Special Report

Most Unforgettable Character Introductions in Movie History

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In film, the introduction of key characters can make or break the audience’s engagement. As villains and protagonists alike venture onto the screen with an irresistible confidence, a memorable one-liner, or a silent act that reveals their motivation, viewers may find the hook they need to become invested in the character’s story. (These are the most iconic movie villains in film history.)

To compile a list of 35 of the most memorable character introductions in film history, 24/7 Tempo consulted IMDb Trivia on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and various other sources. Cast credits are also from IMDb. The list provided is not intended to be exhaustive or in any particular order. We exercised editorial judgment to select character introduction scenes that were both captivating and continue to be discussed today, or are strongly associated with the films they belong to.

Click here to read about the most unforgettable character introductions in movie history

Many classic film characters are on the list, from monsters of the 1930s like Dracula and the Bride of Frankenstein, to cowboys in Spaghetti Westerns, to mysterious dames in noir films. Likable protagonists like Mary Poppins and Indiana Jones have iconic introductions, as do villains including Darth Vader from “Star Wars” and Alex DeLarge from “A Clockwork Orange.” (Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian classic appears on our list of the best R-rated sci-fi movies of all time.)

Alex DeLarge
> Movie: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
> Actor: Malcolm McDowell

With a menacing stare and fake eyelashes on one eye, young miscreant Alex DeLarge takes a sip of milk as the camera pulls back in Stanley Kubrick’s signature style, while a synth version of Purcell’s “Funeral of Queen Mary” adds gravitas, and naked mannequins are revealed in the enlarging frame. The sense of impending ruination is palpable.

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T-Rex
> Movie: Jurassic Park (1993)
> Actor: N/A

With an eerie buildup that includes the faraway bleating of a doomed goat, rippling water in plastic cups as the large predator nears, and the stranded visitors’ realization that the goat has disappeared from its pen, Steven Spielberg masters the suspenseful entrance of the T-Rex, which is all but imminent when a dismembered goat leg falls onto the top of the children’s vehicle.

Vito Corleone
> Movie: The Godfather (1972)
> Actor: Marlon Brando

The opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s crime saga starts in darkness, as an Italian immigrant tells the story of an attack on his daughter and asks for justice, while the shadowy outline of Don Vito Corleone is slowly revealed. Finally, the camera changes angles and Corleone’s scowling, bulldog-like face comes into view as he delivers a monologue on respect and denies the man his help, revealing both his priorities and his power.

Mary Poppins
> Movie: Mary Poppins (1964)
> Actor: Julie Andrews

Although Mary Poppins is revealed in the film’s opening credits as she applies make-up while floating in the clouds, her entrance involves drifting down from the sky with an upturned umbrella to replace a line-up of potential nannies, much to the delight of the two children who have written a want ad describing exactly the whimsical woman that appears before them.

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Hannibal Lecter
> Movie: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
> Actor: Anthony Hopkins

After agent Clarice Starling encounters multiple unhinged inmates in a penitentiary, it is the polite, smiling figure of the final inmate that unnerves the audience even more. With his calm demeanor and sharp authority, Hannibal Lecter proves his brilliance and reveals his own sinister insanity as he admits to eating a man’s liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti, followed by an unforgettable slurp.

Jack Sparrow
> Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
> Actor: Johnny Depp

Captain Jack Sparrow stands in his crow’s nest to a majestic score – a commanding and undaunted presence. He jumps down onto the deck of what turns out to be a preposterously small ship and begins bailing out water, then steps jauntily onto the dock as his ship sinks, paying three shillings to tie up his now underwater vessel – a comedically perfect entrance for the disheveled anti-hero.

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The Alien
> Movie: Alien (1979)
> Actor: N/A

Amidst a jovial dinner scene, Officer Kane appears to have a medical episode and begins writhing in pain while the rest of the crew holds him down and tries to understand what ails him. The eruption of a small alien from his chest causes a jump scare and introduces the otherworldly foe that the crew will now be contending with.

James Bond
> Movie: Dr. No (1962)
> Actor: Sean Connery

After defeating a wealthy and alluring woman at baccarat, our debonair secret agent delivers one of the most iconic movie quotes of all time as he lights up a cigarette and introduces himself to his opponent as “Bond. James Bond.”

Gilda
> Movie: Gilda (1946)
> Actor: Rita Hayworth

When the owner of an illegal high-class casino brings his new hired hand upstairs to meet a mysterious woman, the boss asks if she’s decent before entering her room. Onto the screen pops Gilda, sensuously tossing her hair onto her bare shoulders. As she pulls a shawl just a few inches over her skin, she flirtatiously replies, “Me? Sure I’m decent.” Her playful and risqué attitude betrays a hint of deception, foreshadowing the drama that will soon unfold.

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Robin Hood
> Movie: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
> Actor: Errol Flynn

Carrying a dead buck over his shoulders and prancing into the royal banquet hall during a feast, Sir Robin of Locksley shows no fealty as he reprimands Prince John for not feeding his servants and proceeds to toss the deer carcass onto the table before his Royal Highness.

Rhett Butler
> Movie: Gone With the Wind (1939)
> Actor: Clark Gable

As Scarlett and her friend Cathleen ascend a staircase, Scarlett notices a dashing man in a black suit and asks her friend who he is. While Cathleen explains that it’s Rhett Butler and he’s got a terrible reputation, Rhett proceeds to smile roguishly at Scarlett until she proclaims “He looks as if he knows what I look like without my shimmy.” His devil-may-care attitude follows him throughout the film.

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Harry Lime
> Movie: The Third Man (1946)
> Actor: Orson Wells

During the majority of this film noir, a man searches for his friend Harry Lime in Vienna, but is told that Lime is dead. Late one evening as the man feels he is being followed on the streets, he turns to yell into the shadows and a light flicks on to reveal the smug smile of Lime himself, enjoying the game he has been playing before he slinks back into the night.

Holly Golightly
> Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
> Actor: Audrey Hepburn

In the early dawn, seen to the tune of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” a woman in a Givenchy gown with sunglasses and pearls exits a taxi and proceeds to consume a cheap pastry and coffee in front of the iconic jewelry store Tiffany & Co., staring at the window displays and seemingly imagining herself being able to afford the wares, before chucking her waste in a trashcan and heading home. The scene reveals her aspirations as a budding socialite who came from nothing.

T-800
> Movie: The Terminator (1984)
> Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger

The arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robotic villain during a flash of lightning is the epitome of cool, as T-800’s naked, muscular frame enters the screen. The no-nonsense robot immediately shows some petty thieves who’s boss as he rips one of their hearts out and steals their clothing.

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Phyllis Dietrichson
> Movie: Double Indemnity (1944)
> Actor: Barbara Stanwyck

During a flashback scene, an insurance salesman is making a house call when he encounters the wife of one of his clients in a towel, fresh from sunbathing. Her alluring figure at the top of the stairs bewitches the man, and sets the stage for her roping the poor fool into a murder scheme.

Ringo Kid
> Movie: Stagecoach (1939)
> Actor: John Wayne

In John Wayne’s first major Western role, his character comes in with a bang. A rifle shot is heard before the camera zooms in on the face of the Ringo Kid as he twirls and re-cocks his gun, holding a saddle in the other hand. Obviously stranded in the desert with no horse, the lone character who is out for vengeance is also in need of a ride.

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Wicked Witch of the West
> Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
> Actor: Margaret Hamilton

Just as the residents of Munchkinland finish a gleeful song about the demise of the Wicked Witch of the East, her villainous sister arrives in a puff of red smoke, sending hordes of colorful celebrants into a panic as she notices her deceased sibling and threatens the sweet and bewildered protagonist, Dorothy, for causing her death.

King Kong
> Movie: King Kong (1933)
> Actor: N/A

As scream queen Fay Wray shrieks to the heavens in her chains, magnificent roars and bending trees betray the size of the beast that crashes through the jungle toward her. Finally, a 50-foot-tall ape comes into view, snarling and beating his chest as he moves closer to inspect the helpless lass. The stop-motion animation of the original King Kong may appear silly to modern viewers but at the time was a sight to behold.

Quint
> Movie: Jaws (1975)
> Actor: Robert Shaw

After two townspeople are killed by a great white shark, the residents of the town of Amity hold a meeting to discuss closing the beaches. The chaotic meeting is brought to a halt when a man – Quint – scrapes his nails down a chalkboard, silencing those present, before casually chomping on a saltine cracker then offering to catch the shark himself.

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Harmonica
> Movie: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
> Actor: Charles Bronson

In Sergio Leone’s epic Spaghetti Western, three outlaws wait on a train platform to the lonely sounds of a fly buzzing, knuckles cracking, and a wind gauge creaking. Finally their target arrives with a harmonica and asks if they’ve brought him any transport. When they inform him they’re short one horse, our hero delivers the cool retort, “You brought two too many,” before gunning them down.

John Doe
> Movie: Se7en (1995)
> Actor: Kevin Spacey

Investigating a series of gruesome crimes, detectives Mills and Somerset are engrossed in conversation as the killer calmly walks into the station, repeating “Detective.” When the two men fail to notice him, he finally raises his voice, screaming the word a final time before reverting to his former calm cadence, stating, “You’re looking for me.” The serial killer’s blood-spattered shirt contrasts with his demeanor and hints at how deranged he must actually be.

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Darth Vader
> Movie: Star Wars (1977)
> Actor: David Prowse/James Earl Jones

One of the most infamous movie villains of all time makes an understated but impactful entrance. After a battle in a white corridor, amidst plumes of light smoke and storm troopers clad in white, the entrance of a figure cloaked in black, with the sounds of his ominous wheezing breaths and the Imperial March, instantly relays the character’s status and malevolence.

Joker
> Movie: The Dark Knight (2008)
> Actor: Heath Ledger

Arguably the best portrayal of The Joker in any Batman film, Heath Ledger’s villain starts out masked among a group of bank-robbing clowns, who begin offing each other at the behest of their mysterious boss until only one clown remains. As he removes his mask, the telltale face paint reveals that The Joker was along for the whole ride.

Willy Wonka
> Movie: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
> Actor: Gene Wilder

The mystery of who owns the enigmatic chocolate factory hangs over the characters during the opening of this film. When Willy Wonka finally reveals himself as a frail man, tottering on a cane, the moment turns from nearly disappointing to marvelously entertaining as he appears to lose his balance and fall forward, only to perform a perfect somersault, to the delight of the crowd.

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Tony Manero
> Movie: Saturday Night Fever (1977)
> Actor: John Travolta

Starting with a closeup of a stylish pair of red leather boots, then zooming out to reveal a man wearing the height of ’70s fashion, the iconic introduction of Tony Manero uses the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” to mark the cadence of Manero’s confident stride down the streets of Brooklyn.

Sherif Ali
> Movie: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
> Actor: Omar Sharif

As Lawrence and his Bedouin guide rest at a well in the desert, a black speck appears on the horizon. It slowly materializes into the shape of a man in black riding a camel. Tension mounts until Lawrence finally asks “Who is he?” and his guide runs for his gun but is shot dead by the mysterious man, who approaches and tells Lawrence that it’s his well they were drinking from.

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Bride of Frankenstein
> Movie: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
> Actor: Elsa Lanchester

Dr. Frankenstein has finished his bride experiment, and her bandaged fingers move slightly, revealing that the experiment was successful. When the two scientists peel the bandages from her open eyes, Frankenstein exclaims the memorable lines “She’s alive! Alive!” Finally the monster woman is revealed in all her eerie glory, with an unflinching countenance, a bouffant hair-do, and a long white gown.

Indiana Jones
> Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
> Actor: Harrison Ford

As a group of explorers wander deep into the jungle, we only see the fedora and whip of their faceless leader, until one of the men pulls out a gun behind the leader’s back. Sensing danger, the mysterious man turns, disarms the assailant with his whip, and finally steps into the light, revealing himself as Indiana Jones.

Dr. Frank-N-Furter
> Movie: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
> Actor: Tim Curry

An eerie, foreboding vibe surrounds our stranded protagonists as they argue amidst a group of silent, smiling partygoers. But the appearance of a tapping pair of sparkling platform heels descending in the elevator betrays that the party is just about to begin. Finally Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s face is revealed and he introduces himself with a catchy song about his origins and manner of dress.

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Cruella de Vil
> Movie: 101 Dalmatians (1996)
> Actor: Glenn Close

The most ominous of scores plays as a Panther De Ville rolls to a stop, flashing its custom plate that reads “Dev-il.” As the doorman greets its occupant, her long cigarette holder extends from the car and she taps an ash onto his boot before waltzing into her headquarters like a boss. Before even revealing her face, Cruella de Vil has revealed exactly the kind of person she is.

Dracula
> Movie: Dracula (1931)
> Actor: Bela Lugosi

Inside a towering castle that appears abandoned, a coffin sits in a dusty stone room. The foreboding score intimates that some darkness will appear, and sure enough, the coffin lid moves and a white hand makes its way out. Finally Bela Lugosi’s Dracula stands in a black cape as a wolf howls in the distance, before he descends a staircase to introduce himself to Renfield with the simple phrase, “I am Dracula.”

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Dr. Strangelove
> Movie: Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
> Actor: Peter Sellers

An ex-Nazi and weapons expert who advises the president on nuclear science, Dr. Strangelove makes his appearance around the War Room table. In a darkened area, his German accent is heard before he wheels himself into view with one mechanical hand and the other holding a cigarette, and proceeds to explain the terrifying logic behind the Doomsday Machine.

Norma Desmond
> Movie: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
> Actor: Gloria Swanson

During a flashback scene in this film noir from Billy Wilder, a stranded motorist ends up in front of a mansion on Sunset Boulevard and encounters the washed up silent film star Norma Desmond wearing black pajamas, a leopard scarf around her head, and sunglasses. When he comments that she “used to be big,” she replies, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

Reverend Harry Powell
> Movie: Night of the Hunter (1955)
> Actor: Robert Mitchum

Driving a Model T Ford down a country road, a well-dressed man in a wide-brimmed hat delivers a monologue to the heavens, occasionally looking up while addressing the Lord. The topic of his deranged monologue is soon clear: He’s asking for permission to murder yet another old widow and steal her money.

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The Stranger
> Movie: A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
> Actor: Clint Eastwood

When a lone rider in a poncho stops to drink at a well in a small desert town, he witnesses a brutal altercation between two rival families, making no moves to intervene even as two thugs toss a small boy around. The detached stranger smiles at a beautiful but icy woman and continues to drink water from a ladle before he sees an empty noose hanging from a tree, and continues onto the nearly deserted streets.

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