Here at SYFY WIRE, it’s no secret that we enjoy celebrating the things that we love. Sometimes that takes the form of unranked lists. To us, that’s love.
Join us as our entire staff celebrates anything and everything in genre through our series of “25 Greatest from the last 25 years” lists. They are all unranked, because all of the people, movies, shows, comics, props (and so on) have equal standing for us.
The first recorded instance of a sidekick is in the Epic of Gilgamesh, when the titular king of Mesopotamia wrestled a wild man named Enkidu into submission. There is more to a sidekick, however, than someone who makes the protagonist shine brighter by comparison. A quality sidekick improves on the whole story, as these examples from the past 25 years of genre entertainment illustrate.
Robin – The LEGO Batman Movie
Michael Cera’s take on the iconic role proves that there is more to the sidekick gig than just “unbelievable obeying.” This Robin is the agent of emotional growth for his bat-padre, an accidental ward who evolves into part of Batman’s chosen family. Watching Robin in action for the first time, Arnett’s gravel-voiced Batman exclaims “It’s like looking in a bat-mirror!” Despite Robin’s wide-eyed, naïve optimism – or because of it – Batman sees his better self reflected in Cera’s Robin.
Bucky Barnes – Captain America
Childhood friend of the hero? Check. Fights Nazis? Check. Loyal and true except for that one time he had amnesia and was briefly an agent of HYDRA? Check. Bucky Barnes is an eager, competent sidekick who starts out by saving a young Steve Rogers from bullies and then later becomes the most trusted lieutenant to that “little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb not to run away from a fight.” As Captain America, Steve Rogers still doesn’t run away, and (Winter Soldier episodes aside) Bucky still has his back.
Rose Tyler - Doctor Who
Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler was the audience’s way into the 2005 Doctor Who reboot. Representing the best of human qualities, including heart, curiosity, and oodles of empathy, she drags the damaged Ninth Doctor towards recovery, ushering in his next incarnation: David Tennant’s brilliant Tenth Doctor. As “Bad Wolf” she navigates her way out of a temporal paradox by leaving herself a trail of clues throughout history. Despite eventually being trapped in an alternate universe, she earns a happy ending with her very own (human) Doctor.
Lockheed – Excalibur
Sometimes, when you tell someone a fairy tale about a dragon named Lockheed, you end up meeting an extra-terrestrial dragon named Lockheed. Like most dragons, Lockheed can fly and breathe fire. Like no other dragons ever, Lockheed can power interdimensional trains and participate in cross time capers. Kitty Pryde did pretty well in the sidekick lottery.
Bronn – Game of Thrones
A great sidekick rounds out the hero’s repertoire of talents while also providing contrast to their style and personality. Bronn has done this duty not with just one protagonist, but two. Tyrion and Jaime Lannister are wildly different characters, each with distinct skill sets and personality traits. Bronn’s sidekick chops are so strong that he effortlessly fills the role for both Lannister boys. The nakedly transactional nature of the way he approaches relationships along with his cynical wit also makes him one of the purest embodiments of the complexities of Martin’s epic world.
Hodor - Game of Thrones
Hodor. Hodor hodor hodor. HODOR. Hodor? Hodor. Hodor hodor hodor hod… or. Hodor. HODOR! HODOR! HODOR! Hodor… Hodor hodor hodor. Hodor. Hodor hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. HODOR. H-O-D-O-R!!!
Hermione Granger – Harry Potter
Most sidekicks assist the hero on their journey. Fewer do a lion’s share of the work and take next to none of the credit. Harry Potter might be the chosen one, but it is Hermione who has the knowledge and magical prowess to carry him to his reckoning with destiny. Much like Penny in Inspector Gadget, Hermione is the one who solves the riddles, figures out the solutions to the impossible situations, and executes the plans – all while leading her class academically. If you ever need someone to save you from Devil’s Snare, brew Polyjuice potion, or punch an obnoxious blonde kid, she’s the sidekick for you.
Abe Sapien – Hellboy
As the type of hero who solves problems by punching them to death, Hellboy needs a sidekick with a more academic bent. A literal fish out of water, Abe connects to fellow freaks Liz and Hellboy on multiple levels. Despite being a lore-focused complement to Hellboy’s physical prowess, this sidekick is supernaturally hardy and an expert marksman, so he’s still useful in a tough fight.
Dogwelder - Hitman
Gotham City has its share of ... complex … inhabitants. The city is overrun with colorful supervillains and flawed heroes, and yet it is hard to imagine a more insane (or aptly named) character than Section Eight’s Dogwelder. Dogwelder literally welds dogs to criminals. FULL STOP. A wise man (of the bat variety) once said “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” By this measure, Dogwelder is defined by the fact that he permanently fuses canines to bad guys.
Hit-Girl – Kick-Ass
A world weary, tough-as-nails assassin is a frequently seen character type, yet few iterations are as compelling as the one in Kick-Ass. Hit-Girl leans hard into the trope, but as a young pre-adolescent girl instead of a grizzled middle-aged man, she subverts the archetype. It’s a rare character that is simultaneously hilarious and depressing. Hit-Girl also elevates Kick-Ass’s everyman appeal simply by the outrageousness and audacity of her own deeply personal commitment to justice.
Mike Wazowski – Monsters Inc.
Great sidekicks bask in the glow of their hero, and Mike Wazowski is proud of his top-scaring best friend Sully. The pair bicker, squabble, and argue, but the loyalty and commitment between these lifelong friends stretches to the end of the Earth and back. These two friends will do everything to help each other out, and while Sully may have the big-time talent and leadership to drive the action in Monsters, Inc., Mike’s charm and strategic thinking rounds out the plot to manifest Boo’s happy ending.
Pinky – Pinky and the Brain
On paper, Pinky and the Brain shouldn’t work – it’s too easy. Giving an arrogant, prickly mouse genius a humble, good-natured dimwit for an accomplice should be too on the nose. But somehow, Pinky and the Brain succeeds better than any of the Brain’s schemes for world domination for one simple reason: despite the conflict in their relationship, there’s true affection between them. After all, the one time the Brain actually does take over the world, he decides to give it all up just because Pinky isn’t there. Turns out, the world just isn’t worth ruling if Pinky isn’t there with you.
Morty – Rick & Morty
Morty might be described as “challenged,” as he struggles in school and speaks with a stutter. But he listens and follows directions well, and accordingly he’s an ideal sidekick for mad scientist Rick Sanchez’s exploits. His inherent contradictions, though, turn him into a transcendent character. Despite not being a good student, he’s able to quickly grasp complex scientific concepts. As good-natured as he is, he also has deep, unresolved anger issues. Even though he seems malleable and easy to manipulate, he stands up to Rick at crucial moments, which is a critical for any self-respecting sidekick.
BB-8 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
When it comes to the quality of its sidekicks, the Star Wars franchise has some spectacular highs and some reprehensible lows. An early teaser of The Force Awakens showed BB-8 for a couple of seconds and fans fell in love. It didn’t take Rey long to fall, either, and their chemistry rivals Poe and Finn’s. The easy choice would have been for BB-8 to be an adorable spherical swiss army knife, but luckily for audiences, this spunky round robot is much more than utility tool or plot device.
K-2so – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
What happens when you take the Terminator’s ability to shoot things, mix it with Bender’s contempt for meatbags, throw in a dash of Data’s intelligence and wrap it in Alan Tudyk? This complex recipe cooks up one of Star Wars' greatest creations: Imperial security droid turned Rebel Alliance agent K-2so. This vaguely evil robot sidekick is a commensurate pain in the ass and, ultimately, a do-or-die friend.
Luigi – Super Mario Brothers
Before there was Overwatch, there was Luigi. One of the first examples of the gamers constructing elaborate detailed and emotional stories for a pixelated sketch of character, at first he was nothing more than a green ‘stache. A Player 2. A re-skinned Mario. Time, love, and dedicated generations of players have developed his backstory and created one of the most endearing characters in console gaming. This second fiddle arguably has more depth than his heroic brother. No longer just the brother of the protagonist, he’s now Luigi the noble coward. Or Luigi the anxious sidekick. Or perhaps Luigi the wrathful Kart driver. You can even meet Luigi the crackerjack sniper in surprisingly amazing Mario vs Rabbids. There’s a complex network of Luigi lore – go choose your own sidekick adventure.
Arthur – The Tick
The Tick has had many iterations over the years and though each iteration is seismically different than the one that came before, Arthur is always the audience surrogate. He’s the Watson to the Tick’s Holmes (if you sub out genius for nigh invulnerability.) Not only does Arthur function as a POV character, but he’s also a reflection of what a real person might do when fighting supervillains – namely shout “not in the face!”
Bumblebee – Transformers
A long time ago, in a more innocent time, Shia Labeouf starred in a quiet and low-key coming of age story about a blossoming romance between a young man and his first car … who happens to be a robot from outer space. Bumblebee is not the biggest or strongest Autobot, but he is one of Optimus Prime’s most trusted lieutenants due to his heart, bravery, and determination. Despite having to communicate through radio stations, Bumblebee is a key diplomatic link between humanity and the Autobots. Interpersonal dynamics are not the primary focus of the Transformers franchise, but Bumblebee’s connection to both Optimus Prime and Sam Witwicky are the two key relationships that drive the plot forward and allow the explosions and FX some degree of meaning.
Filthy Assistants – Transmetropolitan
Cyberpunk and Gonzo journalism are a natural fit, but the secret sauce of Transmetropolitan is the Filthy Assistants, Channon Yarrow and Yelena Rossini. Loosely modeled after Hunter S. Thompson’s assistants Deborah Fuller and Anita Bejmuk, Channon and Yelena become integral players in gonzo journalist Spider’s ongoing campaign to make the dystopian future slightly less dystopian. In many ways, they transcend the role of sidekick, embracing the gonzo journalist directive to become the protagonist in your own story.
Lucille – The Walking Dead
When you first encounter Lucille, you may think she’s just a bat wrapped with barbed wire. But as Negan says, “You’d be dead wrong. Lucille is a lady. But at times, she ain’t so nice.” In any zombie apocalypse, the ability to survive being shot is a huge plus – to say nothing for total immunity to zombie bites. Lucille proves that strong, silent types can kick sides with the best of them. This ultimate “dirty girl” has racked up an impressive body count, including more than a few fan favorites. She’s a presence to be reckoned with.
Gabrielle – Xena
Gabrielle and Xena go through everything two people can go through together – the travel together, fight about pots together, lose their children together. They even get crucified, die, and fight a war between angels and demons together. Gabrielle is Xena’s the perfect, constant companion who is ultimately set up for her own heroic journey in the devastating series finale.
The Lone Gunmen – The X-Files
Frohike. Byers. Langly. The triumvirate of nerdy archetypes. Mulder’s ace(s) in the hole. They frequently assist on a variety of cases, but their true sidekick bonafides appear when they make Mulder appear grounded. Fans loved the Lone Gunmen enough that they even got their own series (featuring the writing talents of both Vince Gilligan and Chris Carter.) The failure of that series, in its own strange way, cemented their pure sidekick status.
Roy Harper – Arrow
Stealing a superhero’s sister’s purse isn’t the typical opening gambit for an aspiring sidekick, but it works out in the long run for Roy. Arrow wisely takes things slow and gradually builds him up from a troubled kid from the Glades into badass crime fighter. The long runway gives both Oliver and Roy time to percolate and develop on their own as characters, with intermittent but resonant encounters with each other along the way. The patient storytelling pays huge dividends when they finally start working together with a fully earned sidekick status.
Samwise – The Lord of the Rings
Samwise Gamgee is proof that there is indeed some good in the world. He is the platonic ideal of a sidekick, someone who will both metaphorically and literally pick the hero up and carry them across the finish line. On the macro level, The Lord of the Rings is about nations and people putting aside their differences to stand together against an overwhelming threat. The good guys succeed not because they are fiercer warriors or more powerful spellcasters, but because they support one another. Samwise is the personal embodiment of that theme. While the rest of the fellowship scatters following Boromir’s betrayal, Samwise sticks with Frodo until the end. Few people are lucky to have a friend who will save them from giant spider monsters and from themselves.
Willow – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
There are some sidekicks who are the hero of their own story, and Willow is one of them. She may not have Buffy’s physical strength and confidence, but no other member of the Scooby gang brings as much to the table as Willow. Her empathy and intelligence are present from her first appearance in the Buffy-verse, and her powers as a witch drive significant storylines. Willow’s powers eventually rival Buffy’s in terms of heft and impact, but the personality foil is truly the support she constantly provides to the Slayer.
Those were OUR choices. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which sidekick that rose to fame in the last 25 years you’d put on your list. And check out our complete "25 Greatest" lists here.