Marty McFly. John McClane. Sarah Connor. Axel Foley. Riggs & Murtaugh. All are 80s movie characters that quickly became household names. Rambo and Indiana Jones became so iconic so fast, the sequels to First Blood and Raiders of the Lost Ark bore their names. Even 80s movies that weren’t box office champs produced characters with names still recognizable today. Snake Plissken. Lloyd Dobbler. Spicoli.
Plenty iconic character names from the 90s jump off the top of my head, too. Neo. Tyler Durden. Hannibal Lector. Keyser Soze. Sidney Prescott. Ethan Hunt.*
But from after 2000? I’m drawing a blank.
I’m not talking about titular names (Napolean Dynamite/Erin Brockovich) or names that were well-known before they made it onto film (Peter Parker/Katniss Everdeen). I’m talking about character names that didn’t seep into the public consciousness until after they hit the big screen. Where have they gone? From after 2000, all I can think of is Capt. Jack Sparrow. Avatar is the biggest movie ever… but can you name Sam Worthington’s lead character? Can you even name Sam Worthington?
Possible explanations for this:
1) Maybe it’s a personal bias. This is how it looks to me because the 80s and 90s were my formative years.
2) Maybe this is an example of a confirmation bias. I formed this theory first, and I’m only seeing evidence that confirms it.
3) Maybe it’s due to a dearth of “original” movies. We’re too busy talking about Harry Potter, Jason Bourne, and the Marvel Universe to talk about characters that were made for the movies.
4) Maybe it’s because of the new golden age of TV. Don Draper, Olivia Pope, and Walter White are the new Clark Griswold, Ellen Ripley, and Maverick.
5) Maybe movie names have gotten too generic. I just looked up the name of Worthington’s character from Avatar. It’s Jake Sully. In any decade would “Jake Sully” have become a household name?
“Oh my god, you’re being so Jake Sully right now!”
— Something that would never be said, ever.
6) Um… I don’t really have a six. I just want to try to come up with more names from the 2000s I should know. What about Leo’s character from Inception? He did have a name, right? The name Frank Abagnale, Jr. means something to me… Catch Me If You Can! But, wait, he was a real person. Does he count as a movie character? Does anyone besides me even remember his name?
7) Maybe I’m making too arbitrary of a distinction between “known” and “unknown” pre-existing characters and Bella, Jacob, and Edward should totally count.
8) Or maybe… As a society, we can no longer distinguish between real people and fake people. Whenever we think of fictional characters now, we can only think of the actors who play them. (See: Reality Television, or the fact that you call every character that Bradley Cooper has ever played “Bradley Cooper.”)
Wait! Maximus from Gladiator! He totally counts! (Even if his name is a little on the nose.)
Anyways, I don’t think this can be attributed to any kind of bias or a lack of catchy names in scripts these days. And sure, kids today could do a better job recalling movie character names from the last decade than I could, but we’re talking about “household names,” not “names that kids know.” I also don’t think we can blame TV, since TV was a major cultural factor back then, too. (J.R. Ewing, George Constanza, Sam & Diane, etc., etc., etc.) And if you’ve read this blog before, you know how I feel about people who say Hollywood has run out of originality. (They need to be more original in their criticism.)
So what is it? I dunno. But I really do think there’s something going on here… The lack of household names is a symptom of something… Something about the diminishing role that movies overall play in culture, maybe? Who knows, the shortage of straight-from-the-movies household names could be the canary in the proverbial coal mine. (Or should that be “Sparrow” in the coal mine?) It could be a harbinger of doom for the entire medium!
Or it could just be my imagination.
*Yes, Mission Impossible was based on a TV series, but the Ethan Hunt character didn’t exist before the movie… If you can’t place the name Sidney Prescott, imagine “Sidney” being said in a scary voice over the phone… Yes, the idea for this blog post came to me while I was doing this one…
EDITED TO ADD: Names that movie buffs will recognize don’t count either. I’m talking names that a majority of a random sampling of America will know.
EDITED AGAIN TO ADD: McLovin!!!!!!!!