The best new TV & movie characters of 2020
These scene stealers are what's great about streaming.
Star Wars was always about the Skywalkers, but in 2020, The Mandalorian confirmed something we probably already knew: the most interesting characters are usually the ones in the background.
It's not alone. In a year where many of us felt more isolated than ever, stories from Umbrella Academy to Star Trek: Discovery reminded fans that the only thing better than being the hero of your own story is having someone to go with you. The Sam to your Frodo. The Alma Wheatley to your Beth Harmon.
At Inverse, we put our heads together and came up with a list of the best scene-stealing characters in streaming this year; the sort of characters who deserve their own series. Their own stories might be smaller, or with smaller stakes, but the writing and performances that bring those characters to life have a wonderfully sticky quality to them.
We also asked you, the Inverse community, to vote on your favorites. (Love charts? Check out the data for yourself.) We even teamed up with artist Chris Barker to bring together our favorite scene stealers with this Sgt. Pepper's-inspired work.
We ended up with:
- 32 official selections (Why 32? Why not?)
- 10 write-in candidates who were too good to ignore
- 5 additional iconic objects included in the art
Depending on how you want to do the math, that comes to 32, 42, or 47 fan-favorites in total. But because the chessboard from Queen's Gambit probably isn't getting a spinoff anytime soon, let's call it a grand total of 42.
The full list offers a unique look back at a turbulent year, not through the eyes of the Luke Skywalkers of the world, but through the sidekicks, parents, and weird-looking aliens who have just as great a story to tell if given the chance.
Here's your guide to the Inverse Scene Stealers of 2020.
32. Go Nan-do My Holo Love, Yoon Hyun-min
In My Holo Love, a decidedly K-Drama take on stories like Her, Yoon Hyun-min pulls double duty as Holo, the cheerful A.I. personal assistant, and Go Nan-do, the misanthropic genius behind the tech. While Holo may have the romantic chops, Go Nan-do is so full of yearning and tension, it reminds us all why the sci-fi K-drama is here to stay. Watch it on Netflix.
- 7 sci-fi K-dramas on Netflix worth watching
31. “Tim Heidecker" An Evening with Tim Heidecker, Tim Heidecker
The Tim and Eric comedian's first standup special isn't what you'd expect. Instead of doing actual ... comedy, Heidecker channels the persona of a bad stand-up comic ready to call out "cancel culture." Ladies and gentlemen, meet "Tim Heidecker." Watch it on YouTube.
30. Elizabeth "Bess" Levin The Plot Against America, Zoe Kazan
HBO’s miniseries, based on Philip Roth’s alternate history novel, dropped like a bomb with its portrayal of the simmering fascism living just under the surface of our everyday lives. Big names like Winona Ryder might draw you in, but Zoe Kazan (playing her married sister, Bess), gave the series the dose of grounded realism that made its vision of American Nazism all the more terrifying. Watch it on HBO/HBO Max.
- Our profile of series star Anthony Boyle
- Plot Against America captures a terrifying aspect of Nazism that Hunters misses
29. Herman Judd Avenue 5, Josh Gad
As the follow-up effort from Veep creator Armando Iannucci, Avenue 5 might feel like a letdown, but there’s no denying the genius of Josh Gad’s Herman Judd, an idiot CEO trapped aboard his own doomed space cruise. In a year with far too many Trump parodies, this subtle take on America’s 45th president was one of the best. Watch it on HBO/HBO Max.
- Avenue 5 is the best Trump parody of 2020 so far
- Our Avenue 5 review
- Everything we know about Season 2
28. Marker Woke, J.B. Smoove
J.B. Smoove plays a talking marker that only a hallucinating cartoonist (Lamorne Morris, above) can hear. What else do you need to know? Watch it on Hulu.
27. Stewart Devs, Stephen McKinley Henderson
It’s mind-boggling that we’re still not talking about Devs, a staggering FX miniseries from Alex Garland (Annihilation) starring Nick Offerman as a bizarre Silicon Valley genius with a terrible secret. The entire show deserves more credit, mostly because it gave us Stewart, the warmest computer engineer in a room full of cold and calculating geniuses who also delivers Devs’ most powerful moment by reciting a poem. Watch it on Hulu.
26. Joey Sasso The Circle
Does winning a reality show make you the star? We’d argue every contestant on Netflix’s made-for-coronavirus reality show The Circle was a background actor just waiting to shine. The fact that this momma’s boy from upstate New York managed to win makes him the ultimate scene stealer in our book. Watch it on Netflix.
25. Misha Popov Away, Mark Ivanir
Meet Misha, the arrogant cosmonaut engineer who hides his space blindness (yes, it’s a real thing) from the rest of the crew until it’s almost too late. The Netflix space epic was canceled after Season 1, but Mark Ivanir deserves a spinoff. Watch it on Netflix.
24. Hong Warrior, Chen Tang
Strutting into 1870s San Francisco is the killer hatchetman Hong, played by Chen Tang, who brought much-needed comedy and fun to a period action drama about American Chinese racism based on Bruce Lee’s rejected series. Coming to HBO Max in 2021.
- How Warrior portrays Bruce Lee's MMA style, Jeet Kune Do
- Warrior Season 2's most epic episode takes on America's racist history
- Warrior's star isn't the next Bruce Lee, he's the first Andrew Koji
23. Caliban Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Sam Corlett
In a series filled with memorable antagonists, Caliban carved out a space for himself. His introduction in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 3 fulfilled the role of potential love interest and nemesis to Sabrina Spellman’s claim to Lucifer’s throne. Sam Corlett brought a lot of energetic charm to this character while simultaneously portraying Caliban as petulant and spoiled. Somehow, Corlett makes the combination work to great effect. Watch it on Netflix.
- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina's Kiernan Shipka on Season 4's "beautiful" end
- Read our Season 1 review
- Why the magic in Sabrina beats Harry Potter
22. Brad Bakshi Mythic Quest, Danny Pudi
For Community fans, it’s hard to look at Danny Pudi and not see the geeky pop culture-obsessed college student Abed, but in Mythic Quest, Pudi managed to break that mold despite his relatively minor role. Brad is everything Abed is not: mean, petty, and money-obsessed. And we love him for it. Watch it on Apple TV+
- Our review of Mythic Quest
- Season 2 working title revealed
- Mythic Quest: Quarantine is based on a major studio's coronavirus strategy
21. Jet Sky Guy Tiger King, James Garretson
In a docu-series full of larger-than-life characters, it’s really saying something that the most memorable of them all became famous for silently riding a jet ski. Ride on, James Garretson. Watch it on Netflix.
- Joel McHale's Tiger King Netflix episode reveals an ugly truth about him, and us
- 6 months after Tiger King, Joe Exotic's tigers face a precarious future
20. Ingrid Upload, Allegra Edwards
It’s hard to craft a villain’s transformation into a hero that looks believable, but Allegra Edwards makes it seem effortless. In Upload, she plays Ingrid, a spoiled, rich, young woman in the not-too-distant-future who pays to have her dying boyfriend uploaded to the cloud. Throughout Season 1 of the Amazon show, Ingrid evolves from a controlling GF to a caring partner. And after that big finale twist, we can’t wait to see where she goes in Season 2. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
- Our review of Upload
- How Amazon's Upload created its "gross and real" version of the future
- Everything we know about Season 2
19. Liam Novak I Am Not Okay With This, Aidan Wojtak-Hissong
Netflix’s greatest crime of 2020 was probably canceling I Am Not Okay With This, a supernatural coming-of-age thriller from Jonathan Entwistle (previously The End Of The F***ing World; next Power Rangers). The one-season series solidified young actors Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff as future stars, but the real hero is the irrepressible Liam Novak, Sophia’s younger brother and an irrepressible ray of joy in this otherwise angsty saga. Watch it on Netflix.
- Our review of I Am Not Ok with This
- Our profile of series star Sophia Lillis
- I Am Not Ok with This showrunner explains the bloody finale
18. Seraphim Blood of Zeus, Elias Toufexis
While Heron was the everyman hero of Netflix’s surprise hit anime Blood of Zeus, the half-demon Seraphim was its real star. His ugly, scarred eye made you thankful Blood of Zeus wasn’t live action, and, based on what we know about Season 2, his escape from the underworld will get us back to binge-watching when the series returns. Watch it on Netflix.
- Our review of Blood of Zeus
- Our interview with the showrunners
- Everything you need to know about Season 2
17. Holly Gibney The Outsider, Cynthia Erivo
The best character in HBO’s blood-curdling whodunnit didn’t show up until Episode 3. Stephen King’s recurring character has already appeared in various books and adaptations, but Cynthia Erivo brought new life to Holly Gibney, the obsessive-compulsive detective in The Outsider. Watch it on HBO/HBO Max.
16. Roy Palm Springs, J.K. Simmons
Palm Springs already had a winning formula: a time loop rom-com starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. The only thing that could have possibly made it better? An unhinged performance from J.K. Simmons, who really does steal the show while hunting down Samberg before delivering the movie’s most emotional scene. Watch it on Hulu.
15. Mindy Markowitz Hunters, Carol Kane
In an ensemble cast that features Al Pacino and Josh Radnor, Carol Kane somehow manages to steal the show as everyone’s favorite Nazi-hunting bubbe. You probably recognize Kane as the loopy landlord from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but after 2020, she’ll always be Mindy Markowitz to us. Watch it on Amazon.
- Our review of Hunters
- Is Hunters based on a true story?
- Hunters showrunner: Executives worried a Jewish show would “alienate half of America”
14. Dr. Kevin Christie Utopia, John Cusack
“What have you done to earn your place in this world?” No longer the lovestruck boy with a boombox in Say Anything, John Cusack achieved real villain status as Dr. Kevin Christie in Gillian Flynn’s remake of the UK thriller Utopia. A cross between Elon Musk and Thanos, Dr. Christie made an otherwise so-so sci-fi show into must-see TV. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
- Our Utopia review
- Our interview with showrunner Gillian Flynn
- Everything you need to know about Utopia Season 2
13. Sister Agatha Van Helsing Dracula, Dolly Wells
It would have been easy to cast another dude as Van Helsing in Dracula, the three-episode miniseries from Sherlock showrunners Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. Instead, they put Dolly Wells in this crucial role as an unflappable nun with the guts to stand up to the prince of darkness. Watch it on Netflix.
12. Campion Raised by Wolves, Winta McGrath
Ridley Scott returned to the director chair to launch HBO Max’s original sci-fi series Raised by Wolves, and while Amanda Collin may have stolen the show in the lead role of Mother (a killer robot reprogrammed to raise human children), it was her adopted child, Campion, who brought the warmth and humanity that anchored this intergalactic sci-fi thriller. Watch it on HBO Max.
- Our review of Raised by Wolves
- Everything we know about Raised by Wolves Season 2
- Raised By Wolves flubs a key sci-fi detail Ridley Scott usually nails
11. Owen Sharma The Haunting of Bly Manor, Rahul Kohli
Horror master Mike Flanagan really knows how to pick an ensemble cast. The Haunting of Hill House set a high bar in 2018, but Flanagan raised it in 2020 by adding Kohli to his roster in Bly Manor. As house chef Owen Sharma, Kohli provided the warmth that was absent from the spooky manor where the miniseries took place. We can’t wait to see what he does next in Flanagan’s upcoming Midnight Mass. Watch it on Netflix.
- Our review of Bly Manor
- Bly Manor Rahul Kohli on Owen, death, Star Wars, and Midnight Mass
- Rahul Kohli finally sets those Ezra Bridger Mandalorian rumors straight
10. Mycroft Holmes Enola Holmes, Sam Claflin
Henry Cavill may have stolen the show as swaggering Sherlock Holmes, who’s just a little too handsome, but it’s hard to understate the brilliance of Sam Claflin as his brother Mycroft. As the unofficial antagonist of the film, Claflin offered fans perhaps the most detestable version yet of this perennially unhappy member of the Holmes clan. Watch it on Netflix.
9. Pat Dugan Stargirl, Luke Wilson
Popular culture likes to have stepparents be the bad guy. But in the wonderfully fun DC series Stargirl, Luke Wilson’s square stepdad was the hero we all needed. With a sleek robot suit, Pat Dugan juggled between caring for Courtney Whitmore (aka Stargirl) and getting her ready to take on supervillains. But no matter what, you knew he loved Courtney above all else. Watch it on The CW.
- Our Stargirl review
- Our interview with showrunner Geoff Johns
- Stargirl already understands a superhero lesson Marvel didn't for 8 years
8. Tutar Sagdiyev Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Maria Bakalova
Nothing encapsulates the chaotic nature of 2020 quite so well as the Borat sequel that materialized out of nowhere and introduced the world to Maria Bakalova. This unknown Bulgarian actress proved to be Sacha Baron Cohen’s secret weapon in the sequel that no one expected but everyone secretly needed. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
7. Raffi Musiker Star Trek: Picard, Michelle Hurd
Throughout the 50+ year history of Star Trek, we’re used to thinking of the Federation as the unequivocal good guys of the galaxy. It’s through the eyes of Raffi, Jean-Luc Picard’s deeply skeptical post-TNG bestie, that we begin to see the degradation of a powerful institution grown far too pleased with itself. Hurd’s performance gives us a fascinating critical look at a familiar sci-fi monolith. Watch it on CBS All Access.
- Our interview with Michelle Hurd
- Our interview with showrunner Michael Chabon
- The Picard finale succeeds in 1 triumphant way Rise of Skywalker fails
6. Gray Tal Star Trek: Discovery, Ian Alexander
Even since the first season of Star Trek in 1966, the iconic sci-fi franchise has been a pioneering cultural force for diversity and inclusion. The third season of Discovery introduced the series’ first non-binary and transgender characters, the latter of whom is Alexander’s otherworldly, cello-playing sweetheart. Watch it on CBS All Access.
- Discovery Season 3 welcomes Trek's first non-binary and transgender characters
- Star Trek: Discovery's latest twist is an unexpected TNG Easter egg
- Discovery just completely changed Star Trek canon in 3 massive ways
5. Space Beth Rick and Morty, Sarah Chalke
Sarah Chalke already stars in Rick and Morty as Beth Smith, an alcoholic mother struggling to keep her family together despite a string of inconceivable sci-fi adventures. In its Season 4 finale, the Adult Swim series confirmed a popular fan theory by revealing Space Beth, a badass clone (or was regular Beth the clone?) who represents everything her Earth-bound doppelganger is afraid to be. Watch it on HBO Max.
- The origins of Space Beth
- Rick and Morty songwriters discuss the Season 4 finale’s heartbreaking track
- Everything we know about Rick and Morty Season 5
4. Alma Wheatley Queen's Gambit, Marielle Heller
In late 2020, sales for chess sets soared as interest in the game spiked on Google. The reason wasn’t quarantine-induced boredom; it was Queen’s Gambit, a stylish new Netflix miniseries about a young female chess prodigy at the height of the Cold War. Anya Taylor‑Joy stars as chess savant Beth Harmon, but the show’s unsung hero is Alma Wheatley, her drug-addicted adoptive mother, played with tragic humor by Marielle Heller, the accomplished director behind 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? Watch it on Netflix.
3. Stormfront The Boys, Aya Cash
How did The Boys top its shocking first season? By adding a Nazi to its superhero squad. Aya Cash plays Stormfront, a racist “supe” who stirs up anti-immigrant sentiment with political speeches and Facebook memes. Cash delivers the perfect performance, winning over audiences before pulling the rug out from under us in a clever indictment of modern American fascism. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
- The Boys Season 2 adds a terrifying new villain
- The Boys Season 2 review
- An interview with Antony Starr
2. Frog Lady The Mandalorian, Misty Rosas and Dee Bradley Baker
The Mandalorian is all about taking background characters and elevating them into starring roles, from Nick Nolte's grouchy alien rancher Kuiil to Amy Sedaris as a scrappy ship mechanic. But in Season 2, Disney+ introduced us to the greatest seat-filler in Star Wars history, an amphibian alien on a mission to reunite with her husband. Also known to the internet as Frog Lady. Watch it on Disney+
- Mandalorian Season 2 finally tells a new story using this classic trope
- The scariest new monster in The Mandalorian sets up a shocking Season 2 cameo
- The Mandalorian's squid-faced Quarren have a rich Star Wars history
1. Lila Pitts Umbrella Academy, Ritu Arya
Netflix’s bombastic superhero series was already a great time in Season 1, but the show got even better in Season 2 thanks to a new setting (Texas in the ‘60s) and the addition of Ritu Arya to the ensemble cast as Lila Pitts. Ritu’s scene-stealing character starts off as a romantic interest before evolving into so much more with a climactic twist we never saw coming. Watch it on Netflix.
- Umbrella Academy Season 2 review
- Umbrella Academy predicted the politics of 2020 by traveling to the past
- Everything we know about Umbrella Academy Season 3
As suggested by our readers, these are the scene stealers we forgot to mention. In a year full of great TV, forgive us for forgetting a few instant classics like Lovecraft Country and The Midnight Gospel — and for limiting our initial list to just a single Mandalorian character:
Eddie Space Force, Chris Gethard
Coach Beard Ted Lasso, Brendan Hunt
Lilah "LJ" Folger Snowpiercer, Annalise Basso
George Freeman Lovecraft Country, Courtney B. Vance
Ash James Westworld, Lena Waithe
Gratitoad Big Mouth, Zach Galifianakis
Charlotte The Midnight Gospel
Ahsoka Tano The Mandalorian, Rosario Dawson
Bo-Katan The Mandalorian, Katee Sackhoff
Captain Philippa Georgiou Star Trek: Discovery, Michelle Yeoh
Scene Stealers is a celebration of the best supporting TV and movie characters in 2020. Chosen by us and ranked by you.
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