Sidekicks have been a part of television and movie history since the very beginning of Hollywood’s timeline. Going back as far as Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid where the Tramp’s sidekick was a young Jackie Coogan as “the kid”, sidekicks have been a popular and necessary part of any hero’s known associates.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the first sidekick appeared in cinema history, but one thing is for sure, most leading men or women wouldn’t be near as interesting, and sometimes, as effective without them. Recently Hollywood has made a legitimate effort to bring back the classic sidekick in shows like No Ordinary Family and movies like Kick-Ass and of course, The Green Hornet. But in order for the sidekick to make a proper return there are some questions we must answer: Why are sidekicks important? What different roles do sidekicks play? And why is this the right time to bring them back to the mainstream? Let’s discuss.

Sidekicks used to be a staple in just about every TV show or movie featuring  a hero in the lead, but over the past decade writers have been purposely leaving them out of storylines. It could be that writing a hero/sidekick dynamic is just too much to put into a script (see Batman and Robin). Burt Ward is probably the most famous of all sidekick actors as he played Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Adam West) ward Robin – though he is typically the exception and not the rule when it comes to sidekick mythos.

One has to look no further than the past few superhero movies to see the decline of the sidekick first-hand. Spider-Man, Superman Returns, X-Men – none of them included a sidekick of any type. True fans of TV shows and movies will tell you that a sidekick plays a very important role in a story and can sometimes be a more integral part of the show than the hero himself.

What happens when the good guy is caught by the bad guy and is about to die a horrible death? If they have a sidekick then they survive after they are saved at the last minute. If they don’t have a sidekick – well it might be time to get a new good guy. You should never underestimate the importance of a well-written and well-acted sidekick.

The Role of the Sidekick

Typically sidekicks can be broken down into five major categories: The Assistant, The Best Friend, The Brains, The Brawn, and The Comedy Relief. Of course there are going to be some outliers – sidekicks that don’t quite fit into any of those categories – but for the most part each sidekick listed below fills the role they have been assigned quite nicely.

The Assistant Sidekick

These sidekicks are probably the most unsung of them all – they don’t fight, they do very little if any comedy, they aren’t the brains of the operation (meaning they don’t make the decisions) nor are they considered to be the leading character’s best friend. The main role of this sidekick is that of both trusted confidant and loyal supporter. They are usually, though not always, portrayed by a character in the service profession, such as a butler. Below are examples of our favorite Assistant Sidekicks:

Herbert Cadbury – Richie Rich

cadbury richie Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Tattoo – Fantasy Island

tattoo mr roarke Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Sharona Fleming – Monk

sharona monk Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Lurch – The Addams Family

lurch gomez Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Alfred Pennyworth – Batman

alfred bruce wayne Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

The Best Friend Sidekick

Every leading character, whether they are male or female, needs a best friend – someone who will keep them on the straight and narrow and is always there to help them regardless of the situation. Best friend sidekicks are among some of the most popular in TV shows and movies because each character usually incorporates a few qualities from multiple categories. Think of them as a “Jack of all trades and master of none.” Below are a few of our favorite choices that represent Best Friend Sidekicks.

Hermione Granger & Ron Weasley – Harry Potter

hermione ron harry Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw – Top Gun

goose maverick Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings

samwise gamgee frodo Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Tonto – The Lone Ranger

tonto lone ranger Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Dr. John Watson – Sherlock Holmes

dr watson sherlock holmes Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Continue to sidekick brains and brawn…

The “Brains” Sidekick

Some heroes have the ability to beat the bad guy with brawn but are short on the brains necessary to outsmart the bad guys – that’s where these sidekicks come into play.

With the exception of maybe Chloe O’Brian from 24, these sidekicks are usually constrained to cartoons and animated shows. Just as Chloe likes to help Jack Bauer out of tight spots from a secure location, these characters are content to sit on the sidelines often receiving no recognition for their efforts. Rather they are more concerned that the task at hand is accomplished safely and with little damage to themselves or their counterpart.

The leading character or hero is sometimes clueless to their sidekick’s helpful background interference and most often is under the impression they were the ones that solved the crime, defeated the bad guy or saved the girl – but audiences know better. Here are a few of our favorite “Brains” sidekicks:

Baba Looey – The Quick Draw McGraw Show

baba looey quick draw mcgraw Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Boo Boo – Yogi Bear

boo boo yogi bear Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Arthur – The Tick

arthur the tick Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Spot – Hong Kong Phooey

spot hong kong phooey Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Penny & Brain – Inspector Gadget

penny brain inspector gadget Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

The “Brawn” Sidekick

These fighting sidekicks could easily be placed into other categories if it wasn’t for the fact that they kick major butt! These characters are best known for their ability to handle themselves in a brawl and are usually found in the pages of comic books standing next to, but slightly behind, the hero. Everyone likes the “Brawny” type sidekick but even so, they are quickly overshadowed by their more successful and popular counterparts. Despite the fact they rarely if ever get the girl, you’ll find them standing faithfully by their counterpart’s side ready for a fight. Below you’ll find examples of our favorite Brawny Sidekicks:

Dynomutt – The Blue Falcon

dynomutt blue falcon Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Hit-Girl – Kick-Ass

hit girl big daddy Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Chewbacca – The Star Wars Saga

chewbacca han solo Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Kato – The Green Hornet

kato green hornet Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Robin – Batman

robin batman Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Continue to funny sidekicks…

The Comedy Relief Sidekick

Sometimes a TV show or movie needs a character whose only purpose is to play funny man to the leading character’s straight man – enter the comedy relief sidekick. These guys have no real purpose as they usually do not have any super powers, aren’t very good in a fight, aren’t very smart and never EVER get the girl. However, the hero or lead character always keeps them around, if only to feel better about themselves. Here are some of our favorite Comedy Relief Sidekicks:

Stimpy – Ren & Stimpy

stimpy ren Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Pinky – Pinky & the Brain

pinky brain Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Barf – Spaceballs

barf lone starr Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Gilligan – Gilligan’s Island

gilligan skipper Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Donkey – Shrek

donkey shrek Return of the Sidekick   The Time is Now

Return of the Sidekick

With The Green Hornet movie introducing a new generation of fans to Kato, the sidekick once made famous by Bruce Lee, and shows like Hawaii Five-0 making Detective Steve McGarrett’s sidekick “Danno” popular once again, now might be the time for Hollywood to really ramp up the presence of sidekicks in mainstream TV shows and movies.

I think audiences are ready and open to the idea of having more sidekicks in their TV shows and movies, as long as they are done right and act like a proper sidekick. If they are just made partners or equals, then we’re just watching another lame buddy show and Hollywood will have once again missed the point.

What are some of your favorite sidekicks from TV and movies and which ones would you like to see more of?

BONUS: If you don’t watch it, check out an episode of No Ordinary Family that highlights the hero/sidekick relationship HERE.

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Image Source: Hong Kong Phooey and Spot Image courtesy of SJ Causon via recentrunes