Daniel Radcliffe has played Harry Potter in every film. (Peter Mountain / Warner…)
The first decade of the new century is over, leaving behind a raft of new characters ripe for parody, imitation and sequelization. Some are holdovers from previous decades (Hello, Mr. Joker), some are as old as time (we're looking at you, Jesus) and quite a few are original creations of the 21st century. Here's a look at the top film characters, year by year.
(2001) Harry Potter
We end the decade much as we started it — fascinated by the exploits of a bespectacled British schoolboy with a scar on his forehead and a way with magic. J.K. Rowling's books were a sensation before the boy wizard hit the big screen, but Warner Bros. conjured some magic of its own by finding young Daniel Radcliffe, who managed to grow older gracefully.
Poor, tortured Gollum isn't a hero by any means, but the story behind the character's appearance in Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's books changed cinematic technology forever. Actor Andy Serkis performed Gollum's role, but what you see on-screen in "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" is a computer-generated representation taken directly from Serkis' movements and facial expressions.
(2003) Capt. Jack Sparrow
Johnny Depp almost single-handedly saved the lavish Jerry Bruckheimer-produced theme-park-ride movie "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" with his flamboyant portrayal of Capt. Jack Sparrow. Despite giant pirate ships and intricate sword fights, Depp's stumbling and mumbling Sparrow was by far the most eye-popping effect in the film and instantly became a classic.
(2004) Jesus Christ
Before the release of director Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," the movie was known mainly as a self-funded vanity project by the Hollywood megastar, whose decision to film entirely in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew seemed like box-office suicide. Weeks of controversy followed by weeks of record-breaking box office receipts transformed the religious icon into a silver-screen icon.
(2005) Ennis and Jack
The tent. The look. Ennis and Jack (the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively) struggled to maintain a forbidden relationship in "Brokeback Mountain," which won Oscars and racked up box office dollars. The lead actors' performances bled into mainstream consciousness as Jack's line "I wish I knew how to quit you" entered the general vernacular.
Sacha Baron Cohen originally created this bombastic Kazakh TV reporter for a British comedy show in the mid-'90s, but most people discovered him when he came to the big screen in this " documentary" about life in the United States. Deftly blurring the line between fiction and reality, Cohen used the character to goad unsuspecting people into behaving in ridiculous ways — usually to point out the underlying racism and/or hypocrisy.
There were movies in 2007 that grossed more money and won more Oscars, but the pregnant, wisecracking teenager played by Ellen Page in director Jason Reitman's "Juno" captured filmgoers' imaginations. As the films around her got bigger, with the effects often dwarfing the humans, the simplicity of Juno's predicament reminded everyone that the movies are about people more than things.
(2008) The Joker
Ledger's death cast a long shadow over his final completed screen role in Christopher Nolan's " The Dark Knight." But this did nothing to diminish the power of his performance as Batman's archnemesis and probably added to the haunting quality of a character with no past, no morals and one of the creepiest smiles in cinema history.
James Cameron was inspired by Jackson's work on Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" movies to embark on "Avatar," about 10-foot-tall blue-skinned aliens called Na'vi. Actress Zoe Saldana wore a performance-capture harness on her body to feed her actions into a computer, which generated her blue-skinned alter ego. The results were real enough to bring audiences back to theaters over and over, to the tune of more than $2 billion in grosses worldwide.
(2010) Mark Zuckerberg
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has stated many times that he played fast and loose with the facts of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's life for "The Social Network," but for most people, Jesse Eisenberg's defiant, brilliant portrayal is going to remain as the defining element. And in a year of many films taken from real life ( "127 Hours," "The Fighter" and "The King's Speech," among them), the focus on Zuckerberg's technical savvy seems more in touch with our current world than any other.