We do complain too much about sequels and remakes, but one thing that is true about them is they often keep us from meeting new breakout characters. Looking back over 2018, there weren’t many fresh icons of cinema, the kind you’ll be dressing up as for Halloween (or convention cosplay) or quoting or just fondly remembering through the end of your days. But there were some, and they’re worth highlighting to keep attention on such originality and diversity.
Yes, many of these characters have existed before on the page. Without the intro of certain comic book characters previously unadapted before, we frankly wouldn’t have much of a list here. Put to life on screen by the collaboration of the writers, directors, and actors, though, they are indeed something new, freshly fleshed out for our delight. Hopefully, this list is incomplete and I’ve personally missed more worthy of recognition. Let me know your own favorite new faces of film.
The Women of Wakanda
Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the rest of the Dora Milaje were the talk of Black Panther, collectively overshadowing the titular superhero. In most movies, you’d be lucky to just have kick-ass semi-love-interest like Nakia or a badass bunch of warriors like Okoye and her special forces group or a dynamic queen mother, not such an awesome combo. And never have we seen someone quite like Shuri, the brilliant and hip new Disney Princess. We’re fortunately going to be seeing a lot more of these ladies, who also showed up this year in Avengers: Infinity War and may be back again in May for Avengers 4. Fans are particularly hoping for Shuri to not just return for more Black Panther but become Black Panther. Or Iron Man. Anyone she wants to be, really.
Rachel McAdams might give the best performance, and Olivia the dog might be the breakthrough animal actor of the year (see her also in Widows), but the most memorable part of Game Night is Gary the neighbor, played by the always interesting Jesse Plemons. The character initially seems just a side gag, the awkward guy next door with a creepy and overly familiar personality delivered in a could-be-one-note deadpan demeanor. We’ve seen that before in many a film. Even the scene in Gary’s house could have been a mere diversion. But he turns out very integral to the plot and continues to be full of surprises through the end. A lot of the credit goes to Plemons, who admits to basing his performance on people he’s known in real life. We knew could go blankly disturbing (see him in Breaking Bad) but now he has suddenly shown he’s a catch for any comedy. Bring on the sequel, but only if, despite his popularity with fans, Gary isn’t overplayed.
Move over, Dawn Wiener, there’s a new princess of preteen angst and awkwardness, possibly to rule the next 23 years and eventually be portrayed anew by whoever is the Greta Gerwig of 2039. Eighth Grade protagonist Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is as complex a middle schooler as has ever graced the big screen, an unpopular wannabe who is simultaneously her own monster and victim in the horror tale of adolescence. Gucci!
Originating from the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a new teen movie icon, or he should be — a modern-day equivalent of the legendary Lloyd Dobler, but he’s gay and still in the closet. The character and his conflict in Love, Simon — falling for a digital pen pal — are a big step for Hollywood, especially for how well-rounded he is. Now we need to normalize guys like Simon so we can have LGBTQ heroes in high school movies focused on time machines or days off or even just teenage social caste systems.
Peik Lin Goh and Oliver T’sien
Awkwafina is one of the breakouts of 2018, we all know this. Her portrayal of Peik Lin Goh is all she really needed, though, never mind her co-starring in Ocean’s 8 and hosting Saturday Night Live and appearing in that Google Assistant commercial. She is also not the only standout for me with Crazy Rich Asians. Peik Lin Goh’s fellow Fabulous Gay Asian, Oliver T’sien (Nico Santos), might not have as unique a fashion sense, but he is a deliciously dapper and cool counterpart to the more outlandish pajama-clad “Asian Ellen.” They better both return for Crazy Rich Girlfriend.
Star Wars movies should be filled with tons of unique characters, the kind that would have further filled up our Darth Vader shaped action figure carrying case. Solo: A Star Wars Story, as a prequel, mostly reintroduces already iconic characters in their younger days. But while there is a plethora of new dwellers of the Galaxy Far, Far Away debuting in the film, few of them are as notable as their main-series peers such as Rey, Finn, and Maz Kanada. Thandie Newton’s Val is pretty amazing, but she doesn’t get enough time to shine. The one true icon introduced in Solo is the droid L3-37, performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s got the best lines, some great action moments, and arguably the most tragic death and legacy of the whole franchise so far.
For a movie that was supposed to be exciting for featuring the film debut of Cable, Deadpool 2 turned out to have a secret weapon. When all was said and done, Domino not only stole the show courtesy of the charms of actress Zazie Beetz but also for having arguably the most cinematically satisfying superpower of all time: good luck. Chance has nothing to do with it, as she’s a well-written and well-portrayed reinvention of the Rob Liefeld-created comic book character of the same name, but here’s hoping she has the good fortune of becoming a franchise staple, whatever Disney decides to do with Fox’s X-Universe.
Every year needs its own great character named Auggie. The 2018 entry happens to be the spectacularly muscular and mustachioed Henry Cavill in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. There’s not a whole lot that’s special about the guy in general, but he’s on this list for being immediately iconic for one particular GIF-worthy shot of him “reloading” his arms. The fantastic fist fight that the bit appears in is surely one of the year’s greatest action scenes, as well.
Upping the facial hair game, Joaquin Phoenix‘s bearded hitman from Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here is a quiet killer with a lot of psychological damage. He’s sort of a darker, more troubled addition to the crowded marketplace of Equalizers and John Wicks, always contemplating suicide like a less-grandstanding Harold Chasen. I also got a little Travis Bickle, but that might just be from the movie re-depicting NYC as an urban cesspool. But he’s mostly a good guy, loves his mama, and will hammer anybody to the face who’s involved in trafficking young girls.
Who needs an animated Spider-Ham (in case you haven’t noticed, this list is solely live-action characters, sorry Yesss from Ralph Breaks the Internet) when the best weird Spidey knockoff is, in fact, Cockroach Man (Joseph Jimbazian). Not official Marvel canon let alone set for any Spider-Verse sequels, he is easily mistaken for the real wallcrawler, literally in fact by the young Lebanese protagonist of Capernaum. “I’m not him,” he tells the kid as he smokes a cigarette, his mask pulled up to reveal an elderly man in the cockroach-adorned blue and red costume. “I’m his cousin.”
Oh, and here’s another Spidey offshoot! When Michelle Williams was cast as Anne Weying in Venom, many fans wondered if she’d get to take over as the title character in a future sequel. Surprise, she didn’t have to wait too long to wear the alien symbiote and give us the female version of Venom. Tom Hardy is a lot of fun as Eddie Brock coping with suddenly being a vicious, murderous antihero but Williams’ brief moment as She-Venom followed by the disturbed but sort of satisfied reaction that she just bit a guy’s head off wins the best Venom contest. Making out with Brock as She-Venom and also calling “bullshit!” on not being told she can’t join the final fight are also pretty wonderful moments.
The Teller Near Algodones
You can’t go wrong with a bank robbery scene in a Coen Brothers movie. Every one of them, as well as most other robbery scenes or, well, most scenes in their movies in general, include memorable minor characters and featured extras with unforgettable lines. In the “Near Algodones” segment of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Coens regular Stephen Root plays a bank teller who holds his own against James Franco’s would-be robber. By the time he’s running out of the bank wearing the greatest homemade armor ever — one of the FSR writers is already planning to dress up as him in the pots and washboard — he’s topped all the other noteworthy characters, including the titular singing cowboy. And he’s probably the only character in the whole movie who might live to see the 20th century.
The Challengers for Wakanda
We began with the women of Wakanda and now finish with the bad boys of Black Panther. Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and M’Baku (Winston Duke) both have the distinction of going up against T’Challa in a battle for their nation’s crown. As challengers, they’re quite different, with one representing one of the tribes of Wakanda and the other an outsider disapproving of how the hidden country has been handling its place in history. They both have their beef with the status quo of Wakanda and each has understandable, contrary issues with the handling of Vibranium. The both also have very striking appearances, between Killmonger’s scarred body and M’Baku’s Dogon-inspired attire. They remind us that makeup artists and costume designers help so much in the creation of memorable characters.