A blue-ribbon panel chose the top 50 movie heroes and the top 50 villains from a list of 400 nominees, for The American Film Institute's latest ranking of high-water marks in U.S. film history -- "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Heroes & Villains." The winners were announced Tuesday night on a CBS TV special hosted by action star Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The top hero was Atticus Finch, the Southern lawyer who defends a black man unjustly accused of rape in the 1962 screen adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." Gregory Peck won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Finch.
The top villain was Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, who creeped out audiences in "The Silence of the Lambs." The 1991 adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel won five Oscars, including Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins and Best Actress for Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling -- who placed sixth on the list of top heroes.
Top hero and villain roles, it turns out, have been good for the careers of the actors who played them.
Gary Cooper won the Oscar as Sheriff Will Kane in "High Noon" (1952), No. 5 on the heroes' list. Sally Field won Best Actress in 1979 as union organizer Norma Rae Webster in "Norma Rae," No. 15 on the heroes' list.
Playing top heroes also led to Oscars for Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi," No. 21), George C. Scott ("Patton," No. 29), Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich," No. 31) and Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson in "Fargo," No. 33).
Louise Fletcher won the Best Actress Oscar as the No. 5 all-time villain, Nurse Ratched, in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). The No. 17 villain, Annie Wilkes of "Misery" (1990), was both an Oscar-winning and career-making role for Kathy Bates.
Michael Douglas won Best Actor in 1987 for his turn as Gordon Gecko -- No. 24 on the villain's list -- in "Wall Street." No. 48 on the villain list was Roger "Verbal" Kint of "The Usual Suspects" (1995), a role that Kevin Spacey rode to the first of his two Oscars. Denzel Washington won his second Oscar as the corrupt cop Alonzo Harris, No. 50 on the villain's list, in the 2001 hit "Training Day."
There are only seven women among the Top 50 heroes -- eight if you count both Thelma Dickerson and Louise Sawyer of "Thelma & Louise," who share one entry on the list (No. 24), and 10 if you count Lassie (No. 39).
Women apparently made better villains, taking six of the top 10 spots on a list that included 15 women overall -- 16, if you count the title creature from "Alien" (No. 14). The 1979 sci-fi thriller is one of a small number of pictures that pits one of AFI's top heroes against one of its best bad guys -- with Ellen Ripley (No. 8) taking on the space monster.
Hero George Bailey (No. 9) and villain Mr. Potter (No. 6) both show up from "It's a Wonderful Life." "Schindler's List" is represented by hero Oskar Schindler (No. 13) and villain Amon Goeth (No. 15). Both Batman (No. 46, hero) and The Joker (No. 45, villain) are on the list for "Batman" (1989).
Darth Vader is No. 3 on the villain list, while Han Solo is No. 14 and Obi-Wan Kenobi is No. 37 on the hero list. But Vader is listed for "The Empire Strikes Back," while Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi are listed for "Star Wars."
James Bond is the No. 3 hero and Auric Goldfinger is the No. 49 villain -- but Bond is listed for "Dr. No" and Goldfinger is there for "Goldfinger." The Bond movies have a rich tradition of formidable villains, but Goldfinger is the only one to make the AFI list.
Cooper played more of the top heroes than any other actor -- three. In addition to Kane, he also played "Sergeant York" and baseball legend Lou Gehrig in "The Pride of the Yankees."
Harrison Ford, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman and Robert Redford each played two of the top heroes. Jack Nicholson, James Cagney and Robert Mitchum each played two of the top heavies, while Al Pacino and Schwarzenegger had the distinction of appearing on both lists.
Pacino is there as a hero for "Serpico" and as a villain for "The Godfather Part II." Schwarzenegger is there as a hero for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and as a villain for "The Terminator."
AFI Director and CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg said Hollywood is not likely to take the rankings as a measure of what kinds of heroes and villains moviegoers want to see next.
"You have to make a decision (whether to produce a movie) so far out in time, and our world is such a fluid place ... and there are so many outside influences," she said, "it's really hard to know what audiences are going to embrace."
However, the list is likely to be influential to some of Hollywood's bottom-line decision makers.
"It's a tremendous asset to the (home) video divisions," said Firstenberg.
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