The Coen brothers have ranked among the world’s most revered filmmakers since they blazed into multiplexes with their neo-noir debut Blood Simple in the late ‘80s. A few of the Coens’ movies, from Fargo to No Country for Old Men, have been praised as some of the greatest films ever made, while others, like The Big Lebowski, have amassed a cult following.
The Coens’ movies are guaranteed to supply a bevy of memorable characters, brought to life by perfectly cast actors who jumped at the chance to work with the filmmaking duo. Here are the best characters from IMDb’s 10 top-rated Coen brothers films.
10 Inside Llewyn Davis (7.5) – Llewyn Davis
The structure of Inside Llewyn Davis meant that the titular struggling folk artist is the only major character, with the other characters dropping in and out of his life. The movie presents vignettes from Llewyn’s life, taking him from his friends’ couch to a jazz musician’s car.
Oscar Isaac’s performance in the role of Davis keeps the audience hooked from beginning to end, as he tempers the needs of his career with his needs as an artist.
9 The Man Who Wasn’t There (7.5) – Birdy Abundas
Ed Crane’s wildly inappropriate romance with teenage piano player Birdy Abundas feels like it’s from a totally different movie, as it’s out of step with the film’s noir-ish tone.
Scarlett Johansson was the perfect actor to bring out Birdy’s disturbing slant on the femme fatale, who explicitly offers to perform a sex act on Ed in her final scene.
8 True Grit (7.6) – Mattie Ross
The original adaptation of True Grit focused on Rooster Cogburn so that it could be sold as a John Wayne western, but the source novel is told from the perspective of his 14-year-old companion, Mattie Ross.
The Coens stuck closer to the book when they helmed their own adaptation, and picked out Hailee Steinfeld from a group of hundreds of applicants to play the role. Steinfeld’s Oscar-nominated turn as a young woman determined to avenge her father’s death roots the movie in a real humanity.
7 Blood Simple (7.6) – Loren Visser
The Coen brothers established their uniquely bleak, postmodern take on genre tropes with their debut feature, Blood Simple, a neo-noir about a man hiring a private eye to find out if his wife is cheating on him (which she is, with one of his employees).
The private eye, Loren Visser, turns out to have some terrifying ulterior motives. M. Emmet Walsh is brilliantly sinister in the role, really bringing Visser’s sadism to life.
6 O Brother, Where Art Thou? (7.7) – Delmar O’Donnell
One of the most quintessentially Coeny movies from the duo’s career, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, transplants the story of Homer’s The Odyssey into Depression-era rural Mississippi as three escaped convicts seek hidden treasure.
All three leads — George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson are hilarious, but the latter (playing small-time crook Delmar O’Donnell) steals the show.
5 Barton Fink (7.7) – Charlie Meadows/Karl Mundt
John Goodman has played a ton of memorable roles in the Coens’ movies. They cast him as the titular playwright’s neighboring hotel guest Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink because his warm, unsuspecting presence would lull the audience into a false sense of security. He’s just a trustworthy insurance salesman. So, when Charlie is revealed to be Karl Mundt, a serial killer whose M.O. is decapitation, it’s all the more shocking.
4 Miller’s Crossing (7.8) – Leo O’Bannon
There are plenty of memorable characters in Miller’s Crossing, from the mob heavy Tom Reagan to the double-crossing Bernie Bernbaum, but the greatest is crime boss Leo O’Bannon, played by the convincingly tough-as-nails Albert Finney.
In the character’s finest hour, he thwarts an attempt on his life as goons break into his house and he masterfully outsmarts them before chasing them off his property with a machine gun.
3 The Big Lebowski (8.1) – Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski
There are some brilliant characters in The Big Lebowski, like John Goodman’s hothead Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak, but the movie’s undeniable M.V.P. is the Dude, the central protagonist in the Coens’ Chandleresque stoner comedy. The juxtaposition of a carefree pothead against a hard-boiled mystery story is delightfully absurd.
Jeff Bridges breathed so much life into the role that he inspired a religious following. “Dudeism” is a religion comprising Lebowski fans who want to chill out and live in the moment like the Dude.
2 Fargo (8.1) – Marge Gunderson
Frances McDormand has played a ton of great characters across the Coens’ filmography, but by far the most iconic is Marge Gunderson from Fargo. She has a mutually supportive relationship with her husband and she deals with her pregnancy and homicide cases simultaneously.
While Jerry Lundegaard is screwing up his ill-conceived plan to kidnap his wife and the kidnappers he hired are turning on each other, Marge is just a hard-working cop trying to solve the case and bring the guilty party to justice.
1 No Country For Old Men (8.1) – Anton Chigurh
The Coens directed Javier Bardem to a much-deserved Academy Award in the role of Anton Chigurh, the hitman tracking down Llewelyn Moss in No Country for Old Men. Chigurh is chillingly lacking in the qualities that make us human. When he kills, there isn’t a dash of emotion in his eyes.
His unconventional character arc makes him a living embodiment of violence: he comes out of nowhere, he leaves nothing but chaos and destruction in his path, and then he vanishes without a trace.
NEXT: The Most Memorable Scene From Each Of IMDb’s 10 Top-Rated Coen Brothers Movies