Today it seems like everything old is new again. Between revivals, reboots, sequels, and prequels, we barely have a chance to miss a pop culture character before we get to see them again. The witches of Charmed and the aliens of Roswell, New Mexico are poised to return to the small screen, The Predator is stalking us again in movie theaters, and we’re never without a new MCU, DCEU, or Star Wars story to anticipate. Audiences who’ve built a history with these properties love the opportunity to revisit their favorites. It’s fun to see what beloved characters are up to, or how they can be updated and re-envisioned for today.
Yet, while it can seem like the glut of characters being revived never ends, there are many who have yet to be resurrected. And then there are the characters we may see again soon but could really do without. Many of these characters initially came to our collective attention during the first decade of the 21st century. Those years were full of innovative characters, original ideas, and accomplished adaptations. Looking back now, there are some characters we truly miss and that we would welcome the opportunity to see again today. Then there are those that were interesting or exciting at the time but haven't maintained their relevance. Whether it happened immediately upon their introduction or it’s a perspective that has benefited from hindsight, we just don’t feel an ongoing attachment to these characters. Here is our list of the movie and TV characters from the 2000s we would welcome back with open arms, and those we’re happy to leave in the past.
20 DON’T: NEO FROM THE MATRIX TRILOGY
We first met Keanu Reeves’s Neo in The Matrix in 1999. At the time, the film was a mind-bending achievement in punk science fiction and kinetic action. And Neo was the audience’s avatar into a new, astonishing reality. Given its success, it was only a matter of time before The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions came in 2003.
However, the sequels didn’t live up to the original. Plodding and thematically muddled, they saw Neo go from slick truth-seeker to ho-hum savior. Between that and the many movies and TV shows since that have featured similar dystopian stories with whiz-bang action, we haven’t really had any reason to miss Neo.
19 MISS: ARAGORN FROM THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy was full of fantastic characters, from the skilled Legolas to the twisted Gollum to the wise Gandalf. Yet, audiences haven’t had an opportunity to miss many of them, given several characters from The Lord of the Rings were seen again in the more recent Hobbit trilogy.
One character who wasn’t featured in that latest trio of films, however, was Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen’s reluctant and all-too-human king. Throughout The Lord of the Rings movies, Aragorn occupied many roles. He was an enigmatic ranger, noble warrior, romantic lead, and dignified leader. Aragorn was a stand-up guy who grounded the more fantastic elements of the epic films — a character we'd love to see more of.
18 DON’T: MAX FROM DARK ANGEL
Dark Angel arrived in 2000 riding a wave of hype. Created by James Cameron, the series centered on Max, a genetically engineered super-soldier played by Jessica Alba in her break-out role. After escaping from a government facility, Max tries to lead a normal life in post-apocalyptic Seattle (in 2019!). Alba easily held the center of the series, despite some hokey plot points and special effects.
Max was one of a surge of strong female characters in action-heavy series at the time, but she ultimately wasn’t as compelling as Buffy, Xena, or Alias’ Sydney Bristow. As a result, she isn’t missed like those characters. Furthermore, she was inspired by the manga Battle Angel: Alita, a character that viewers will get to see in her own Cameron-scripted film later this year.
17 MISS: OFELIA FROM PAN’S LABYRINTH
Before Oscar-winner The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro directed the cinematic masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth. The film combines a war-torn, horrific real world with a magical, fairy-tale-like fantasy world. The young protagonist of the film, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), had frightening experiences in the mythical fantasy world, but none as harrowing as those she experienced in the real world. Ofelia’s journey throughout the movie was beautiful, hopeful, and sad.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances she finds herself in, Ofelia is a character we miss for her incredible imagination and rich inner life. We could use more characters like her in our difficult world.
16 DON’T: JACK SHEPHARD FROM LOST
Over six seasons, Jack Shephard, played by Matthew Fox, was the main character of the groundbreaking TV series Lost. We saw him before he was stranded on the show’s isolated island, after he left, and during his stay there. Jack was a troubled character who wanted to do the right thing but often fell prey to his own flaws. While this made him a fascinating, layered character, his trajectory from a man of science to a man of faith became increasingly confusing in future seasons.
Today, there are many flawed and conflicted characters like Shephard on TV, and many more on spiritual quests of self-discovery, making it hard to miss him or his show specifically.
15 MISS: HARRY POTTER
Whether he’s appearing in books, movies, theme park rides, or a play, Harry Potter is one of the most beloved characters of the last couple decades. While we’ve seen a lot of Harry and his pals during that time, they’ve been absent from the big screen since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in 2011.
That’s many long years without the boy who lived. The Fantastic Beasts movies have been some comfort, providing us with new Wizarding World stories, and so has the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Yet, we can’t help but long for another glimpse of Harry on film.
14 DON’T: CLARK KENT FROM SMALLVILLE
When Smallville premiered it was one of only a few superhero shows on TV. Focusing on Clark Kent (Tom Welling) before he becomes Superman, the series showed the Kryptonian discovering his alien roots, learning about his powers, and struggling to determine who he wants to be.
Nowadays, superhero shows are a dime a dozen. Many of them are engaging in their entertainment. However, they also often touch on many of the same themes that Smallville did and have characters that wrestle with many of the same issues as Clark Kent. So, although Smallville may have been the first superhero show to explore these things in depth, the numerous shows doing the same since have made it hard to miss Clark Kent.
13 MISS: THE DEVIL FROM REAPER
There may not be a character on TV who had a better time than Ray Wise’s Devil on the short-lived cult series Reaper. Boss to reluctant soul collector Sam, this Devil appears as a suave older gentleman. He can be stern and even scary, but more often he prefers to use his silver tongue to manipulate Sam into doing his job.
Reaper was a hilarious show and its depiction of the Devil was a big part of its appeal. The character may have been a fallen angel, but he demonstrated how appealing his free-wheeling lifestyle could be. Wise’s Devil and his show’s time on Earth were entirely too brief.
12 DON’T: CAPTAIN JONATHAN ARCHER FROM STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE
There have been many Star Trek television shows since the original premiered in 1966. Enterprise was the franchise’s foray into TV during the ‘00s. While many of the characters from the Star Trek shows have left an enduring mark on pop culture, the characters of Enterprise do not enjoy that distinction.
The show was a prequel set a century before The Original Series, as the first crew of the Enterprise voyaged across the galaxy. The crew was led by Captain Jonathan Archer, played by Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap fame. The series had its moments, but overall the show and the character were just bland, never achieving the inspiring storytelling and involving character arcs of other Star Trek installments.
11 MISSED: JAYE TYLER FROM WONDERFALLS
Wonderfalls lasted for only 13 episodes in 2004, but the show made a memorable impression. The story focused on Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas) an underachieving college graduate who works at a gift shop in Niagara Falls. While Jaye is comfortable with her slacker lifestyle, she has to step up when tchotchkes at the shop and elsewhere start talking to her. Their cryptic clues lead her to help people in need, despite her strenuous objections.
Jaye may be a reluctant hero but her path from unwilling participant to the sort-of cooperative, is funny and poignant. Wonderfalls and Jaye herself offered a subtly optimistic view of the world, a perspective we miss as a counterpoint to many of the gloomy shows gracing TV today.
10 DON’T: NOAH BENNET FROM HEROES
Known initially only as Horn-Rimmed Glasses, Jack Coleman’s Noah Bennet went from a mysterious recurring character to the character that got the most screen-time in the comic-book show Heroes. Morally ambiguous with unclear allegiances outside of to his daughter Claire, Bennett was initially an intriguing character. As Heroes went on, however, the character became increasingly tiresome, along with the show.
Heroes attempted to reclaim some of its former glory with the 2015-16 mini-series Heroes Reborn, which focused on Bennett. Yet the poorly conceived story, unexceptional new characters, and inexplicable motivations resulted in a mess of a show that made us hope never to see Bennett on our screens again.
9 MISS: CHUCK
Chuck Bartowski, the title character from the TV show Chuck, is an unassuming employee of the Buy More. That is until he accidentally downloads a cache of top-secret government information into his brain. All of the sudden he has to work with agents from the CIA and NSA and he must conceal his new role from his family, friends, and co-workers.
Chuck was an odd but appealing mix of action, comedy, drama, and science fiction. While the foundation of the show was preposterous, Zachary Levi’s winning performance as Chuck gave the series a humanity that made its central conceit work. We miss the character’s exuberant energy and witty charm.
8 DON’T: JACK SPARROW FROM PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
When Johnny Depp appeared in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2003, his high-wire performance as Jack Sparrow was so different and unexpected that audiences couldn’t get enough of the character. Depp made Sparrow quirkily entertaining with a worldview that made him interesting beyond his eccentricities.
After the first movie, audiences couldn’t wait to see more of Sparrow. However, after four sequels the series has outstayed its welcome. As the movies have continued, the characterization of Sparrow has gone from inspired to annoying. Sparrow has become a caricature whose story no longer holds any interest. Yet Disney doesn’t want to let the franchise go, having released the fifth film in 2017 and threatening another in the future.
7 MISS: SYDNEY BRISTOW FROM ALIAS
CIA double agent Sydney Bristow from Alias was one of a number of empowered women who graced the small screen in the 2000s. Not only was she caught between multiple objectives, but she was also tangled in a web of science fiction-y prophecies, leading the character to become so much more than a typical government operative.
While Bristow was a skilled agent, she was also stubborn, vulnerable, strong, and smart and Garner made her emotional, flawed, and totally fascinating. No matter how impossible the circumstances in which Bristow found herself, it was impossible not to root for her and to feel what she was feeling. We couldn’t get enough of her through Alias’s five seasons, and we’d welcome her return to the field now.
6 DON’T: BELLA SWAN FROM THE TWILIGHT SAGA
The early 2000s ushered in a flood of strong female characters. Then, there was Bella Swan from The Twilight Saga. Popular with teenagers and middle-aged women alike, this story of a quiet girl who falls in love with a controlling vampire came across as cultural counter-programming. Many claimed Bella was a feminist character because she was able to make her own choices. Those who championed a less obscure brand of feminism weren’t so convinced, however.
Regardless, as a character, Bella lacked depth. Kristen Stewart played her as an awkward damsel in distress with minimal internal life. A character who was only interesting because of the men who were attracted to her, Bella was a someone we don’t miss at all.
5 MISS: JACK HARKNESS FROM TORCHWOOD
We first met John Barrowman’s flirtatious rogue Jack Harkness in Doctor Who. The character was immortal and complex, and while his sexuality was unique to the world of Doctor Who, his intricate past and future made it one of the less noteworthy things about him. The character was so magnetic, that it seemed natural he’d headline his own spin-off — and he did with Torchwood.
While Torchwood wasn’t a perfect show, learning more about Harkness was a treat. So, it was a shame when the series came to an end after only four seasons. Barrowman went on to play Malcolm Merlyn in the CW's Arrowverse shows, so we haven’t been without the charming actor. Nonetheless, we miss the casually progressive, always entertaining Harkness.
4 DON’T: ECHO FROM DOLLHOUSE
Dollhouse marked Joss Whedon’s return to TV after a long hiatus, and the show’s concept seemed perfect for him: a nefarious corporation reprograms people with different personalities and skills and rents them out to the highest bidder. The series focused on Eliza Dushku’s Echo who becomes self-aware over the course of the show.
Unfortunately, while it was an intriguing premise, the show’s execution never lived up to its promise. Echo made for a hollow presence at the center of the show. Even as she gained a sense of self, the absurd plotting and out of left field twists she had to contend with made it hard to truly care about the character and her plight.
3 MISS: MAL FROM FIREFLY
The cast of Joss Whedon’s space Western, Firefly, was a true ensemble. Each character was unique and fascinating in their own right. However, if there was one character who anchored the whole enterprise it was Nathan Fillion’s Captain Mal Reynolds, a Browncoat who still covets his independence even after having fought a losing battle for it.
Far in the future, Mal keeps his ship on the edge of space doing what he can to maintain his freedom. Sometimes this means he lies, cheats, and steals, but he always has an unwavering moral code. This makes him a strong leader that fans still want to follow — even over a decade after we last saw him.
2 DON’T: ANAKIN SKYWALKER FROM THE STAR WARS PREQUELS
Even before the Star Wars prequels hit theaters, the story of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the Dark Side was already the stuff of legend. As a result, fans couldn’t wait to see the story dramatized on the big screen. Unfortunately, the prequels didn’t meet expectations. The storytelling was clunky, uninspired, and downright boring in places.
In addition, the actors who played Anakin Skywalker failed to bring any nuance or depth to the character. As young Anakin, Jake Lloyd seemed uncomfortable and out of place, and as the older version, Hayden Christensen came across as whiny and obnoxious. Given these disappointing depictions, we’d rather imagine our own version of the character than see him on the big screen again.
1 MISS: STARBUCK FROM BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
One of the most controversial elements of the 2004 reimagining of the 1970s series Battlestar Galactica was the decision to have the formerly male character Starbuck played by a female. Yet, as portrayed by Katee Sackhoff, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace became a feminist hero. Hot-headed, passionate, conflicted, and complicated, she grew to be one of the show’s most popular characters on her own merits.
Even years later, the character has proved to be impossible to forget. Her responses to her trials and tribulations made her mesmerizing to watch, even when she was doing the wrong thing. There hasn’t been a character quite like her since BSG ended, and likely won’t be again.