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Classic Movies

AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains

The American Film Institute (AFI) broadcast its "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains" program -- counting down America's 50 greatest heroes and 50 greatest villains in film, as chosen by experts of the motion picture community -- in a three-hour television event on CBS on June 3, 2003, hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Following are my comments previous to the program airing on that date, and below that you'll find the results, plus my comments after the fact (Please notice that I correctly picked the #1 Hero, but missed completely on the villains!):

While this one strikes me as a bit of a stretch (Why not do Heroes one year and Villains the next, rather than combine them?), it should still make for an interesting show. Who will be the #1 Hero and the #1 Villain?

If I had a vote (and I don't, once again), I might choose Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) as my #1 Hero, and D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold) from "Meet John Doe" or Jim Taylor (also Edward Arnold), from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" as my favorite villain -- except that Arnold wasn't nominated for either role, so my next choice would be (a shocker) Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) from "Die Hard," or (a more popular choice, perhaps) J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), from "Sweet Smell of Success."

Of course, one of the problems with this whole process is that some of the greatest characters in film have been neither heroes nor villains, but instead a combination, including some of the nominees in this event. Is Frankenstein's monster a hero or a villain? Or Dr. Frankenstein himself, for that matter? What about Scarlett O'Hara or Senator Paine ("Mr. Smith Goes to Washington") or J. J. Sefton ("Stalag 17")? Isn't Kong from "King Kong" a hero? But I'll bet he was nominated as a villain.

And so it goes. It's all for a good cause (film preservation), and if it introduces more people to some great films, it will be worth the trouble. The program is always fun to watch, too. You can see a complete list of the nominees here, with a link to a printable version of it if you'd like to make your own choices and see how you do.

The results are now in. Here are the lists, in reverse order:

50. Maximus ("Gladiator")
49. Andrew Beckett ("Philadelphia")
48. Terminator ("Terminator II")
47. Karen Silkwood ("Silkwood")
46. Batman
45. Zorro
44. Popeye Doyle
43. Moses
42. Father Flanagan
41. Mr. Chips
40. Serpico
39. Lassie
38. The Tramp
37. Obi-Wan Kenobi
36. Rooster Cogburn
35. Sergeant York
34. Tarzan
33. Marge Gunderson ("Fargo")
32. Philip Marlowe
31. Erin Brockovich
30. Cool Hand Luke
29. General Patton
28. Juror #8 ("12 Angry Men")
27. Woodward & Bernstein
26. Superman
25. Lou Gehrig
24. Thelma & Louise
23. Terry Malloy ("On the Waterfront")
22. Spartacus
21. Gandhi
20. Butch & Sundance
19. Virgil Tibbs ("In the Heat of the Night")
18. Robin Hood
17. Harry Callahan
16. Shane
15. Norma Rae Webster
14. Han Solo
13. Oskar Schindler
12. Tom Joad
11. Jefferson Smith
10. T.E. Lawrence
9. George Bailey
8. Ellen Ripley ("Alien")
7. Rocky Balboa
6. Clarice Starling ("Silence of the Lambs")
5. Will Kane
4. Rick Blaine
3. James Bond
2. Indiana Jones
1. Atticus Finch

50. Alonzo Harris ("Training Day")
49. Goldfinger
48. Verbal Kint ("The Usual Suspects")
47. Tony Camonte ("Scarface")
46. Hans Gruber ("Die Hard")
45. The Joker
44. Baby Jane
43. Regina Giddens ("The Little Foxes")
42. Tom Powers ("Public Enemy")
41. Joan Crawford ("Mommie Dearest")
40. Freddy Kreuger
39. Cruella de Ville
38. Little Caesar
37. Harry Lime
36. Frank Booth ("Blue Velvet")
35. J.J. Hunsecker
34. Dr. Szell {"Marathon Man")
33. Count Dracula
32. Bonnie & Clyde
31. Mrs. Danvers
30. Travis Bickle
29. Rev. Harry Powell
28. Max Cady
27. Martians ("War of the Worlds")
26. Cody Jarrett
25. Jack Torrance ("The Shining")
24. Gordon Gekko
23. Eve Harrington
22. Terminator
21. Mrs. John Iselin
20. Man ("Bambi")
19. Captain Bligh
18. The Shark
17. Annie Wilkes ("Misery")
16. Noah Cross
15. Amon Goeth ("Schindler's List")
14. The Alien
13. Hal 9000
12. Alex DeLarge ("A Clockwork Orange")
11. Michael Corleone
10. The Queen from "Snow White"
9. Regan MacNeill ("The Exorcist")
8. Phyllis Dietrichson
7. Alex Forrest ("Fatal Attraction")
6. Mr. Potter
5. Nurse Ratched
4. Wicked Witch of the West
3. Darth Vader
2. Norman Bates
1. Hannibal Lecter

Overall, I enjoyed the show, but thought it was a little unfocused. There were some obvious characters left out: Heroes - Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven, Scarlett O'Hara, Davy Crockett, Stella Dallas, Gunga Din, Ivanho. Villains - King Kong, Frankenstein's Monster (see preceding discussion about those first two), warden Samuel Norton from "The Shawshank Redemption," Norma Desmond, The Phantom of the Opera, Johnny Friendly, Dr. Strangelove, and Kaspar Gutman. Any of those would have been better choices than Maximus, Batman, Or Erin Brockovich on the Heroes side, or The Joker, Freddie Krueger, or Regan MacNeil on the Villains side. On the whole, though, classic stars were fairly well represented.

Most appearances: Gary Cooper, for Sgt. York, Lou Gehrig, and Will Kane.

Doubles: Heroes - Paul Newman was mentioned twice, once as part of Butch and Sundance, and once by himself, for Cool Hand Luke. Robert Redford was also part of Butch and Sundance, as well as Woodward and Bernstein. Also: Harrison Ford for Han Solo and Indiana Jones; Humphrey Bogart for Rick Blaine and Philip Marlowe; Henry Fonda for Tom Joad and Juror #8; Jimmy Stewart for Jefferson Smith and George Bailey. Villains: Bette Davis for Baby Jane and Regina Giddens; James Cagney for Tom Powers and Cody Jarrett; Robert Mitchum for Max Cady and Harry Powell; Faye Dunaway for Bonnie Parker and Joan Crawford; Jack Nicholson for The Joker and Jack Torrance ("The Shining"). John Wayne was nominated for seven heroic roles, but won for only one, Rooster Cogburn.

People on both lists: Arnold, for the first two "Terminator" films; Al Pacino for Serpico (Hero) and Michael Corleone (Villain).

The list of Villains includes seven characters who are either cartoons or not humans, but except for Lassie, all the Heroes are people (assuming you count The Terminator as a person).

It's anybody's guess what they'll come up with next year, but I'll be happy to entertain suggestions by email!

Do you have any comments about this article? If so, please email me and let me know.

If you'd like to discuss this topic, please post your comments on the Classic Movies Forum!

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