Despite an Academy Award-winning role in The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker remains fairly underrated. His filmography is filled with plenty of misses — the terrible Battlefield Earth amongst them — but when he’s spot on, he blows us away. We’re looking at you Ghost Dog, The Crying Game, and Bird. Unfortunately, his latest film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler — loosely based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, the White House butler who worked for eight presidents — was too heavy-handed for us. We decided to take a breather from Daniels’ “blatant Oscar bait” and look back on some of our favorite fictional butlers in pop culture.
Tim Curry as Wadsworth in Clue
Tim Curry has a thing for creepy mansions. After a turn as a deranged doctor in The Rocky Horror Picture Show he donned a penguin suit to play Wadsworth the butler in the 1985 film Clue. The actor delivered a snappy, slapstick performance as the host of a mysterious dinner party where six guests are forced to solve a murder. You can always count on Curry to ham it up, and the whodunit is no different. His manic delivery and physical comedy (with a dastardly edge) is wholly entertaining.
Ted Cassidy as Lurch in The Addams Family
We’d feel fine listening to Ted Cassidy say, “You rang?” on a loop forever. The nearly seven-foot-tall actor starred as the lumbering, gloomy butler Lurch on television’s The Addams Family. Lurch was an intimidating fellow, but he was a big softie when it came to children Wednesday and Pugsley. Also, never forget the episode when Lurch recorded a hit single on his harpsichord.
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth in the Batman series
Loyal servant and confidant to Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, played by Michael Caine in the Christopher Nolan Batman series, has been a father figure to Wayne since the Caped Crusader’s parents died. Throughout the three films, Alfred saves Wayne’s life, guards the Batcave, and offers words of wisdom to the angsty superhero. Let’s just forget about that whole Alfred burning a letter from Rachel telling Wayne she wanted to marry Harvey Dent thing.
Erich von Stroheim as Max Von Mayerling in Sunset Boulevard
In the greatest movie ever made about Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, Erich von Stroheim plays the devoted butler and former director and husband of fading starlet Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). He feeds her delusions about her film career in order to protect her — and because he still loves her. In reality, Stroheim was a notable silent-era director, who directed Swanson in the film Queen Kelly (featured in Sunset Boulevard), which adds a fascinating autobiographical layer to his role.
Hank Azaria as Agador in The Birdcage
We would totally root for houseboy turned incompetent butler Agador Spartacus on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Azaria’s character steals every scene.
Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
If the witch from Snow White, Tom Petty, and an aging goth had a baby, it would look like Rocky Horror‘s Riff Raff — the manservant of “sweet transvestite” Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry). Actor Richard O’Brien played the part of the sinister butler, who was really an alien from the planet Transsexual. O’Brien was an integral part of the film’s success since he wrote the original musical and co-wrote the 1975 film.
Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey Butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Just when you felt like slapping the hyper-caffeinated Fresh Prince in the face, along came snarky Geoffrey to save the day. The snide, wisecracking Brit arrived to the Banks family after a disgraced Olympic marathon career, a stint as butler for Led Zeppelin, and a gig as Chuck Norris’ sparring partner. When Geoffrey wasn’t busy giving the Banks family the side eye, he was cracking jokes about Benson. What’s not to love about this guy?
Stephano in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
The conspiratorial Stephano arrives on a remote island drunk out of his gourd and ready to murder the exiled Prospero so he can secure a position of power. He’s not content to be a mere butler. The loathsome character is one of many engaged in a morally ambiguous power struggle in The Tempest, exposing the fears surrounding colonization and questions of entitlement that were present during Shakespeare’s time. Alfred Molina recently played the character in Julie Taymor’s 2010 adaptation of the same name, which traded the male Prospero for the female Prospera (played by Helen Mirren).
Christopher Hewett as Mr. Belvedere in Mr. Belvedere
The original Posh Spice, Mr. Belvedere buttled for a middle-class Pittsburgh family with sass and class, despite frequently butting heads with everyone. Oh yeah, and remember when everyone thought Kevin Owens’ character (Rob Stone) was really Marilyn Manson?
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt in The Big Lebowski
Leave it to Philip Seymour Hoffman to milk the hell out of a role that required only minutes of screen time. His butler Brandt, the Big Lebowski’s assistant, nervously straightens his tie, clenches his fists, and belly laughs like there’s no tomorrow in the Coen brothers’ comedy. His awkwardness is a delight to watch.