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The Greatest Characters Who Never Actually Existed 

Ann Casano
Updated September 17, 2019 8.1k votes 2.3k voters 136.8k views 11 items

There’s nothing like that jaw-dropping moment in a film that smacks you in the face. It’s the plot twist the audience never saw coming. It’s that part of the story where everything comes together and the narrative finally makes perfect sense. Oftentimes, a plot twist or the big third act reveal, is the revelation that a character never actually existed. We find out the protagonist’s best pal is just an imaginary friend, or the film’s antagonist is nothing more than a deluded manifestation. Here are the greatest characters who never actually existed.

Imaginary characters are the plot twist, the schizophrenic delusion, or the subconscious taking hold of the hero’s sanity. Many of these stories will not and can never reach their conclusion until the protagonist realizes their instability, and either battles against their delusion, like in Fight Club, or accepts their mental insanity, like in A Beautiful Mind.

Some of the characters on this list existed at one time, just not during the film’s timeline. Of course, Norman Bates’s mom was a real person. She was just already dead when Norman was parading around killing hotel guests in the shower while dressed in a wig and his mother’s dress.

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Tyler Durden is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Characters Who Never Actually Existed
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is the plot twist in David Fincher's 1999 rant on the feminization of the American male and the perils of consumerism. In order for The Narrator (Ed Norton) to break away from his boring and aimless life as an insomnia-ridden insurance investigator, he conjures up the coolest, craziest alter ego to ever hit the silver screen. Together, they form what becomes the first fight club and also attempt to erase the world's debt by blowing it all up. That is, until The Narrator realizes that Tyler isn't real but instead a manifestation of his own subconscious.

Appears In: Fight Club

Played By: Brad Pitt

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2
Keyser Soze
Keyser Söze is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Characters Who Never Actually Existed
Photo: Gramercy Pictures

Who is Keyser Soze? At the conclusion of the jaw-dropping twist ending in The Usual Suspects, audiences are led to believe that little, feeble, crippled, Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) was duping Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) all along, and that he is actually Keyser Soze.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that Kint is Soze. He could still be making up that character, the legend of Soze, with a demonic back story that includes killing his own family, just to let people know that he means business. Kint even explains this possible theory to Kujan, "He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. 'Rat on your pop, and Keyser Soze will get you.'" Kint may be the originator of the myth of Soze, but whether or not an actual Keyser Soze exists is questionable. But that is sort of the point, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist."

Appears In: The Usual Suspects

Played By: Scott B. Morgan

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3
Randall Stephens
Randall Stephens is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Characters Who Never Actually Existed
Photo: Columbia Pictures

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) knew that it wouldn't be enough to just dig a hole and escape from prison. He had to have some money hidden away to survive on the outside. Dufresne invented a man named Randall Stephens, equipped with Social Security number and all, who only existed on paper in order to launder the evil Warden Norton's (Bob Gunton) prison labor funds. When Dufresne escapes from prison, he is able to personally act as Stephens in order to collect all the money from the bank.

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Norman Bates is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Characters Who Never Actually Existed
Photo: Universal Pictures

If Sigmund Freud had been alive to see Psycho in 1960, the psychoanalyst might have stood up and applauded the film's twist ending. In a movie that is the quintessential example of the power of repressed memory, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is a grown man who appears to be totally controlled by his overbearing mother. The evil matriarch murders pretty hotel guest Marion (Janet Leigh) in the shower, just in case her son feels an attraction to her.

The twist ending is that Norman murdered his mother and her lover years back after discovering the pair in bed together. Not wanting to accept that he killed his own mother, and also aching for his mother's controlling love, Bates dons wig and dress in a game of pretend in order to act out his homicidal fantasies.

Appears In: Psycho

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