Over the past 15 years, Edgar Wright has become one of today's best-known directors, among nerds on the internet anyway. In that decade and a half, Wright has made five films, each of them filled to the brim with memorable characters. Looking back though, who are the characters that stick out? Among the zombies, aliens, and video game references, which human beings manage to make an impression?
Keep scrolling for our top ten picks.
Spoilers for Edgar Wright's films.
"Lock me up! I'm a slasher...of prices!" Timothy Dalton cheerfully intones as he first jogs into frame in Hot Fuzz. From then on, almost all of his dialogue consists of obvious double entendres and clunky murder-themed innuendos. As eccentric supermarket owner Simon Skinner, Dalton is essentially an elaborate red herring, but beyond his story function, he's one of the funniest things in the movie. Skinner's jokes are really funny, But Dalton makes a meal out of every delivery, and the fun he's having is infectious. Skinner may not be the only murderer in Hot Fuzz, but he's the one you remember, and his eventual defeat is more gruesome than anything in Shaun of the Dead.
The first time you see Shaun of the Dead, it's easy to overlook Barbara. If you see the movie enough times though, two things become clear; how important she is to the narrative, and how perfect Penelope Wilton's performance is. Most memorable is her ability to show Barbara quietly spacing out, and Wilton mines it for both comedy and pathos. Looking more closely, however, there's something much sadder happening with Barbara. Her willingness to make excuses for her son Shaun is endless, and it reaches a zenith near the end of the film. Barbara finds flowers Shaun bought for her in the garbage, but still graciously accepts them as a mother's day gift. Her death soon after forces Shaun to grow into the person she always thought he was.
Another character who may be easy to overlook, this may actually be the point of Peter Page. Quiet for much of the movie, Peter agrees to accompany his old friends for a few drinks in their hometown. Then, after a guy at a bar innocuously asks Peter to borrow a chair, Page recognizes him as his high school bully and his heartbroken that he isn't recognized in return. Marsan than delivers a short monologue, once again proving that he is one of today's most underrated actors. Page's trauma, and his subsequent failure to get past it, is one of the saddest elements in an already deeply sad movie.
It's hard to put too many Scott Pilgrim characters on this list because they are so faithfully recreated from the comics, but he deserves credit for bringing them to life so perfectly. In the books, Roxy is a memorable and original character, and Wright brings all of her best elements to the screen. Her strange movement pattern, wounded sensitivity, and maybe most vividly, her unbridled rage. Whitman is inspired casting, and she feels like one of the most committed performances in the movie, which is saying a lot. Wright for his part, creates Roxy's most famous line ("I'm a little bi-furious"), which was not in the books, and launched her into internet fame forever.
"No need for introductions, everybody from the jungle to the trap know Bats" comes Jamie Foxx's rhythmic first line in Baby Driver. Even if that's a slight exaggeration, by the end of the film it definitely feels true.
Not much is explained to us explicitly about Bats, but his history is hinted at through vivid character details. A brutal, smooth talking bank robber, everything Bats says speaks volumes. His pre-heist ritual ("What's in there is ours, it belongs to us"), his response when recognized (" You still alive? I guess we haven't met.") and his philosophy on bank robbing (You rob to support a drug habit, I do drugs to support a robbery habit"). Still, despite all his posturing, Bats is clearly driven by insecurity, and his inability to get a read on Baby clearly messes with his sense of control. None of this makes him less scary though, as he will seemingly do anything to save face.
We've all run into a bully that talks like Bats before, but one who acts like him? Pray that you never do.
Knives Chau (17 years old) is one of the most memorable parts of the Scott Pilgrim comics. A high schooler jilted by the book's protagonist, Knives becomes a stalker bent on taking revenge. Wright cast newcomer Ellen Wong in the part, and she sells every beat of Knives' arc perfectly. While Scott's journey to maturity is kept front and center, Knives' progression from heartbreak to denial, to ultimate acceptance carries just as much weight. Knives even ended up with Scott in the film's original ending. Wong is fantastic in this movie, and her dearth of movie roles since is a legitimate travesty.
One of a handful of actors to appear in all three of Wright's "Cornetto Trilogy" films, veteran actor Bill Nighy makes the biggest impression in Shaun of the Dead. As Shaun's gruff step-dad Phillip, Nighy does a half-zombiefied deadpan perfectly, and even as his character is about to die, it seems like that's all there is to Phillip. Then, in his final moments, Phillip has an emotional heart to heart with Shaun, and amid a zombie car chase, the two are forced to admit that they care about each other. This all leads to one of the movie's best emotional payoffs.
Throughout the film, Shaun has been correcting people when they call Phillip his dad, insisting "He's my Step-Dad". As Shaun and his friends are about to abandon a zombiefied Phillip in his car, Shaun's mother Barbara insists they can't leave his dad.
Shaun: He's not my dad.
Barbara: Oh Shaun, I wish you would stop with that-
Shaun: No, I mean he was my dad, but he's not anymore!
Nick Frost, over the course of Wright's three Cornetto films, crafts three characters who could easily have taken this spot. His naive Sgt. Butterman from Hot Fuzz is always hilarious, and Andy from The World's End is his best dramatic work. Still, Ed remains his most vivid creation.
Everyone has had a friend who was holding them back, or at the very least reverted them back to their younger selves, and Ed is the ultimate version of this. Frost gets comedic gold out of Ed's chronic laziness ("I'll do it on the night" he says after being asked to impersonate a zombie), but there's an endearing pathos to him too. Ed's ability to bring down Shaun can be annoying, but as the end of the film seems to argue, Shaun shouldn't have to let go of Ed, and by extension, his old self, completely.
This may be a contentious choice, as Baby seemed to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but this appears to come from a misunderstanding of Baby as a character. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Baby isn't supposed to be cool. He's a young guy trying extremely hard to be cool. Whether he's quoting things he saw on TV, obsessing over his perfect soundtrack, or taking his date out to a restaurant he heard someone else mention, it's clear Baby doesn't have a lot of life experience. His pop culture knowledge serves as both an escape from real life and a buffer to keep anyone from getting to know him. It also drowns out the consequences of his criminality, further insulating him from making grown-up decisions. Wright has pandered to movie nerds before, but Baby is his most honest look at super fandom. At it's best it can enhance real life, at it's worst, it shields you from it. Like Scott Pilgrim, many people mistakenly took Baby as a role model, but looking at his filmography, Wright's intentions are clear.
Baby is a critical, affectionate, self-portrait.
The World's End might be Wright's most complex movie, and it has frequent collaborator Simon Pegg's best performance at its center. A hard-partying teenager who has never left the high of his senior year, Gary King is a mess, but the way that mess drips through his fun exterior is endlessly compelling and admirably subtle. While The World's End got a lot of guff for it's ending, King's journey there is all but an inevitability. After 20 years of hard drinking, he's finally forced to face the hangover. As for his final moments, Gary's nostalgia hasn't disappeared, it's just evolved.
Starting the movie romanticizing his high school years, Gary ends it nostalgic for that romanticization. He's nostalgic for his previous nostalgia. Gary may have kicked his alcoholism, but his addiction to looking backward, at the past, is fully intact. Still, there's hope to the fact that at least he's now enjoying it. In fact, a lot of Wright's main characters seem to approach life this way. A fondness for the past, and a blind charge, weapons drawn, towards the future.