Top 10 Joss Whedon Characters
JUST ADDED: CLICK HERE FOR THE TOP 10 JOSS WHEDON VILLAINS!
For those new to Geekiness, here’s the first thing you need to know. Joss Whedon is a god among pop-culture writers. From redefining how television dramas are written with an over-arching story to creating a cult phenomenon unlike any others to experimenting with the internet as a distribution method, he’s a leader in his field. With the stupidly huge success of The Avengers he’s well and truly made a mark on cinema and television as a writer and a director. If there’s one thing he does best it’s creating memorable, complex and downright awesome characters.
So today we’re going to whittle that army of great characters he’s created down the ten best. To make the list they had to fit two simple criteria.
1. They have to be a Joss Whedon original – so don’t expect Iron Man to make the cut.
2. They had to have been included in the opening credits of their respective shows. This was the first step towards trimming down the list (sorry Faith fans), but it also means losing a lot of the great villains. I guess we’ll just have to do a Top 10 Whedonverse villains at some point…
Here we go!
10. Jayne Cobb
Jayne is, on the surface, a very simple man. But when you look past that…well, he’s still just a simple man, but damn if he isn’t fun to watch. Working purely as muscle on board the smuggler ship Serenity he provides little more to their heists than brute force. Heavily armed with a collection of guns and knives – to which he shows an almost delicate care – he’s always the first into the fray and never plans further ahead than just delivering pain. Anything that causes him trouble is treated as something to be destroyed, included Simon and River whom he sees as an invitation for the Alliance to chase them down.
As evidenced in the flashback that shows how Mal came to recruit Jayne, the mercenary’s loyalty is only to the biggest paycheck. While Jayne has developed a grudging respect for Mal the two both wear this simple truth on their sleeves. When Jayne has the opportunity to betray Mal for a reward in the pilot episode he simple responds that he turned it down because he wasn’t offered enough. Mal asks what will happen the day the pay is enough and Jayne, without missing a beat, tells him that’ll be an “interesting” day. And interesting it was.
On the few occasions when Jayne is shown to perhaps be something more complex, such as in Jaynestown, it always boils down to him being a purely primal character. Still gets care packages from his mother though…
Memorable Quote: “She is startin’ to damage my calm.”
Although not initially making the opening credits in Buffy the Vampire slayer, Angel did become one of the most important characters in the series as a love interest, a hero, a villain and finally as the star of his own spin-off that ran for five years. Appearing as a dark and mysterious love interest for the titular vampire slayer, the biggest and most surprising reveal of the series occurred seven episodes in when Angel and Buffy come together – just before it’s revealed that he’s a vampire.
Buffy learns that Angel was Angelus, one of the most dangerous and evil vampires in history, who was cursed with the return of his soul to ensure he would be tormented for his crimes. After decades of repentance Angel turns to the side of good and joins Buffy in her fight against evil. The second season of BTVS saw him in an entirely new light when, after sharing a moment of perfect happiness with Buffy, he returns to his demonic counterpart Angelus and brings death and pain upon the Scoobies. His soul later restored he again battles the apocalypse with Buffy before choosing to leave town.
In his own series Angel continues on the path of good, forming his own detective agency in L.A. With more time dedicated to the character, and a darker tone, the spin-off saw the complexities of the character developed further. Searches for self, falls into darkness and moments of clarity all occur as he builds a family and group of friends who he leads in the battle against the forces of hell (and a law firm). We also got more moments of comedy, which the brooding David Boreanaz was surprising good at.
Memorable Quote: “I fought for so long, for redemption, for a reward, and finally just to beat the other guy, but I never got it.”
Winifred Burkle was the character who started as a McGuffin and somehow turned into the quirky character in a show with a green skinned karaoke demon who then was the focus of one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in a Whedon show before being reborn as a blue haired elder god. Wait what?
While investigating the disappearance of a librarian the gang at Angel Investigations find themselves trapped in another dimension. Upon rescuing the librarian (Fred) they bring her back to Earth where she becomes a fixture at the old hotel they call home. Nervous and eccentric she does eventually find a niche and the attentions of Wesley and Gunn, and her scientific mind proves to be invaluable as a resource. Fred became an audience favourite in the same mold as Willow and Kaylee in other Whedon programmes, which made the events of season 5 so shocking.
After striking a deal with the devil, Wolfram and Hart, the gang find themselves working for the evil law firm. Fred is proving successful in the science department until a mysterious sarcophagus arrives and infects her. While the writers dangled potential last minute solutions in front of us, they forced us to watch a beloved character suffer a long, painful death while her heroes, Angel and Spike, were forced to make a decision to let her die. She’s then reborn as Illyria, a god from before time, who is a fascinating character in her own right.
Illyria was a deity out of time and out of place. No longer a mighty ruler she’s in a world that has long since forgotten her and her gargantuan powers vastly reduced and trapped in the body that used to belong to Fred. Unable to completely control her abilities, but still the most powerful entity in the world, she’s a risk to herself and the global population. Although she remained at Wolfram and Hart, her loyalties were always in question.
Memorable Quote: “Can I say somethin’ about destiny? Screw destiny! If this evil thing comes, we’ll fight it and we’ll keep fightin’ it until we whup it. ‘Cause destiny is just another word for inevitable, and nothing’s inevitable as long as you stand up, look it in the eye, and say, “You’re evitable!””
7. Buffy Summers
There’s no doubt that Buffy ‘Vampire Slayer’ Summers is Joss Whedon’s most famous character, and based on that achievement many may assume that that’s enough to earn here the top spot on the list. As cool as Buffy is, she was never as well developed as some other characters on that, or other, Whedon shows and can sometimes get on ones nerves.
The character was conceived by Whedon when he noted that the poor blonde girl featured at the beginning of every horror winds up getting killed without being able to fight back. He wanted to see a blonde girl who turns the tables on the monster and puts the hurt on them. The Slayer Mythos dictates that into every generation will be born a Slayer, a girl imbued with supernatural abilities who is tasked with fighting back the hordes. Each is fated to die a violent death to make way for the next. Buffy, having not been identified as a potential Slayer early in life, only came into her powers late in her teenage life as very much the Californian teen, making her quite a handful for her Watchers. Over time she came to understand and accept her responsibility.
Buffy’s journey as seen on television saw her try to reconcile her destiny with a normal life, form and break friendships, delve deeper into the underworld of Sunnydale, battle personal and global catastrophes and lose loved ones. Being the protagonist of a long running genre show means that her story gets taken to the extremes meaning that it can be hard to take her seriously at times. Although grounded by events such as her mother’s sudden death, the fact that Buffy died twice and came back stretches things a bit.
Memorable Quote: “I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming who ever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day, I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious, cookie me, then that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.”
Joss Whedon has established a core group of character types that feature across his shows, and one of those is the character who is the heart of the group. Buffy had Xander, Angel had Fred, The Dollhouse had Topher, the Serenity crew had Kaylee and the Serenity crew…also had Wash, who barely managed to squeeze Kaylee off this list (I’m sorry! I didn’t want to choose!). Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne was born on a planet so thick with pollution that he never saw the stars. Wanting to spend everyday among the stars he trained to become a pilot and although he was offered the controls of many more reputable ships his spirit of adventure saw him on board the Serenity. On board the Serenity he met his future wife, second in command Zoe who fought with Mal in the wars and provides a strange juxtaposition to the laid back, goofy Wash.
Wash is possibly the most laid back person in the ‘verse. He often manages to diffuse tense situations with his light-hearted humour, and even when in a perilous situation he still looks as though he’s having fun. He has a childish spirit, filling quiet time on the bridge playing with plastic dinosaurs. He’s a peaceful character who avoids confrontation, except when it comes to his wife Zoe, over whom he will even threaten Mal whom he shows great respect.
Memorable Quote: “I am a leaf on the wind.”
5. Rupert Giles
Rupert Giles began life as the most British of stereotypes. Almost a fuddy-duddy, he was tasked with training and preparing Buffy for her life as a Slayer. The drastic clash of cultures and personalities became one of the shows earliest sources of comedy, and threw into sharp contrast how different Buffy is from the life that’s been prescribed to her. Giles later showed a very different set of stripes when his past as a rebellious youth who dabbled in dark magics came back to haunt him. Showing that he’s more than a tweed suit but a complex personality who does the right thing not out of obligation but because he’s genuinely on the side of good, and he’s more than capable of throwing a punch when needed.
What really cements Giles in viewers hearts is his role as a teacher and mentor. Like Gandalf, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan and other great mentors of geekery he became a fan favourite because he represented the role model that many wished we had in our own lives (also, they’re all British). He’s caring, he’s firm, he’s wise and he’s also flawed. The more we saw into Giles’ personal life in later seasons the more interesting he became. Scenes where Xander finds a television in his apartment, and the Scoobies find him performing ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ at an open mic night hinted at layers that the controlled facade of the Watcher could never show on the surface.
Memorable Quote: “Yes. It’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and… everybody lives happily ever after.”
Spike is the perfect example of a character who isn’t designed to fit a need within the show or marketing, but instead arrived almost incidentally and grew and developed in a very natural fashion. Spike the vampire arrived in the Buffy universe early in the second series with his demented girlfriend Drusilla to declare themselves as the new tough guys in town. Having already killed two slayers, Spike was cocky, stylish, impulsive and extremely deadly. He taunted and pursued Buffy up until Buffy had a showdown with him mid-season that saw Spike killed. Or so it was intended.
The writers were having such a good time writing Spike, James Marsters was so completely nailing the part and the audience loved him, so Spike was simply smashed to a pulp and confined to a wheelchair while Angelus and Drusilla tear shit up. Spike developed through the rest of the season to show that he’s also subject to bouts of jealousy and is more than happy to betrayal his colleagues when their attempts at the apocalypse don’t suit him.
Spike returned in subsequent years, often driven by love. The characters defining quality was now his romantic spirit, and he was given a suitable backstory. William the Bloody was a gentle poet who earned his nickname because of his “bloody awful” poetry, which he would unsuccessfully use to woo women. Whilst nursing a broken heart he was approached by the vampire Drusilla who could see the romance in his heart. Turning him into a vampire the name ‘William the Bloody’ took on a different meaning, eventually taking the name ‘Spike’ after impaling people on railway spikes, and changing his image to reflect a working class attitude.
After meeting Buffy and Angel, Spike started on the fight for good. At first it was not a matter of free will but due to a behaviour modification chip implanted by a military operation. Later he faced a series of trials in order to earn his soul. Sacrificing himself during the Slayer’s final battle in the Hellmouth he was returned to Earth (initially as a ghost) in L.A. to fight alongside Angel. Spike went from a disposable villain to one of the most complex and realistic characters in the Buffyverse. Being a monster with a romantic heart made him one of the more interesting characters in the series and he became the first of many vampire sex symbols in modern culture.
Memorable Quote: “I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.”
3. Billy aka Dr. Horrible
Possibly the least known on the list, but once you’ve seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog you aren’t likely to forget this charming and damaged wannabe supervillian. Not much is said about Billy’s background on the three-part series, but the comic spin-off has filled in the blanks. As a child Billy was bullied by bigger, stronger and stupid jocks because he enjoyed reading and science. Upon seeing a mad scientist defeat the city’s favourite superhero the young child felt that he had found his path. As an adult Billy created the persona of Dr. Horrible, a science based super-villain who seeks to prove his superiority to the world by defeating hero Captain Hammer and being accepted into the Evil League of Evil.
The story of how Dr. Horrible tries to earn his way onto the ELE only plays out secondary to another more heartfelt story. While a threat to bank vaults in his guise of Dr. Horrible, poor Billy can barely manage the courage to talk to his crush, Penny. Instead he’s left pining from the other side of the laundromat. Fate eventually lends a hand by throwing the two together – unfortunately it’s just when Capt. Hammer is foiling Dr. Horrible’s attempts to steal an armoured van. Ironically Penny winds up catching the eye of Capt. Hammer and begins dating him while Billy finally breaks the ice and the two become friends. When Hammer finds out that he’s stolen Dr. Horrible’s crush he taunts Billy, driving him to plot Capt. Hammer’s murder to earn his way into the ELE and work alongside the notorious Bad Horse.
Dr. Horrible is a character of many parts. On his own he represents the put-upon nerd that so many of Joss Whedon’s base audience may feel like from time to time. From the way he gets pushed around by a hero, gets ignored by the cool group and can’t manage to introduce himself to the girl next door there’s plenty to make Billy feel familiar. While the arc the character follows may seem more extreme, the kind of revenge fantasies he begins indulging are also very much a human response, especially as the jock character keeps pushing him. Billy ultimately isolates himself from his friends and finds way to justify his actions, when in reality he’s been left angry and lonely by a world that he can’t accept just as much as they can’t accept him.
Like many of Joss Whedon’s characters part of the genius is in the casting. Neil Patrick Harris plays against his current popular role as the narcissistic ladies man to portray a shy and geeky type. His comedic timing and physical performance remain intact and his vocal skills are on top form – NPH plays a large part in making this a memorable role.
Memorable Quote: “I cannot believe my eyes/How the world’s filled with filth and lies/But it’s plain to see/Evil inside of me is on the rise.”
2. Willow Rosenberg
Out of all the cast members on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, few could deny that Willow was the one most fans felt attached to. Beginning as the underdog of Sunnydale High School while even Xander had a goofy charm, the scene where Buffy first meets Willow (along with Cordelia) sets her up as one of the most sympathetic characters on the show, and Buffy is set up to be a kindly person by being kind to Willow. Throughout the series the most interesting character developments don’t involve the titular Slayer but the sidekick who grows and develops much more naturally, and reflects her growth through actions and not monologues.
Willow begins life in the series as almost a stereotypical nerd. She stammers, lacks confidence and is a wiz at computers. As time progresses and she finds herself researching the occult she starts to build a new skill set in witchcraft that sees her confidence begin to develop. While originally enamored with Xander she finds her first real love with Oz, the guitarist for a rock band. The deathly stoic rocker (also werewolf) may not have seemed like the perfect coupling for Willow, but it gave rise to more opportunities for the new born wiccan to show other facets of her personality. Moving into the college years Willow forms a relationship with Tara, with whom Willow becomes a fully fledged witch. This relationship becomes the driving force behind Willow’s development and eventual downturn into evil when anger over Tara’s death causes Willow to lose control and wreak havoc.
During the final episodes of the series Willow, still recovering from her brief period as a dark witch, plays a role in channeling the positive power of the Slayer through to the Potentials. In many ways the development of the character of Willow formed the backbone to the show. Beginning as mostly a stereotypical character in the first season, she started to express herself with more confidence in the second season before experimenting with new ideas in the third. During the fourth and fifth seasons Willow represents the maturing aspects of the show, dealing with adult responsibilities and sexual relationships before tackling addiction, depression and loss in the sixth. In the final season she came to represent redemption, completing the writing cycle for the show and for the character.
Brought to life by Alysson Hannigan, Willow is one of the three characters who stayed central to Buffy the Vampire Slayer over the seven seasons, and developed a strong following. Seen as a positive role model for young girls, smart girls, lesbians, wiccans and more, Willow has resonated stronger with the audience than any other character in the show.
Memorable Quote: “The other night, y’know being captured and all, facing off with Faith… Things just – kinda got clear. I mean, you’ve been fighting evil here for three years and I’ve helped some. And now we’re supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives. And I just realized that’s what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I-I think it’s worth doing. And I don’t think you do it because you have to. It’s a good fight, Buffy, and I want in.”
1. Capt. Mal Reynolds
Appearing in only 11 television episodes, a movie and a smattering of comics, the Captain of Firefly class ship ‘Serenity’ is the best character created and written by Joss Whedon. Perhaps it’s because of his short time with us that prevented the character from over-staying his welcome, but more likely he’s that it’s that perfect combination of writing, acting, design and personality that made something awesome. Originally written for Nicholas ‘Xander’ Brendon, but his Buffy schedule prevented it. Nathan Fillion campaigned heavily for the part, phoning in on a daily basis, leading to his casting in his first lead. He could’ve been genetically engineered for the part it’s such a perfect marriage of performer and part. Garbed in a brown duster and sporting a steampunk style six-shooter, he’s an immensely cool character.
Mal is very much a soldier. Having fought in the Unification War against the Alliance of Planets on the side of the rebellion, Reynolds was a fervent believer in the rebel’s cause. His spirit is crushed when the Browncoat’s surrender after the heavy losses of their forces. Along with his former second in command Zoe he purchases the run down ship that he names Serenity and sets out to undermine the Alliance rule by working as a smuggler.
After the war Mal loses his faith in God, but retains a faith in humankind to do the right thing. During flashbacks to the war at the beginning of the series Mal is seen as a larger than life, fun-loving character and like his faith he seems to have lost this trait following the war. While working as a smuggler Mal is often arrogant and headstrong, more than once pulling his gun first. The characters that he feels closest to, like Inara, he often winds up driving away as his stubbornness gets the better of him.
Although arrogant, violent and downright mean Mal Reynold’s is highly respected by his crew and the viewers. He lives in a dirty world but he sticks by a strong set of morals. He protects those who can’t fight for themselves, doesn’t leave any man behind and can’t help but form a close bond with his crew. In interviews Fillion has suggested that each member of his crew represents a part of the character that has been lost, hinting at depths and backstory that the terribly short life of Firefly could’ve gone into.
Cool, funny, unpredictable, exciting and downright interesting to watch, Mal Reynold’s is Joss Whedon’s masterpiece.
Memorable Quote: “The next time you decide to stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face. “
So in the number of comments here and on Whedonesque (thanks for the feedback!) it seems that there’s one particular omission that has gotten people bothered – Wesley. He was a very well written character, particular his interactions with Faith and the sequence when he kidnaps Connor and the performance by Alexis Denisof is among the best in both Buffy and Angel, especially as he plays such different aspects of the character.
So why not make the list? Inconsistency. Wesley had some brilliantly written moments, but they always felt like moments and he became little more than a placeholder in between. Sometimes it felt as though the writers didn’t know what to do with him, especially as during Season 5 when he felt like he was just there to be sympathetic by having shitty things happen to him. During season 4 of Angel he went through a very dark character arc, but it happened when pretty much everyone else in the extended universe was going through a dark patch and consequently never had the same impact.
Episodes when Wesley gets the spotlight, such as when he has to pass for Angel, stand out as some of the best of the series, but they’re to few and far between for this list. Remember that this is just one viewpoint, and the awesomeness of the Whedonverse is that it is so jammed pack with brilliant characters that two people could have dramatically different and well justified lists. Drop into the comments below to share your Top 10 Whedon characters!
I would’ve liked to have seen Kaylee make the list. I’m not sure why… but I always liked her character a lot and she definitely gave a lot of heart to that show.
Also, I know everyone really loves Spike and all, but Angel really should be higher on that list because he fully embodies the spirit of the self-sacrificing hero. I know that sounds boring and all, but sometimes the whole idea of giving hope to the hopeless really means a lot to people, and the world in general.
Trust me, I wanted to include Kaylee! She’s a great character and Jewel Staite plays her perfectly but she lacks the character development that other people on the list had (except for Jayne, but he cracks me up).
As to Spike vs Angel, we got to see Spike go through more changes throughout the show, and the fact that he was so successful without being planned makes him more interesting. Also – Spike was the one who volunteered to get his soul back!
That is true… but didn’t he do that for a girl? Angel’s sacrificed love many a time for the greater good. The greater good, I tell you!
I can’t think of a better reason to do it – and Angel had his soul forced on him!
Angel is actually another example of a successful unplanned character. He was only supposed to be on the show for an episode or two, but the writers liked him, DB, and the chemistry between DB and SMG so much, they expanded the character. Angel wasn’t supposed to come back after season 2 either, but he ended up getting a spin-off.
As for Spike vs Angel, well, it’s definitely easier to like Spike. Spike was ‘funny’ and ‘cool’ and a ‘badass’ and the writers almost always gave him an easy out when he did something wrong. Angel never had things easy. He’s also way more complex than people give him credit for. It’s sad that he’s such an underrated, and often times downright hated, character.
BTW, Angel might not have ‘volunteered’ to get his soul back, but he’s fought long and hard to keep it. It’s was one of the main reasons he sacrificed his relationship with Buffy.
Spike is my all time favorite Buffy/Angel character. He’s simply brilliantly written and brilliantly played. The fact that he can go through so much, be put through so many scenarios, and still be believable is a testament to both the character and the actor.
Great list! I would have had Willow more towards the bottom but it is very difficult to choose just 10 of the best characters ever. Giles FTW
Willow was the show for me.
couldn’t agree more with #1
We would have the following listin order:
1. Buffy Summers
2. Rupert Giles
8. Wesley Wyndham Price
9. Cordelia Chase
10. Ethan Rayne
They all are from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Wouldn’t that make you a Buffy fangirl, not a Joss fangirl? Personally I was surprised Woody from Toy Story didn’t make the list.
I get why Buffy makes the top of the list for so many people, but frankly, she is my least favorite Joss character of all time. Love the show, hate the lead. It’s not even a Sarah Michelle Gellar issue, as I was raised on the original movie before I got hooked on the show, I just don’t like Buffy Summers. She needs to exist to have a show, obviously, but the Angel spin off made was welcomed by my household, and there was actual cheering involved when Spike joined the cast.
I love Buffy and I think SMG did a fantastic job with the role, but the Angel spin-off really highlighted how angry and humorless she can be. Every time she showed up in L.A. she was rude to Cordy and talked down to Angel, and you generally couldn’t wait for her to leave. I was surprised they would depict her in such a negative light but I guess they were trying to go in a very different direction for the new show.
I agree, most of her surliness got advertised on Angel. That wasn’t why I disliked her, though, I found her whiny and exceptionally annoying. As for SMG, I can’t stand watching her throw a punch; it kills me inside every time. I’m surprised no one corrected her floppy wrists. Other than that, I thought she did a fine job with the role.
Im happy with that list. All these characters were/are great ones and brought something brilliant to the series and the actor brought something great to the character also.
Wash ahead of Angel and Buffy? And NO RIVER TAM? Fail.
No Simon Tam! Simon was much more developed than River who spent most of the time incoherent to the viewer. It was SImon’s devotion to her than made her interesting. Simon is complex, arrogant in some ways, humble in others (lying about how he got River out to the crew, ignoring his role in getting in and out of a top secret facility, we began to see this tactical side in Ariel). He is completely dedicated to his sister, willing to sacrifice everything he loves and his life for her. Simon Tam is a BIG DAMN HERO. (and he gets the girl in the end, yay!)
Yes, you got it exactly right: Captain Mal Reynolds is indeed Joss Whedon’s masterpiece. Just as he is Nathan Fillion’s masterpiece. Mal is truly the greatest hero of them all.
Um, Angel WAS part of the Buffy credits, on both season 2 and 3. He was only a reoccurring character on season 1.
Hence why we said “initially not part of the credits”.
You never said ‘initially’. Exact quote,
“Although not making the opening credits in Buffy the Vampire slayer, Angel did become one of the most important characters in the series…..etc”
That was an error that was picked up on and corrected shortly after publication. You must’ve read it before then.
It still doesn’t say “initially,” unless there is somehow another URL to the updated version…
Couldn’t decide if #1 was going to be Captain Mal Reynolds or Topher Brink…Mal was the better choice (seriously, could there ever be a character better than him? no.), but I’m disappointed that Topher is missing from the list — no one from Dollhouse is listed, actually! Also I’m missing Wesley (although I could go on forever…also I’m missing River, also I’m missing the Shepherd, also I’m missing Anya…oh no, what about Anya?!), although I’m not sure who I would take off the list…probably we need a top 40.
I really can’t believe you excluded Wesley Wyndham Price… I had him pegged for number one, and still do, but to be omitted completely? i think you just forgot…
Replace Fred with Wesley (and move him up) and you have a list here.
This list makes me sad, even Whedon himself said that he loves all his characters, but if he has to choose one, it would be Wesley, I can’t agree more. As a character in 6 years he changed and goes through way more than any other.
I guess I just find interesting character going though interesting things more important than just having a cool character for half season
(mal would be on my list too though.. :D)
Adele DeWitt or Topher would have been great additions. Sorry you neglected Dollhouse.
Wonerful list, agree with everything EXCEPT I would argue that Wesley had perhaps the most intriging and dramatic character arc in the Jossverse – from comic relief to hard ass to angstridden tragic hero he embodied it all.
No Wesley? Talk about character development. I think he and Willow have the most dramatic characters arcs in the Whedonverse.
Really? I love River and all but I wouldn’t necessary call her character arc dramatic she was a broken ass kicking genius –> she’s a quirky ass kicking genius. Your points about Weley are fully valid though.
Reblogged this on Anakalian Whims and commented:
Blogger after my own heart, clearly…
I’m actually in a state of shock that Wesley didn’t make the list. His transformation as a character was incredible and very well played.
“As cool as Buffy is, she was never as well developed as some other characters on that, or other, Whedon shows and can sometimes get on ones nerves.”
Wait, what? Buffy is one of the most developed and most complex characters Whedon has created. This text makes me doubt that you’ve actually watched the entire show. And she’s most certainly more developed than the majority of Firefly characters, including Mal and Wash. (Who could’ve been more developed if the show had gone on. But it didn’t.)
As for “getting on one’s nerves”, that’s a personal preference. Many of those other characters I also getting on people’s nerves. You’d be hard pressed to find a character that doesn’t get on anyone’s nerves. Buffy does get on my nerves sometimes in the sense that she’s flawed and therefore interesting… and the same goes for Spike, Angel, Willow, Xander, Faith, etc. – they all get on your nerves sometimes, because they’re flawed and feel like real people who do stupid things sometimes. But, personally, Buffy is the character I relate to the most and can always see where she’s coming from, and the character I love the most (or one of the two characters I love the most).
As noted above, Angel WAS in the opening credits in seasons 2 and 3.
“After meeting Buffy and Angel, Spike started on the fight for good.”
Err, not really. After meeting Buffy, Spike tried to kill her repeatedly, and later allied with her to get Drusilla back. But you’re right that Buffy eventually had the crucial influence on Spike to turn to the side of good. But Angel? That part of the sentence is a mystery to me. It would be more accurate to say, “After meeting Drusilla and Angel,. Spike started on the fight for evil.”
“Out of all the cast members on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, few could deny that Willow was the one most fans felt attached to.”
Actually, many can deny it. Including me. I know many more fans who are attached to Buffy and/or Spike, and about as many who are attached to Faith or Angel or Xander.
“Throughout the series the most interesting character developments don’t involve the titular Slayer but the sidekick who grows and develops much more naturally, and reflects her growth through actions and not monologues.”
Your mileage may vary. Willow’s development and arc is very interesting, but so is Buffy’s (and to me personally, it’s more interesting) – and if anything, it’s more natural, not involving a radical shift in sexual orientation. I don’t know what the monologue part is about. if you’re referring to Buffy, her changes were shown through action, always. She’s not a woman of words, but action.
“During the fourth and fifth seasons Willow represents the maturing aspects of the show, dealing with adult responsibilities and sexual relationships before tackling addiction, depression and loss in the sixth.”
Uh, depression was Buffy’s storyline, not Willow’s. As for tackling loss – it’s not like Buffy as a character dealt with it, is it? Like, um, was there this storyline in season 5, and a certain episode called “The Body”…?
“Willow has resonated stronger with the audience than any other character in the show.”
Why do you keep writing things like “um” and “er”? It makes you sound slow-witted.
I think she was going for sarcasm…
I actually got that, thanks. It doesn’t stop it from making her sound dim.
That’s the only thing you have to comment on? It really makes you seem slow-witted, not to mention trollish.
If you’re going to get god damn list!!
*upset make your own
I miss Echo in that list. 😦
I like the list, but for me, I would remove Wash (sorry) and add Adelle DeWitt (but she would be further up the scale). I think she’s one of the most complicated and fully realized characers Mr. Whedon has created. And then there’s Olivia Williams performance as Adelle DeWitt. She should’ve won and Emmy for it.
What, no River Tamm? She’s incredibly complex and fascinating and unpredictable.
Surely Jayne’s memorable quote should be “I’ll be in my bunk”
Haha! Also a classic!
What about Darla? She effing staked herself and gave birth at the same time!
Read the effing criteria.
Where’s Xander? The one character Joss based on himself and he didn’t even make the list. And Fred made the list? She’s the single most annoying character ever other than Dawn!
Xander was in the first draft – he would’ve been #11.
I agree with you here! Xander was definitely one of the most changed characters by the end of the show. Besides the fact that he was based on Joss, he grew and became a solid, go-to guy in Buffyverse. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprise if people said he carried a lot of the final season. While Buffy was off whining everyone to death (and I love Buffy, don’t get me wrong…but she did have some major drama moments near the end), Xander kept the Potentials together. He became a mentor of sorts, and was always the rock behind Buffy. Plus, Nicholas Brendan did a fantastic job in that role!
Oh, and Dawn was definitely the WORST EVER!!! I hated that entire story arc!!!
*title under Alan Tudyk*
You’re gorram right I am. Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!!!
What about YoSaffBridge? I know she wasn’t a recurring character but IDK if he ever made a better villain!
YoSaffBridge didn’t fit the criteria for the list (being in the opening credits) BUT I am looking at doing a Top 10 Joss Whedon villains list.
I loved your list! The only one I would’ve loved to have seen on there Is Wesley Wyndham Price. I know he wasn’t listed in credits, but to my mind, his story arc was simply amazing and gut wrenching. When you compare his humble, bumbling and arrogant beginnings to the twisted, bitter and hopefully redemptive man he became before he died, there is no other character, in my mind that Joss and company ever wrote better.
He was in the Angel credits, so he met the criteria. I may have to address this in the article…
more Serenity please
Not cool using Wash’s last words as his memorable quote. He has so many gems, and you chose that? I say, not cool.
While I understand why you did what you did to make your list manageable, I still would have liked to see Faith up there.. and Topher.. Topher Brink is one of my ALL TIME favorite Joss Characters. I’m not 100% sure why, but he just got to me.
Not agreeing with Fred …but hey…..HEY!! Where is Drusilla, Kaylee, Faith ……….XANDER???
Drusilla and Faith didn’t fit the criteria. Kaylee…yeah, she’s awesome.
Have to agree with Capt Reynolds though……#1, agreed.
That list was basically perfection. Mal was one of the best, most complex characters on television ever, not just in the Whedonverse. I am very glad NF made himself a pest and got the part, because outside of 1980 Harrison Ford I can’t imagine anyone else playing our Captain.
Wait, Buffy isnt original. There was a movie about Buffy the Vampire Slayer before the show wasnt there? 80’s flick I believe.
The film was also written by Joss Whedon.
Reblogged this on singleinacollegetown and commented:
Ok I highly approve of this list (nerd alert!), but soon would have chosen different quotes, because you know, I know them by heart!
Echo? No Echo? Where did Doll House go in this list???
I would have loved to include kaylee as well!! And Topher from Dollhouse… I’m sad that no one from Dollhouse made the cut especially Topher Brink.
Leaving off Wesley Wyndham-Pryce is an, um, interesting choice. His character arc is one of the best I’ve seen in television, not just in the Whedonverse.
When we first see him, he’s a priggish, by-the-book Watcher for Buffy. After making a huge mistake when he tries to abduct Faith, he realizes the error of his ways, joins forces with Buffy (ineffectively) and gets fired. He then moves over to Angel, becoming the comic relief. Over 2 1/2 seasons, he matures into a trusted leader before he makes the well-intentioned but horrible choice to take Connor away from Angel. Shunned by his former friends and consumed by self-loathing, he still does everything he can to help them and LA against various Big Bads until the “reboot” for season 5. There he finally wins Fred’s affections, even shooting his own father to save her, only to have to watch her die in front of his eyes. He spends the rest of the series looking out for the god that killed Fred and took over her body, his heart breaking every time he looks at her, until he finally is mortally wounded in the series finale. There, he accepts Illyria’s suggestion “should I lie to you now?” and dies looking at the face of his dead love. Of course, this leaves out numerous other nuances and character notes I don’t have time to list (sorry, Lilah!)
I’m not sure what else Wesley needed to do to get your attention.
Where the hell is RIVER TAM?!!
More Firefly/Serenity, less BTVS -without question!!!
I thought Shepherd was probably the most intriguing character. We never really did find out about his story and I would love a series on that!
There is a comic called ‘The Shepherd’s Tale’ that reveals the intended back story. It’s well worth the read, even if it does kill the mystique a little.
I find your ranking of Buffyverse characters extremely problematic, although I realize that there is a great divide within Whedonverse fandom when it comes to certain characters (namely Willow and Buffy). My list, ranked according to the overall complexity and growth of the characters:
1. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce
2. Buffy Summers
3. Capt. Mal Reynolds
4. Angel / Angelus
5. Cordelia Chase
7. Simon Tam
8. Fred Burkle / Illyria
9. Topher Brink
10. Billy / Dr. Horrible
I would have liked to see Kaylee. I love that she is the quintescential sweet and innocent girl but has the juxtaposition of being the mechanic (a more masculine occupation) and being open and unashamed of her sexuality. This open and fee spirit mixes wonderfully with her wholesomeness and sunny disposition to make someone that is heartwarming and fun to watch.
My list would be incredibly different (main differences: Willow would be number 1 and it would include Kaylee, Topher, and Anya), but this was still really great and interesting to read.
Thanks! That’s what’s great about the Whedonverse – there’s enough great characters for everyone to have a different list!
For sure, Anya and River should be on this list. Especially River! My top 3 would be:
River I went back and forth over for a while – ultimately I just didn’t get to see enough of her. Damn you Fox!
I liked this article but could you please google the word “comma” and try again? Thanks.
Being a member of the grammar police must earn you so much respect.
My favorite part of the list is the incredible amount of people who can’t even read the criteria. They are so busy being “upset” about why their particular favorite isn’t on the list that they can’t even read how the list was constructed.
It is a bit frustrating, but we’re all guilty of skimming lists at some point I guess. If you’re going to comment you really should read the whole thing.
All great characters in their own right. I was always very partial though to Wesley from Buffy/Angel. Loved his character arc. Very well timed and balanced from doofus, to capable hunter, to brooding hero.
Zoe was awesome! I would replace Fred with Zoe. I agree with the top two.
And now I’m sad all over again at the loss of Firefly. Oh, to have more than one season to re-watch!
Love your list and basically agree with your reasoning. Miss kaylee but only so much room! Personally Xander annoyed the hell out of me and I found Angel a little weak til he moved shows. Did someone say that Willow didn’t suffer from depression?? Spike – always entertaining. But Cpt Mal, #1 for sure. Interesting to wonder how the list would have changed if Fox hadn’t dumped Firefly. Damn I miss that show!
Thanks for an interesting, well thought out list!
Yes, I pointed out the fact that Willow didn’t suffer from depression – Buffy did, contrary to what is written in this article.
Spike, Anya, Fred, Wesley, Topher and everyone on the wonderful ship Serenity (Mal, Wash, Kaylee and Jayne in particular) will forever be in my heart as the best of the Whedonverse. I also want to give special props, although he very much does not qualify by these terms, to Loki as he was AMAZING in the Avengers. Have to say as well that I appreciate recognizing Buffy’s, um, ability to get on ones nerves. I think sometimes I am the only one that sees that. I acknowledge her importance however so don’t think I am being a hater, as I very much am not. She just would never be one of my favorites because of that very issue. Fantastic list though. Thanks for sharing! Think I will go restart Firefly now…
I would have chosen a different line for Billy/Dr H. Like “what a crazy random happenstance” or something. I also would have liked to see someone from Dollhouse-probably Topher. And Anya did become one of my favorites….man this is hard!! Someone above also asked about Buffy not being original because there was a movie. I didn’t see it addressed yet, but that movie with Kristy Swamson was written by Joss.
Nice list, really enjoyable! My list based on character development and overall awesomeness: (Whedon originals, in opening credits)
10. Capt. Mal Reynolds
9. Topher Brink
8. Winifred Burkle
7. Willow Rosenberg
6. Rupert Giles
4. Buffy Summers
3. Cordelia Chase (Would have been number 1 if it wasn’t for what was done to her character in season 4 of Angel)
1. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce
Honorable mentions: Adelle Dewitt, River Tam
As much as the fangirl in me loves me some William the Bloody, Wesley is the best written character in the Whedonverse.
In a recurring character list Darla would be number 1, hands down.
Perhaps it should have been TOP 20; Xander Harris represented the everyman. Inara and Book had great presence and were both really well written. You’re missing ex-vengeance demons and werewolf ex-boyfriends. Even the Badger, Niska and Saffron as well as other bad guys were so memorable in their small roles – they deserve props.
It is to the credit of Whedon and his crew that everyone was used well…even Tara was more interesting than most characters on other series’. And I realize some weren’t in opening credits, but that’s way to narrow a list for this verse. Just sayin’.
I still think you’re miss the point with Wesley, but it’s your own opinion.
The two biggest missing pieces are Cordelia and Wesley. Cordelia’s arch spanned not only Buffy, but Angel. She went from bitchy mean girl to an angel. Take away season 4 (which was horrible) and you have one of the biggest character changes in the Whedonverse. Angel would not have lasted without her, he needed her and in the end she meant more to him than Buffy because she gave him the strength he needed to finish his mission. Wesley’s arch was just as poignant because he is the one main human character that is incredibly flawed, but still always tries to do what was right. Unlike Xander, Wesley was more than capable of executing a plan on his own and had the smarts to go along with it. Xander was comic canon fodder.
My list in a perfect Joss world.
1. Captain Mal
Re: Jayne Cobb. First of all, thank-you for putting him in the list! Secondly, the big, sexy lug did learn. He gets one of the best lines in the movie. “If you can’t do something smart, do something right”.
The writer needs an editor. Holy smokes, some of the narrative was difficult to read. I almost gave up after thethe opening sentences “think” instead of thing – to the “wgen” and “it’s” instead of “its”. Yikes!
I would replace Fred with River, as I never cared much for Fred and found her kind of a waste of space. Buffy would be #2, but overall, though, other than immense amount of typos, well done.
Yeah, the time honoured technique of slapping my open palms against the keyboard does let me down from time to time.
You’ll be happy to know that we’ve just recruited an editor to check for such errors.
Um, hello? Are you forgetting a show? Echo could have filled the to ten all by herself!
Not one character from Dollhouse? Uh, Paul Ballard and Echo are two amazing characters!
A list of best characters in the whedonverse without Wesley is simply invalid. There is no merit to that list whatsoever (and I am not the only one who has that opinion). I usually respect everyone´s opinion, but in this case you don´t just have a different point of view. You are actually blind. And your excuses for not including the best written and best acted character in a Joss Whedon show are ridiculous. His arc is extraordinary and there weren´ just a few moments here and there but I see you have an inclination for one dimensional bad boys ( btw, you really shouldn´t be talking about consistency) .Yes, Wesley was horribly written and underused in season 5, but that was the season they tried to impose us with Spike and his hyped relationship with Angel.
A simply apology would have been enough instead of making petty excuses. When everyone thinks your are full of BS for excluding the ONE character that could not be excluded, you need to analize what is your criteria for a list of best characters, because it´s clearly not based on logic, quality oi writing, quality of acting or well, simple good common sense.
Sorry if the post seems rude, but I am tired of seeing the character and actor being underappreciated. Luckily, a lot of readers agree that he´s earned a place on such list. When are you going to realize it?
I am usually much more respectful and nice to other´s opinions. But what can I say? No one puts Wesley on a corner.
Wow. I never was a fan of Wesley, but if someone made a list and put him on top 10 i wouldn’t be trashing it and calling it “invalid” and the author blind. Just because someone has a different opinion than you do or interprets what they see differently does not mean it is any more or less valid than yours.
I loved the list and I hope there is one for villains soon!
There already is! Have a search around the site and it’ll ten up.
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Kind of astonished to see that 7 out of 10 picks are male characters. Where the hell is River Tam? Or Echo? Inara? Cordelia Chase? Zoe? I think all of those ladies rate higher than Giles.
Can we just make this the top 200 Whedon characters? Cuz dammit, what about Anya? And Alpha? And Topher? And Echo? And Cordie? And Nathan Fillion as the big bad guy who’s name I can’t remember? There are too many awesome characters to limit it to 10. This list is no good. It’s too short.
TA Giles and Mal and I agree they played Wesley for laughs but he was leading man material not comedy relief. Fred was a joke from begining to end, annoying and pointless. You should of put Kaylee on the list or Gina Torres Zoey would of been much better then Fred the characterc that destroyed Angel with her stupidity.
Too many to narrow it down! I would like to see some characters outside the “big 3” (Buffy, Angel, Firefly) on there though. I’m a big fan of Marty in Cabin in the Woods 🙂
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Pleased to see Jayne make the list against such *scans comments above* fierce competition. Anyone who has seen the Jaynestown episode … Priceless. Special shout out to Tick creator and Whedonverse newcomer writer Ben Edlund for that one.
One complaint – I think you should have placed this line in your opening for your article and list – especially with your description of Mal Reynolds as Joss Whedon’s “masterpiece” – Your list, as any listing of this sort, reflects your perspective of the characters.
It’s a very good list of “top characters” but it does come across with a bit too much of “my favorites” –
“Remember that this is just one viewpoint, and the awesomeness of the Whedonverse is that it is so jammed pack with brilliant characters that two people could have dramatically different and well justified lists.”
XANDER? TOPHER?? RIVER???
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I like how this list came out. Although I must agree with another comment I saw. It was slightly disappointing not to see River Tam on the list. Although- there isn’t as much backstory or depth with her as with the other characters. Maybe if the Browncoat ‘verse was given enough time…that could’ve been different. Also, as an avid Kaylee fan, it was sad not to see her on the list, but Wash is an excellent choice. I’ve always had a soft spot for him. ❤
Someone erased my comment? Why?
Somehow, my comments never make it to the comment section and I had something witty to say too… Oh well. My list is a tad bias, I’ll admit it, but I think it’s way better than the above list and reflects better character candidates.
7) Lindsey McDonald
9) River Tam
Now, I based these off of what I think of his top ten but also most dynamic characters (whether tv/movie/comic). Lindsey may not be so dynamic but he does have a lot of character development and he was a very interesting character for the show.
I’ve had a look into why your comments haven’t come through to the main page and there’s no sign of any but the two submitted today.
Email us if it happens again. Keep in mind that people who don’t ‘follow’ the blog have their comments moderated before they appear on the main page.
what, no shark demon? i disagree with this list. buffy is iconic, and should be #1. mal, at most is #2. faith should’ve made the list.
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Nice list. I can’t say I disagree with any of your choices and there are so many great characters to choose from. One thing I don’t get though is this love affair with Spike. While a complex character and well acted by James, I always thought of him as an annoying whiney little wanker and I’d have staked him on the first chance I had.
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