Best of 2022: Top 10 Movie Characters

If you’ve visited this site at all during 2022, thank you! You might have picked up the vague impression that a lot of movies worth seeing came out this year, and you’d be right. However, sometimes a sea of well-made films can limit the potential for standout characters to emerge; traditionally this is a list that tends to revel in larger-than-life caricatures thrust into the memory because their surrounding movies aren’t the greatest. It’s also historically rather fond of side characters that aren’t necessarily all that important to narrative momentum, often allowing them to have more fun.

That’s how you know 2022 was a truly special year for cinema: not only did I thoroughly enjoy every one of the ten movies that birthed these characters, but the vast majority of them are essential parts of their films’ stories – a couple are even the main protagonist. Needless to say I quite enjoyed writing this one.

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VR BEST OF 2022 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is as likely as avoiding MCU fatigue. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. Danny – Ambulance

Jake Gyllenhaal must be so much fun to cast in movies these days. The drama / thriller veteran has built up such a varied portfolio of roles that if you go blind into a JG film, you’re probably just as likely to see him play a relatable underdog as a despicable psychopath. And that makes him absolutely perfect for Danny in Michael Bay’s Ambulance. His first scene sets him up brilliantly with characteristics of both archetypes and from then on he becomes the cast’s true wildcard, holding emotional dynamite in his capable hands as the tension ratchets up consistently around him, threatening to set off explosions. And boy, do we get explosions.

9. Namor – Wakanda Forever

Even more than its ambitious predecessor, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is an ensemble piece; and while the best performance in the movie surely belongs to Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, the most memorable character presence comes from a new addition. The long-awaited MCU debut of Namor the Sub-Mariner – here reinvented as a villainous immortal Mesoamerican warrior worshipped by the alternate name Kukulkan – simmers with a vengeful anger tempered by intimidating patience thanks to a physically imposing turn from Tenoch Huerta. Best believe his zippy airborne action sequences and the destruction they cause are something to behold, too.

8. Wolf – The Bad Guys

2022 brought Sam Rockwell back to us as a Hollywood leading man – more than once, too – and we were all better off for it. Nowhere was that more evident than in The Bad Guys – a surprise contender for the best animated movie of 2022 thanks in no small part to its spice-of-life ensemble cast. When you’re the protagonist of a story about a massive shark that can blend in anywhere Groucho Marx-style, a sassy super-hacking spider, a piranha voiced by man of the hour Anthony Ramos, a snake with a genuinely compelling character arc and a fox with a badass secret, but you still manage to steal the show through charisma and range – well, that’s the Rockwell effect right there innit.

7. The Wolf – Bullet Train

That’s right, we’re doubling up on wolves in 2022 baby. This one even howls more, despite the fact he is neither animated nor an actual wolf. He’s also barely in Bullet Train, but he sure makes a strong impression and I just had to pick someone from this movie’s riotously eclectic cast. Played with relentless straight-faced intensity by Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny despite all the wise-cracking around him, The Wolf’s single-minded desire for vengeance without stopping to think first makes for quality black comedy – especially when paired up with the whip-like editing that accompanies his sequences.

6. The Grabber – The Black Phone

2022 was the year of Ethan Hawke – and it was long overdue. He turned up as a revered authority figure in The Northman and a twisted authority figure in Marvel’s Moon Knight TV series, then also found time for one of the year’s funniest cameos as an overdressed middleman in Knives Out 2. But as the scary main villain in The Black Phone, Hawke comfortably outshines all his other work this year. No doubt taking a few cues from Hugo Weaving’s film-defining turn as the masked protagonist in V for Vendetta, Hawke works around a subtly-changing – but often entirely obscuring – mask to command the attention of the audience at every turn, his mood believably flipping on a dangerous dime and his voice playing with the truth like it’s no more than a conceptual toy.

5. Emerald – Nope

Nope is a great sci-fi thriller and an even better exploration of one of humanity’s weirdest self-destructive instincts, but Keke Palmer’s Emerald is still almost the best reason to see it. Despite spending most of the film’s second act in the back seat of proceedings, her always-active attitude not only grants the movie some much-needed comic relief at times, but also counteracts the strategic introverted energy of Daniel Kaluuya’s OJ to form one of the most believable onscreen sibling relationships in recent memory. Even if the sky is literally falling, you just want to hang out with her.

4. Henry – The Stranger

A movie as intimate and claustrophobic as The Stranger can only truly work if both leads give great performances, so it’s a good thing the leads in this case are Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris. Edgerton’s anxiety-ridden undercover cop turn is utterly fantastic, but as the Schrödinger’s Murderer at the centre of the narrative, Harris is unbelievable. Playing lone drifter Henry, Harris brings along some of the creepy vibes he so convincingly portrayed with his Mission Impossible villain work, but adds a convincing Aussie accent and flips all the fast-friendship affects included in that package on their head to ratchet up the strange, unbearable tension. His half-dance sequence to Icehouse’s Trojan Blue, which comes out of almost nowhere, is a sight to behold.

3. The Scarlet Witch – Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

This is technically the only returning character on this list (and one of the only returning characters I’ve ever called out) – but also kind of sort of a new character? Hidden from all the pre-release trailers, it turns out Dr Strange’s main antagonistic foe in Multiverse of Madness would be none other than former ally Wanda Maximoff, fully transformed into (or maybe possessed by) The Scarlet Witch herself follwing the events of Wandavision. Anyone who thought it had been too long since Sam Raimi’s last Evil Dead reference was in for an absolute treat, as the terrifying otherworldly sorceress transcends walls, dimensions and human opposition in a single-minded zombie-like pursuit of her mark. It’s cheesy, but also often genuinely scary, and a whole lot of fun.

2. Javi – The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

One of 2022’s many, many surprising cinematic achievements is putting a character on screen who is not Nicholas Cage within a movie all about how Nicholas Cage-y Nicholas Cage can be, and then making that character somehow even more entertaining and memorable than the eponymous larger-than-life protagonist. Pedro Pascal’s Javi is quite simply a joy to watch at all times in all scenes, whether exuding brittle bravado, beaming with fanboy glee or panicking with eyes wider than Cage’s filmography. It’s such a shock how well Javi works in the context of such an outrageous movie concept that I simply cannot put him any lower on the list.

1. Waymond – EEAAO

Within one of the most surprising films of the year came a truly top-tier acting shock: the kid who played both Data in The Goonies and Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom returned after a two-decade-plus break from acting to light up one of the year’s most discussed films. Indeed Ke Huy Quan is a re-revelation as Waymond, the long-suffering husband of Michelle Yeoh’s spirit-broken protagonist Evelyn. Seemingly destined to pine for her across every possible universe, a version of Waymond not only appears to kick-start the brain-bending shenanigans of Everything Everywhere All At Once, but his ability to balance impressive action and well-timed laughs is crucial to the grounding of the stranger multiversal mechanics throughout the adventure. Then the climax arrives, and it is Waymond who starts the tears rolling with a spectacular monologue. Wow.

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Honorable Mentions

–Gorr the Godbutcher – Thor: Love & Thunder

Just because he feels like he lives in a different movie with a completely different tone, doesn’t mean Christian Bale’s turn as the latest Thor MCU villain isn’t captivating, terrifying and a little heartbreaking whenever he gets a rare moment of screen time.

–Falcone – The Batman

With even less screen time in a much better movie, Hollywood’s latest interpretation of iconic DC Comics gangster Carmine Falcone manages to overshadow both the Riddler and the Penguin thanks to a skeevy performance from storied character actor John Turturro.

–Jin – Turning Red

You may know him as ‘the mostly quiet and unassuming dad in the movie who essentially exists for comic relief but then delivers a hard dose of emotional wisdom in a pivotal scene’. Or something.

–Antonio the Hitman – Kimi

There’s just something darkly hilarious about seeing Jaime Camil, who plays the vain, bumbling Rogelio from Jane the Virgin so magnetically, as a ruthless, unflinching and kinda terrifying bad guy.

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