There have been many memorable and famous sidekicks throughout film history. The main duty for this often overshadowed character is to support the hero/protagonist (or villain) and bring an extra dimension to the film. This is often in the form of a comedic offering, or it comes from a character of significant intelligence who supports and helps carry the protagonist through to the end.
Sometimes the sidekick proves to be more interesting than the lead they are supporting and this often spurns from someone who is not always directly associated with the hero but one who acts in a supporting role. This often occurs when the two characters begin on differing narrative paths but join forces when their motivations and goals become shared or similar.
Here are my top 5 unconventional sidekicks who have emerged out of the shadows to steal the show:
Frank – They Live
It may not be an especially hard task to overshadow the leading man when his only previous acting experience comes from a wrestling ring, but to be fair to Roddy Piper he does a decent job of portraying the down on his luck working man accidentally stumbling upon a secret alien takeover in John Carpenter’s cult classic.
In support, the always watchable Keith David is the backbone of the film as Frank, firstly bringing Piper’s Nada into the action (albeit, unknowingly) and then joining him in a desperate yet heroic bid to bring down the alien race with little more than a couple of shotguns and a pair of sunglasses. You get to know and love his character in a short period of time through David’s portrayal of an unwilling hero who just wants to walk the white line and you feel genuinely disheartened when he is murdered moments before reaching his goal.
Dr Lazarus – Outland
This early eighties futuristic space thriller was not a particularly high-achieving affair, but it has still been given a cult classic status, partly due to it boldness to challenge the outer-space regions without the use of CGI or a mega budget. Also, it stars Sean Connery in an unusual role as a galactic police officer. Far from home, Connery is determined to expose a conglomerate secret where workers spiral into madness and commit suicide as a result of a drug, which makes them work faster than a Road Runner and Speedy Gonzalez lovechild.
Frances Sternhagen as Dr Lazarus provides the support to Connery’s Marshall William T. O’Niel and her sarcastic, cagey demeanor and aged wise-cracks make her instantly likeable. Again, a character who begrudgingly sticks their neck out for the greater good and this time comes out on top.
Wan ‘Short Round’ Li – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Throughout the Indiana Jones series, Harrison Ford has enjoyed the luxury of some charming feminine acquaintances to help him on his adventures, but by far the most interesting (and helpful) of his sidekick’s was Jonathan Ke Quan’s Short Round. His squeaky voice, ever quotable dialogue and ability to think and act well-beyond his young age to pull Indy out of a number of sticky situations, has qualified him as one of the most memorable and likeable sidekick’s of all time.
Sgt Al Powell – Die Hard
Not every hero needs a side-kick, but when you are single-handedly taking on a big bunch of european super-thieves, the least you could ask for is a donut scoffing cop who at least provides moral support from a safe distance. This is exactly what Bruce Willis’s John McClane receives in Reginald VelJohnson’s Sgt Powell.
Although he doesn’t really get into the action, his comedic timing and loveable nature is enough to forgive him for his lack of steel. That is until the not overly convincing final scene where he saves the hero from getting one in the back when a German terrorist gets up off of the ground after falling out of a skyscraper an hour previously.
Jim Malone – The Untouchables
Sean Connery makes another appearance in this list, this time as the sidekick; another role he is not often associated with. Playing the wise-old Irish beat cop who leaves the security of his mundane duties to help Kevin Costener’s Eliot Ness bring down Robert De Niro’s Al Capone, is one of his most colourful roles ever.
His father-like approach and shrewd tactics are what carries the Untouchables through most of their challenges and his gruesome death brings you closer to a character you genuinely wish would live to fight another day. Special mention to Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith, who’s Agent George Stone and Agent Oscar Wallace are as equally absorbing as the other members of the unlikely squad.