We live in a magical, golden age where we have so many awesome pop culture characters that we have a hard time keeping track of them all. Think what your ancestors who were stuck with Gilgamesh and maybe a couple of lesser heroes would think about the first Avengers movie alone -- tons of super-interesting characters doing amazing things, all crammed in the span of a couple of hours. (Also, their brains would probably implode because you just introduced them to the concept of movies that they have no mental tools to handle, you monster, but that's beside the point.)
In fact, we have so many cool characters that a few of the most interesting ones inevitably end up as sidekicks and supporting roles, despite the fact that they have all the tools to become the next Wolverine or Iron Man or Ernest P. Worrell. Let's take a look at some of the better small-time characters out there and see if we can't elevate them to the superstar status they so clearly deserve.
5Sallah From The Indiana Jones Movies
Before John Rhys-Davies was the criminally underappreciated gem of badassdom that was Gimli, son of Gloin, he was the criminally underappreciated mountain of aptitude and virility known as Sallah, aka that fat guy you were mildly amused by in Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. "Hold on," you probably think at this point. "Wasn't the guy little more than a fairly competent comedy sidekick, good for a couple of laughs and the same number of plot devices?" Yes, he was, and yes, it is a crime.
Consider the backstory of Sallah Mohammed Faisel el-Kahir, the best and most powerful digger in Egypt at a time where the digging circles were pretty, uh, chaotic, even in real life. Only, he doesn't exist in real life -- he exists in the goddamned Indiana Jones-verse, where a mild-mannered university professor punches Nazis into chopper blades and his even milder dad is James Bond. That is the world where Sallah plies his trade in the most brutal digging scene imaginable, and rules it like it's nothing. While fighting Nazis on the side. And managing to avoid the two worst movies in the franchise. That's skill.
Note that this picture features both Indy and Sean Connery, and Sallah still manages
to look the coolest of the lot.
What's more, Sallah is an extremely nuanced character, unlike certain alumni of the franchise that I could name if I wanted to kick people whose careers are already at a "screaming at caged children in music videos" stage. He has a huge family, a vibrant life, a sense of humor that is far too nuanced for a bit-part character, and even a bad habit (his love of Gilbert & Sullivan tunes). What we have here is basically a heroic version of Tony Soprano, juggling his duties, contacts, and family life while fighting external threats (Sallah's Nazis to Tony's cops and opposing criminals) and trying to live his life.
You know what? Screw the inevitable Indiana Jones reboot; this is the direction the franchise totally needs to take. Recast or don't, 1940s or 1960s, I don't even give a damn. Just give us a Sallah-driven hustle movie set sometime after Raiders. Maybe it could feature Marion Ravenwood too, because, let's face it, in a world where 19 out of 20 superhero films revolve around male protagonists, she's not going to get that movie of her own in a hurry.
4Mr. Pink From Reservoir Dogs
If you were to tragically hit your head and lose your memories of all pop culture made within the last 30 years, chances are you'd still recognize Mr. Pink's legendarily dickish take on the necessity of tipping. Steve Buscemi's career-making gangster from Reservoir Dogs is a nihilistic asshole through and through, but in the end the only true professional of the group. Not only does he survive the movie as the only major character, he also gets the diamonds and manages to escape the warehouse. Was he arrested or killed immediately after? Maybe! Probably! Chased as a cop-killer and with nowhere to run, certainly. Not great odds, those.
The thing is, you know who else didn't have great odds? Jackie Brown. Butch. Django. Almost every single Tarantino protagonist who nevertheless survives. What if Pink pulled a truly Tarantinoan "against all odds" trick and fought/bamboozled his way through the cops waiting outside? He is armed, after all, and his knack for survival has been demonstrated throughout the movie.
But his absolute greatest strength is simple: Despite being a popular character, he is virtually a blank slate ... that is played by Steve Buscemi.
This is an excellent thing, regardless of your stance re: weasels.
There are many great Tarantino creations out there, but surprisingly few of them would work as spinoffs. Some of them, like Hans Landa, are awesome characters but would chew the scenery off any set if you ever attempted to put them front and center. Others have already completed their character arc -- Butch has his watch/redemption thing, The Bride gets her revenge, even Jules Winnfield finds new meaning in life. But you know who doesn't have any of that stupid "closure" shit going on? That's right, Mr. Pink. All he has is a loud mouth and either a shitload of diamonds or a pile of cash, depending on which theory about the Pulp Fiction briefcase you buy into. What's more, Steve Buscemi of today is an absolute powerhouse of an actor: Apart from his usual "snarky little shit" roles, his stint in Boardwalk Empire (even with all the flaws of his character) has proved that the man can have more presence than 99 percent of Hollywood's supposed tough guys. His real-life heroics certainly don't hurt, either.
So, Mr. Tarantino, heed this call: Set Buscemi loose on the world once more. Shit, you can even let Robert Rodriguez direct if you want. Pink could have escaped to Mexico, and Rodriguez certainly has experience making things explode south of the border. I will not apologize for that accidental euphemism.