There’s much to be mocked about sidekicks, one of the easier targets in film. We’re set up to picture a simultaneously meek and booming catchphrase-machine clad in a matching uniform, seemingly created solely to follow our protagonist around and hype them up on their journeys. While plenty of that variety exist, there’s a different and far more interesting breed of sidekicks who prove to be so much more — valuable assets who, really, are so much better than the leads in the first place.
Here are seven sidekicks who are smarter and more capable than the heroes they’re supporting.
Penny — Inspector Gadget
For someone who’s designed to be the ultimate detective, Inspector Gadget isn’t all that bright. As the good inspector proves time and again through his various misadventures and bungled police cases, even if you’re a walking Swiss Army Knife you can’t “Go-Go-Gadget” common sense where none exists. Fortunately, he’s got precocious niece Penny around to solve his hardest conundrums and get him out of his toughest binds — because whatever a man made of helicopter propellers and giant scissors and zip lines and high-tech gizmos can’t do, a 13-year-old girl with some superior math skills and the patience to rescue a grown-up cosplaying as Inspector Clouseau every single day can do much, much better. Using her computer disguised as a book, a set of tools disguised as a wristwatch and a severe lack of disappointment at the lack of responsible adults in her life disguised as happiness, Penny continually tracks down her Uncle’s moves while he’s out on his latest assignment and foils his enemies. Give that girl a raise.
Samwise Gamgee — Lord of the Rings
Let’s face it; Frodo Baggins would have never gotten his ass up that mountain if he didn’t have Sam helping him through his journey. Sam of the Shire is the quintessential sidekick — loyal, selfless, pure and willing to go the extra mile to ensure that his best friend meets his goals. And when those goals include delivering a particular piece of jewelry to a certain glowing realm of terror, he doesn’t bat an eye at the task ahead. There’s the infamous monologue from Clerks that argues that Lord of the Rings is really only about two things: walking and trees. The third would be Frodo whining. Sam not only sticks with his friend through this difficult, trying time, but tempers his atrocious behavior through his optimism and clear thinking; especially when Frodo transforms into a narcissistic monster hellbent on ruling the world. He has the foresight to talk him down. And battle a few giant spiders, too. That’s important.
Hit-Girl — Kick-Ass
The name of the game might be Kick-Ass, but his comrade, who comes in the form of a pint-sized and adorable little girl, is the real star of the show. Hit-Girl may be a tween, but her weapons expertise and combat skills are second to none; Kick-Ass included. Trained somewhere between a whisper and a scream by her very intense father, Hit-Girl and her purple mane are prepared for sweet vengeance, with a rocket launcher and a foul mouth, to assist her fellow amateur superhero in his exploits. But while Kick-Ass has presumed himself as the savior of the city, Hit-Girl has made the choice to get business done on her own terms. She’s got a dead dad to honor and a city to save; she doesn’t have time for Kick-Ass to worry if his moves are good enough or if they’ll even work — it’s just time to take action before Red Mist and his henchmen get in the last word. That’s why she doesn’t wait for orders and doesn’t second guess any of her actions; with so much on the line, she has an intelligence that Kick-Ass has yet to develop in combat to rush forward and maybe not pause to look around corners for the next attack; and that’s a strength that could sustain them.
Gromit — Wallace and Gromit
While Gromit is supposed to just fill the role of lovable canine companion in Wallace’s life, he’s proven to be so much more: best friend, business partner, excellent chef, bunny wrangler and frequent rescuer. Wallace is a kind man, a decent man and a simple man, but he’s not the brightest man. The combination of his roster of huge ideas and moneymaking schemes with his lovable inability to get any of them to work, makes it necessary for Gromit to swoop in and clean up his mistakes — but in a way that also makes it seem like Wallace saved the day and figured things out for himself from the beginning. That’s the mark of a true and skilled sidekick. It makes you wonder, though; what messes is your dog untangling when you’re not looking?
Kato — The Green Hornet
There are superhero sidekicks who serve to raise up their masked and caped mentors, and then there are sidekicks who have risen miles above their assistant gigs to outshine the heroes in every way. Since the 1930s, when The Green Hornet was but a radio serial, Kato was not only the better fighter of the duo, he also far more charming and likable. Who even remembers the lead of this series anyway? It’s all about Kato’s insane kung fu skills and smooth talking. While Britt Reid spreads his wealth around to pay for fancy gadgets and a giddy enthusiasm for his work that funnels into fearlessness (or recklessness, depending on how you look at things), Kato is the muscle behind the mask; and he’s always ready to swoop in when Reid needs him. The recent film served up a very tongue-in-cheek homage to Kato’s vast talents in contrast with Reid’s fumbles and missteps making him a master engineer and tactical genius on top of an incredible fighter. In general, he was better than The Green Hornet at everything he did; which one was the superhero, and which was the sidekick again?
Dr. John Watson — Sherlock Holmes
It’s Sherlock Holmes who gets the memorable lines during the many incarnations of the Arthur Conan Doyle tales, but John Watson is the one audiences should be paying attention to — he’s them. Dr. Watson understands the brilliant and often puzzling mind of the world famous detective, and he not only translates for the audience what exactly’s going on in there in plain English, but serves to talk Sherlock down from whatever metaphorical ledge he’s standing upon to reel him back into reality. Pick anyone who has played Watson throughout the history of the character and the story — Robert Duvall, Colin Blakely, Martin Freeman, Jude Law, Lucy Liu — and while you’ll find slight differences in disposition, you’ll find at the core, a collected and wise foil to the eccentric detective’s madness. Without Watson, there would be no way for Sherlock to solve his cases; who would keep him focused enough to even find the next one?
Hermione Granger — Harry Potter
I’ve waxed poetic about Hermione Granger and her utter superiority before, but it serves to be said again: Hogwarts’ most clever witch should have never been relegated to sidekick. While Harry Potter was designated as the Boy Who Lived and dove headfirst into endless dangerous and sticky situations, it was Hermione’s intellect and ability to see the logic through the magic that allowed them to escape Voldemort’s clutches time and again. Harry was all courage and confidence, but Hermione was brains and mental braun; when Harry has grand ideas of sneaking into forbidden sections of the school and battling wizards far beyond his capabilities, inciting rebellions and going to war, Hermione is quick to always remind him that 1) he’s brave, but dumb and 2) she’ll be the one to make sure these plans actually go through. Don’t you wish you had someone that collected planning your life?
Who are some of your favorite and unheralded sidekicks?