Lovable Losers, Debate Club

Debate Club: The top 5 lovable losers in genre

Contributed by
Feb 21, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this week's installment, we're saluting the guys who save the day while being the butt of the joke. They're the comic relief, the Rodney Dangerfields of the superhero and sci-fi worlds. To be a lovable loser, you have to have earned a soft spot in our heart—sure, maybe you're not the coolest, but your adorable, noble dorkiness nonetheless makes you a valuable member of the team.

Without these dependable sidekicks, Harry Potter, Captain Kirk and Frodo Baggins couldn't pull off the incredible acts of heroism that they achieve. So, raise a glass to the Top 5 second fiddles and comedic punching bags. Even the losers get lucky sometimes.

Scott Lang/Ant-Man, MCU (Paul Rudd)

In the world of the Avengers, where just about everybody's got incredible powers or is a Norse god, it can be a bit lonely for a smart-alecky petty thief. But that's the position that Scott Lang finds himself, and as played by Paul Rudd, he's a superhero everyman who's always a bit of an afterthought in the company of the Hulk and Captain America.

No wonder that Ant-Man and Rudd’s section of Captain America: Civil War are among the funniest and dorkiest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Ant-Man's power is the least cool of the Avengers clan, which Lang knows as well as anyone. Lots of kids want to grow up to be Iron Man or Spider-Man, but most of us will probably end up like Lang, who's just a screw-up along for the ride. Thankfully, Rudd gives the guy plenty of self-effacing charm — he turns his character into the class clown of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter series (Matthew Lewis)

Ron Weasley's the easy answer, but he gets to play the romantic lead when he needs to: he gets Hermione, for crying out loud. Longbottom is the dopey, nerdy comic relief of the Harry Potter universe essentially from Book One. He's the clumsy kid who is always doing dumb things, the kid that Harry and company earn their heroic stripes by protecting. That's why his journey is such a foundational one of the Potter universe.

He ends up leading Dumbledore's Army and fighting Voldemort to the very end. We're all awkward when we're 13; Longbottom grows up and becomes formidable, even vital. Bet Harry and Ron still make fun of him as adults, though.

Pavel Chekov, Star Trek (Walter Koenig)

It is sort of hilarious that Chekov — who wasn't part of the first season of Star Trek — wasn't brought in to be the Russian of the cast; he was brought in to be the young, hip cast member. (Walter Koenig was 31, five years younger than William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.) Gene Roddenberry modeled him explicitly after Davy Jones from The Monkees and, of course, ended up with the total opposite of cool, the nerdy science genius who is heroic but also tends to be the butt of everybody's jokes. That's the key to the lovable losers: they have to occasionally get their moment to shine … as long as it's only occasionally.

The late Anton Yelchin gave Chekov a bit more weight and muscle in the Star Trek reboot, and it fit the character well; it's probably more in line with what Roddenberry was initially thinking of. But in the end, he's still just the sidekick.

Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Sean Astin)

It’s tough to be a sidekick to a hobbit, even if you are a hobbit; hobbits were made to be sidekicks themselves. But that's what makes J.R.R. Tolkien's creations so inspirational: they're heroes when called upon to be. That's as true of Samwise as anybody in The Lord of the Rings, a loyal soldier and friend to the very end, and so pure of heart he's the only non-Bilbo character who is able to resist the lure of the ring. Pretty impressive considering every character in every book keeps calling him fat.

C-3PO, Star Wars (Anthony Daniels)

Anthony Daniels, the actor who's played C-3PO for more than 40 years, was once asked what his favorite Threepio line of dialogue was. Without batting an eye, Daniels replied, "'We're doomed.' It's a phrase that encapsulates his whole philosophy. It's his life. He always feels on the edge of disaster. That's where the humor comes from because he's a humorous character, but mostly it comes by default. He doesn't tell jokes. He's just wrong about everything most of the time and lives on this precipice of fear, which gives a sort of tension."

That's as good an explanation of why that nervous, prickly droid is the universe's greatest lovable loser. Daniels' British accent gave the character a wonderful refinement, but that hint of buttoned-down cool was shattered at the first sign of danger, when C-3PO would invariably freak out and possibly screw something up. With his fatalistic streak and utter cowardice, he's probably not the guy you'd want in the foxhole next to you, which probably makes him the most relatable of all Star Wars characters. (Which of us wouldn't blow a gasket fighting the Empire?)

And yet, he's incredibly resilient, super-smart and the perfect stress-reliever during high-stakes situations. (One of The Empire Strikes Back's best running jokes is how, eventually, everyone turns on Threepio in the Millennium Falcon, each of the characters telling him to shut up and get out of the way.) But who could deny his well-meaning sweetness and genuine joy at seeing one of his old friends after being long separated?

When people fill out online "Which Star Wars character are you?" personality tests, nobody wants to get C-3PO. But can you imagine these movies without his skittish, lively, funny presence around? We sure can't.