The 13-Ish Best Edgar Wright Movie Characters

Edgar Wright's latest feature film hits theaters this week, and by all accounts Baby Driver is another winner blending action, laughs, and Wright's own unique sensibilities. (Don't take my assumption for it though, check out Jacob Hall's review out of SXSW.) Wright has yet to deliver anything less than a very good time at the movies, and while a lot of factors go into an acclaimed film, one of his many strengths as a filmmaker is in the variety of fun and fun-loving characters he packs into his work.

The scripts are obviously key to the films' highly quotable nature, but pairing the words on the page with particular performers is what ultimately results in such memorable characters. That combination has resulted in a bounty of fun, funny, and fascinating characters in Wright's films, and while some are leads, others only manage a few minutes of screen time. It's an issue of quality trumping quantity, and it's why someone with two scenes in a movie can be far more memorable than someone who's in nearly the entire thing. What I'm saying is Shaun of the Dead's Ed is an obnoxious twat whose "funny" behavior upsets the film's delicate tonal balance and ultimately keeps it removed from absolute greatness. Look, I don't like saying it anymore than you like hearing it, but there it is.

It's also why the list below is heavy on the male members and light on the ladies. Wright's films feature plenty of women, but you have to look all the way back to his UK television series, Spaced, to find an example of one with meat on her character's bones. But that's a think-piece for a different time. For now let's keep things moving with a look at the best characters in Edgar Wright's feature films.

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13. Yvonne (Shaun of the Dead)

"Glad to see someone survived."

Yvonne (Jessica Hynes) pops up briefly three times in the film, but she makes the cut here despite her brief screen time and her lack of humorous dialogue. She's an old friend of Shaun's and his doppelganger in many ways outside of one – she's a responsible adult. There's a reason she literally scares Shaun in two out of her three appearances, as she represents the concept of "growing up," which frightens him far more than a zombie horde ever could. Her comedic payoff comes in their second meeting, when we see her posse is a near identical pairing to his own, but it's her final appearance that cements her value. She arrives, along with the troops, to find Shaun and Liz in the pub's basement, and it's that arrival of maturity and responsibility that saves the couple's lives and love.

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12. Sergeant Turner (Hot Fuzz)

"Nobody tells me nothin'."

Turner (Bill Bailey) doesn't get much to do here, but he still delivers some laughs with the line above. Similarly, the "revelation" that he's actually twins has no bearing on the story, but still fits in nicely with Wright's ongoing attraction to the concept of doubles and copies that includes Shaun and Yvonne's mirrored survivor groups in Shaun of the Dead, Nega Scott in Scott Pilgrim, and the replacement androids in The World's End. Finally, and this is more of a personal reason for his appeal, he's almost always seen reading a different Iain Banks novel. No one's probably told him so, but he has great taste in writers.

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11. Philip (Shaun of the Dead)

"You've got red on you."

Shaun's dad died when he was just a kid and he's hated his stepfather Philip (Bill Nighy) in the decade-plus since. The man is a bastion of serenity in the light of that dismissal, and his calm demeanor even carries over into the zombie apocalypse as evident in his response to being bitten – "I'm perfectly alright. I ran it under a cold tap." It's a small role, but Nighy's performance fills it with such regret and warmth making the the pair's reconciliation scene towards the end all the more affecting.

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10. Vegan Police (Scott Pilgrim vs the World)

"It's milk and eggs, bitch."

Ribbing vegans is low-hanging fruit, and while Wright succumbs to the typical (and never all that funny) bit about a vegan secretly eating meat (Ha!) he redeems himself a hundred-fold by moving it all well beyond the usual one-joke premise. The vegan superpower gag is already fantastic, but the Vegan Police? Well they're just genius. Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr. absolutely kill it with what amounts to a minute of aggressively sincere screen time, and their high five on the way out seals the deal.

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9. Wallace Wells (Scott Pilgrim vs the World)

"I want to have his adopted babies."

Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin) has no emotional stake in his friend Scott Pilgrim's troubles, partly because he knows Scott will survive and partly because he knows Scott has brought this all on himself. Wallace Wells is us. He does have a very practical concern in that he wants his friend and roommate to become his friend and ex-roommate, and to that end he's absolutely merciless in skewering Pilgrim, pointing out his flaws and mistakes, and stealing other people's boyfriends. Okay that last part is unrelated, but the point is he's one of the film's funniest characters in part because he exists solely to poke fun at those around him. Culkin also does great work with deceptively flat line deliveries that hang in the air midway between joke and truth.

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8. The Andys (Hot Fuzz)

"Murder murder murder."

I would watch a spin-off film featuring the Andys in a heartbeat, and I think you would too. Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall are so perfectly in sync with their weirdness and sass that they gleefully flip the buddy-cop cliches on their head by being irredeemable yet endlessly lovable pricks. It would be like the recent War on Everyone, but funny. They work here as a surface resistance to Simon Pegg's efforts, but even as they're mercilessly knocking him back, their glances and hesitations reveal a layer of insecurity before the superior cop. It's the only subtle note between them, but it's enough. Even their friendly words of encouragement come laced with acid  – "Angel, don't go being a twat now!" – and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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7. Shaun (Shaun of the Dead)

"I don't think I've got it in me to shoot my flatmate, my mum, and my girlfriend all in the same evening!"

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is the ultimate slacker hero in many ways, and while that formula has been run somewhat into the ground over the years Pegg's Shaun nails the necessary balance between incompetence and heroics. He finds motivation when tested, but it doesn't turn him immediately into a hero, as evidenced by his incalculably stupid plan to leave the safety of a second floor apartment for a ground floor pub. Because seriously. He learns from it though and acknowledges his mistake, which is already more than most similarly-structured characters manage. His increasing competence follows something of a 'one step forward, two steps back' format at times, but it's a journey that holds out attention and earns our laughter.

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6. Andy Knightley (The World's End)

"Nothing suggested in the past three minutes has been better than 'smashy smashy egg man.'"

Nick Frost's only stab at real seriousness in a Wright film comes, fittingly, in Wright's least funny film. That change of pace is a big part of what makes the character of Knightley so good as the actor gets to flex untapped muscles with impressive results. He's a conscience of sorts to good old Gary King (Pegg), and like most of our nagging crickets, he's summarily ignored for his efforts. When push comes to shove though, Andy reveals that not only is he great at both pushing and shoving, but he's also someone who recognizes the importance of friendship, forgiveness, and loyalty in times of need. His role shifts in the end from sidekick to a man making the best of his present while documenting the errors – his own included – of the past. While he may not be all that chuckle-worthy, he remains a rare Wright character with deeply dramatic depths.sp alison pill

5. Kim Pine (Scott Pilgrim vs the World)

"If your life had a face, I would punch it."

Maybe the comics explain it better, but the attraction girls have towards Scott Pilgrim is something of a mystery. One of his other lady suitors ranks higher up the list (and further down the page), but Kim Pine (Alison Pill) stands tall and ready to rock out while simultaneously slagging on Scott for his life choices. Pill's straight-faced delivery only makes the barbs and slams that much better, and despite her character's name, she's moved well beyond the simplicity of a girl pining for her ex-boyfriend. Kim's love is the music and when she sits down behind a drum set, the music loves her back. She is sex bob-omb.

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4. Nicholas Angel (Hot Fuzz)

"[Police work] is about procedural correctness in the execution of unquestionable moral authority."

All great lead characters are flawed in some way and by the time the credits roll, they've either addressed the issue or at least acknowledged it. But Wright has a history of taking the idea a step further. His flawed leads are typically some combination of incompetence and dickishness. Shaun is the former, Scott Pilgrim and Gary King are both, and only Nicholas Angel (Pegg) stands above the fray. Not only is he employed in a position of respect and power, he's terrifically good at his job. He may be a bit detached emotionally, but he's highly competent in his abilities both physical and deductive. And not only does he learn to bond with those around him, but he also takes a lesson from Danny and learns the importance of delivering a good post-kill one-liner.

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3. PC Danny Butterman (Hot Fuzz)

"He is not Judge Judy and Executioner!"

Frost always ends up as second fiddle while Pegg's around, but while he manages to be plenty funny here as the sidekick, his character also gets an arc fairly similar to his co-star's in their previous film. Danny is essentially Shaun – a nice but incompetent guy who hasn't found the motivation to believe in himself and step up his game. Brain freeze gag to the contrary, he's no idiot. He just hasn't tried to be any more than what others see in him. That changes though, as he turns his playful, childish enthusiasm for action into real ass-kickery. He gets an arc, he gets the emotional beats, and he still gets to be stupidly hilarious along the way.

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2. Knives Chau (Scott Pilgrim vs the World)

"I'm too cool for you anyway."

I'm on record as being no fan of this film's ending and think all three members of the love triangle should have gone their separate ways. As it stands, the only one to come out on top is Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). This isn't me being creepy, I swear, but she's the only good person between them and lucks out in dodging the bullet that is Scott. Knives is a pocket of sincerity in sea of shallow, self-centered people, and while her youth is what's fueling her full-tilt enthusiasm and energy, that doesn't make it any less infectious. Wong gives her a perfect pairing of innocence and resilience, and as the film ends, it's her we're cheering for while the two doofuses with hair insecurities walk off into the night.

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1. Simon Skinner (Hot Fuzz)

"I'm a slasher. I must be stopped! A slasher...of prices."

Hot Fuzz is the smartest, funniest, and best of Wright's first four films (with The World's End coming in second obviously), and I could have easily made up this list entirely with its plentiful and perfect character roster. I didn't do that of course, but there was never any doubt that one of them would nab the top spot. Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) is that one. His introduction as a "slasher of prices" is an all-timer, and his boundless enthusiasm only enhances his smarmy evil. He's almost always smiling throughout the film, and it's impossible not to smile back every second he's onscreen. Dalton's performance here is enough to make you wish he hadn't been saddled with the most dour James Bond interpretation and that other filmmakers would afford him some comedic roles. Dammit, now I'm depressed. Time to watch Hot Fuzz again, I guess.