15 Great Characters Who Totally Save So-So Movies

List Rules
Vote up the characters that single-handedly save subpar movies.

Some movies are mediocre (or worse) the whole way through. We've all had that experience of seeing a film and feeling as though it had no redeeming qualities. It's a totally understandable reaction to wish there was that something - anything - worthy of your attention. Something to cut through the boredom. 

On those lucky occasions, a so-so movie will, in fact, be enlivened by a great character. Even if the story is dull, the pace is slow, and the themes are predictable, you can at least take some pleasure in that one special character who comes in and elevates everything else. What allows a character to do this? It can be a cleverly conceived figure, a bold performance from the actor, or a combination of both. Whatever the case, viewers are undoubtedly grateful when there's at least one bright spot in a movie that's otherwise humdrum. Below are just a few notable examples.


  • The Sheriff of Nottingham is part of pretty much every iteration of Robin Hood, whether in film or on television. This heartless ruler mistreats his people, often imposing financially devastating taxes on them. That's why he gets so angry when Robin Hood robs from the rich to give to the poor. It's an affront to his basic business model.

    No one has ever played the character as well as Alan Rickman does in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The movie itself has all kinds of problems, from Kevin Costner's fluctuating English accent to that wonky Bryan Adams music video over the end credits. Nevertheless, Rickman oozes menace as the sheriff, creating a villain audiences love to hate. The late actor is able to convey huge amounts of evil with just a furrow of his eyebrows or a subtle growl in his voice. He single-handedly elevates the film. 

    170 votes
  • Suicide Squad was an anomaly as far as comic book movies go. On one hand, it earned $325 million domestically - an outstanding gross. On the other, the reviews were scathing, and audiences felt the story was disjointed and unsatisfying. It wasn't the creative slam dunk a lot of people expected.

    There was one element that was almost universally adored, though, and her name is Harley Quinn. Spot-on casting saved the day. Margot Robbie definitely looks the part. More importantly, she absolutely nails the devious, mischievous, slightly naughty personality that has made Harley a beloved figure on the page. Robbie got raves as the movie itself got panned. In fact, her performance is so perfect that she survived Suicide Squad to play Harley Quinn two more times, in Birds of Prey and the similarly named The Suicide Squad. Even Will Smith didn't get asked back. 

    213 votes
  • Darth Maul doesn't have a ton of screen time in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, yet he makes a huge splash during the time he does have. The character is a Dark Lord of the Sith who comes face-to-face with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi during a memorable lightsaber battle in which he takes them both on simultaneously. Qui-Gon is felled in the process. 

    Everything about Darth Maul oozes threat. Aside from that two-on-one fight, he wields a dual-ended lightsaber unlike any previously seen in the Star Wars universe. Then there's his distinct look - a red and black face with a bunch of tiny horns sticking out of the top of his head. From the moment he first steps on screen, it's obvious he's a guy who shouldn't be messed with. The Phantom Menace is a lot of setup for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, which makes it kind of unsatisfying as a stand-alone movie, but it springs to life during Darth Maul's scenes. 

    198 votes
  • Tom Cruise has made many beloved blockbusters over the course of his career. Legend is not one of them. The film has amassed a cult audience over the decades, but it never became the fantasy sensation it was designed to be. The actor plays Jack, a pure-of-heart man who must square off against a devil-like figure known as Darkness. What follows is a visually pretty adventure that never really becomes all that emotionally compelling.

    Upstaging Cruise is Darkness, played by Tim Curry. He's a muscular red figure with massive horns protruding from his head. Simply put, the dude looks as cool as he does scary. With a costume so elaborate, Curry is free to give an unhinged performance, which he does to entertaining effect, making Darkness the epitome of evil. His mission is to kill the last remaining unicorn, a fact that only adds to his mystique. The rest of Legend is meh, but Darkness sends a chill up your spine every time he comes on screen. 

    103 votes
  • Video games rarely make for very good movies. Street Fighter, released in 1994, is a perfect example. It has a lowly 13% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which tells you all you need to know. Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Col. Guile, the leader of an elite group of martial artists working to bring down an evil dictator who has taken innocent people hostage. 

    That dictator is M. Bison, played by the late Raul Julia. He was an Emmy-winning actor, widely respected for his deep talent and versatility. What was a thespian of his caliber doing in something as insipid as Street Fighter? Having the time of his life, that's what. Clearly recognizing that the material was silly, he decided to go full-bore with his performance. To say he goes over the top would be an understatement. You can't even see the top from where he is. His M. Bison is charismatically evil. That makes the picture strangely watchable, even if every minute he's not on screen is ponderous.

    Sadly, Julia was suffering from cancer during production, making this his final film. There's a small measure of comfort in knowing he was having a good time in his last role. 

    102 votes
  • 300: Rise of an Empire is a terrible movie. Even a lot of people who like it admit that it's not objectively "good." What they like - and rightfully so - is the energy Eva Green brings to it. The actress plays Artemisia, the commander of the Persian navy, known for her ruthlessness, as well as her beauty. This sequel finds her teaming with mortal-turned-golden god Xerxes to create a powerful empire that they can rule.

    Green earned raves for her fiery performance, which cannot be said of the movie itself. She makes Artemisia a force to be reckoned with - a shrewd, vengeful, power-hungry tyrant who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. Best of all, Green seems to know that the movie is not exactly Oscar bait, so she infuses her work with a scenery-chewing quality that's hypnotic to watch. 300: Rise of an Empire doesn't deserve her, but it's also lucky to have her. 

    114 votes