Top 20 Video Game Characters Based On Celebrities

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Top 20 Video Game Characters Based On Celebrities

VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Jonathan Alexander
Video game developers often look to real-life for character inspiration, including celebrities. For this list, we'll be looking at the stars who influenced or inspired roles in video games. To keep things fair, we'll be limiting ourselves to one entry per franchise. Our countdown includes Solid Snake being based on Kurt Russell, Samus Aran being based on Sigourney Weaver & Kim Basinger, Kratos being based on Edward Norton, and more!
Transcript
Video game developers often look to real-life for character inspiration, including celebrities. For this list, we’ll be looking at the stars who influenced or inspired roles in video games. To keep things fair, we’ll be limiting ourselves to one entry per franchise. Our countdown includes Solid Snake being based on Kurt Russell, Samus Aran being based on Sigourney Weaver & Kim Basinger, Kratos being based on Edward Norton, and more! Have you ever been surprised by a celeb’s face popping up in a game? Let us know in the comments if you’ve spotted any of these!

#20: Arthur Morgan - Toshiro Mifune

“Red Dead Redemption 2” (2018)

Genres be damned! This cowboy of the Van der Linde gang may tear up the Wild West, but he was actually based upon a recurring element of classic samurai films. Roger Clark, who provided the voiceover and motion capture work for the character, channeled legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune for his performance. One of the most prolific and recognizable actors of his time, Mifune made a name for himself portraying gruff yet unintentionally humorous warriors that went against the stereotypical clean-cut samurai. Even accounting for Morgan’s intricate honor system, Mifune’s influences come through loud and clear in the cowboy’s blunt demeanor and wry wit.

#19: Victor Sullivan - J. K. Simmons

"Uncharted" Series (2007-)

Our spidey-senses are tingling with this one. Nathan Drake’s first world-trotting expedition debuted the same year as “Spider-Man 3,” and five since Simmons’ iconic turn as our favorite editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle. It seems developer Naughty Dog was as big a fan of J. Jonah Jameson as the rest of us since Sully bears more than just a passing resemblance to the character. Aside from the distinct vocal pattern and similar facial features, giving Sully a cigar is practically a dead giveaway. With a look like this, it’s only a matter of time before he starts demanding more photos of Spidey.

#18: Bill & Lance - Arnold Schwarzenegger & Sylvester Stallone

“Contra” (1987)

If you’re going to base a run-and-gun arcade game on any action heroes, it's hard to find two actors better suited for the job. During production of the game’s cover art and sprite work, the team took heavy inspiration from iconic adventure films of the time like “Predator” and “First Blood.” It made for a great shoot-em-up, but the clear inspirations meant it was hard not to see Bill and Lawrence as Dutch and Rambo, instead. The game wears its influence on its sleeve - or, should we say, its bandanna - to the point we expect them to say ‘Get to da choppa!’ at the end of each level.

#17: Raven - Wesley Snipes

"Tekken" Series (1994-)

Developer Bandai Namco may have tried to put a stake through this rumors’ heart, but there’s too much evidence to ignore. The shades, the tattoo, the outfit - they aren’t fooling anyone when they claim Raven wasn’t inspired by Wesley Snipes in “Blade.” Or, are we really supposed to believe it’s a coincidence that the vampire-hunter films happened to release right around the time Raven debuted in “Tekken 5?” Furthermore, the bleach-blonde hair is reminiscent of Snipes’ role in “Demolition Man.” It seems no matter how you stake it, all of Raven’s influences lead back to Snipes.

#16: The Prince - Jared Leto

“Prince of Persia: Warrior Within” (2004)

After the success of “Sands of Time,” the followup to this franchise's successful reboot changed more than just combat and level design. When the team sought to redesign the titular Prince, it seems they looked towards hollywood - and no, it’s not Jake Gyllenhaal, that wouldn’t happen till 2010. The completely different face on the “Warrior Within” cover was hard to miss, especially since the updated version heavily resembled a short-haired Jared Leto. While there’s never been any official confirmation either way, there’s no denying the Prince had some major plastic surgery between installments.

#15: Kratos - Edward Norton

“God of War” Series (2005-)

He may be a God-slaying Spartan hero, but this Playstation staple’s gritty design came from something a bit less fantastical. When developing Kratos’ look for the first game, creator David Jaffe modeled him after Edward Norton’s chilling performance in the film “American History X.” While you can definitely pinpoint the visual influences in Kratos’ pale skin and tatoo-ed physique, the crime-drama inspired more than just the demigod’s appearance. Specifically, Jaffe wanted to replicate the imposing aggression Norton exuded in the role. His terrifying screen presence informed most of Kratos’ personality - minus the whole godly quest for vengeance, of course.

#14: Jinx - Helena Bonham Carter

“League of Legends” (2009)

Even in a roster chock-full of iconic characters, this champion’s psychotic disposition and penchant for oversized weapons made her an immediate standout. But designing her wasn’t an easy feat, especially since the team refused to make her a pure sex symbol. Instead, they wanted to echo the eccentricity of someone like the Joker. Those lofty ambitions meant the character needed a muse who balanced both creepy and bizarre elements. Enter Bonham Carter, who’s made a career out of grounding some of the most wackadoo characters ever written. Her impressive physical commitment to each outlandish role was just what the team needed to develop Jinx’s unhinged temperament.

#13: Squall Leonhart - River Phoenix

“Final Fantasy VIII” (1999)

Following a string of megahits in the late nineties, this child-actor turned superstar even caught the eye of Japanese game developers. Seemingly caught up in Phoenix’s global brand recognition, longtime “Final Fantasy” character designer Tetsuya Nomura used the actor as inspiration for the first draft of Squall Leonhart. While “FF8’s” hero would eventually be given a scar and a cool jacket, there’s still an undeniable resemblance. This wouldn’t be the last time the franchise looked towards the States for ideas, either. In the recent “Final Fantasy 15,” the physicality of leading-man Noctis was based on the stage mannerisms of rock star Kurt Cobain.

#12: Samus - Sigourney Weaver & Kim Basinger

"Metroid" Series (1986-)

Ellen Ripley’s legendary galactic adventures inspired decades of no-nonsense heroines in cinema, but her influence even extended to video games. When the “Metroid” series needed a stoic female lead to ground the sci-fi gameplay, it was a no-brainer to look towards one of the genre’s most iconic characters for ideas. But Weaver wasn’t alone in inspiring Samus’ likeness. To ensure the Zero-Suit look didn’t appear too gruff, the team took influences from actress Kim Basinger since she was less associated with science fiction. Though, for what it’s worth, we still think Samus could take a Xenomorph in a fight.

#11: Ganondorf - Christopher Lambert

"The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” (1998)

After over a decade dropping pixelated bombs and shooting 8-bit arrows, the “Legend of Zelda” series made the bold leap to 3D with the “Ocarina of Time”. The third dimension brought more than a few new angles to Hyrule’s famous nemesis, though. Nintendo saw it fit to update Ganon from a traditional pig monster into a more intimidating humanoid figure. As inspiration, character designer Satoru Takizawa studied actor Christopher Lambert, whose roles in the “Highlander” film series made him stick out as a fantasy icon. The new artistic direction marked Ganon’s official evolution into Ganondorf, and with it, a fresh design with facial features reminiscent of a certain well-known actor.

#10: Bayonetta - Sarah Palin & Tina Fey

"Bayonetta" Series (2009-)

Just look at these women and try to tell us there’s no resemblance. The distinctive face shape and glasses practically speak for themselves, despite no official source ever confirming the connection. It’s certainly a unique origin for the character’s looks, since Fey is primarily known for writing comedy, and Palin is more into politics. But despite neither of them having guns in their heels - at least as far as we know - the likeness is difficult to ignore. At the very least, Fey and Palin can take solace that they aren’t known for the same kind of provocative movement that Bayonetta is.

#9: Johnny Cage - Jean-Claude Van Damme

"Mortal Kombat" Series (1992-)

This gorey fighting franchise has a knack for basing characters on well-known martial artists. But while we can’t get enough of Liu Kang’s Bruce Lee-inspired vocals, nothing is as much of a love letter to the source as Johnny Cage’s creation. Following the release of the boxing film “Bloodsport,” the creative team hoped to license Van Damme himself as a fighter in the original arcade game. But the actor’s refusal wasn’t a “fatality” to the idea, and the “Mortal Kombat” creators instead developed Johnny Cage as a cheeky reference to their initial plans. His looks and general demeanor are practically ripped straight from the film.

#8: Ryder - Eazy-E

“Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” (2004)

While being able to say you’re the basis for a character in one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time is worth some serious street cred, this late rapper may not have been too pleased at the role he inspired. With a design that’s the spitting image of former N.W.A. member Eazy-E, also known as Eric Lynn Wright, Ryder serves as one of the less-than responsible protagonists of the franchise’s fifth entry. Befitting the lead character of this crime series, he’s loud, impulsive, and even betrays his own friends in the name of a few bucks. Suffice it to say, this is far from a flattering depiction.

#7: Solid Snake - Kurt Russell

"Metal Gear" Series (1987-)

Konami can deny it all they want, but “Snake” is far from an innocuous name. Alongside that glaring point, Kurt Russell’s character from the film “Escape From New York” also shares a physique and skillset with the elite undercover operative. But although the evidence is seemingly too damning to ignore, series creator Hideo Kojima still attests Snake’s name was chosen due to the reptile’s affiliation with stealth. While that seems reasonable, it was immediately discounted when they gave Solid Snake an eyepatch, doubling down on his resemblance to Russell’s character. For a game about stealth, they sure didn’t hide their influences very well.

#6: Travis Touchdown - Johnny Knoxville

"No More Heroes" Series (2007-)

The hairstyle, the attitude, the sunglasses - yep, this guy was based off Johnny Knoxville, all right. After all, Travis is just a normal guy who likes anime and wrestling, and who also works as a potty-mouthed assassin on the side. While his look is clearly evocative of the “Jackass” star, you can tell Knoxville’s willingness to put himself in increasingly wild situations also influenced Travis’ bizarrely entertaining hijinks. “No More Heroes” isn’t even the only game shaped by Knoxville’s madcap behavior; the reality-TV host also molded the personality for Nathan Drake of “Uncharted” fame. It’s clear Knoxville has a monopoly on justifying any insane acts, and it sure does make for some great characters.

#5: Tawna - Pamela Anderson

"Crash Bandicoot" Series (1996-)

This actress’ status as the quintessential sex-symbol took America by storm thanks to the unflinchingly scandalous approach of the lifeguard themed “Baywatch.” Later, when developers for the first “Bandicoot” game wanted their own Princess Peach for Crash to lust over, they based the character off an actress that had already kept America’s attention afloat before. Tawna’s big-chested and blonde-haired debut was an obvious homage to Anderson’s frequently sexualized appearance on her television series. However, this tribute wouldn’t last. The character has undergone significant redesigns over the years to modernize her appeal, but her origins are still indebted to Anderson’s iconic red bathing suit.

#4: Andrew Ryan - Howard Hughes

"BioShock" (2007)

Recognized as one of the most influential individuals in modern history, Hughes’ wealthy contributions were cut short due to excessive paranoia that led to a secluded lifestyle in his final years. Sound kind of familiar? It should, because Hughes’ tragic last act served as the basis for Ryan’s motivation in the first “Bioshock” - you know, minus the underwater city part. This antagonist’s intense disillusionment is a clear parallel to Hughes’ own dark downfall, and puts a sharper lens on the actions of one of gaming’s most interesting villains. After all, who’s to say Ryan or Rapture would have turned out any different from Hughes if Jack hadn’t intervened?

#3: Master Chief - Clint Eastwood

"Halo" Series (2001-)

You’d think a protagonist who wears a helmet most of the time would be hard to develop as a character, but that hasn’t stopped Master Chief from becoming one of the most recognizable figures in the genre. You can attribute that to the clever approach to his characterization. Taking heavy cues from influential Clint Eastwood roles, the creative team studied the actor’s ability to make a strong impression with only a few words. Because Master Chief wouldn’t speak much, each line had to really count. It seems this approach paid off, as even without much to say, Master Chief is inseparable from most player’s view of the series.

#2: Balrog - Mike Tyson

"Street Fighter" Series (1987-)

You know you’ve gone too far when you start to worry about legal retribution. In the original Japanese version of “Street Fighter II,” developers created a boxer-type character named M. Bison in reference to the popular fighter Mike Tyson. But when it was being localized for overseas audiences, concern over the legality of such an obvious imitation led to his name being swapped with a different character. Afterwards, for all titles in and out of Japan, the fighter was officially called “Balrog.” Technically, there’s still an M. Bison in “Street Fighter,” it’s just not the character you’d think.

#1: Sonic the Hedgehog - Michael Jackson & Bill Clinton

"Sonic the Hedgehog" Series (1991-)

A president, a popstar, and a hedgehog walked into a bar, and somehow, an iconic video game character came out. While his trademark blue palette came from Sega’s logo, Sonic’s contrasting red shoes were inspired by Michael Jackson’s juxtaposed use of the same colors in his album “Bad.” For his personality, Sega looked to the current President of the United States, whose “Get it Done” attitude sparked the hedgehog’s drive and impatience. It’s a bizarre potluck of an origin, but you can’t deny the elements these celebrities brought influenced some of the most intrinsic parts of the character.
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