The following is a list of fictional film and TV characters that inspired me growing up. These characters had a multitude of personality traits that I either connected with or aspired to have. They were all either leaders or pioneers in their respective franchises. Their impact can still be felt to this day, and while I certainly was also obviously inspired by real people in real life (Buffett, Lincoln, and Joshua Bell to name a few), my favorite fictional characters embodied traits that can be found in all of us to varying degrees. In crafting characters, writers and actors draw upon realistic human values, personality traits, and flaws. Our favorite heroes are meant to be accessible and relatable. These characters are meant to feel real when we’re spending time with them. I don’t consider it strange or laughable that these characters inspired me as a child or young adult, and I think everyone could point to one or two characters from their favorite movies, series, or books that they can find a part of themselves in. So without further ado, here are five characters that inspired me:
- Jack O’Neill (Stargate SG-1)
Perhaps no one, real or fictional, inspired me as much as Jack O’Neill did growing up. I was quite young when my parents first introduced me to “Stargate.” The Jack O’Neil as portrayed by Kurt Russell in the Roland Emmerich film lacked personality and humor. Had Richard Dean Anderson not played the character in “Stargate SG-1,” I probably never would have connected with him. RDA really made the character his own, bringing in exactly what Russell’s performance was lacking. In fact, the double personality was joked about in the second season, when O’Neill tells a reporter that if they get one thing right in their story, and just one thing at all, they had to spell his name with two L’s. “There’s another O’Neill with only one L, and he has no sense of humor at all.” O’Neill was the highlight of “SG-1” for me and still remains my favorite fictional character to this day.
O’Neill was a USAF colonel with experience in special operations before joining the Stargate Program. In the “Stargate” film, he led the first mission through the Stargate to the planet of Abydos, where his standing order was to detonate a nuclear warhead by the Stargate at the first sign of danger. While his team was ordered to gate home, O’Neill planned to stay behind to complete his suicidal mission. Before leaving to Abydos, his son had accidentally shot himself with his father’s pistol. The tragic occurrence led to a divorce from his wife and a bout of deep depression that led to him volunteering for the Stargate mission. Fortunately, O’Neill didn’t carry out his orders and devised a more clever way of dealing with the threat at hand.
In the “SG-1” series, he went on to command the flagship team of the SGC for 8 years, saved the planet from alien threats on numerous occasions, and eventually was promoted to General and took command of the SGC. Anderson himself was made an honorary Brigadier General for his portrayal of O’Neill in the show. The Air Force cited O’Neill and “SG-1” as a major reason that recruitment numbers had increased during the show’s running. Two sitting Chiefs of Staff (Gen. Ryan and Jumper) even appeared on the show in the 5th and 7th seasons. Suffice to say, the USAF loved the portrayal of their division on the show and believed the characters were loyal heroes to look up to. I nearly applied to the Air Force Academy in a large part due to “SG-1.”
I immediately connected with the character of Jack O’Neill in “SG-1.” I shared his dry, irreverent humor and cynicism even at the young age of 9. His mantra of “never leave a man behind” was inspiring. He was a resolute man with courage and integrity. Behind the hard military shell though was someone who deeply cared about the people around him, especially those under his command. He was willing to sacrifice himself to keep those under his command (and the planet at large) safe, and did everything to prevent his colleagues from putting themselves in harm’s way. He was a highly capable leader who inspired full confidence from those he was trying to protect. The great thing about “SG-1” was that its heroes were normal humans without any special abilities. O’Neill was just a capable colonel with a background in covert operations. His victories did not come from superhuman abilities.
Though inspiring to most, he was abrasive to others. O’Neill always spoke his mind, especially to politicians or bureaucrats he despised. He detested people who put self-promotion or political gain over their duty to their fellow man. His negotiation skills left a lot to be desired, but there were other professionals he trusted that he could fall back on. He often avoided reading administrative memos and ignored scientific babble because they weren’t of great interest to him. Who likes reading administrative memos? Due to his “get to the point” attitude and short attention span, supporting characters often underestimated O’Neill’s level of intelligence and scientific knowledge. O’Neill’s bravery and sardonic, self-deprecating humor led to him often making sarcastic quips in the face of his enemy, even when he knew he would be punished for it. Upon being tortured, he never gave in to demands.
O’Neill was an outdoorsman and particularly enjoyed spending time at his remote cabin in Minnesota. He enjoyed fishing, though the pond by his cabin never had any fish in it. He simply enjoyed the act of being one with nature. He had few close friendships and was a very private individual. I certainly shared his level of introversion. He never really sought out romantic relationships, but rather gained attraction from his abilities as a leader. O’Neill and Carter shared a mutual attraction but could never act on it due to regulations. That conflict created many touching moments throughout the series.
So, yes, O’Neill had a huge impact on me growing up and the character still greatly resonates with me today. I was always considered a “very mature child” in part due to being an only child, but also because I had the same brand of humor and professionalism that O’Neill had. For two Halloweens as a kid, I dressed up as O’Neill and actually expected someone (anyone) in the neighborhood to recognize who I was. Needless to say, no one did. “SG-1” remains my favorite show and I still hope to be as competent of a leader as O’Neill.
Favorite moment: There are too many to count, but I’ll mention two that are my favorites. In “Upgrades,” O’Neill refuses to leave Carter behind in a sticky situation. Despite the looming threat of a bomb counting down, he would prefer to die trying to save her than leave her and save himself. This later comes back to bite him in “Divide and Conquer,” in which he admits that he’d have rather died himself than lose Carter, and that he cares about her a lot more than he’s supposed to. In “Abyss,” O’Neill is tortured by the system lord Ba’al and pulls his usual irreverent quips as a coping mechanism in front of his enemy. He is killed and revived countless times but never breaks.
Favorite quote: Every dry, irreverent quip he ever made.
2. James Bond (The James Bond Franchise)
When I watched my first Bond film, I was 15 years of age. My grandmother (oddly enough) asked me if I had ever seen a Bond film. I said that I had not. She changed the channel on the TV and we began watching my first 007 experience. The first image was a man in a white dot walking across a black screen. He swiftly turned around and fired right at me. A makeshift blood wash fell down the screen. Music blared. I was intrigued.
In the scenes following, Bond covertly entered a secret facility to set a bomb, revealed a full tuxedo underneath his scuba suit, made out with a beautiful woman, beat up a baddie, and delivered one of the greatest one-liners in cinema history: “Shocking. Positively shocking.”
Indeed it was. The man was Sean Connery, and the film was “Goldfinger.” Immediately I felt a connection with the character of Bond – his taste for luxury, his suaveness, his cold demeanor, and his insatiable appetite for the opposite sex. There was no disputing that I wanted to be James Bond. Fast forward nine years and that feeling more or less still remains.
James Bond had a significant impact on me as a young adult. I had always been interested in espionage and the world of covert operations. Granted, Bond is about as close to being a real spy as I am to being captain of the Enterprise, but my interest nonetheless created an entry point. I had always had a taste for luxury, or at the very least, an eye for high quality products. Bond never settled for anything less than the best, even when he consumed it on the company’s card. He stayed in presidential suites, wore the finest, best-fitting suits around, and traveled to exotic locations. I loved traveling, staying in fine hotels, and loved dressing up. Bond was highly adaptable and spoke many foreign languages. I always adapted well to living in foreign cultures and was learning German at the time.
Bond was precise, detail-oriented, and committed to his mission. He was very quick thinking and imaginative. His methods of escaping capture by his enemies were always highly creative. He met challenges with subterfuge and intelligence rather than with brute force. He was considered to be the finest agent in all of MI6. He had many talents and an extensive knowledge of…well…it seemed like just about everything. He was suave in all of his social interactions. He created loyal contacts with foreign nationals on the sheer power of his charisma. Being a fan of sly quips, dry word play, and innuendos, I connected with his sense of humor.
While I absolutely loved all of the actors who played Bond, my life-altering experience with the character didn’t really happen until I saw Craig in “Casino Royale.” Wait…there’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Bond? Craig was the modern-day Bond; the Bond I wanted to be the most. Connery’s take remains my favorite incarnation of the character, but Craig’s Bond was more accessible to me. He was more stoic, his closet featured more than just suits, and he was far less sexist than his predecessors. When I first saw Craig as Bond, I was immediately taken by his style, his panache, and his physicality. Since then, I have consistently referenced Craig’s incarnation of Bond (and Craig himself) in regards to my own personal style, workout regimen, and grooming habits. The humor and romanticism of the character though is certainly more identifiable in Connery and Moore’s interpretations.
Bond consistently inspires me to never let go of my aspirations or my high expectations. Us Bond fans like to indulge in the finer aspects in life and are constantly looking for ways to improve ourselves. After nearly 60 years, Bond remains the archetypal male hero: an extremely capable, suave, and talented agent whose qualities continue to stand the test of time. I for one will always be inspired by Bond.
Favorite moment: I believe that the pre-credits sequence in “Goldfinger” brilliantly sums up the character of Bond in just five minutes of perfect cinema.
Favorite quote: [when asked what it is he does] – “Oh, I travel – sort of a licensed troubleshooter.”
3. Indiana Jones (The Indiana Jones Franchise)
Before I experienced my first Bond film, Indiana Jones was my action hero of choice. He was independent, intelligent, and tenacious. Despite being a more cerebral man, he was physically imposing and could hold his own in a fight. Indy always relied on his own creative thinking and resources to complete his quest. He has a fascinating character arc in the original trilogy that we’ll dive into momentarily. I felt growing up that I had a lot in common with the character – the stoicism, the intellectualism, the resourcefulness, his independent nature, and even his fear of snakes. And I loved history; it was my favorite class in school. I liked going out in the backyard and pretending to excavate lost treasures or ancient bones, and for my parents’ birthdays I created maps and laid clues around the house for them to find their gifts. I also highly coveted Indy’s leather jacket, though I didn’t finally get one for myself until I was in my 20s.
Indy begins his character arc as a rather cynical and selfish anti-hero. In “Temple of Doom,” he’s not searching for the Sankara Stones as some sort of intellectually honest archaeological endeavor, rather he wants to bask in the fortune and glory that the quest offers. As a kid, he was a do-gooder with an authoritative and uninterested father. He was an Eagle scout as we see in “The Last Crusade” (hey, I was too) who clearly believed that priceless antiquities deserved respect and belonged in a museum. His efforts to rescue the Cross of Coronado from the ‘fedora guy’ ultimately proved fruitless, though he at least got his trademark hat out of all of it. His takeaway was a rather cynical one – you do the right thing, you lose. He gained his tenacity but lost his moral conviction.
Thus, Indy grew up essentially plundering valuable antiquities from foreign countries and keeping all of the fortune from his efforts for himself. However, at the end of “Temple of Doom,” we see him begin to transition into a more virtuous character. He gives the stones up to the local village who sent him on his quest. He also frees the child slaves from Mola Ram’s cult. In “Raiders,” his quest isn’t for fortune and glory, but rather for the archaeological study itself [keep in mind that “Temple of Doom” is actually a prequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”]. And in “The Last Crusade,” Indy only takes on the quest for the Grail to find his father. It’s only halfway through “The Last Crusade” in which Indy stops being the anti-hero that stumbles into a righteous quest and becomes the morally conscious character that he’s most widely perceived as.
Also, for those who aren’t aware, Spielberg created “Indiana Jones” because he was turned down to direct a Bond film. Thus, much of Bond’s character can also be found in Indy – the dry wit, the resourcefulness, and his weakness being women. Many traits of the Bond franchise can also be found in the “Indiana Jones” franchise – the exotic locations, the opening tease/construction of the screenplay, the roles of the female characters, and the way in which the antagonists often mirror Indy’s darker character traits. Still, Indy feels wholly separate from Bond, and in some ways is more compelling. Indy has a far more complex character arc than people seem to realize, while Bond has remained more or less the same over the decades.
So, what was the point of going over all of this in the last three paragraphs? The point is, Indy’s character arc is one we can easily romanticize and even relate to in our ordinary lives. He takes a proactive role in his stories, has a rather perverse dark side, and grows as a character as he gains more experience. He’s just an ordinary guy who at first seeks fortune and glory but later comes to find more meaning in his intellectual and virtuous quests. He has flaws and is prone to just winging most of his life. He’s an oddly fascinating character who’s more than just another handsome action hero.
Favorite moment: When Indy reaches for the Grail at the end of “The Last Crusade” and risks falling into the crevice as Elsa did, his father grabs his hand and tells him to let it go. Indy is forced to shed his greed and materialism to save himself and his father. In the end, the spiritual journey was more significant than the item itself (as was the case with all of the artifacts in the franchise).
Favorite quote: “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
4. Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
I had my first cup of earl grey tea thanks to Captain Picard, and I’ve never looked back since. Ok, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and I do enjoy plenty of other teas besides just earl grey. But it is the best tea, just as Picard is the best captain.
Picard was a highly capable leader with a venerable set of skills. He was an experienced explorer, diplomat, and military commander who earned the respect of everyone serving under his command. He had a great amount of responsibility throughout his career, especially as captain of the Enterprise. He had profound personal charisma, intelligence, and was highly adaptable. He was extremely courageous and full of wisdom. A single speech made by Picard could prevent entire wars from occurring. He was highly attuned to his own personality and strengths and knew how to use them to his benefit. Picard was a risk-taker, as evidenced by the episode “Tapestry.” He never would have gained command of the Enterprise had he not taken actions that made him stand out amongst his peers. He was also very knowledgeable of the arts and sciences, being something of a Renaissance man. He had a passion for archaeology, history, and music. Picard had a lot of traits that I could relate to growing up and carried himself as a leader in a way that I greatly aspired to.
Picard had a quiet air of authority that came from great self-confidence and conviction. He always had something meaningful or useful to say to his crew or a new race of alien species that they were encountering for the first time. He was highly determined and did not hesitate to defy orders when he felt justified to do so. He had a strong moral core and held loyalty and honesty in very high regard. He was also extremely empathetic towards foreign cultures. He was very respectful to others and embraced diversity of thought. Picard was also very professional and spoke in a serious tone, which could sometimes come off as unapproachable. Even when he was off-duty, Picard embraced every action he took with a profound sense of tenacity and purpose. He was also an excellent problem solver and often came up with creative ways to evade dangerous scenarios.
Picard radiated a great sense of inner strength that many others do not have. In “Chain of Command,” he is captured and tortured by the Cardassian Gul Madred, who attempts to break Picard by getting him to admit that there are five lights shining in his face when there are really only four. Picard remains strong and even tells Gul at one point that, “despite all you’ve done to me, I still find you to be a pitiable man.” He has a typical moment of wisdom in which he describes torture as, “an ultimately self-defeating exercise.” Picard consistently defies Gul’s wishes and never gives in to his captor, even though he later admits to Troi that he was in fact ready to say that he could see five lights, and worse, that he believed he could actually see five lights. This admission proved that Picard had a sense of vulnerability that only made him that much more human.
Picard had countless inspirational speeches and moments of heroism over the course of seven seasons of TNG. However, it was his quieter moments of reflection that made him truly stand out to me as a character. For example, in the episode “The Inner Light,” Picard is struck unconscious by an energy beam from an alien probe. While only minutes pass for the crew on the Enterprise, Picard lives out 40 years as Kamin, a humanoid scientist from a planet that was wiped out from its sun going nova. Picard experiences having a wife, children, and what it was like to live a lifetime on an alien planet. He eventually learns that the purpose of the probe was to keep alive the memory of Kamin and his people long after the death of their civilization.
At the end of the episode, when Picard has regained consciousness and has once again become familiar with his present life, he finds out that the probe only left behind a flute which he learned to play in his virtual lifetime. Riker delivers the instrument to his quarters, and Picard clings to it as a memento of the joy he experienced living as Kamin. You can see his deep reflection upon his alternative life as soon as he bares site of the instrument. He played the song which he learned in his virtual lifetime in several more episodes throughout the show.
There’s actually a line that stands out to me in that episode above everything else, and it’s not one that most men would likely pick out. There’s a moment when an elderly Picard is sitting with his wife and they are reflecting on their decades of companionship, when she compliments him how enriching their relationship has been and how he never once raised his voice at her. Seriously, how can you not love Picard just from hearing that?
I could go on with more examples and more praise, but suffice to say, Picard was an expertly written character whom anyone could find inspirational traits in. Picard embodied Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future of humanity in every way imaginable.
Favorite moment: So difficult to choose – should it be his speech about the value of all life forms in “Measure of a Man?” His argument on behalf of civil liberties in “The Drumhead?” His berating of Wesley Crusher for lying to Starfleet in “The First Duty?” His ability to open his mind to limitless possibilities in “All Good Things?” No, I simply must go with the entirety of “The Inner Light.” Picard never thought that he wanted children or a family, but he ended up having those things and cherishing them beyond all else. He was an excellent father/husband and came to realize that his commitment to his career had cost him from finding true happiness in his relationships. His experiences in that episode changed him for the better, and he embraced changes to the structure of his life moving forward. The self-knowledge and humility embraced by Picard was consistently inspirational.
Favorite quote: “Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives, but I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment – because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.”
5. Jonathan Archer (Star Trek: Enterprise)
If it’s not already obvious, I grew up watching “Star Trek.” I loved science fiction and often dreamt of being the first person to explore the far reaches of space. For the longest time, I actually wanted to be an astronaut. Then, we stopped going to space, and I sort of lost interest. I didn’t want to just be a number cruncher sitting behind a computer at NASA. Of course, we were never going to get to the point in my lifetime where we would be traveling at warp speed and living reliably under artificial gravity. Still, astronomy has remained a little-known passion of mine; in fact, the number one item on my Christmas list for as long as I can remember was a telescope. Looking at star charts, reading about supernovas and black holes, or just expanding my intellectual capacity in general was more thrilling to me than any of the mindless video games my friends were playing.
Regardless of the fact that “Star Trek” or “Stargate” were fiction, they instilled a sense of wonder, curiosity, and imagination in me that translated into the real world. Though we couldn’t travel to the center of the galaxy or explore strange new worlds ourselves, I could read about new astronomical discoveries in the magazines that I subscribed to. Though we weren’t exploring the far reaches of our galaxy in starships, I could still explore foreign lands on our own planet through my travels. And though I couldn’t be captain of the Enterprise, I could still strive to be a great leader, visionary, or entrepreneur, and eventually hold a comparable amount of responsibility.
Archer was a pioneer in the “Star Trek” universe. He was captain of the first-ever starship Enterprise, and thus leader of humanity’s first deep space exploratory mission. Archer had a great amount of curiosity, which ended up being both his greatest strength and greatest weakness. He preferred to lead an away mission to a new planet himself rather than launch a probe. When Enterprise was first launched, he was anxious to make first contact with as many [friendly] aliens species as possible. He was also eager to prove himself as a commander to both his peers and the Vulcan ambassadors who had their doubts about his and humanity’s potential. He was a very intellectual and intuitive person who wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability. He admitted that sometimes his compassion could influence his decision making. He embraced diversity of thought and engaged in a non-authoritative, democratic style of leadership.
Archer was a highly capable man, both intellectually and physically. He knew everything about the ship he commanded and was always eager to learn more about the universe and the alien species that inhabited it. He was determined and tenacious, and even intimidating when he needed to be, but was also extremely empathetic to those around him. Everyone under Archer’s command had a great amount of respect for him. He cared a great deal about his crew and never missed a moment to speak highly of them.
He was very much an idealist when it came to people’s well-being and rights. He believed in rightful decisions and wanted to solve every problem he came across. He spoke in a very calm and direct manner. He radiated a sense of inner resolve and peace, and had a clear set of values that he did not waver on. Though he involved himself in many inter-species disputes that he shouldn’t have, he often ended up convincing the warring parties to come to an agreement. While he was not trained in negotiating, he ended up becoming a highly respected and successful diplomat. Archer’s efforts to bring people of all races and species together ended up leading to the formation of the Federation of Planets. The knowledge he gained from involving himself in inter-species affairs also led to him drafting the Prime Directive.
Archer had a great sense of wonder and optimism to him; attributes which I have struggled to maintain over the years, but are undeniably still there inside of me. I grew up watching “Enterprise” when it was first airing on television. The first two seasons were rather unexciting, but the characters were very relatable. In the third season of “Enterprise,” Earth comes under threat from the Xindi, and Archer is tasked with leading a military assault to prevent the destruction of the planet. While he always first and foremost considered himself a peaceful explorer, he stepped up to the task and became an excellent military commander. He still very much operated with the same leadership style he did before, and his ability to empathize even with his enemy led to many useful alliances being formed during a dangerous time. He was welcomed home as a hero, but didn’t enjoy the spotlight. Nor did he ever want to take any time off from exploring. In fact, Doctor Phlox and T’Pol had to force him to take vacations. He was incredibly passionate about his work and treated every passing moment with purpose.
In the episode “Home” (following season 3), Archer is deeply troubled that his time in the Expanse turned him into a soldier instead of an explorer. He was worried that he was losing his ways and becoming an arbiter for admirals and politicians. It’s that moment that makes Archer such a model of what Starfleet captains should be about. He would do what he had to do to protect Earth and maintain peace, but that’s never what he wanted to be. All Archer ever wanted was to see what was over the horizon, what was beyond the next star, to reach out and touch the unknown. It’s that purity of purpose that makes him such an inspiring character.
Favorite moment: In the episode “Damage,” the Enterprise has been severely mangled after a Xindi attack and no longer has a functioning warp core. Archer and crew come across a friendly alien vessel that is willing to trade parts, but refuses to give up their warp core. They explain that they would be stranded three years from their home planet should they do so. Knowing that seven billion lives are at stake on Earth, Archer must decide what to do in a desperate situation. He ends up deciding to step over a line – a line that he thought he would never cross. Leading an armed boarding party, he raids the alien ship for their warp coil and leaves them food and supplies as compensation. His actions, though distasteful, were justifiable, and you could tell that it pained him to do what he did. It’s when characters are put in these types of difficult scenarios that they are at their most interesting. When Archer was branded a hero after returning home, it was probably decisions like these that made him uncomfortable in accepting such acclaim.
Favorite quote: “Maybe you’ve evolved into beings with abilities I can’t comprehend. But you’ve paid a hell of a price. You’ve lost compassion and empathy, things that give life meaning. If that’s what it takes to be advanced, I don’t want any part of it.”