John Carpenter’s 10 Best Movie Characters

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It’s been over a decade since John Carpenter released a new movie, but the filmmaker is still fresh in the memory of those who fell in love with movies because of his groundbreaking creations. The man stands out as one of the most versatile artists of his time, having written and directed genre-defining masterpieces of the 20th Century and created a variety of atmospheric scores.

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Although every Carpenter movie can be described as a genre film, they transit around different methodologies, themes, and styles. There’s a distinguishable distance between the horror of Halloween and the horror of The Thing, but each of them reshaped their own horror subgenres: slasher and body horror. The same applies to the variations of Carpenter’s heroes, from the certified good guys to the die-hard anti-heroes.

10 John Trent — In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Sam Neill as John Trent being restrained by two orderlies in In the Mouth of Madness
New Line Cinema

Viewers would probably spend the majority of In the Mouth of Madness hating on John Trent (Sam Neill) if it weren’t for the film’s opening scene, where it is revealed that he’s locked in a mental institution and either knows something that nobody else does or has lost his mind. Under this dilemma, viewers get acquainted with him and his quest to uncover the truth about a famous horror writer’s disappearance.

What Makes John Trent Great?

Although Trent is one of those typical horror characters who refuse to believe in the unknown until it’s too late to fight back, it genuinely makes sense: he’s an insurance investigator after all. It’s fascinating how Trent spends half of the movie trying to find out the truth just to desperately try to evade it throughout the film’s latter half. It’s difficult not to feel for him in the last minutes of In the Mouth of Madness, when all there is left for Trent is to laugh at the misery of his fate.

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9 Scott Hayden — Starman (1984)

A shirtless Jeff Bridges as Scott Hayden in Starman
Columbia Pictures

Scott Hayden (played by Jeff Bridges) is the titular character of Starman, and is a lone alien stranded on Earth after his spaceship is shot down. He takes the shape of Jenny Hayden’s deceased husband and, developing a strange connection with her, strikes up an unusual relationship. It’s in the body of Scott Hayden that the Starman learns the basics of the human condition, embracing it with naive innocence.

What Makes Scott Hayden Great?

From the perspective of Hayden, viewers get to witness humanity as a progressive condition, and how things one would assume are inherent to humankind can be part of a learning process. As Hayden gets in contact with the soothing nature of love, empathy, and kindness, he asks himself whether there’s an alternate way out of the mess he got himself into.

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8 Snake Plissken — Escape from New York (1981)

A close-up of Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, wearing an eyepatch, in Escape from New York
AVCO Embassy Pictures

Escape from New York delivers the first of many collaborations between John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, who nails the role of Snake Plissken, a former Special Forces soldier turned outlaw. In the film, the island of Manhattan has become a maximum security prison in the open air, where the country’s worst criminals are left on their own. It’s here that Snake is sentenced to go, and it’s here that he must rescue the president in order to avoid incarceration.

What Makes Snake Plissken Great?

Plissken is a contemporary anarchist whose moral compass gave out. A roughneck in nature, his brutality might enshroud his sharp wit, which saves him from death multiple times. He’s not a character designed to be liked, but rather to be looked upon as a living lawless statement; chaos as his sole guide.

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7 Dr. Loomis — Halloween (1978)

Donald Pleasence as Loomis in Halloween (1978)
Compass International Pictures

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) the true hero of the Halloween franchise, for he was the one person who got close to comprehending Michael Myers’ shattered psyche. Analytical and highly perceptive, he’s the psychiatrist assigned to take care of Myers for all these years, and even with his sturdy knowledge and years of experience, he’s the first to reach the conclusion that the masked killer is pure evil — there’s absolutely nothing that can save him.

What Makes Dr. Loomis Great?

Dr. Loomis shies away from the typical archetype of the doctor in horror movies: he’s neither the mad-scientist kind of character nor the know-it-all type of doctor whose condescending nature eventually puts everyone in danger. Indeed, Carpenter depicts Dr. Loomis as quite a rational man. Halfway through the movie, he realizes Myers is no longer a subject of study, and he does everything to prevent the killer from carrying out his wicked plans.

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Related: How John Carpenter Invented a Whole New Musical Genre By Accident

6 Stevie Wayne — The Fog (1980)

Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) encompasses all the best of Carpenter’s trademarks, from being a hero by accident to capturing idiosyncrasies from the ’70s-80s transition. She’s a local radio host who happens to conduct the mood of The Fog as the movie’s atmosphere progresses from a cozy, foggy night to an absolute nightmare as vengeful ghosts land on Antonio Bay’s shore.

What Makes Stevie Wayne Great?

Although The Fog is centered around a range of different characters, it’s Stevie who shifts from one role to the other. She’s the voice that soothes Antonio Bay, a caring mother, and the local hero; even with forces from beyond surrounding her station, she remains in the radio booth to inform the inhabitants where the danger is heading. Plus, Barbeau simply looks as cool as ever on-screen.

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Related: Every Alan Wake Fan Should Watch This John Carpenter Hidden Gem

5 Jack Burton — Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, wearing lipstick, in Big Trouble in Little China
20th Century Studios

Jack Burton is a case of wrong place, wrong time in Big Trouble in Little China; the difference is that he thinks too highly of himself to simply turn his back to a newfound mystery. He starts his day off as if it was just a normal day, but ends up fighting supernatural forces in a parallel world located just beneath Chinatown.

What Makes Jack Burton Great?

Jack is condescending in the most innocent way: he doesn’t want to prove his value over others, but thinks he’s smart enough to handle any threat that gets in his way. Russell himself hinted at his Indiana Jones syndrome, which, miraculously, but not without indomitable determination, ends up saving the day from evil sorcerers. Jack is nothing but a charismatic fool with a thrill of adventure; even after almost dying at the hands of evil wizards, he might as well recall this as the best day of his life.

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4 R.J. MacReady — The Thing (1982)

Kurt Russell as RJ MacReady in The Thing
Universal Pictures

For a movie where any character could in fact be a shape-shifting monster, it’s good that the viewers at least have R.J. MacReady to rely on. In The Thing, a group of scientists located in a remote camp in Antarctica stumbles upon evidence of alien life. It consists of a mysterious extraterrestrial force that can assume the exact same shape as its victims, sending the characters into a spiral of paranoia and despair.

What Makes R.J. MacReady Great?

MacReady acts as the voice of reason, acknowledging the only way to defeat a seemingly invisible threat is to find a way to expose it. While all the other scientists desperately try to come up with a logical way to fight the monster, MacReady is ready to take risks. He’s a hero who refuses to undermine his enemy and is the first to comply with the absurdity of the situation.

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3 John Nada — They Live (1988)

Roddy Piper as John Nada, carrying a rifle and wearing a plaid shirt and dark sunglasses, in They Live
Universal Pictures

They Live wouldn’t hit half as hard if its main character wasn’t the living embodiment of alienation: John Nada (Roddy Piper) is a rugged wanderer with no prospects in life. He’s a certified drifter looking for shelter and money in Los Angeles, but what he finds instead is a pair of sunglasses that reveal that high society is controlled by skull-faced aliens, who use the media to control the masses.

What Makes John Nada Great?

It’s funny how such a precious artifact happens to fall into the hands of someone whose only weapon against the system is his fists. Nada represents revolution starting from scratch, and though he could’ve simply ignored a ploy that’s too big for him to handle, he finally finds something worth fighting for.

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2 Laurie Strode — Halloween (1978)

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978)
Compass International Pictures

Shoulder to shoulder with legendary horror final girls such as Scream‘s Sidney Prescott and Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Nancy Thompson, Laurie Strode has been through a lot. She’s the subject of Michael Myers’ obsession in Carpenter’s Halloween, even though she’s done nothing to trigger his violent behavior other than simply being his next of kin.

What Makes Laurie Strode Great?

There’s something genuinely sad about Laurie: she carries the unbearable weight of self-awareness. She’s the only thing Myers is after, and, therefore, is indirectly responsible for each of the lives he destroys. Even in the face of a murderous brother and of her closest friends getting murdered, she keeps her head up and fights until the end. And what’s best: she wins — at least in Carpenter’s standalone Halloween, she always wins.

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1 Michael Myers — Halloween (1978)

Michael Myers doesn’t die, both literally and figuratively. There have been many attempts to beat him, and many attempts to bury the Halloween franchise, yet somehow, they always come back. His reputation precedes him; one of the defining slasher icons of horror history, the mystique around the character is the sole reason why the Halloween franchise has endured so long.

What Michael Myers Great?

There’s an argument to be made that he could possibly beat each and every one of Carpenter’s heroes; it’s not only about strength or desire to kill, it’s also the fact that there’s a strong indication of a supernatural aura surrounding Myers. Something that no other slasher icon has and Myers carries with abundance is a completely indifferent semblance: from the minimalist mask to the patient, undisturbed manner in which he chases after his victims, he’s absolutely certain that he’ll get what he’s after. That’s true evil right there, and Carpenter’s biggest gem.

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