizzliest ends in the entire season. As played by Shannon Purser, Barb came to embody sort of disposable best friend horror movies have long abused. As Barb met her demise, fans spewed outrage over her loss, perhaps because co-creators the Duffer Brothers know how to manipulate an audience, or perhaps because Barb came to remind everyone of the sweet, geeky fan girl next door. Regardless, as the two biggest outcasts in a cast full of pariahs, Barb and Eleven steal the Stranger spotlight, and entice all of us into an upside down world of terror.
14. Spider-Man/Captain America: Civil War
The MCU scored another big hit with Captain America: Civil War in 2016, though the plot as a whole had less to do with its titular hero than with a story more akin to Avengers 2.5. Part of the film’s success also came from an extended cameo from Spider-Man, the Marvel icon folded into the existing MCU through a deal with Sony Pictures. Civil War provided audiences with their first look at the Marvel-ized Spidey, as played by actor Tom Holland. Though only tangential to the main action, Holland just about stole the movie with his mix of one-liners and rippling abdominals. Civil War excited Spider-fans for the forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming as a return to form for the web slinging hero, and for Spider-characters like Norman Osborn and Doc Ock to also become part of the ongoing MCU. Given that Holland more than held his own against more accomplished actors like Robert Downey, Jr. and more established characters like Chris Evans’ Captain America, both Marvel and audiences have already renewed their love affair with Spider-Man, making Homecoming one of the most anticipated films of 2017.
How ironic that a character so botched in a movie so bad should have a massive comeback years after the fact! X-Men Origins: Wolverine promised audiences a wild romp with fan-favorite character Deadpool way back in 2009, and Deadpool cultists held out hope for a spin-off. Unfortunately, Origins so butchered the character—despite the ideal casting of actor Ryan Reynolds—that any hope of a solo film looked, well, dead. That changed in 2014 when test footage of Reynolds in character caused an internet sensation, and sparked renewed hope for a Wade Wilson adventure.
Even with all the web-based anticipation, nobody in Hollywood expected Deadpool to become a massive hit—the biggest R-rated film in history, and one of the biggest in the X-Men cinematic universe. Reynolds, for his part, redeemed himself and the character from their Origins origin, sending up the superhero craze with a mix of naughty humor and innuendo. Deadpool became one of the biggest box office champs of 2016, suggesting that audiences might like superheroes with a bit more adult themes, and plenty of snark to boot.
12. Mildred Loving/Loving
2016 invited a good deal of discussion regarding racial politics and the role of government in relationships, as the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia became a hit drama. Loving centers on the marriage of Mildred and Richard loving, an interracial couple imprisoned for violating miscegenation laws. While the movie deals with social justice, a performance by actress Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving elevates the film to high drama. Negga, having already suffered through one of 2016’s most torturous films, Warcraft, gets a kind of karmic retribution in the role. Negga plays Mildred not as a woman bent on changing the world earning fame, but as a tender wife and mother who just wants to take care of her family. In an era of cable news, blogs, the Twitter news cycle and alt-right rallies, Mildred Loving humanizes the kind of social conflicts that play more like football games than personal struggles. Despite a dearth of mutant powers, magic wands or lightsabers, Mildred becomes a superhero for our times, standing up for moral righteousness rather than personal glory.
11. Queenie Goldstein/Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Warner Bros. promoted Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne as the star and center of there Potterverse spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While Redmayne gives a fine performance, and while his character Newt Scamander gives the movie an anchor, both Redmayne and Newt get upstaged by a plucky new character: Queenie Goldstein. As played by newcomer Alison Sudol, Queenie gives the decidedly British series a very American presence, embodying the glitz and glamour of the 1920s, and the irrepressible spirit of an American feminist. Queenie shares many of the qualities that author J.K. Rowling imbued in Hermione Granger, though with a much more flamboyant style. Part Nancy Drew, part Jean Harlow and part Susan B. Anthony, Queenie isn’t afraid of a fight, nor is she afraid of her sexual attraction to No-Maj Jacob Kowalski. With a radiant smile, a flapper’s dress and a twinkling mischief in her eye, Queenie steals Fantastic Beasts from its lead character, promising plenty of magic to come in the Fantastic Beasts films ahead.
10. Grand Moff Tarkin/Rogue One
Can an actor give one of his most popular performances more than 20 years after his death? Rogue One makes a good argument that he can, thanks to a marvelous “performance” by long-dead horror star Peter Cushing. Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin remains one of the most iconic, if underutilized, villains in the whole of Star Wars series, and Rogue One affords Cushing the chance to get in on the action again. Of course, credit for his performance should probably go to director Gareth Edwards and his team of effects artists who revived Cushing’s Tarkin through a combination of computer effects, sound mixing and good lighting. Nevertheless, Tarkin’s return in Rogue One offers longtime fans the kind of meaty nostalgia that The Force Awakens could only tease, and gives fans a new hope for the return of other iconic characters in films to come. More than even Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic, Tarkin steps into the role of villain in Rogue One, letting the film’s new characters exist in shades of gray, and reminding fans that in Star Wars, anything is possible.
9. Wonder Woman/Batman v. Superman
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice might have suffered savage reviews and audience lethargy, but one bright spot in the film’s overstuffed mix of quarreling heroes, neurotic villains and constant set-up for the DCEU did win praise. At long last, Batman v. Superman treated audiences to the sight of Wonder Woman on the big screen, and boosted actress Gal Gadot from unknown to rising star status. Moreover, the film manages to create a more attractive hero in Wonder Woman’s brief scenes than it can with either of its titular heroes in sprawling 2-hour runtime. Gadot’s Wonder Woman drips feminine elegance and glamour, all while suggesting a rich history of adventure and pain in her eyes. When Wonder Woman arrives in the film’s last act, Golden Lasso aglow, Hans Zimmer’s exotic music heralds the arrival of a new age of superhero—that of the super heroine! For all the box office success of the Marvel films, and for all the derision that Batman v. Superman endured, the DCEU did manage to outdo its closes competitor in one regard. Wonder Woman emerged as a hero on par with any man, and one that can carry her own film—the self-titled DCEU spinoff debuting in 2017.
8. Hillary Clinton/Saturday Night Live
The politics of 2016 managed to confound analysts, shock observers and earn a noted place in American history—all for better or worse, depending who you ask. Old staple of American TV, Saturday Night Live managed to help audiences find a sense of humor about it all, regardless of party affiliation thanks to a great performance from Kate McKinnon who made Hillary Clinton into a comic icon. Whether mimicking the geriatric Bernie Sanders, drooling over her own political aspirations, or debating a sniffing Donald Trump (played by Alec Baldwin in a brilliant—and hilarious—turn), McKinnon’s Hillary plays up the stiffness and ambition of the real-life Clinton to hilarious effect. McKinnon’s Hillary would have won a place in history just for the hilarity of it all, though what makes Hillary a great character for the ages is her dramatic moment following the real Clinton’s electoral loss. As McKinnon played through a somber chorus of “Hallelujah,” her Hillary took on a new dimension as a flawed, funny and sensitive woman. Even if the real Hillary Clinton never existed, the Hillary of Saturday Night Live would have still won a place in the hearts of its audience. In this case, that’s a high compliment.
7. Dory/Finding Dory
Ellen DeGeneres made a Hell of a comeback way back in 2003 when she provided the voice for the character amnesiac fish Dory in Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Dory became one of the most memorable characters—aquatic or otherwise—in the movies, and DeGeneres went from living as a Hollywood pariah to becoming an everywoman icon.
Lucky for all of us, DeGeneres returned to her beloved character in the Nemo sequel Finding Dory, and again won the hearts of audiences for her performance. DeGeneres’ Dory mixes tender sweetness with goofy naïveté, which makes her always enthralling to watch. Much like some of the other characters listed here though, Dory’s vulnerability endears her to audiences. Like all of us, she has real fears and hopes, and risks her life to reconcile the two. In that way, Dory’s goofy humor is just an added bonus. Audiences love her for her depth of character, enough so to make Finding Dory the second-biggest film of the year…a tremendous achievement for a fish!
6. Marcia Clark/American Crime Story
20 years ago, nobody would have believed that the O.J. Simpson trial which so exhausted the American public could ever again become any kind of entertainment, even of the grotesque variety. 2016 proved otherwise though, as American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson became a critical and audience smash for TV network FX. The series invited viewers to relive the most harrowing public moments of the Simpson trial, and offered new insight into the people involved. Chief among them, prosecutor Marcia Clark emerged as something of an ironic hero.
In the days of the trial, the real-life Clark endured endless scrutiny and tabloid attacks on top of the day-to-day exhaustion of the Simpson case. American Crime Story revisits those moments with sensitivity and poise, thanks in part to an Emmy-winning performance from actress Sarah Paulson. In the context of 2016, though, Clark becomes a modern heroine—a woman fighting to be taken seriously in a male-dominated world that discounts and criticizes her because of her gender. Clark may have lost the case, but 2016 proved she won history just by simple resilience.
5. Cottonmouth/Luke Cage
Marvel TV staged a coup in 2015 with Daredevil, a Netflix series that raised the bar on superhero television, thanks in part to a shades-of-gray villain in Wilton Fisk/The Kingpin. The studio repeated the feat in 2016, creating one of the year’s most memorable characters in Cottonmouth Stokes, a crime lord who commits heinous acts for reasonable motives in Luke Cage. Much of the credit for Cottonmouth’s dimension should go to actor Mahershala Ali, who also gave one of the year’s most sensational big screen performances in Moonlight. Ali’s Cottonmouth, for all his dastardly mob hits and gun running, has one of the saddest and most sympathetic stories on the show. Born into poverty and raised into the mob, his dreams of life as a musician fell by the wayside in a life of crime. His misbegotten life plays like something out of a Greek tragedy, for like so many real life villains, Cottonmouth could have become a great man if only somebody had loved him.
4. The Punisher/Daredevil
Marvel TV strikes again, this time by introducing the controversial character of The Punisher, the firearm enthusiast who likes to kill first and ask questions later. As played by Jon Bernthal The Punisher sheds light on the dark underbelly of superhero vigilantes—something the MCU has long avoided. The Punisher represents violence for anger’s sake, for unlike characters like Daredevil who risk their lives to give hope to the world, The Punisher seeks to, well, punish humanity for its violent offenses. Thus does The Punisher embody the hypocrisy of superherodom, and the dangers of allowing vigilante justice. And yet The Punisher still evokes the sympathy of the audience; Bernthal’s character chose the life of a vigilante to cope with the pain of loss. The friendship of sorts that develops between Daredevil and The Punisher therefore becomes one of the most interesting stories in the series, and indeed, one of the most mature elements of the entire MCU.
3. The Ancient One/Doctor Strange
The announcement that the very Caucasian Tilda Swinton would step into the role of The Ancient One in Marvel’s big-screen adaptation of Doctor Strange set off a whirlwind of controversy. In the comics, the Ancient One usually resembles an older Asian man. While Marvel and director Scott Derrickson continue to claim they cast Swinton to avoid negative racial stereotypes, discussion continues about the so-called “white washing” of the role.
While the conversation about The Ancient One’s race is, no doubt, a serious and necessary one, it does a great disservice to Swinton who creates one of the most interesting characters in the MCU thus far. As an actress, Swinton knows no limits, and her role in Doctor Strange affords her the opportunity to get in on some action for once! Her ethereal, androgynous quality also gives the movie—a story about sorcery—an odd credibility. Swinton seems to exist outside the world, and when she speaks her philosophical dialogue, the words take on a strange credibility. Changing the race of The Ancient One may or may not have been a good idea, but casting Swinton in the role almost nullifies the conversation.
Actress Thandie Newton has had an odd career. She earned wide praise for her breakout performance in Beloved opposite Oprah Winfrey, though good roles have proved in short supply since. Sure fire hits like Mission: Impossible 2 did little to raise her star, while performances in duds like Norbit hampered career momentum. 2016 saw Newton finally snag a plumb role in the HBO series Westworld as the Old West madam Maeve. Maeve’s life, and her loss of memory, becomes one of the central mysteries of the series. As her character begins to uncover the strange events that led her to Westworld, Newton’s performance runs the gamut from despair to rage. Is she alive? Was she, at one point? Are those two questions even related to one another? The riddle of Westworld uncoils with Maeve at its core, and Thandie Newton makes her into one of the most compelling new characters of the year.
1. K-2SO/Rogue One
Star Wars has a history of cute, silly droids. 2016’s entry in the saga, Rogue One, breaks from that tradition, providing instead the philosophical, and occasionally witty, droid K-2SO. As played by actor Alan Tudyk, K2 plays like the older, more brooding brother of C3-P0, often making sharp quips at his human companions. Unlike 3P0, however, K2 displays a greater understanding of human feeling, and a different kind of devotion to his flesh-and-blood counterparts. K2 isn’t a servant, he’s a vital member of the Rogue One team, willing, like his compatriots, to sacrifice himself in the name of bringing hope to the galaxy. His ultimate fate provides Rogue One with one of its most profound and moving moments, and his role proves that the Star Wars series can take on a more adult tone while still entertaining an audience. K2, with his quirky humor and sacrifice, becomes one of the best defined and most memorable characters in Rogue One, and indeed, one of the most original characters to come out of 2016.
Did we leave out your favorite 2016 character? Tell us in the comments!