The recent passing of Leonard Nimoy started me thinking about movie or TV characters that have become iconic, or impactful to the world or society in general. They have changed the way we think about character types. This usually means that they changed our thinking about something or created a vision that was unique. Sometimes it was the writers that created the uniqueness (in the case of Mr. Spock) and sometimes it was the actor that made their characters special and in some very rare cases it was a magical combination of both. In the case of original thinking in character creation, I am jealous as a writer. In all cases, I am thankful someone had the creativity or ability to make these characters a part of our daily lives. I will qualify this article by stating that these are characters that made an impact on ME, and are based on my opinion. They are also not in a specific order. and is far from a comprehensive list.
The criteria is that the character or actor must:
- Have become part of the American or mainstream zeitgeist.
- Changed the way we look at this type of character or set the standard so deeply that merely thinking about this character or actor generates an immediate image.
- Mr. Spock – the 2nd most popular alien ever created (just behind Superman). Until Mr. Spock, aliens were bug eyed monsters and green skinned villains. This complex and layered character was made even more interesting by the fact that while he DID feel emotions, Vulcans are supposed to repress them. And he had that cool nerve pinch!
- Sherlock Holmes – From the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to actors Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch, His cold, calculating nature (and occasionally referenced addictions) made him more three dimensional and his deductive and observational acumen made him a prototype for every detective from Quincy to The Mentalist to CSI.
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer – played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy started has a teen girl with super strength but had romance problems and typical teen issues. This character changed the way we look at heroes and created a strong female character that could be both feminine, vulnerable, multilayered and interesting.
- Doctor Who – while the actors and personalities have changed over the decades, the character of the Doctor is, in essence, an alien that “fights” evil without using violence, his fists, or ray guns. Through sheer intellect and the with the aid of his human companions, the Doctor strives to win while forcing the participants involved in seeking a “better” path. Plus he runs away from the bad guys alot. Not the usual hero methodology.
- Data from Star Trek – brilliantly portrayed by actor Brent Spiner, Data is the Star Trek version of Pinocchio, the android who wants to be a real person. The android’s super human abilities could have easily made him the hero of his own series, the producers intelligently made this character part of ensemble cast and a flawed (less than human) and ultimately more interesting character. This character has changed the way we will see androids forever. It is a shame that the human actor Brent Spiner ages. The android doesn’t and it limits the amount of time anyone could play this great part.
- Spider-Man – alias Peter Parker, created in the early 60’s by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko at Marvel Comics, Spider-Man was not the stereotypical superhero because he had problems everyone could relate to: rent, sickness, money problems, sick relatives, etc. This “human” superhuman became the new prototype for all future superheroes.