ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

With unparalleled access to pretty much any movie at the click of a button, more than ever before moviegoers are extremely familiar with a wide array of characters. It often feels like these figures are part of a contemporary mythology, and heroes and villains alike can sometimes feel more familiar to us than actual individuals.

This reality makes it all the more surprising when learning about the real-life inspirations behind some of the most recognizable characters out there. Every movie may come with that disclaimer saying these people are completely fictitious, but here's a few fictional characters that have their roots in real-life people.

1. Indiana Jones - Raiders of the Lost Ark

This connection is a bit more convoluted than your typical inspiration, but the story behind it is fascinating. Hiram Binghim III was an American explorer, academic, and treasure hunter who lectured at Yale University and discovered the the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911.

That sounds a lot like a Charlton Heston movie called Secret of the Incas, which sees an explorer discovering an ancient land (and dressing a lot like Indy). It turns out that since the Indiana Jones movies were a veritable pastiche of radio serials and old-timey explorer films like Secret of the Incas, there's a clear line from Hiram Binghim to the cinematic adventurer we know and love.

2. Ursula - The Little Mermaid

Disney dug into a world beyond the mainstream when seeking their inspiration for The Little Mermaid's manipulative sea witch Ursula. Jon Waters' muse Divine, a drag queen and transgressive cult figure, became the prototype for Ursula's character designs. There are also rumors that Divine would have voiced the character had he not passed away during production.

3. Edna Mode - The Incredibles

She may look almost identical to actress Linda Hunt, but Edna Mode got her character design from renowned old Hollywood fashion designer Edith Head. Like Edna, Edith was at the top of the sartorial pack and she was famously aware of it, once saying, "I hate modesty."

4. Professor X - X-Men

Stan Lee has confirmed that Academy Award-winning actor Yul Brynner, known for his shaved head and unmistakable voice, was the physical inspiration for Charles Xavier.

5. Jabba the Hutt - Star Wars

Old Hollywood actor Sydney Greenstreet became famous for his roles as intimidatingly rotund head honchos in movies like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Greenstreet made such an impression that when George Lucas described his idea for Jabba the Hutt as "a big blob, a huge mass of matter," the designer's mind immediately went to this old actor. Not the most flattering inspiration in the world, but certainly a memorable one!

6. The Dude - The Big Lebowski

The Coen brothers met Jeff Dowd while seeking distribution for their first movie Blood Simple, and they were taken with his relaxed mannerisms, penchant for White Russians, and simple nickname "The Dude." The took these character traits as inspiration for the unforgettable main character in The Big Lebowski, who was played by Jeff Bridges.

7. Severus Snape - Harry Potter

When J.K. Rowling was attending school, she had a chemistry teacher named John Nettleship. In retrospect, he describes himself at the time as a "short-tempered chemistry teacher with long hair...[and a] gloomy, malodorous laboratory.." Sound familiar?

That's right, there was a real-life Snape that Rowling had to endure, and he clearly left an impression.The best part? Nettleship even has his own Wikipedia page because of the clear connection.


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