The top 10 sidekicks of all time

Oct. 10, 2010 | 10:38 a.m.

It’s the 10 o’clock hour on  10-10-2010, and across the Los Angeles Times, we’re creating top 10 lists. Here at the Hero Complex, we are using the occasion to celebrate sidekicks — those trusty pop-culture pals who forever trail in the shadow of alpha figures but often win the hearts of fans. It was a tough list to assemble, and there were plenty of near-misses. Strong cases could be made for  Tinker Bell, Boo-Boo, George Costanza, Dyna Girl, Danno, RenfieldArt Garfunkel and Al Gore — we’re sorry, but really at this point they must be accustomed to the also-ran role.  So let’s get on with our companion countdown, in which we nod to a loyal pal, smile and say, “He’s with me.”

sidekicks1 The top 10 sidekicks of all time

10. Mini-Me: The minions of Dr. Evil wanted to keep the criminal mastermind on track with his plans for global domination, and what better way than with a clone? Well, the plan was downsized a bit when the finished product was just 2-foot-8. The villain didn’t mind too much — he just dubbed the small-scale  copy “Mini-Me,” and big laughs ensued for the “Austin Powers” franchise. It’s all completely tasteless but, well, pretty funny. The character is a spoof of  Nick-Nack, the diminutive henchman from “The Man With The Golden Gun,” but thanks to actor Verne Troyer, the parody is more famous than the original.

rose and the doctor The top 10 sidekicks of all time

Billie Piper as Rose Tyler and David Tennant as the Doctor (BBC)

9. Rose Tyler: Nobody goes through sidekicks like the Doctor — they come and go and with good reason since their human limitations emphasize the immortal and cosmic nature of the Time Lord who skitters through the universe in his TARDIS on “Doctor Who.” There have been some sparkling “companions,” as they are called, in 789 episodes of the British sci-fi show that dates back to November 1963 — among them Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), but we go with former pop singer Billie Piper and her Rose Tyler, the saucy and smart character who was key to the success of the Russell T Davies relaunch of “Doctor Who” in 2005. She fell in love with the Doctor in a way that made the audience fall in love with her and believe that, just maybe, time was on her side.

8.  Patrick Starfish: There are scores of cartoon duos, but sometimes it’s hard to sort out who’s the real sidekick — it gets a bit murky, for instance, to puzzle out the power distribution in the partnership of Shaggy and Scooby-Doo or Rocky and Bullwinkle — but not when it comes to “SpongeBob SquarePants” where No. 2 doesn’t try harder. The pink, lazy and no-so-bright seastar named Patrick lives under a rock, watches way too much TV and shows no evidence of  recognizable skill or ambition. In other words, he is exactly like 71% of the adult audience who reach for a bong before watching the Nickelodeon show. The character is voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, by the way, who was also the towering mental midget Dauber on “Coach.”  “SpongeBob” celebrated its 10th anniversary and some of the best episodes (“Big Pink Loser” and “Patrick SmartPants” spring to mind) were all about this layabout echinoderm who was both a stoner-nation version of Barney Rubble and a latter-day doofus carrying on the grand tradition of Ed Norton from “The Honeymooners,” so we like to think he represents both of them on this list.

7. Kato: Radio audiences in the 1930s thrilled to “The Green Hornet,” and the masked man and his sidekick, Kato, made the jump to film serials and comics as well. But in the 1960s, something interesting happened when the duo got their own TV show — all eyes were on the sidekick. The show, a sort of serious sister to the popular “Batman” series, starred handsome Van Williams as  newspaper publisher Britt Reid, who battled crime as a vigilante-playing-villain called the Green Hornet. Bruce Lee took on the role of Hornet’s wheelman and hand-to-hand combat expert, Kato, and no one could have predicted that the short-lived role (26 episodes) would be the starting point of an American martial-arts craze and a superstar career for actor Lee. The role of Kato will be reprised by Jay Chou in the Michel Gondry’s “The Green Hornet” film this January.

captian america and bucky The top 10 sidekicks of all time

6. Bucky Barnes: He’s only the second-most-famous sidekick in comics (holy hint-dropper, you’ll see the other one later in the countdown!), but we can’t leave Bucky Barnes off this list. With Jack Kirby’s kinetic magic, the sidekick of Captain America seemed to jump off the page in the 1940s,  but his persona took  on a whole new element in the 1960s when Marvel Comics revived Captain America but listed Bucky as one of the casualties of World War II. Captain America was haunted by the death — and the fact that maybe a 15-year-old didn’t belong in combat? — and it added new layers to the character. The mythology would be tweaked and changed through the years — Bucky came back as the Winter Solider and even took on the Captain America costume himself. But for us, Bucky remains the famous fallen sidekick, and we salute him.

5. Igor: When Marty Feldman played Igor (with a long “i”) in “Young Frankenstein,” he was standing up (um, sorta) for a lot of Hollywood horror history. The vertically challenged lab assistant has a long heritage on screen — there was Rotwang in the 1927 film “Metropolis” and the hunchbacked Fritz in the 1931 landmark “Frankenstein,” for instance, or the grave-robbing Ygor played by Bela Lugosi in a pair of “Frankenstein” sequels  who was a bit too independent to be a henchman, but he did have that great name. There’s also “House of Wax” where young Charles Bronson played a great Igor, a deaf and devoted disciple of an evil boss.  “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” gave us an Igor named Riff Raff, and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” went traditional by actually calling the sidekick “Igor.” In 2008, the creepy little guy of pop culture finally realized the sidekick fantasy — he got his own film with the animated “Igor.”

lone ranger and tonto The top 10 sidekicks of all time

Vintage advertisement with Lone Ranger and Tonto

4. Tonto: One thing about radio shows, it’s best if your hero has someone he can talk to, especially if he roams the Old West where it can get lonely sitting around the campfire. That was the reason behind Tonto, the faithful Native American companion to Lone Ranger who began as a narrative aid but became far more than that as the Western masked-man mythology took hold of young imaginations across America. The Lone Ranger and Tonto were created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker (the same tandem behind “Green Hornet,” in fact), and through the years, some have found the character to be offensive (most often due to his fractured, article-free version of English), but others see the brave hero as noble and an equal to the fellow who rides Silver.  How big is Tonto in our collective memory? Well, “kemo sabe” was added to Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary in 2002. Actor Jay Silverheels is the definitive Tonto in the public memory, but Disney announced in 2008 that Johnny Depp (who has some Cherokee heritage) would take on the role in a new film version of the Lone Ranger, although the project seems to have lost momentum.

sherlock and holmes The top 10 sidekicks of all time

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson (Los Angeles Times archives)

3. Dr. John Watson: This pick was … elementary. There’s a strong argument to be made, however, that Watson, faithful companion of Sherlock Homes, belongs at the top spot of this or any sidekick ranking. A subtitle of the first Holmes adventure, “A Study in Scarlet,” from 1887, labels the mystery: “Being a reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., Late of the Army Medical Department,” and from that point on, the marvelous mind of Holmes is presented to the world through the filter of Watson’s perceptions. And, indeed, author Arthur Conan Doyle made a sublime decision with the choice of  the brave, big-hearted sidekick who, over the course of their many adventures, became like brother to the brilliant but detached detective. Watson has been portrayed on screen by many fine actors, among them Nigel Bruce, André Morell and Robert Duvall, and these days the role belongs to Jude Law, who is now on the set in London filming with sleuth-star Robert Downey Jr. and director Guy Ritchie. There are so many other bookshelf sidekicks — the earthy and ironic Sancho Panza from “Don Quixote,Friday from “Robinson Crusoe” and assorted Hobbits spring to mind — but if we put them on this list, we wouldn’t have room for a goofy cartoon starfish.

2. Robin the Boy Wonder: It’s fashionable to think of Batman as the ultimate humorless loner  (hey Chris Nolan, why so serious?), but let’s not forget that long before the “The Dark Knight,” there was the Dynamic Duo. Batman was introduced in May 1939 in the Detective Comics No. 27, but his crusade against the criminals of Gotham City didn’t stay solitary for long — just 11 monthly issues after his debut, Bruce Wayne took on the most famous junior partner in comic books as Robin the Boy Wonder burst on the screen. Just like Batman, young Dick Grayson was orphaned by crime, but instead of responding with rage, he put on a green Speedo, moved in with a rich guy and back-flipped into pop-culture history. The character — shaped by Jerry Robinson, who was a teenager at the time and also a sidekick of sorts to the Batman creative team of Bob Kane and Bill Finger — was a sensation with 1940s readers who saw themselves in the young acrobat who was like a playful, pint-sized Robin Hood, tagging along with the two-fisted Dracula figure of DC Comics. The 1960s television series “Batman” gave Robin his defining moment in the spotlight with actor Burt Ward and his ludicrous trademark, those oddball exclamations. “Holy 4th Amendment!” “Holy interplanetary yardstick!” “Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!” (And, yes, those were all used on the show, here’s a list).

chewbacca and han solo The top 10 sidekicks of all time

Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Harrison Ford as Han Solo (Lucasfilm)

1. Chewbacca: When it comes to sidekick contests, there’s a simple rule: Let the wookiee win. We never understood a word he was saying, but there was no one we would have wanted in the copilot seat next to us more than the big walking carpet himself, Chewbacca, the rangy, loyal Bigfoot of the Jedi universe. In the movies, he was born on the spelling-bee planet of Kashyyyk, but he was conceived in the front seat of a car owned by George Lucas — the wizard of Skywalker Ranch got the idea of a devoted, hirsute copilot by driving around with his Alaskan malamute, Indiana, who also would lend his name to a certain action-minded archaeologist. In the films, the towering Peter Mayhew brought Chewie to life, but he got plenty of help from costume designer Stuart Freeborn (he knitted the costume with mohair and yak hair) and sound designer Ben Burtt, who blended the recordings of bear, walrus, camel and badger to create the guttural lexicon of the wookiee. Chewie is deeply beloved by fans (I myself risked  heat stroke back in 1978 when I wore a homemade costume made of shag carpet to my South Florida elementary-school costume contest), but it’s not easy being a sidekick in space — we hear Chewbacca did that sad moan-growl of his when he was the only non-robot that didn’t get a medal for blowing up the Death Star at the end of the original “Star Wars” film. Don’t worry, big guy, you’re No. 1 with us.

— Geoff Boucher

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38 Responses to The top 10 sidekicks of all time

  1. dkalt says:

    What about Pancho, the loyal sidekick of the Cisco Kid??

  2. Gary Conner says:

    How do you leave off Archie Goodwin, sidekick to Nero Wolfe. Totally likeable and very well developed. Like Watson, the story is told through Archie's eyes.

    • Geoff Boucher says:

      I thought about him but I decided that Watson — superior in every way as a character — took care of the “sidekicks to sleuths from the mystery bookshelf” dept.

  3. alinnc says:

    Clearly number one should have been Barney Fife.

  4. Darryl Morden says:

    Ah, but which Robin, really? Dick turned Nightwing? Or Tim Drake now Red Robin? Not Jason Todd or Damian Wayne, thank you.
    Not big on "definitive" Top Tens, but let's just say a list could include
    Meyer – Travis McGee novels.
    Lord Bowler – Brisco County Jr.
    Joe Pike – Elvis Cole novels (though Pike's more than that, starring in his own novels.
    Speedy – Green Arrow, only because Roy Harper's been through hell and back again then back to worse hello and more, poor guy. Killing off his daughter was just horrible, too much, I think.
    Donald Hollinger to That Girl a sidekick?
    Norton to Ralph in Honeymooners?

  5. K.C. says:

    I can't believe that you put that stupid starfish in the list…and to have it "represent" two of the GREATEST sidekicks – Barney & Norton – is simply shameful.

  6. Fred says:

    Tell me, what is the "strong case" you could make for Al Gore? Was that him in "Dumb and Dumber?"

  7. bradlhyedwards says:

    You seem to have lost your mind when writing this: Ed Norton, Bullwinkle J. Moose are two you left off the list that quickly come to mind. Barney Rubble as well. You must have been left outside as a child in a barn with no TV. Next time think and read a little before you pretend to know a subject. Nuff said…

  8. Manuel Alderete says:

    Shame on you for putting "Tonto" on the list.

    This is a character from a very racist chapter of American history. "Tonto" means "silly/stupid" in Spanish.
    It was a derogatory name, not a compliment.

    Tonto's purpose was to help the White Man in his Manifest Destiny, by defeating the "Indian savages" so that the Manifest-Destiny-Superior-White-Race could move in and steal the lands.

    Why didn't you put Eva Braun while you were at it?

    • Name says:

      Just chill, dude, until the next episode!

    • jim says:

      Kemo sabe translates roughly to "one who does not know" Tonto basically calls the lone ranger an idiot as well.

    • invisiliz says:

      If you actually listen to the Lone Ranger radio programs, the ORIGINALS, you find that Tonto was the person who saved the Lone Ranger from death, who started him on his mission, who was his partner, his guide, his friend, and often his conscience. Far from being the steroptypical "noble savage," he was a complex character, but only slowly revealed. Please, before you react, reasearch.

  9. Marilynn Byerly says:

    Sam in LORD OF THE RINGS. He literally carries Frodo toward the end, and he willingly gives up the ring which is a near impossible task, And he does this without whining. Yeah, Sam!

    And I grew up watching THE LONE RANGER. I thought Tonto was a great character, and he made me respect Indians. In those days, Indians were usually nothing but generic bad guys so Tonto was an improvement on that image.

  10. J Ralls says:

    How about at least honorable mention for Dr. Stephen Maturin side kick to Jack Aubrey?

    Doctor's make the best side kicks.

  11. Miles Vorkosigan says:

    Geoff, the guy's name is Capt. Jack Harkness. Not Harness. And you forgot his sidekicks, Ianto Jones and Gwen Cooper.

    And since we're mentioning sidekicks, how about Spenser's faithful companion Hawk, or Dortmunder's loyal pain in the ass Andrew Kelp?

  12. KJH says:

    Really??? All of you? There is only one top sidekick. His first name is unpronounceable, but we all call him… Mister Spock. Come on, say it with me like Bill Shatner… SpAHck… SpAAAAAAAAHck…

  13. John Dacey says:

    An uninformed list compiled by uneducated boobs, unschooled in aspects culturaly relevant. Figures.

  14. ted says:

    Don't call the giant of our childhood dumb. To his fans Tonto means great man, fearless, proud and someone we want to be like. There is nothing like watching Tonto Paint, Silver and The Lone Ranger galloping up that hill in the 1952 television show. He should have been No 1. Furthermore if Jay Silverhills was living guess who would be governor of California

    • JDintheOC says:

      Yeah, I was really saddened when he passed away. Actually I respected the character of Tonto somewhat more than I did the Lone Ranger. But that's just me.

  15. Lowell says:

    And then there's "LITTLE BEAVER" side kick to Red Ryder.

  16. JDintheOC says:

    Okay people, this is an article about "sidekicks" not next door neighbors or rideshare people. Sidekicks as in the Adventure and Action genre. Sidekicks don't get paid for what they do as do Barney Fife or Mr. Spock. And as I am part native american, I take offense at saying Tonto was anything but a loyal friend and his name does not mean silly or stupid. He wasn't hispanic.
    Both the Lone Ranger and tonto are fictional characters. The name Tonto was coined from the Tonto Basin in Arizona. It's just a name chosen for the series.

  17. Kel says:

    Robin is #1. Not Chewbacca. Robin has spawned more cool stuff than any of the others.

  18. rd in the burgh says:

    Tonto was a wonderful sidekick to a hero of many boomers now in their late 50's and 60's.
    The series stood for justice and gave us the chance to honor the cooperative spirit of he and the Ranger working to stamp out many crimes perpetuated almost solely by white men.

  19. robin paradise says:

    TEAM ROBIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  20. David Lee says:

    Wow you guys missed Barry to Michelle.

  21. J. Dodge says:

    Star. The name is "Star". Not 'Starfish'. Sheesh…where's the layers of editorial oversight? Every five-year-old is cringing at that faux pas.

    Having been lectured ad infinitum by a five-year-old for making the same exact mistake, calling Patrick 'Starfish' just isn't done in polite company. Yes, he is A starfish, but his NAME is Patrick Star.

    On that note, how did Piglet not make the list?

  22. jess says:

    hey how about what pinky was to brain? yeh!!

  23. jess says:

    Update your list!

  24. dotpasian says:

    Jay Silverheels was a Native Canadian

  25. Eric Siwik says:

    Jay Silverheels was also an Olympic athelete.

  26. Stevolution says:


  27. Dave says:

    Chester, from the radio version of Gunsmoke. Parley Baer made him a poet, a lover, a philosopher, Dillon's eyes and ears (more often than not, a story would begin with Chester busting in on Matt smalltalking with Kitty and-or Doc, Mr Dillon I been looking all over for you, you gotta come quick. He wasn't the complete soldier that Dillon was, but a very good improvisational tactician when something clever was needed fast, and a dead shot with a rifle. Dennis Weaver turned him into a harmless buffoon.

  28. Ally the crazy one says:

    You know you should have some sidekicks of the more recent days

  29. gergana says:

    I have a freind that is a real sidekick.

  30. ISMAE NUNEZ says:

    For me it's KATO

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