Top 25 Sci-Fantasy Icons Of The 21st Century

We asked you to vote for the greatest sci-fi and fantasy characters of the 21st Century, and here’s the top 25

Aa a heads up, here’s a reminder of the criteria we set out when the voting commenced back in April. To qualify to be on this list the character had to be from television or films – we weren’t accepting nominations for characters in books, comics, audio adventures or videogames. They had to have appeared on the screen in new material after 1 January 2000 – so that meant the likes of Han Solo wouldn’t be in the list; and if the characters, like the crew of a certain starship Enterprise for example, had been portrayed in the 20th century by others, we asked you not to vote for those incarnations of them, but to focus on their contemporary equivalents (whether you did or not is another matter!).

25 Walter Bishop

From: Fringe

Mad as a March hare and twice as fun

We already knew John Noble was one of those actors who could deeply inhabit any role after watching him trying to burn his son alive as Denethor in The Lord Of The Rings, but nothing prepared us for the joy of his Walter Bishop. Rescued from a mental asylum during Fringe’s debut, he’s spent the past few years delighting us by being despotic and sinister in one universe and as vulnerable as a child in ours, all the while failing to remember the name of his assistant (it’s Astrid!) and extolling the joys of candy, dangerous science and forgetting to put his clothes on. You never know what he’s going to do next – and that’s why he’s so wonderful.


24 Echo

From: Dollhouse

Sci-fi’s most lovable schizoid

Echo is unique in this poll as the only character to completely change personality on a weekly basis. Thanks to Rossum’s mindwipe tech, Echo went on missions for the Dollhouse as everything from a blind woman of faith to a sassy master thief. All this changed in the second season, however. “By then, empowered with all these personalities, there was less ‘I like broccoli’ Echo and more ‘I’m gonna kill some bad people, really f--k ’em up’ Echo!” an equally sassy Eliza Dushku told SFX. From blank slate to the saviour of the human race, Echo gives Buffy a run for her money as Whedon’s premier female icon.



23 Superman


He’ll wear his pants wherever he likes

Arguably the most famous superhero ever created, in recent years Supes’ big-screen appearances have been mixed, to say the least. Brandon Routh took a bit of a kicking in Superman Returns, and it’s no easy gig playing the Kryptonian castaway – he’s been around for the best part of a century, after all. The pressure is on for Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill in the upcoming Man Of Steel, but we all know what we want: the kiss curl, the cape, the lantern jaw and the costume raining down fury on Lex Luthor with the air of quiet confidence only a son of Krypton can pull off.

22 Wolverine

From: X-Men

Claws for thought

Back in 1999, Hugh Jackman was best known for prancing around in leather chaps singing songs about beautiful mornings in Oklahoma!. The following year, though, Bryan Singer cast him in X-Men and any memory of his time as a slightly camp cowboy was blown away, thanks to the adamantium-coated brilliance of his performance as Wolverine. Three X-Men films, a solo venture and a hilarious cameo in X-Men: First Class later, he’s the best-loved mutant on the planet. With The Wolverine on the way, he’s not going away any time yet.



21 Gene Hunt

From: Life On Mars , Ashes To Ashes

He’s no Angel

A bloke who women wanted to sleep with and men wanted to flee from, Gene Hunt emerged from the unlikely belly of Blair’s touchy-feely Britain. “Gene Hunt is that character a writer only creates once in a lifetime,” co-creator Matthew Graham tells SFX. “Someone who excites and challenges an audience in equal measure. He was a joy to write, as I could invoke the rough ‘n’ tumble mates of my dad’s who used to smell of scotch and cheap cigars. I’m going to miss him.”

20 Hoban “Wash” Washburne

From: Firefly

Leaf ’em laughing when you go

Effectively the Jiminy Cricket of the fair spaceship Serenity, Adam Tudyk’s immensely likeable Wash got to say all the things we would’ve wanted to say if we were living in a terrific space Western ourselves – from the grand (“Every man there go back inside, or we will blow a new crater in this little moon!”) to the faintly pitiful (“Oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die!”).

Equipped with a fantastic sense of humour and a stunning wife to prove that women do find a GSOH attractive, even when compared to such a hunky slice of man-dom as Mal Reynolds, Wash was the heart and soul of the Serenity. Even more so, in fact, than its Captain or Engineer, or any of the other travellers on board, simply because as her pilot he was the one who moved her.

He also moved us, as anyone reduced to floods of tears after his shockingly violent death scene in the movie will attest. We should really have seen it coming, though: Tudyk’s characters always seem to cark it one way or another, and the actor even has his own Facebook page called “Please Stop Killing Alan Tudyk”. We agree. And somehow, universe, please bring Wash back. He’s a leaf who should still be soaring.



19 Batman


The Dark Knight remains the superhero to beat

You all know the story here. Rich kid. Dead parents. Kid gets mad. Goes Bats – literally. But there’s a truth to Batman too, about how grief has the habit of making you do the strangest things.

Perhaps that’s why now, an impressive 72 years after his comics debut, his films are packing out the multiplexes. He’s hardly a Mike Leigh character, but there’s a nugget of reality that grounds Bats. Unlike his super-peers, Bruce Wayne doesn’t have powers. He’s a superhero because he’s driven enough to put the physical and mental effort in to being one. If we tried hard enough, we could be a bit like Batman.

But there’s also another, more colourful appeal to the character that’s sometimes muted in Nolan’s (brilliant) movies. The thrill of Batman soaring across the Gotham skyline. A high-speed chase in the Batmobile (when it was a car, not a tank) and the banter with Robin. Yes, Robin. Dealt with properly, Robin can be cool.
So, when Bale has hung up the cowl, Batman will go on in a new, different direction. We don’t know what yet, but it will presumably tie into the Justice League movie. And that’s a good thing. Because he’s Batman. The Caped Crusader. The World’s Greatest Detective. Not just the Dark Knight.

18 Jayne Cobb

From: Firefly

Don’t make fun of his hat

The best thing about Jayne – other than the fact he had a girl’s name and everybody was too scared to make fun of it – was that, like all good antiheroes, you never quite knew what we would do next. Sure, he lived on the Serenity with Captain Reynolds’ crew and was an important part of the team dynamic. But he only came on board because it suited him to do so, and occasionally – such as in the episode “Ariel” – he’d betray his friends without a second thought to make a quick buck. Jayne was an ornery SOB who was only out for himself, yet it was hard to hate him for it. Who knows, if Firefly had continued on past that doomed first year and single movie, we might have come to know Jayne’s softer side.

Actor Adam Baldwin knew exactly how to approach the role: “The character was someone that I was familiar with from watching in movies like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly with Eli Wallach, and The Wild Bunch with Warren Oates,” he said. A true Western creation, then, perfectly suited to the Firefly universe – although we’re not sure Wallach would ever have said the infamous line “I’ll be in my bunk” quite so magnificently.



17 Captain Kirk

From: Star Trek

A leader worth following

James Tiberius Kirk is a character so sizzlingly iconic that, despite the naysayers, was able to withstand another actor taking it on. Capturing Kirk’s cocky charm and managing to look as though that chair was sculpted around him, Chris Pine is now as much the Captain as William Shatner was and is. We love Kirk for being the leader we’d want for a five-year mission. Imagine being an impressionable Ensign on that first mission of the NCC-1701 and looking up at this youthful, strong, brave, lusty and seriously cool commander-in-chief and just thinking, “F--k, yeah...”

Shatner himself describes his alter ego as an “expansive, randy, faintly ridiculous, and yet supremely capable leader of men, Falstaffian in his love of life and largeness of spirit”, while Chris Pine calls him “a charming, funny leader of men”.

With Shat, we travelled with Kirk from the athleticism of youth, through the trials of middle-age, to that thrown-away death in the heart of the Nexus. Now we’re starting all over again. And nobody, apart from James T Kirk, has ever smirked like that and not looked like a c--t.

16 Cameron

From: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

The killer robot it’s okay to fancy

A nice Terminator. It shouldn’t have worked the first time around with Arnie in T2. The fact that it did again with Cameron in The Sarah Connor Chronicles was nothing short of a miracle, and almost entirely down to Summer Glau’s performance. The ex-River Tam may have form playing kooky, spooky, secretly rock-hard characters, but it was still a surprise just how well she pulled off the “killer cyborg from the future” shtick. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been. The original concept for the Terminator was that it would blend in perfectly and in that, Cameron succeeds, being neither Arnie, nor a ridiculous caricature of femininity like the “Terminatrix” in T3. There are no inflatable boobs or minigun hands here – just a woman who appears delicate, but is actually insanely powerful. Mind you, that same power came with some interesting loopholes. Like when Cameron was damaged in season two, and started trying to kill John, rather than protect him… Pleasingly, while taking the character along the same “implacable robot finds a heart” path that Data trod in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show’s producers never forgot that Cameron could be as much a threat as she was a protector.



15 Angel

From: Angel , Buffy The Vampire Slayer

We don’t need another hero

Edward Cullen, Bill Compton, Stefan Salvatore… they all owe one hell of a debt to Angel, the original moping, lovestruck vampire, trying to resist the urge to chow down on his girlfriend. But that was only one phase of Angel’s life. A move to LA and a starring role in his own show revealed a whole new side to the vampire with a soul: rubbish karaoke singer.

Oh yeah, and a guilt-ridden avenger trying to find redemption through being a hero. He became rather obsessed with the whole hero thing; we think it may partly have been to compensate for a Buffy-sized hole in his life.

Because make no mistake. Angel was the eternal teenager. His new role as head of Angel Investigations may have made him feel all big and grown-up, but he still brooded and pouted like some pubescent boy. Somehow, that just made him all the more likeable, especially his hurt expressions when his colleagues took the mickey out of him for it.

Angel could have been a very one-dimensional character (like Edward and Stefan) but Whedon and Boreanaz between them created a character with a self-deprecating humour, tragic depths, petulant flaws and, underpinning it all, a desperate, almost monomaniacal urge to do the right thing. But he really couldn’t sing.

14 Admiral Adama

From: Battlestar Galactica

BSG’s Big Daddy

Great men are born from tragedy. No surprise, then, that the great Bill Adama lived through more than his fair share of life-changing catastrophes: named for his murdered brother, caught in the middle of not one but two devastating Cylon wars (the second of which claimed the life of his wife) and a mourner at his own child’s funeral, not to mention the fact his best mate was a skinjob. Kirk doesn’t know how easy he had it.

From a supremely gifted pilot in the Colonial Fleet (where he was christened with the call sign “Husker” on account of his husky voice) to the weary, battle-hardened admiral of humanity’s surviving population, Adama remained stoic, but refreshingly fallible and supremely human. He was the father figure everyone wishes they had, even if he could be a bit of a hard-ass, wily enough to give survivors something to live for (the mythical Earth of the scriptures) and, in his relationship with President Roslin, displayed a vulnerable side that made him much more loveable than balls-out bravado ever could. By forming an alliance with a splinter faction of Cylons, Adama ensured the survival of the human species. If Adama were to run for Prime Minister tomorrow, he’d kick Cleggeron into next Tuesday.



13 Darth Vader

From: Star Wars

Spoiler alert – he’s Luke’s dad

When it comes to sci-fi’s greatest villain, there’s no competition. Even today, 34 years on and post-young Anakin’s “your skin is soft, not like sand…” and “noooooooooo!” Darth Vader is still the only Dark Lord worth caring about.

Why? The reasons are myriad. On an aesthetic level, there’s no one else like him. That suit is a masterpiece of kink and menace. Black rubber and leather with a respirator buzz. It’s like a Soho gimp-wizard has decided to take on the universe.

Then there’s the voice. James Earl Jones distinctive baritone provides just the right amount of terror and warmth. When he’s at war, it’s terrifying. “I find your lack of faith disturbing” is a funny line made chilling. But when Vader finally becomes Anakin again, in his dying moments, that same voice is replete with sadness.

But best of all is the fact that underneath his armour is the scarred remains of the once-handsome Anakin, now made “twisted and evil” by the hand that life dealt him. The prequels were unnecessary, but they at least succeeded in fleshing out the tragedy of Anakin. He’s a pulp villain, quite literally a black hat, but one with depth and gravitas.

12 Spider-Man


Crawls walls, slings webs, makes millions

Spider-Man properly arrived on the screen in 2002. There had been the late ’70s TV series that had a few episodes turned into cinema features – but it was horseshit. With Sam Raimi directing and Tobey Maguire starring, Spider-Man finally did justice to the peerless comic book character. Finally he didn’t look corny, thanks to 21st century special effects and razor-sharp editing.

But how come Spidey was, after nearly 40 years, still a character that the world wanted to pay millions of dollars to see? We asked – who else? – one of the greatest human beings on the entire planet, co-creator Stan “The Man” Lee.

“Spider-Man is easy for fans to relate to because he’s really an everyman who has the same problems and hang-ups as they do. He has trouble earning a living, is always facing some sort of romantic dilemma,” the living legend told us.

“Also, Spidey’s very unique costume (thanks to artist Steve Ditko) and his spider-like movements and fantastic web-swinging ability make him extremely colourful and unique in a way that is unmatched by any other superhero.” With next year’s The Amazing Spider-Man bound to be massive, we predict the wallcrawler’s best years are still in front of him.



11 River Tam

From: Firefly

Mystery girl

Much of River Tam’s appeal can be explained by the fact that: a) she’s one of Whedon’s trademark kick-ass femmes and b) she’s played by every sci-fi geek’s favourite actress, Summer Glau. But River’s got a lot going for her in her own right – an awesome name for starters, a wide-eyed hippy vibe and an air of mystery hiding big, big secrets beneath the surface.

Before being rescued by her brother Simon, River was the subject of an Alliance experiment to create an army of psychic super-soldiers. The experiments worked, but it wasn’t until River’s suppressed abilities were triggered that we saw her true potential. Fragile, yes, but an angel of death capable of laying waste to a room full of the ’verse’s most feared foes with a balletic mix of martial arts, kickboxing and a very big sword.

Firefly’s tragically short lifespan meant there wasn’t enough time for River to etch herself into mainstream consciousness as Buffy did, but from her first moments River was every bit as arresting. She’s adorable, sweet, a total whack-attack and has a knack for the scene-stealing one-liner – calmly announcing she’ll kill Jayne with her brain if he betrays her ever again. Undoubtedly Glau’s greatest role, and in many ways Firefly’s secret weapon.

10 Kara “Starbuck” Thrace

From: Battlestar Galactica

The vixen in a Viper

She was cigar-chomping, dogtag-wearing proof that you shouldn’t always fear change. With Dirk Benedict’s charismatic, skirt-chasing Starbuck burned into the minds of anyone who watched the original Battlestar Galactica, it seemed an outrageous affront to all that was holy to make the Starbuck in the reboot a woman – for shame! But once the new series aired, the critics soon found themselves being thumped in the face by Katee Sackhoff’s no-nonsense Kara Thrace, whose toughness and determination made the original look like a bit of a girl himself.

“What made people accept Starbuck as a woman was that she was such an interesting character,” says Sackhoff. “Once people let their guard down and their prejudices of what the show was supposed to be, they stopped thinking of the old show.” Indeed: we can’t imagine any other Starbuck now but the one who could out-fly every other pilot in the universe; who could fight ‘n’ whore so determinedly without an ounce of guilt or restraint despite her sex; who could be so deeply in touch with her spiritual side while killing bad guys left, right and centre. We’re not sure we’d like to be her (she’s borderline psychotic at times, after all) but it was sure as hell fun to watch her.



9 Dean Winchester

From: Supernatural

Hope there’s no sibling rivalry going on…

The general rule in any family is that the older sibling is the wisest and most mature. Not necessarily in the Winchester family, where Dean’s carefree, wisecracking, smooth-talking ladies’ man often acts more like a skirt-chasing teen tearaway than the reliable big bro.

In spite of this devil-may-care attitude, Dean values family above all else. He understands the stakes of what he and Sam fight for, and over the course of six seasons has shown a willingness to sacrifice everything he holds dear, giving up his shot at a family and going to hell and back (literally) to save Sam’s soul.

Dean’s love for classic rock and his 1967 Chevy Impala is the stuff of legend, or specifically biblical prophecies dressed up as metatextual fan fiction. He has a gift for conjuring a deprecating nickname, the smarts to outwit an angel and the moves to take down a nest of vamps with little more than a whopping big knife and some undead blood in his veins.

Of course, as with Sam, Dean wouldn’t be half the man without his brother – they’re two halves of a much greater whole. But if we had to make the choice between cheeseburger or veggie shake – there’d be no competition.

8 Spock

From: Star Trek

Starship trooper

In modern telly, a lead alien would never look like Spock. In an age of inch-thick prosthetics, Spock’s extra-terrestrial visage looks decidedly quaint. But that fantastic simplicity – pointy ears, alarmed eyebrows and a pudding-bowl haircut, is partly why Spock love enveloped the world in a way it never did with, say, Ka D’Argo.

One of SF’s more unlikely sex throbs, Spock’s buttoned-down emotion and fetishisation of cold, brilliant logic seems to be a real lure to many Trekkies. It may even explain why Barack Obama knocked John McCain out at the US polls three years ago. Obama’s cool, unflappable demeanour meant he was compared to Spock by many commentators, unaware perhaps that they were complimenting the leader-in-waiting. The author Anthony Seldon revealed last year that Obama was definitely nicknamed Spock by British officials. If only Brown had been his Kirk…

“Obama saw me and immediately put his hand up in the Vulcan gesture,” recalls Leonard Nimoy on the time he met the Senator from Illiniois. “He said, ‘They told me you were here.’ We had a wonderful brief conversation and I said, ‘It would be logical if you would become president.’”



7 Harry Potter

From: Harry Potter

The boy who lived – and conquered the world

Of all the characters in JK Rowling’s fictional universe, there’s an argument that Harry is one of the least interesting. Ron gets the gags. Snape has the moral ambiguity. Dumbledore holds the secrets. In comparison, little orphan Harry can look like a dull goody two-shoes.

He’s not, of course. He may seem wide-eyed and one-dimensional in The Philosopher’s Stone, but as the films progress things get darker and more complex – and so does he. In The Prisoner Of Azkaban we see his powers get the best of him, and as the apocalyptic ending of The Deathly Hallows looms, it’s become increasingly clear that he must be willing to kill if he wants to survive.

But Harry isn’t a “dark” character, and nor should he be. Though things get tough and he goes through hell every time he goes back to school, there’s a core of decency, bravery and optimism that stops him from falling in the way that Voldemort fell. Whether hanging back to help his rival Cedric in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, or teaching the students of Hogwarts how to fight when their teachers fail them, he proves himself a hero time and time again. And that’s why we love him.

6 Ianto

From: Torchwood

The immortal man’s best friend

The Force was strong in Torchwood’s Ianto Jones. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was struck down and became more powerful than you could possibly imagine. His death turned him from a much-loved secondary character into a major cause célèbre, creating a rabidly loyal, frankly scary fanbase, which claimed that Torchwood creator Russell T Davies was clearly homophobic (yeah, right) and left vile messages on James Moran’s blog, purely because he wrote the episode in which Ianto popped his clogs. Even now, two years on, they hunt the internet searching for disparaging mentions of their man so that they can be righteously indignant all over again.

It’s a shame he’s now more famous for this controversy, because it overshadows the fact that he was a great character, with a truly heartbreaking death. Introduced as the tea boy, he was initially as starchy as his spotless shirts. But a stopwatch-aided relationship with Captain Jack brought him out of his shell. By series two he was as well known for his quips as his cufflinks. But he was never totally convinced that he was anything more than a “part-time shag” and even with his last breath agonised that Jack would forget him. It was that vulnerability that made him so loveable.



5 Spike

From: Buffy The Vampire Slayer , Angel

William The Bloody Brilliant

Perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay Spike is that when he became a regular character in Angel, he not only didn’t come across as some gimmick to get Buffy fans watching the spin-off, he actually made you wish he’d been part of the spin-off’s DNA from day one. Angel was a great show without him; with him, it took on a whole new lease of life – a bloodsucking take on The Odd Couple , with its two reluctant antiheroes bickering and trying to get one up on each other constantly. Even Boreanaz, who you’d assume would have hated the idea in a starry, egotistical way, seemed to be re-energised by having a vampiric sparring partner on board.

That’s the key to Spike, though. He was, as Joss Whedon once said, one of his “most fully developed characters”. He was a Swiss army knife of different personalities – soppy lovestruck poet, to psychotic bloodsucker, to punk hedonist, to lovestruck vampire, to saviour of the world, to existential ghost and beyond – but each seemed to flow organically into the next. He could change. He could adapt. He could grow. Writers often talk about their characters’ journeys, but few characters had as many stamps on their emotional passports as Spike.

It also helped, of course, that he had cheekbones like set squares, a cool leather duster and James Marsters bringing him to life.

4 Buffy Summers

From: Buffy The Vampire Slyer

Se saved the world a lot

“I wanted her to be a cultural phenomenon,” Joss Whedon told The Onion in 2001. “I wanted there to be dolls, Barbie with kung fu grip.” Sometimes, Mr Whedon, dreams can come true (although while there were Buffy dolls, we’re not too sure they had kung fu grip). His Buffy Summers became just the sensation he wanted her to be: an ordinary schoolgirl with an extraordinary destiny, a conflict that made her one of the most fascinating characters in modern TV. She was vulnerable, yet stronger than any human on the planet; she was seemingly shallow, but contained depths that surprised us; she was doomed to suffer, yet still found the courage to joke about things that would make most people hide under their duvets.

Kristy Swanson first brought her to life, doing her best with a bad lot in the original movie in 1992, but she lacked Sarah Michelle Gellar’s spark and sass. When Gellar stepped into Buffy’s shoes it was as though our Vampire Slayer had truly come to life. Thanks to her (and with a little help on the side from a warrior princess named Xena), the ’90s TV viewer learned that women didn’t just exist in that little glass box to look pretty and fall in love with the hero: they could also kick butt like butts existed just for them to kick.



3 Captain Jack Harkness

From: Torchwood , Doctor Who

The face of, “Oh!”

“When I launched Queer As Folk back in 1999,” remembers Russell T Davies, “I did a Q&A in a club called Nightingale’s in Birmingham, and the very first question was, ‘Why aren’t there any bisexuals on TV?’ And I remember making a mental note, right there and then. So that’s a scoop, SFX, he was created in a gay club in the Midlands!”
Fancy that.

When Captain Jack Harkness arrived in “The Empty Child” in season one of the reheated Doctor Who, the sexually omnivorous inter-galactic con man signalled the first glorious break with the past 42 years of sexually frigid Who.

RTD is under no illusions as to why Jack caught on. “It’s John,” he tells SFX. “He’s simply outrageous – but he’s clever, too. And let’s not forget that those first scripts were by Steven Moffat. Whatever happened to him? But he just made Jack soar – within two pages, he’s slapped a man’s arse, in a gentlemen’s club in 1941! That’s brand-new territory, in his very first scene. Seriously – try to think of a character who does something brand new to TV in his very first appearance. See how hard it is? Then look at Jack!”

What would Russell think of Jack if he met him at a party, we wonder? “I’d think, ‘You lucky bastard,’ as all the men gravitate around him. Then I’d fall over in the kitchen and be thrown out!”

2 The Doctor

From: Doctor Who

The children’s own hero that adults adore

Of all the characters on this list, there are few that can be called not just an icon, but also a national treasure. The last of the Time Lords is certainly one of them.

But then he has an advantage. The Doctor isn’t one man, but 11 (and counting). For Who head honcho, Steven Moffat, that was part of the appeal. “The Doctor can change with the times,” he says.

“I always thought the new Doctor episodes were the most exciting. That idea [regeneration] really caught my imagination.” Another thing that appealed was the Doctor’s lack of a modus operandi. “He’s not James Bond. He doesn’t have a mission and his superpower is just that he’s a really good improviser.”

And he’s an alien! Russell T Davies describes writing for the character as, “like looking into a furnace. Whole universes turn inside his head”. He’s a mystery. Nearly 50 years on, we don’t even know his name. Then again, for a Gallifreyan, he’s distinctly human. “He’s not very alien,” Moffat agrees. “You could almost be like him. He can die and regenerate – it would be harder for you to do that! But I like the fact that anyone can be a bit like the Doctor.”



1 Mal Reynolds

From: Firefly

A big damn hero

He’s the space cowboy, the galactic gunslinger, the tight-trousered, quip-quoting hero – or probably antihero – of the Joss Whedon generation. He’s Malcolm Reynolds, owner of the fine Firefly-class spaceship Serenity and the head of a ragtag crew containing at least one true love, one crazy lady, one preacher and one mercenary you really shouldn’t turn your back on. He’s lost a war (badly), survived a marriage (she was a little sneaky), earned a crust (not necessarily legally), lost some family (sniff) and lived to fight another day (even if we don’t get to see him any more).

He’s the guy you voted number one in this poll, and he’s played by Nathan Fillion. The actor took time out from his busy schedule to talk to SFX about what it means to
be an icon...

SFX: So, you’ve won SFX’s poll for the 100 Greatest Icons of Sci-fi.
Nathan Fillion: Thanks very much!

SFX: How does it feel to know Mal Reynolds is so popular after all these years?
NF: You know what? That television show and that character changed my life entirely. And to this day – it’s a decade later – it still has an affect on my life. So I’m glad to see that it has a place in other people’s hearts and not just mine.

SFX: So what is it about Captain Mal that you think fans of the show like? What is it about him that people connect with?
NF: He’s not a winning guy, and I think we can all relate to that. In our lives we don’t walk around winning all the time; we’re constantly waging little wars everywhere and I think rarely do we, y’know, just walk away winning. I think people can relate to that. People can relate to, “Aw, man, things are not going my way.” And I think people find solace in watching television and finding out they’re not the only ones. I think Mal’s a good man, I think he’s got redeeming qualities, I just don’t think he’s the kind of guy you want to be around for any extended length of time.

SFX: He’s the kind of man who’ll kick the bad guy into an engine, isn’t he? So that’s not necessarily a good thing – heroes don’t go around kicking people into engines. But at the same time you cheer when he does it.
NF: He is a desperate man. I mean, he lives in desperate times. If you say, “Hey, it’s going to be you and me, and we’re going to the mat and I’m gonna kill you,” he’ll finish you. And the better you are, the dirtier he will fight, but he will not lose.

SFX: How much of him is you?
NF: I would say the same amount of me that’s in Mal is the same amount of everybody that’s in Mal. The way that we can relate to him because it’s like, “Oh man, I know just how he feels!” We’ve all been left in the desert naked. “Ah, I knew this was comin’! I knew it!” We’ve all said that. Everybody’s said, “I can’t believe I let that happen.” Everybody’s had that. I’ve had it. But you see it happen to Mal and you can identify, I think, with that feeling.

SFX: Malcolm beat the Doctor. How does that make you feel?
NF: Growing up in Canada, that was one of the sci-fi series we watched. I had a super-long scarf when I was growing up as a kid, because I loved Doctor Who ! Oh yeah! I’m not going to question it, I’m just going to take my victories as they come! Just like Malcolm.

SFX: You must be asked if Firefly is coming back lots – will you ever get fed up of it?
NF: I don’t know… It’s been almost a decade and people are asking, “Is it coming back?” I’m not tired of it yet. I wonder when that will happen? Maybe 15, 25 years from now!

SFX: What do you think Malcolm would be doing if the show was still running?
NF: I wanted there to have been a couple of movies, things would get really exciting, more collectables and merchandise… there’s so many things out there already! The legal papers for the licence for the ship, they have it in a nice kind of leather foldover folder thing. People will say, “Could you sign this?” and I’ll go [very squeaky voice], “Where did you get that? It’s amazing!” They have books on Firefly-class ships, it’s like, “Wow! Someone had to work on this really hard and put it out there.” All this stuff is still going on out there for this show! People will give me something and say, “Can you sign this?” I’ll go, “Can I sign it? Can I keep it?”

SFX: Looking back on your time on Firefly, what would you say you’re most proud of?
NF: I’m really proud of the work. Every job has its challenges, and that was my first job as a lead, it was my first one-hour series; the schedule was different, the demands were different; it was my first time getting a hold of that and I was presented with the most incredible dialogue, the best character I’ve ever played, the best stories. There was never a day where I went to work and was looking at the script going, “Meh. I gotta do that?” It was always, “Whoa, I get to do that!”

Even the day when you had to be naked in the desert?
NF: Even that day! I can’t remember who told me, I think it was Joss, and they said, “There’s an episode coming up where you’re going to be naked. I said, “What?” And he said, “The show opens, the camera pans down to you sitting naked on a rock.” And
I started laughing and said, “Okay, I like it.” No explanation.

SFX: It definitely stuck in people’s minds. Maybe that’s why you beat the Doctor?
NF: Doctor Who needs to get naked more. There lies my point, too, that there wasn’t a day when I went to work thinking, “I don’t want to do this.”

SFX: You got a reputation on the show as being called Captain Tightpants. Will that haunt you to the grave?
NF: Wouldn’t it be nice if it did? There’s a lot of things that as an actor you say, “I don’t want to get pigeonholed.” If I had to get pigeonholed, it would be as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, thank you very much. “Oh he’s that guy, you know the guy who’s really crazy awesome, gets beat up all the time, keeps winning a little bit…” Everything about Mal,
I just loved him.

SFX: And finally, do you have a message for the readers of SFX ?
NF: Keep flying, stay shiny.

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.