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The Five Most Important Background Characters in Movie History

Jul 21st 2013 | 2:23pm | Mitch Knox
Everyone loves a hero. Often, a compelling protagonist that you can relate to, root for, and/or ogle is reason enough to get at least on-board with, if not grotesquely excited about, a film. But sometimes, the person most deserving of your cinema-going attention isn't quite so obvious – in fact, sometimes, they're lucky to even get a credit…

5. The Drinking Tourist – The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only

On three separate occasions during Roger Moore's run as James Bond, the Drinking Tourist, played by the films' assistant director Victor Tourjansky, is just minding his own business when Bond comes bursting through in extreme circumstances, all of which fall somewhere between “tank chase through St Petersburg” and “invisible cars and Madonna” on the scale of Insane Things James Bond Has Done.

 

Photos: patfullerton.com

In 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, he's just chilling on a beach in Sardinia with a bottle of wine when Bond comes careening out of the sea in a submarine car, causing the Drinking Tourist to stare first at Bond, then his wine, in disbelief. In Moonraker (1979), he's hanging in Venice when 007 crashes the party again, this time in a freaking land-gondola.

 

Finally, in 1981's For Your Eyes Only, the Drinking Tourist is in the Alps and has forsaken his wine bottle for a simple glass, probably because he's concerned that his drinking was making him see shit like men in suits driving land-gondolas. Then Bond flies past on skis being pursued by assassins, because why the fuck not?

But what are the odds that this same guy would be exposed to Bond's not-very-secret agency three times? Sadly, Tourjansky has since passed away, so we may never find out for sure if the Drinking Tourist is actually an evil mastermind who gets off on following Bond around and watching him do his espionage thing. But speaking of suspicious onlookers…

4. Suspicious Onlooker – Jack Reacher

Unlike this list's other entries, Jack Reacher's Suspicious Onlooker earns his spot for non-fictional reasons. After all, it's not every day that an extra manages to receive a higher billing than a film's A-list, crazypants star on its IMDb page.

See, IMDb cast lists are ordered as a result of profile views. When Redditor and aspiring actor Alexander Rhodes posted a link to his IMDb page as part of a discussion about film techniques, the increased traffic quickly put him at fifth-highest billed on the page for Jack Reacher, his most recent performance. Answering what they saw as a challenge, the Reddit and Imgur communities bestowed upon Rhodes' page enough hits that he reached top billing.

 

Photo: boiledfrog

Of course, it didn't last – Rhodes' name is now buried among the rest of the nobodies – but for one shining moment, the internet once again demonstrated its awesome and terrifying power of being able to achieve anything it sets its mind to, like making Pitbull perform at an Alaskan Walmart or derailing a Mountain Dew crowdsourcing campaign by encouraging users to vote for new flavour names such as “Gushing Granny” and “Fapulous Apple”.

3. Galaga Guy – The Avengers

Galaga Guy is actually impossible to miss: after the Avengers arrive on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, Tony Stark sells a random agent up the river by pointing out to anyone who cares that he's playing the 1981 arcade classic Galaga at his work station.

 

I would be remiss to not mention cracked.com's entry in a wholly unrelated article that asserts that the Galaga sequence is actually an allusion to the film's climactic battle. But his role also provides a disturbing insight into exactly what kind of ship it is that Nick Fury is running.

This highly-trained agent is just pissfarting around while the rest of the Helicarrier is preparing to deal with a serious, intergalactic threat, and not a single person on that bridge other than Tony bats an eyelash at the fact he is openly wasting his and everyone else's time. If anything, it's indicative of a culture in S.H.I.E.L.D. that is all big-picture with no focus on the details. But machines don't work if the cogs are fucked, right?

Worse, what if he's just stressed to the eyeballs and playing Galaga is his way of coping with the fact everything he knew about the world a week ago is a lie? What kind of organisation pays so little attention to the emotional and mental wellbeing of its employees that a freaking bridge officer on a multimillion-dollar flying warship can openly play video games while fiery death by alien is mere hours away? Everyone's gross lack of attention to detail probably goes a long way towards explaining how Hawkeye then manages to castrate the Helicarrier with a single, albeit explosive, arrow.

2. Ice Cream Maker Guy – The Empire Strikes Back

In The Empire Strikes Back, Rebel fugitives Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca are sold out to Darth Vader by Han's old gambling acquaintance and then-Baron Administrator of Cloud City, Lando Calrissian, in exchange for his city's safety. Vader shockingly reneges on the deal, and Lando manages to unearth his remaining shreds of decency and acts against the Empire, aiding the Rebel fugitives and ordering an evacuation of the city.

Enter Ice Cream Maker Guy, just fucking legging it out of there, clinging to what appears to be… an ice cream maker.

 

Given his consequent popularity among fans, he has since been given a name – Willrow Hood – and a backstory, which pegs him as a miner working for a company in cahoots with the Rebel Alliance and explains that the object he is escaping with is in fact a computer's memory core filled to the brim with crucial Rebel contacts.

Still, I prefer to think that, when Lando told everyone to cheese it, Willrow Hood was the guy whose primary concern was to save his means of making ice cream, because, after a hard day of running like hell from Imperial oppressors, you'd probably find solace in a sweet, icy bowl of chocolate-chip cookie dough, too.

1.     The Wizard in the Leaky Cauldron – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

You know the story: The Dark Lord. The Boy Who Lived. The Old Wizard Who Just Straight-Up Dumped An Orphaned Baby On The Doorstep Of Emotionally Abusive Non-Magical Relatives And Fucked Off Into The Night. Pretty much the whole Harry Potter saga is centred on demonstrating the titular character's necessity in defeating the ultra-powerful Lord Voldemort by harnessing the mystical powers of pubescent angst, and also love, or something.

But there is far better choice for the role of Magical Messiah. I don't mean Neville Longbottom, either, even though that probably would have made for a significantly more interesting series (shorter, too, because Neville gets shit done). I mean this guy:

 

This nameless wizard (played by Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, no less) is on-screen for less than 10 seconds in the franchise's third film, and those seconds make you wonder why anyone gives an owl shit in the first place about Harry “Average” Potter.

First, you'll notice that the wizard is just casually, magically stirring his cup of tea (or mana or whatever) … with his finger. In the Harry Potter universe, wandless magic is kind of a big deal. It's not that it doesn't exist or can't be done, but as book series author JK Rowling says: “You can do unfocused and uncontrolled magic without a wand … but to do really good spells, yes, you need a wand.”

Unless you're a particularly powerful, disciplined wizard. Dumbledore uses wandless magic, as does Voldemort, but they mostly just Force Push or cast Slow Fall on stuff – not anything so controlled or delicate as moving a teaspoon around a china cup while barely paying attention to it.

Also, the wizard is reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, suggesting a) he is intelligent and b) he is familiar with the Muggle (non-magical) world. So, really, had anyone actually bothered to ask this incredibly powerful, smart and worldly wizard for his help in combating Voldemort and his followers, he probably could have saved everyone a lot of time and trouble by suggesting they use another kind of wandless magic – namely, a hail of bullets.

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