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Film

Ranking the 10 greatest character introductions of all time

Filmmakers and screenwriters rely on their characters to capture the audience’s attention and invest some emotional involvement. These characters bring a sense of representation and relativeness into fictional stories.

From the moment these important faces come onto the screen, the story can fully cement itself or change course in a new direction. They sometimes show all key traits and mannerisms, making audiences understand who they are and what they mean. These characters become the faces of films and their stories while shaping various subjectivities.

To highlight the impact of these cinematic moments, we have curated a list of the most outstanding character introductions in film history. This lineup has something for everyone, from popular gems by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg to cult masterpieces by Tim Burton.

Check out the full selection below.

The 10 greatest character introductions of all time:

10. Batman – Batman (Tim Burton, 1989)

Tim Burton’s take on the dark knight was the second feature-length adaptation of the comic icon, following the 1966 movie based on the hit TV show. Batman is the most faithful poster child of the director’s vision; its tone is a perfect blend of camp and gothic in both the setting of Gotham city and its characters.

Its title character, Batman (Michael Keaton), is introduced in the opening scene where a family of parents and a son are mugged by two robbers, set up to echo the hero’s comic origins. Once the robbers think they have gotten away with the act scot-free and reside in a dark alleyway, they are soon shocked to discover the caped crusader is looming over them, shown in a beautifully stylised shot that embodies the vigilante’s bold look. 

The criminals receive their comeuppance of a beating, and the introduction is concluded with one of the most iconic (improvised) lines in film history- “I’m Batman”. The scene exemplifies Batman’s quest for justice and surprised audiences at the time with its lack of Adam West’s camp, showing a darker side to the character. 

9. Patrick Bateman – American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

Adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ hit novel under the direction of Mary Harron, American Psycho tells the story of a New York city investor Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), who hides his homicidal tendencies behind his extreme persona. The film is a successful blend of horror and black comedy, evident in Bateman’s interior monologues and actions. 

We are introduced to Bateman’s character through his strict yet narcissistic design. He delivers a summary of himself, with the area he resides in coming before his name to show his prioritisation of traits, and then talks to audiences during his extreme morning routine of exercises and excessive beauty treatments.

The satirical tone embodies the excessive emphasis America has on appearance and how we appear to others. The voiceover that plays over the sequence listing the steps is mechanical and devoid of emotion and passion. It’s almost as if there is no genuine self-enjoyment from the routine on Bateman’s part, and instead, only emptiness: “There is no real me”. 

8. Blade – Blade (Stephen Norrington, 1998)

The first black Marvel superhero to get his own film adaptation, Blade, played by Wesley Snipes, is a Dhampir (a human with vampire strengths but not their weaknesses) who battles against blood-thirsty vampires. 

Blade’s introduction is peak late-1990s and early-2000s cool. A potential love interest takes an unsuspecting human to an underground rave club, a place oozing with sexuality, darkness and secrecy. However, the party soon becomes a blood bath, as the inhabitants turn out to be vampires looking for food.

The human crawls on the bloody floor in fear but soon finds himself saved by the “day walker” himself, who effortlessly takes down the creatures using his combat skills and weapons, all without getting a drop of blood on him. The introduction is a fossil of that gothic punk style that dominated the alternative scenes of the era and a completely different side of Marvel.

7. Captain Jack Sparrow – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, 2003)

Some of Disney’s hidden gems are instalments in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The first film in this swashbuckling series follows Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he attempts to take back his ship, The Black Pearl, while a cursed pirate crew attempt to keep it for themselves. 

Sparrow’s charismatic yet unorthodox character is kept from audiences for the first ten minutes, but the wait is worth it. We see the captain majestically standing on top of a ship’s nest, a confident and collected expression on his face as the wind blows against him. Soon he calmly jumps off, and we see the punchline that his ship is rather tiny and sinking.

Once he reaches the dock, he remains, standing powerfully on the nest. The camera pulls out to show his ship has wholly sunk, yet Sparrow gracefully steps off onto the dock without care. The scene cleverly shows everything we need to know about the character – his careless ways, his crafty ways of bargaining with anyone who appears above him – through visual comedy.

6. Dr.Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

Another horror book-to-film adaptation, this ’90s classic made history by becoming the first of its genre to earn an Oscar win. It stars Jodie Foster as Clarice, an FBI trainee who is on the hunt for a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. However, it’s neither Clarice nor Bill who are the true stars of the show, as Anthony Hopkin’s chilling performance as cannibal killer Hannibal Lecter manages to steal all the limelight with only 14 minutes of screen time in total.

Lecter’s introduction is a staple in iconic horror scenes. Clarice goes to the prison where he is being held to gain information on Buffalo Bill; she is afraid of Lecter before she even sees him, as shown through her slow movement and stressed facial expression, and she has good reason to be.

When Lecter finally appears, he’s already staring at Clarice with an unsettling expression, almost as if he can see her. His psychopathic ways are immediately established with a superficial display of charm. He solidifies his dominance over the situation by demanding Clarice step closer to ask her more questions than she does him. The scene swells with tension as it progresses until, eventually, Clarice is disgusted and dismissed after hearing of Lecter’s previous crimes straight from him.

5. Indiana Jones – Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

Steven Spielberg’s 1981 box office hit features one of history’s most iconic and beloved movie characters. The Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action-adventure flick that follows archaeologist Indiana (Harrison Ford) on his adventures of recovering artefacts and fighting against Nazi forces. It soon became one of the greatest films of its time. 

Spielberg’s opening immediately sets up the action-packed adventure we are about to enrol on. In South America, a group of voyagers travel through the jungle and soon come across a mysterious stranger and attempt to shoot him. However, with one crack of his whip, the stranger establishes his dominance, soon stepping out from the shadows to reveal himself as our hero.

He eventually discovers an artefact from a temple where “no one has ever come out alive”, but this doesn’t stop Jones, who takes the object, only to set off the booby traps. The scene becomes a nail-biting and breathtaking display of the action genre, with Jones showing his skills by pulling no punches to survive as he is chased by a large boulder that has become one of the most famous scenes in American film. 

4. Vito Corleone – The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

This crime drama directed by Francis Ford Coppola is cited as one the greatest and most influential movies ever made, in addition to a landmark in the gangster genre. The cast alone is perfect, with screen legends Al Pacino, James Caan and Marlon Brando and countless others giving landmark performances. The story follows Brando’s character, Vito, overseeing Pacino’s Michael become a mafia boss.

Vito’s introduction is constructed from a well-thought-out collection of film techniques. A man is seen explaining a family problem he is facing; the face of the person he speaks to is hidden as the camera pulls out during his speech.

Eventually, it reveals Vito, who does not appear amused by what he hears. Brando’s performance exemplifies the character’s intimidating position of control and dominance, with Vito picking apart the other man’s request for “justice” with complete effort and class to establish precisely who his character is.

3. T-Rex – Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

The first instalment of a franchise that is still going strong 30 years later, Jurassic Park still holds up as a masterclass of visual storytelling. The plot is a melting pot of genres, with sci-fi, comedy, action and even horror all coming together, alongside intelligent writing to express its subject matter. 

The film has an endless list of iconic moments, such as the welcoming to Jurassic Park to the raptors stalking children in the kitchen. However, one character is given a monumental introduction that still terrifies kids today. The T-rex is one of the franchise’s most iconic figures, and her introduction to the story is timeless.

During a cold rainy night at the park, the guide cars break down right near her enclosure, and those inside become terrified once they hear the infamous roars of the dinosaur. This fear is only elevated once the T-rex steps out from the shadows, towering over the cars, which she soon attempts to viciously destroy in a way that stops feeling like a movie. Spielberg’s mastery is crystal clear in this scene, as the animatronic work of the dinosaur is just as believable as it was in the ’90s. 

2. The Joker – The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Christopher Nolan introduced a fresh new take on Batman following the campness and outlandishness of what became of Burton’s universe. The Dark Knight is his second instalment in his DC trilogy and is versatile in being both a brilliant comic movie and crime thriller blend, with Christian Bale stepping into the bat suit.

However, he is immediately upstaged by his antagonist. Heath Ledger’s Joker changed the face of the legendary comic villain and made movie history, with Ledger’s tragic passing after the film’s release and before the Oscars, where he recieved a posthumous win for best-supporting actor. 

The Joker’s introduction begins in one simple yet powerful shot, with his back to the audience as he holds an unsettling clown mask in his hand before heading off to an elaborate bank robbery. We are given details of this Joker’s mastermind, and manipulation tactics as his men pick each other off one by one at his previously made request.

When the Joker himself is faced with this exact situation (as he kept his identity as the boss a secret during his involvement in the robbery), his twisted sense of humour is revealed as his prediction takes down his competition. He concludes his introduction by showing his face to a bank worker and stating one of his iconic lines: “I believe what doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger”, capturing the unsettling yet insightful persona of the character. 

1. Darth Vader-Star Wars: A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977)

Now a multimillion-dollar phenomenon, Star Wars began in the late ’70s with Episode IV: A New Hope. This epic space opera follows hero Luke Skywalker on a mission to save the kidnapped Princess Leia and learn the mysteries of the force, all while a war goes on between the dictatorship empire and the Rebels. 

Leia is kidnapped under the ruthless command of Darth Vader; his troops attack her ship and open fire on anyone who stands in their way. Once the smoke from the ammo has cleared, and the bodies lay on the floor, the most extraordinary sci-fi villain walks onto the screen.

The sinister power he holds is made clear as the troops waste no time standing by in command, as Vader merely glances at the lives his orders have just taken before carrying on his hunt for the princess.

The scene exemplifies all the key ways to introduce a villain and ensure their dark and evil ways are shown to the audience, complemented by a voice performance carried by James Earl Jones. He perfectly captures the ever-changing balance of Vader’s cold collectiveness and his fiery anger.