Film Monsters and Heroes 
of West Virginia

June 2003

Steve Fesenmaier
Research Librarian
West Virginia Library Commission


According to Amos Perrine, one of our state’s leading experts on cinema, “The AFI has become the MacDonalds of American cinema.” I would say it has become the Blockbuster-controlled film institute. Blockbuster, Pepsi, General Motors, and other corporate sponsors paid for the AFI’s recent 3-hour special on 100 Years 100 Heroes & Villains. I watched it like I have watched all of their other previous specials, most fretfully their first one, 100 GREATEST AMERICAN MOVIES OF ALL TIME. Several friends of mine were the national voices that cried out against the total commercialization of American cinema. My new boss at WVLC asked me why we hadn’t purchased all of those films – if you know so much about movies??!!  Their list excluded documentaries, all indie films, experimental films, etc, etc. It’s like listing the 100 greatest American books by excluding all poetry, non-fiction, short stories, etc. Anyway, it got me very upset.


Here are some of their thoughts on their selection process. Only feature-length American films released before January 1, 2002 were considered. They define a feature-length film as a motion picture of narrative format that is typically over 60 minutes in length. They define an American film as an English language film with significant creative and/or financial production elements from the US.  


There are 400 screen characters on the ballot. The screen characters range chronologically from "The Vampire," played by Theda Bara in 1915's A FOOL THERE WAS to multiple contributions in 2001 that include Gandalf the Grey (LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING), Detective Alonzo Harris (TRAINING DAY) and Shrek (SHREK).  The most represented male actor on the ballot is John Wayne, who plays 7 different characters Captain Nathan Brittles (SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON), "Rooster" Cogburn (TRUE GRIT), Davy Crockett (THE ALAMO), Tom Doniphon (THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE), Ethan Edwards (THE SEARCHERS), The Ringo Kid (STAGECOACH) and Sgt. John M. Stryker (THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA). Harrison Ford, Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda each portray 6 characters. The most represented female actor on the ballot is Bette Davis, who plays 4 different characters Leslie Crosbie (THE LETTER), Regina Giddens (THE LITTLE FOXES), Jane Hudson (WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?) and Julie Marsden (JEZEBEL). Faye Dunaway and Sigourney Weaver both play 3 different characters. Alfred Hitchcock is the director with the most films 11 Directors John Ford and Steven Spielberg each directed 7 nominated characters. John Huston penned the most screenplays featuring nominated characters. Other scribes with multiple nominated characters are James Cameron 6, William Goldman 6, Oliver Stone 5, and David Webb Peoples 5. The list includes 15 character teams. They are Clyde Barrow & Bonnie Parker (BONNIE & CLYDE), Thelma Dickinson & Louise Sawyer (THELMA & LOUISE), Nick & Nora Charles (THE THIN MAN), Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson (THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES), Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDACE KID), Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein (ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN), Phillip Morgan & Brandon Shaw (ROPE), Kit and Holly (BADLANDS), Vincent Vega & Jules Winnfield (PULP FICTION), Perry Smith & Dick Hickock (IN COLD BLOOD), Annie Porter & Jack Traven (SPEED), Wyatt & Billy (EASY RIDER), THE WILD BUNCH, THE MAGNIFICIENT SEVEN and THE SIRTY DOZEN. Animals represented on the ballot include a great white shark (JAWS), a flock of birds (THE BIRDS), two dogs (LASSIE COME HOME, THE RETURN OF RIN TIN TIN) and a sheep-herding pig (BABE). Two nominated screen characters never appear on screen. They are Man from Disney's BAMBI and THE BLAIR WITCH.




Here are some WV-related data bytes:


1. First off, the number one worst villain of all, Hannibal Lecter (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) was, of course, made famous for doing some evil things including stuffing a moth into a victim’s mouth found on the Elk River in WV. Clarice Starling (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) was listed at the number six heroine. The character is from WV and won Jodi Foster an Oscar. (I chose this film as the most important film of the decade – 1990s – since it was the first horror film to win the best picture Oscar and was widely influential on cinema, TV, and all of American culture.)


2. Number 15 heroine, Norma Rae Webster, is based on a real woman who lives or has lived in WV.


3. Max Cady, the 28th ranked villain played by Robert Mitchum in the original CAPE FEAR,  is a character who grew up outside of Charleston, WV. (Thanks to Greg Wood for being the film reviewer who actually read the book this movie is based upon, and discovered this fact.) 


4. Rev. Harry Powell, the character Mitchum played in Davis Grubb’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, is ranked the 29th most evil villain.


5. The great success of the 29th rank hero, Luke Jackson, as played by Paul Newman in COOL HAND LUKE, leD to a spin-off film, FOOL’S PARADE, where the George Kennedy and Strother Martin roles in LUKE are reversed. This film was Jimmy Stewart’s last Hollywood film.


6. Frances McDormand, Oscar-winning actress who plays Marge Gunderson in FARGO, ranked 33 best hero, went to Bethany College, as did her co-star William Macey.


7. A recent version of LASSIE (1994), the 39th ranked hero, was partially filmed in WV. It was filmed in Sandstone Falls, Summers County and Tazewell County, Virginia. Daniel Petrie, the director, has been directing films and TV since 1948.


8. Tom Joad, the hero played by Henry Fonda in THE GRAPES OF WRATH, was chosen the 12th best hero. John Steinbeck wrote his Nobel Prize winning book, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, while working for WV native son Pare Lorentz whose Great Depression docs, THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS and THE RIVER inspired him. Latter, James Cain came to WV and wrote his “answer” to this book in his second most popular novel, THE BUTTERFLY, set in the Southern coalfields. This book was turned into a film starring Pia Zadora and Stacey Keatch, reset to Nevada. 


Four-hundred films were nominated for both best hero and best villain. Here are some links to the films that did not make the Top 50.


1. Henry King’s TOL’ABLE DAVID (1921) was world-famous both for its evil Hatburns from WV and hero David Kinnemon, the nobel young Virginia boy who proves his worth. King made a film called STELLA DALLAS (1925) that was re-made in 1937 by King Vidor. The actor who played David, Richard Barthelmess, was nominated for his role in BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919), directed by D. W. Griffith. The star, Lillian Gish, was nominated for heroine. She played her best sound-era role in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. The character Stella Martin Dallas was nominated for the 1937 version played by Barbara Stanwyck.


2. Gray Barker, Clarksburg UFO author, invented Agents J and K (MEN IN BLACK) that were nominated for their roles in the film MEN IN BLACK.


3. Chris Columbus, who directed HOME ALONE, began his Hollywood career by writing RECKLESS, filmed in Weirton, WV and the area.


4. Michael Cimino won multiple Oscars for his Northern panhandle area film THE DEER HUNTER that received a nomination for Robert DeNiro.


5. Pearl Buck’s Nobel Prize winning novel, THE GOOD EARTH, won a nomination for heroine for the character O-Lan, played by Luise Rainer in the film by the same name.


6. The 29th ranked hero, Patton, from the film PATTON, is related to relatives in the Kanawha Valley who built the oldest house existing in the valley – the Keith-Patton House.


7. Chuck Yeager, as played by Sam Shepard, was nominated for best hero in the film of THE RIGHT STUFF.


The most obvious deletion of the AFI 400-nominated films is RAGING BULL, chosen as the “best American film of the Ninties” by film critics. De Niro definitely deserved to make the list for playing Jake La Motta. I also would have liked to nominate Marlon Brando for his performance in my fav film of all time, LAST TANGO IN PARIS. And where is James Dean? None of his films were nominated. The white-bread country-clubbers of Hollywood have done it again!


If I were to rank the best heroes and worst villains in American cinema, I would have to include Michael Moore and Roger Smith from his first film, ROGER AND ME. Too bad Mickey Mouse wasn’t nominated even though other Disney characters made it. I may want to include people like Professor Longhair, star of Les Blank’s doc on Mardi Gras, ALWAYS FOR PLEASURE. Using the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress as the basic list of films – all American – I would want to add Nanook from NANOOK OF THE NORTH and Stan Brakhage for making all of his great experimental films.


Additional AppLit Resources: 
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Film

Steve Fesenmaier's Annotated Bibliographies of West Virginia and Appalachian Films

See Also:

Appalachian Film and Television Topics
Dr. Stephen D. Mooney, Instructor, Department of English and Appalachian Studies Program, has compiled a list of film and television shows for his Appalachian Studies Classes at Virginia Tech, VA.   

Appalshop For a complete catalog, contact the Appalshop Marketing and Sales Office at 1-800-545-7467 or

Davenport Films and From the Brothers Grimm  
American versions of classic folk and fairy tales, many Appalachian.  Davenport has also made many other Appalachian films.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
, Huntington, WV

Press release from September 9, 2002, entitled “World premier screenings at Flooded Out Film Festival
All proceeds from Oct. 10 event go to flood victims”

West Virginia Film Makers Film Festival

Winning Festival Films, background information on the first festival, local history, links to sponsors, links to information on film such as The Griffin and the Minor Canon, The Night of the Hunter, Invasion of the Space Preachers, etc.


West Virginia Filmmakers Guild 

The West Virginia Filmmakers Guild was created in 1985 to provide networking and communication between West Virginia film and video makers and those interested in these crafts in West Virginia. Central to its mission is educating the public and promoting West Virginia filmmakers and their films to the public.

Created:  07/08/2003
Last Update:  05/30/2007 12:42:11 AM
Links Checked:  07/08/2002