17 Great Characters Who Show Up For A Few Minutes And Steal The Whole Movie

List Rules

Vote up the characters who make a huge impact without much screen time.

It's a tough thing for an actor to carry an entire movie. It's perhaps even harder to enter a movie for a short time, sometimes even a single scene, and make a significant impact. Get the right mix of character and actor, though, and magic can happen. An extremely well-developed supporting character can add new levels of enjoyment, introducing fresh energy into a story or taking what's already established and kicking it up a notch.

The following characters did just that. Their screen time might be limited, but what they do during that time makes an enormous impact. In fact, you could argue they steal the entire movie they're in. Some bring comic relief, others join in the already-occurring action, and a few provide an intriguing new angle to the story. However they do it, these characters are highlights of their respective films. 

Vote for the characters you think did the most in the least amount of time.

  • Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is widely considered one of the best war movies ever made. Part of the reason for that is the appearance of Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, the commander of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment. Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is being sent up the river to Cambodia in order to kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a rogue officer who has apparently gone insane and is now calling his own shots. Willard meets up with Kilgore partway through the mission.

    Kilgore is a colorful character, as fond of surfing as he is of combat. It's probably no coincidence that the words “kill” and “gore” comprise the warmonger's name. He delivers the most memorable line from the film, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!” That quote captures his appeal. On one hand, he loves war a little too much. On the other, if you're going to be fighting, this is the exact kind of guy you want leading you. Kilgore helps convey the movie's theme of how war can drive people mad, while simultaneously adding a huge burst of energy. Once helping Willard through part of his trek, he departs - but not before launching a massive napalm attack, scored to Wagner's “Ride of the Valkyries.”

  • There are several unforgettable scenes in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. One of them is the moment when hitman Vincent (John Travolta) accidentally shoots a guy named Marvin in the face while riding in a car with partner Jules (Samuel L. Jackson). They hide the vehicle at the home of their friend Jimmie (played by Tarantino), who is worried that his wife will come home, see the mess, and freak out. To fix things, their boss, Marcellus Wallace, calls in a “cleaner” named Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel). He comes to tell the guys how to hide all the evidence and clean up the blood.

    Being a cleaner is a pretty gruesome job, so it's a nice touch that Winston incongruously shows up wearing a tuxedo. The implication that this guy with an illicit job might also have a cultured side that would require the wearing of a tux is humorous. Adding to the effect is the character's no-nonsense attitude. At some level, the inadvertent killing of Marvin is treated as a sick joke in the film, until Winston arrives and begins giving orders. He serves as the sometimes sarcastic voice of reason in a chaotic situation. Once the mess has been cleaned, he returns to wherever it was that necessitated him being in a tuxedo in the middle of the day. 

  • Patrick Swayze's character, Sam, dies young in 1990's Ghost. Being in the afterlife is difficult to adjust to. He gets some help from “Subway Ghost” (Vincent Schiavelli), an apparition who hangs out in the city's subway system. At first, he's a hostile presence, but he later helps Sam acclimate, even teaching him how to move objects. Eventually, though, the toll of being a ghost wears on him and he reverts to his old ways, trying to attack Sam.

    Part of the character's appeal comes from Schiavelli's appearance. The late actor was known for having distinct eyes that always gave the impression that he was either sad or angry. That quality is put to good effect. Subway Ghost has a mystique around him that builds drama. At first, the audience is apprehensive about him, then his softer side is shown, winning them over. When he goes back to being aggressive, it feels tragic because we know he's actually a decent soul. The character goes a long way toward establishing how difficult the afterlife can be. 

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  • Even if you've never actually seen Easy Rider, you probably know all about it. The groundbreaking 1969 movie changed the game in Hollywood, prompting the studios to hire younger, more visionary filmmakers with fresh ideas. The simple story follows two bikers, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), who travel across America on their motorcycles. The film spoke to a disillusioned generation that believed in - or at least fantasized about - dropping out of conventional society in search of some larger spiritual awakening. It's the ultimate counter-cultural picture.

    A young up-and-coming actor named Jack Nicholson has a small supporting role as George Hanson, a drunken attorney the guys befriend along the way. He's living a traditional lifestyle that requires wearing a suit to work, so of course they take him along on the trek and get him stoned. The “square” George represents everything Wyatt and Billy don't want to be. Watching them loosen him up injects the picture with some humor to match its anarchic spirit, especially since George panics slightly, thinking that smoking a little weed will turn him into a full-fledged junkie. He makes viewers think about what they would like to do without normal responsibilities. Unfortunately, he's beaten to death by a group of locals who don't like these hippie bikers coming to their town. At least George gets to have a taste of freedom before he dies, a fact that adds poignancy to Easy Rider