To celebrate Once Upon a Upon a Time coming to the Disney Plus streaming services I thought it would be a good time to revisit the series and countdown some favorites. Here, we rank the Top 30 Characters from the fairy tale series. Of course any kind of ranking is all relative. The following list could be very different from you the reader, or it could be strikingly similar. And of course there is a difference between personal favorite characters and ranking them in other terms. If that was the case my list would look a little different. For this list it was a difficult process but I ranked them by a combination of the following categories (in order):
- Character dynamics and likability, whether they be hero or villain
- How well the character was written
- Importance to the plot
- Development or growth (if applicable)
- Legacy and importance to the series overall
So, let’s take a look back at a wide array of wonderful characters, varied and beautiful enough to fill any number of magical storybooks.
30. Tinkerbell (portrayed by Rose McIver)
Smart, spunky, and sweet, this fairy who once lost her wings, learned to believe in herself with just a little faith, trust and pixie dust. She forgave Regina for her betrayal and encouraged her to go after love. She also killed Pan’s shadow which restored the Blue Fairy’s life and was one of the contributing factors that helped the heroes to escape Pan’s curse, proving instrumental in one of the show’s most crucial moments. Above all she just wanted to help those in need and for them to find their happy endings, a lovely quality that defines what it means to be a fairy.
29. Sheriff Graham Humbert/The Huntsman (portrayed by Jamie Dornan)
As the Huntsman he was a sensitive and compassionate soul, as Sheriff of Storybrooke he was a charming and strong man who decided to find his heart and choose his own path. In the Enchanted Forest, he helped Charming escape Regina’s castle, and as Henry sweetly points out, he spared Snow’s life. Without both of these moments, Emma would have never been born, solidifying a connection between them that was established in Storybrooke in an emotional and heartbreaking moment. We were able to see the type of man Emma would be attracted to while showing us a brief flicker of hope that her heart could open to someone worthy. His death was an early game changer and showcased the gravity of the curse, how we could lose anyone and how precious life is, making each subsequent time he showed up extremely satisfying.
28. Ursula (portrayed by Merrin Dungey and Tiffany Boone)
Once a mermaid full of sadness over the loss of her mother, but kindness in her heart, she loved to sing and bring people joy. After a betrayal from Hook and her father, she turned herself into another sea creature after losing her singing voice, not wanting to ever let her father use it to lure sailors to their doom. As an adult she lost her way, but with the help of Captain Hook and a reconciliation with her father, both she forgives, her voice and beautiful spirit were returned and restored, leading to crucial information for the heroes to defeat the latest threat. She was fun as one of the Queens of Darkness, but it was lovely to see her return to the light.
27. Grumpy/Dreamy/Leroy (portrayed by Lee Arenberg)
When it comes to Dwarfs, their pick axe will choose their name. This dwarf was born as Dreamy, but a broken heart turned him Grumpy. Despite that, both in the Enchanted Forest and in Storybrooke as Leroy, he as he says need his pain, it’s only because it’s a reminder of what in life we fight for. Grumpy is loyal and stubborn, gruff but sweet. And if there is any gossip that needs repeating he is just the Dwarf for the job.
26. Lancelot (portrayed by Sinqua Walls)
A former Knight of the Round Table, Lancelot was a courageous man with honor, selflessness and a kind and loving heart. Not only did he perform the wedding ceremony for Snow and Charming, making sure Charming’s mother’s final moments were happy ones, he made sure Snow received the water which would break her infertility curse. Without him there would be no Emma, and therefore no Savior, making him one of the show’s most important characters. On his own, he loved Guinevere truly, and looked after her when Arthur was obsessing over Excalibur, while also being willing to sacrifice himself to the darkness for her. Hopefully he found her again and they are living happily ever after in a restored and no longer broken kingdom.
25. Granny Lucas (portrayed by Beverley Elliot)
Granny Lucas is tough as nails, sassy, overcame tragedy, is fiercely protective, loving, supportive of her granddaughter, and never takes guff from anyone-especially over her cooking. A former wolf herself, she sheltered Ruby from the truth, but learned to help her embrace it, while she wanted nothing more than to leave Granny’s Diner to her. She loved her family, blood and otherwise and whether she was wielding a knitting needle or a cross bow, Granny was a force to be reckoned with.
24. Merlin (portrayed by Elliot Knight)
As a stroke of genius and in a great form of subversion, the iconic wizard who traditionally was an old man with a long white beard, here is a young and dynamic man of color who was brilliant and disarming. As Emma once told him he was the greatest Sorcerer that ever lived and indeed, Merlin was so powerful he was able to break free from the darkest and strongest control when he needed to most. As a young man and founder of the Holy Grail, his immortal life gave him wisdom and a peaceful nature. Although he was often cryptic and had moments of failure, it gave the wizard a relatable, human quality, on top of being charming and brave. His loss was a great one, but his legacy remained.
23. King Arthur (portrayed by Liam Garrigan and Webb Hayes)
One of the more complex and interesting villains the show ever did, the traditionally heroic King Arthur character became a man consumed by prophesies and his destiny. As a child he was sweet despite being made to feel inferior. But as an adult he was a good man who let a quest darken his soul so much that he lost sight of what really mattered- his love for Guinevere and his purpose to lead and restore a broken kingdom. A corrupt king, showcasing charisma and vitality, in the end, although quick, he found one of the show’s most satisfying and believable paths to redemption. After his death, he found his true destiny. Restoring peace to the kingdom he was meant to repair- the Underworld.
22. Cora Mills (portrayed by Barbara Hershey and Rose McGowan)
A woman obsessed with power and getting what she thought she deserved, Cora was manipulative and often frightening in her cruel behavior and demeanor, but it made her one of the most realistic villains of the show. Believing love is weakness, she never let her emotions get in the way of her grand ambitions. She betrayed Rumple, abandoned her first child Zelena, and when she married and had her daughter Regina, ripped her own heart out, so she would always stay true to the path of gaining royal power. She was unflinching, devious and twisted, and we loved to hate her.
21. Mulan (portrayed by Jamie Chung)
Mulan was a brave and fierce warrior who wore strong armor literally and figuratively. Guarded with her emotions, she also showed moments of vulnerability and wisdom when it came to matters of the heart and life. Strong, often headstrong, but so, so caring, Mulan was also incredibly clever, helping our heroes multiple times, becoming a member of Robin Hood’s gang, a guide and mentor to Merida, and faithful friend to Ruby. She would sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of others and felt the deep pangs of an unrequited love for Aurora. But despite never seeing it on screen I hope she found her own happy ending somewhere.
20. Dr. Archie Hopper/Jiminy Cricket (portrayed by Raphael Sbarge and Adam Young)
Perhaps the purest character of the series, literally playing a conscience without coming across preachy or self righteous is a tall order. But the opposite is true of Dr. Hopper, who showcases such wisdom, sweetness and non judgment no matter the person. Not free from his own tragic backstory, he was tricked and inadvertently and irrevocably hurt Gepetto’s parents, and so wished nothing more than to be a cricket and dedicate his life to helping and guiding others. In Storybrooke he was a healthy and wonderful example of the benefit self reflection and therapy. The fact that he also became a wedding officiant, rejoicing in the happiness of the people he helped was a beautiful addition to an already wonderful character.
19. Ingrid (portrayed by Elizabeth Mitchell and Brighton Sharbino)
Also known as the Snow Queen, the Aunt to Anna and Elsa had even more tragic backstory than that of her nieces. As an young girl Ingrid discovered she had ice powers, and while she became even more reserved and hid from the world, she and her sisters remained dedicated to each other’s happiness. It was only when a devastating accident led to one of her sister’s death with the other trapping her for years in an urn, that Ingrid became the monster she thought everyone would call her. With an icy and chilling demeanor, this was merely masking a heart that was deeply wounded, and underneath it all, true. Determined to find sisters that will love her unconditionally, all it took was knowing her sister’s deep regret, belief and love for her, for Ingrid to realize her grave mistake, reverse her spell of Shattered Sight and sacrifice herself in the process, leading her back to her sisters in the end. And despite the deception, her affection for Emma was sincere and she proved an important figure in her life. Ingrid’s character was poignant and her sacrifice was a moment of true redemption that was deeply emotional and beautifully moving.
18. August Booth/Pinocchio (portrayed by Eion Bailey, Jacob Davies and Rustin Gresiuk)
Emma once described August as a “typewriter wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in stubble.” And that’s definitely a fair assessment. He’s enigmatic, charming, and a writer. But he’s also much more. A friend and protector of Emma, he strayed from this path and much like the true Pinocchio character, inherently and deeply struggled with being truthful and unselfish. But he paid the ultimate price, and worked hard to make up for his mistakes and find redemption, for his friend, to make his father proud, but also for himself. Much like the Pinocchio of the original novel, his desire and penchant for less than honorable and deceiving behavior was an inherent quality he had to constantly battle. As a young child he leaves Emma alone, but deeply regrets it and so keeps tabs to makes he she remains on her path and not lose faith. And when he fails as an adult in that, he tries everything to make up for his failings and be the friend and guardian angel Emma deserves. With a magnetism, warmth and mystery to the character he was such a source of mythology and knowledge, as well as a true believer. August W. Booth made mistakes, but like Pinocchio learned how to be selfless, brave and true.
17. Belle French (portrayed Emilie De Ravin)
A true beauty inside and out, what was so beautiful about Belle’s character was that it demonstrated heroism in unconventional, but poignant ways that are not seen nearly enough. Her strength, beauty and heroism came in the form selflessness, compassion, forgiveness, intelligence and cleverness. When her kingdom needed her, she agreed to be Rumplestilskin’s servant so her people would be saved. When another kingdom was at the mercy of the Yaoguai, this intelligent bookworm single handedly tracked it down in a day, realized this so called “monster” was in pain, understood it and saved it as it was truly a cursed Prince Philip. She forgave those who hurt her, always endeavored others to follow their hearts, saw the good in Rumplestilskin and encouraged him endlessly, had the courage to banish him when he reached one of his lowest points, and although Rumplestilskin was often undeserving of her love and forgiveness, she bestowed it with belief and conviction. Some may disagree with her choices, and indeed her end was very sad, but her unfailing faith in others proved the depth of her compassionate heart. She remained a kind soul, loving wife and mother until the very end.
16. Ariel (portrayed by Joanna Garcia-Swisher)
Sweet, optimistic, naive but courageous, Ariel was an absolutely delightful character and as wonderful a depiction as any Little Mermaid fan surely dreamed of. On land she literally was a fish out of water not knowing or understanding certain human things calling forks “mini tridents” and not being afraid of a gun because she didn’t know what is was, resulting in adorable moments. But these moments of humor were matched by her moments of wisdom and belief in true love not only for herself with the handsome Prince Eric but for the friends she meets along the way such as Snow White and Captain Hook. She saves Snow from the Evil Queen twice, is instrumental in helping rescue Henry in Neverland, rescued Hook from drowning and from himself as she helped open his eyes on more than one occasion showing him how True Love does indeed mean more than a ship ever could, and never fill the void left from a broken heart, and importantly that villains will never find happiness until their attempts to find happy endings must change for the better, becoming his friend in the process, and helping him communicate with Emma when they needed it the most. Whether on land or under the sea, Ariel, was a sweet, unassuming and beautiful part of the series.
15. Zelena Mills (portrayed by Rebecca Mader and Isabelle Blake-Thomas)
The infamous Wicked of Witch in the Once of Upon a Time universe is a great depiction of the iconic character as she is layered and interesting, evoking moments of terror, hatred, amusement and even sympathy. Abandoned as a baby, bullied for being different and abused by her father as a child, these sufferings led her to seek some place and someone who would love and accept her. Sadly, her suffering turned to envy and resentment towards others (especially her sister Regina) having what she was always deprived of, leading her down a dark path of revenge. And as that infamous villain she was captivating to watch with a cool demeanor one moment and maniacal tirade the next. Her wicked ways only changed when she found people willing to forgive her and let her try to be a mother to her daughter. The one blemish on the character was the troubling way she became a mother which was never properly and rightly addressed. But overall, when she learned to live her life unselfishly and be the mother her daughter deserved, she found that seemingly illusive, happy and peaceful place where bluebirds fly, no broomstick required.
14. Elsa (portrayed by Georgina Haig)
If there ever was a timely addition and example of characters who feel like they leapt off the silver and into the small screen in the Once Upon a Time universe, it would be with the characters of Frozen. The arrival of the Ice Queen of Arendelle Elsa was a surprise for both the character and the audience and she could not have been more perfectly cast, nor beautifully and seamlessly integrated into the story. Elsa was kind, reserved, but warm, ironically, and a faithful sister and friend. A natural and relatable kindred spirit for Emma, they formed a fast friendship when Elsa creates an ice wall around town as leverage to help find her sister Anna and accidentally traps Emma inside. Unbothered by the cold, she was able to save her new friend’s life, finding strength within herself and gaining control of her magic. The beauty of her character is that her own struggles, wisdom, and belief give Elsa a richness and sweetness while also mirroring and guiding those in Storybrooke, most especially Emma. She helped Emma learn to accept every part of herself in the same way she had to, giving our Savior a moment of self True Love. And she never gave up on finding her sister, her pure heart saving both Anna and Kristoff from a watery grave, giving us two of the most beautiful moments of the series. Although a return to Arendelle was imminent, her indelible impression on Storybrooke was everlasting, making it possible to believe she would remain friends with Emma forever, and may even be a certain baby girl’s Ice Queen godmother.
13. Anna (portrayed by Elizabeth Lail)
Spunky, incessantly adorable chatterer, sweet-natured Anna is just as lovely and perfect a characterization as her sister Elsa in the Once Upon a Time story. Nearly identical to her animated film counterpart, this Anna had all of her fine qualities while also bringing equal parts gravitas, pathos and beauty to the role. When the sisters discover that their parents had journeyed to the Kingdom of Mist Haven to hopefully learn more about Elsa’s powers, but ultimately perished, Anna takes it upon herself to finish what her parents began, wanting nothing more than her sister’s happiness, even delaying her wedding to Kristoff. She faced off against Rumplestiltskin, Ingrid and Prince Hans proving herself brave and resourceful even when he felt like she failed because it was her pure heart and constant support of Elsa’s that made her sister return that support in kind. Their bond saved Anna’s life because she is willing to die for those she loves. She even taught our beloved Prince Charming not only how to wield a sword but to stand up to his persecutors, relaying the profound truth that it’s not just about surviving; You have to live. A lover of sandwiches, her sister and man named Kristoff that she finally married at the end of this story arc, Princess Anna of Arendelle is a shining example of Once Upon a Time’s most prominent theme: to always have hope.
12. Cruella De Vil (portrayed by Victoria Smurfit)
The sardonic, gin soaked reckless driver with an inherent propensity for evil, Cruella lived up to her name in spades and was the most fabulous villains that ever was! Once Upon a Time almost always portrayed their villains with sympathetic lives making their turn towards evil understandable. With Cruella, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a villain be evil for evil’s sake. With one of the most creative and interesting backstories, Cruella lived in a 1920s land of flappers and jazz, where the silver tongued tale of being abused she told to the Storybook’s author, was the opposite of the gruesome twist. Cruella was cold and evil since childhood, poisoning her father, tricking the author into giving her power to control animals, killing her step mother and then her dogs and sewing their fur into a coat- all in one chilling night! Her treachery proved to be her downfall as her appearance and ability to kill was forever taken from her, making her threat to Henry moot when Emma killed her to save her son. But she was such a delightfully viscous and fun villain to watch that when we saw her again in the Underworld, it was a fabulous surprise for all us darlings.
11. Henry Mills (portrayed by Jared Gilmore and Andrew J. West)
One of life’s most precious gifts is the privilege of seeing a child grow up, discover the world and mature into the person they will become. When the series began little Henry Mills was a 10 year old precocious and sweet child determined to make his mother Emma break the curse so she can bring back all the happy endings to the people of Storybrooke. His belief in the curse and in Emma proved so strong that his greatest hope came true. Possessing the Heart of the Truest Believer, Henry truly became the heart of the series in that he brought characters together through their love for him inspiring many an “Operation” that our heroes embarked on to defeat villains, break curses and save lives. And we bore witness to this brave boy growing into a kind, forgiving, wise young man who never ever lost hope in any of his family. He became the next author of the Storybook earning the lofty job through his pure heart, courage and conviction, overcame mistakes by helping others find hope and wanted nothing more than both his mothers to be happy. And although the plot point to have adult Henry stay in the Enchanted forest for years instead of returning to Storybrooke felt out of character, his finest qualities remained as he was a loving and faithful man- a devoted son and step son, gentle and kind father, loving husband, sweet big brother and valiant warrior just as he always dreamed of becoming as a child. Family is everything to Henry.
10. Regina Mills/The Evil Queen (portrayed by Lana Parrilla and Ava Acres)
Regina Mills, known in the Enchanted Forest as The Evil Queen, is a character that is undeniably complex. When the series begins, she is a bitterly vengeful villain with a flair for the dramatic, as the Queen of misplaced anger, living what she thought would be her happy ending with an entire kingdom cursed in Storybrooke where time was frozen and its residents couldn’t remember their true selves, Regina being the only one aware of that fact. But when her adopted son Henry brings his birth mother Emma to town, who also happens to be the only one who could break this curse and miraculously does, Regina had to begin a path towards change for the better, learning to love her son in healthier and more supportive way, to stop relying on dark magic and underhanded and manipulative ways, and put away her evil tendencies. It was a huge struggle for her character but she eventually began to put aside her revenge on Snow and Charming, who compassionately let her back in, stopped trying to separate Emma and Henry, gave her sister a second chance at family, no longer ran from the possibility of love, embracing her destined soulmate Robin Hood, and tried to be a better mother to Henry. If only judging on the first 4 seasons the character would be ranked higher, but after that unfortunately the redemptive storyline became inconsistent, most especially a misguided story of splitting herself in two and remaining that way, as well as, like Zelena, some crimes and atrocities never being addressed and dealt with as they should have been. While early on the Evil Queen was fun in a love to hate way, this eventual inconsistency with her progress was a disservice. However, in the end the “Evil” moniker was no longer truly applicable with her finest moments being where she finally realized (and showed others like her sister) the strength love and hope can give you if you truly believe in it.
9. Robin Hood (portrayed by Sean Maguire and Tom Ellis)
The legendary character of Robin Hood is one of the most beloved ever and one that’s been depicted countless times. On Once Upon a Time we see one of the finest characterizations. Originally played by Ellis for one episode in Season 2, the role was then recast by Maguire (the difference in appearance cleverly explained in a Season 4 episode.) This Robin of Locksley and Sherwood Forest was just as one would expect as the iconic thief and leader of a band of Merry Men who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, fought against injustice and tyranny in the Enchanted Forest, and then becoming a protector Storybrooke when a curse brings them to the sleepy town. Robin is noble, brave, cheeky and charming. He’s a lovable rogue who is a decent man who follows his heart and his beliefs, steadfastly and until the end, without being saccharine or unbelievable as he falters and makes mistakes in his romantic entanglements. Ultimately, this charming archer, had a heart of gold, with a deep and unending love for his children and his soulmate Regina, whom he sacrificed his life for, making him the one loss in the show that I personally will forever deeply lament. Robin Hood left an indelible impression that always hit the bulls eye.
8. Jefferson/The Mad Hatter (portrayed by Sebastian Stan)
Never before has the classic Alice in Wonderland character of The Mad Hatter been as complex and captivating as Once Upon a Time’s Jefferson. Charismatic, obsessive, and extremely intelligent, this deeply layered character was not only brilliant individually but his choices, abilities and interactions with key characters proved to be integral to the plot of the series, so much so that nothing would be the same without his presence. Neither a fully fledged villain nor a virtuous hero, Jefferson was once a procurer of difficult to find items and the master of a magical hat that can help you to travel to any realm. He was key to Regina embracing her dark side, and his presence in Storybrooke created a kernel of belief in the validity of the curse in Emma’s mind. Without him, and therefore his magical piece of millinery, the poison apple would have never came to Storybrooke, and therefore the curse would not have been broken in the way it was, Emma never would had met Killian Jones, while him finding a crystal ball for Rumple helped the would be couple make sure another couple, Snow and Charming, fell in love. A good man who only wanted to give his daughter everything, he feared after leaving her, she would never forgive him even though he was tricked. His time in Wonderland drove him mad, and in Strybrooke his curse was having both sets of memories, seemingly like a maniac one moment, kidnapping Mary Margaret and Emma all so Emma could get his hat to work, to a hero to Belle the next, releasing her from her asylum prison, to a sweet and sympathetic father who is reunited with his daughter Grace, embracing her and finally finding his happy ending. The magnetic and brilliant Jefferson left an indelible impression to marvel at. No pun intended.
7. Ruby Lucas/Red Riding Hood (portrayed by Meghan Ory)
A classic, iconic and rich fairy tale tradition as there ever was, the tale and character of Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary one to be weary of strangers and be smart and safe. But Once Upon a Time gave us another subversive twist on the tale by making Ruby not only a sweet girl in a red hood who loves her Granny, but also the dreaded wolf herself, who cannot remember those she kills when she turns into the creature. In doing so it not only was one of the show’s greatest twists ever, but Ruby also became one of the show’s most interesting and relatable characters. With a beauty inside and out, her warmth, bravery, and gentle vulnerability, as well as the journeys she went through were very poignant as she learned to control her time as a wolf, a emotional and prescient metaphor to not be afraid of who we are but instead embrace it and celebrate it. Her cursed Storybrooke persona was one of a boldness and defiance, but when things change and the curse is broken we see that was partly a mask to hide her insecurities which transform into courage to fight for herself. As she tells her Granny, she found someone in herself and it was more than she expected. Loyal and ever protective of her best friend Snow, she helped her in immeasurable ways, which Snow returns when Ruby is frightened of love and encourages her to open her heart to Dorothy. Ruby was a true friend, funny, sweet, courageous, and relatable in the ways she found herself through the love for others and herself.
6. Peter Pan/Malcolm (portrayed by Robbie Kay and Stephen Lord)
When we imagine Peter Pan, chances are we either imagine the mischievous but ultimately good hearted boy who never grows up from the 1950’s animated film, or the 1990’s version, portrayed by Robin Williams, of the boy who grew up, had a family and now must rescue them by remembering who he is. Both are heartwarming tales. What Once Upon a Time does is take elements from the original character that could be twisted and upsetting and make them even darker and more sinister. This Peter Pan was once a man: a cowardly one who abandoned his son Rumplestiltskin because he couldn’t deal with being a father, using Pixie dust to turn himself into a boy who never ages. He is the ruler of Neverland, who uses his shadow to lure children who feel neglected away from their homes, essentially kidnapping them and turning them into The Lost Boys, who more closely resemble the murderous boys from Lord of the Flies, rather than cute ragamuffin orphans. This Pan is truly the darkest villain in the sense that he hunts down the innocent for his own gain and amusement, eventually setting his sights on Henry, needing the Heart of the Truest Believer to save his own dying organ. He manipulates Henry, tortures his family with needless riddles and pain, and does it all with a cool and sinister smirk on his face, and magnetic villainy. And it’s engrossing to watch. He takes pleasure in the evil he does, and is so selfish that it makes the moments his son gets the best of him so incredibly rewarding. As admirable a foe as the heroes ever faced Pan was a bloody demon with the face of a seemingly innocent boy.
5. Snow White/Mary Margaret Blanchard (portrayed by Ginnifer Goodwin and Bailee Madison)
One of the most timeless characters of all time is given an iconic and remarkable characterization in Once Upon a Time as a woman who is not only beautiful, but incredibly strong, wise, forgiving, and endlessly caring. She is a loyal friend, a loving wife and mother, is inherently protective and self sacrificing, and has an ability to hope and forgive that is very poignant, with the ability the give the appropriate speech of hope when some need it the most. As a child, she had to learn humility and that sacrifice for your own gain will only turn your heart dark, not to mention how the evil can manipulate us. She was innocent and while these moments led to pain, they helped shape her into the good person she is. And although she had moments where her sense of morality and hope waivered, and struggled with how to be a mother to Emma, in the end she overcame these moments. When she was cursed as Mary Margaret , her true self was stifled but she remained under the surface as she found herself in love with David, physical strength coming through, and felt a profound familial connection to Emma almost instantly. As her true self of Snow White, her love for others is boundless, literally sharing her heart with her husband, forgiving and welcoming Regina into her family regardless of the past, and giving her daughter the only cure for her shared sleeping curse to help Emma reach Hook, deeply lamenting how Emma grew up without her and not wanting to take any more from her, displaying both a beautiful moment of motherly love and hope in her daughter to find another way to save them. Snow is sweet and strong and as capable with a bow and arrow as she is with her steadfast hope speeches. She is the fairest of them all in every way possible.
4. Rumplestliskin/Mr.Gold (portrayed by Robert Carlyle and Wyatt Oleff)
The classic fairy tale trickster, obsessed with the unborn, with the ability to spin straw into gold, is certainly seen in that way on Once Upon a Time, but there is so much more to the impish and flamboyant Rumplestiltskin who has the penchant for making unbreakable deals and calling others “dearie,” in turn creating the most iconic version of the character we’ve ever seen. This Rumplestiltskin is known in Storybrooke as Mr. Gold, but in truth is also the Beast to Belle and the Crocodile to Captain Hook, as well as infamous and ever feared Dark One, who is the most powerful dark wizard of them all. Abandoned as a child, he grows up to be a man so scared of losing his life in war, when he finds out he was to be a father that he purposefully injures himself, losing the respect and love of his wife. Letting fear bring out his worst qualities when he becomes The Dark One he allows that darkness to take hold of him, completely succumbing and controlled by the power he had felt denied of all his life. Plagued with self loathing and cowardice, he always struggles with choosing power over love, and is so often the master manipulator and puppeteer of everyone’s lives. And yet still we see how much he wants to love and be loved, often garnering empathy, particularly when he came to his quest to find his son and his deep love for Belle. One moment he is vindictive and dishonest, the next he shows true vulnerability and honesty. With the ability to be heroic he sacrificed himself to save everyone from Peter Pan, while he also proved to be dark and manipulative, even without the power of the darkness inside of him, when he transfers all of the darkness inside of Hook and Emma back to himself, betraying them and making Hook die, at least in that moment, in vain. It took the death of his wife for him to fully overcome his constant desire for immortality and power. No matter what, Rumplestiltskin is an endlessly complex and dynamic character that is always fascinating to watch.
3. Prince Charming/David Nolan (portrayed by Josh Dallas)
A classic Disney Prince if there ever was one, this Prince Charming, real name David Nolan, wanted to be known for more than awakening a sleeping Princess, even if doing so brought him great happiness. Indeed, this charming prince is so much more, with more complexities in both his origin story and personality. When he was cursed he literally was unable to overcome his confusion and bad choices but when that curse was lifted the wonderful Prince finally shined through. Perhaps not as flashy as the villains on the series, David, as the traditional leading man successfully showcases amazing qualities and captivating moments in ways that are both traditionally heroic and epic as well as understated and quiet. Raised as a shepherd he learned the value of hard work and true love from his mother, and when he became a prince it was to save her and his entire kingdom, determined to not let anyone suffer. Only when he meets Snow White does he realize the that he can stand up against the tyrannical King George and fight for and always find his True Love Snow. Stubborn and often hard headed one moment, he is also kind, brave, heroic, selfless, caring, and honorable. His traditionally heroic moments of fighting a dragon, or palace guards with his newborn daughter in his arms, are matched not only in the beautiful romantic moments with Snow White such as sacrificing himself on more than one occasion to keep her safe or putting himself under a sleeping curse, but also in his moments with Emma proving to be a gentle, protective and truly understanding father, as well as grandfather to Henry, offering advice, guidance or comfort whenever it was needed. He also learned to overcome prejudice and past wrongs and forgave the likes of Hook and Regina. This Prince Charming is the ideal combination of masculine strength and sensitive tenderness, brilliant in both moments of quiet wisdom and love and brave heroics, proving that the traditional fairy tale prince can be a modern, inspiring and relatable character.
2. Killian Jones/Captain Hook (portrayed by Colin O’Donoghue and Oliver Bell)
The character of Captain Hook has seen countless interpretations since the original iteration and none have ever been quite as extraordinary as Once Upon a Time’s Killian Jones. As a boy he and his older brother were sold into indentured servitude, suffering years of abuse but retaining a sense of honor along with his idolization of his brother Liam. When a treacherous King’s lies leads to Liam’s death, the young man who dreamed of a hero’s journey became the infamous pirate, and Captain of the Jolly Roger, one day falling in love and running away with Rumplestlskin’s wife, who, now as the Dark One, kills Milah, and cuts off Killian’s hand, leading to the birth of his more colorful moniker, Captain Hook; and a long and dark path of villainy and revenge against Rumple, spanning a century, with fate leading him towards another path: one of love, heroics and redemption. Killian Jones is an old fashioned, swashbuckling, sexy, charming, handsome, flirtatious, and adventurous pirate, who deems himself a dashing rapscallion, but is also sincere, loving, gentle and tender, as well strong in his motivations and convictions. When he met Emma it was as if he was seeing the sun again for the first time in centuries and she inspired him as he learned to hope again, to move past vengeance and tread the path of good. Although he falters and letting go of his revenge proved difficult, once he decided that revenge is not the way, he worked hard to prove himself worthy of Emma’s love, letting his feelings be apparent but letting her lead the way, showcasing an earnest respect.
Indeed, meeting Emma Swan changed his life in a remarkable way and he found that love was not only possible again, but that it could be the most beautiful and extraordinary love imaginable and inspire you to be a better person. But importantly, though he had hope and confidence, he wanted to be a better man regardless of whether she ever returned those feelings. He supported and encouraged Emma to be her true and miraculous self, helped David find a cure for Dreamshade and find Henry in Neverland, gave up his ship so she could return home to her family, sought forgiveness and often protected Belle from harm after he hurt her deeply in the past, protected Henry from harm numerous times, and made sure Charming did not follow a path of revenge himself, knowing the pain it causes. When he realized he had been turned into a Dark One, he faltered and let it consume him, but soon turned around and made the ultimate sacrifice. When Emma is unable to bring him home he makes sure she will let him go, and proves crucial in the defeat of the villainous Hades, his sins forgiven by Zeus, allowing him to be resurrected, reborn, and returned to where he belongs: with Emma. Killian Jones will always retain the dashing pirate charm, but he also became a devoted husband, caring father and step father, loyal friend, and true hero. He is truly the greatest version of Captain Hook to ever sail the seven seas.
1. Emma Swan (portrayed by Jennifer Morrison, Mckenna Grace and Abby Ross)
When it came to choosing Once Upon a Time’s finest character, the most apropos choices had to be Emma Swan, the heroine and main character for the show’s first six seasons, and the one whose legacy, inspiration, and spiritual presence remained until she returned in the beginning and end of the final season, closing out the series in a beautiful, satisfyingly profound way that brought the series, and her character full circle. Emma is the lens for the audience and in turn the most relatable character as she grew up in the real world and dealt with real world struggles, pain, and heartbreak. A beautiful, complex, intelligent, resourceful, determined, empathetic, kind, and loving woman, she began the series very lonely and guarded, terrified of being truly vulnerable with anyone. But over the course of the series she found courage to open her heart with her son, her family, her friends, and the man she falls truly in love with. Born as the Savior, and the one who could bring back the happy endings, she was spared from the curse and sent to the Land Without Magic and grew up with a sense of abandonment and unworthiness, that only continued with painful experiences with both Ingrid and Neal which perpetuated her reluctance to trust, leading to a strong sense of self reliance and thick skin, but never hardening her heart completely. Through all the pain, she remained guarded but deep down never lost that kindness or desire to help others, adopting early on the surname Swan, which became a metaphor for her journey from the ugly duckling rejected as a child and feeling as she didn’t matter to anyone, to the person she truly was an wanted to be- the beautiful swan and the Savior, a destined hero but one whose choices and true goodness made her such. The magic that resides inside her takes times to hone but that is just another example of how Emma is like us all in the ways we must learn to not only find our place in the world but become our best selves.
Through her tears and her smiles, you feel every single heart beat of Emma’s journey of self discovery as she embraces her role as the Savior, begins to learns magic, and most importantly begins to heal the wounds she had carried with her all of her life. It takes a while for her to believe in magic and who she is but the love she forms for her son Henry breaks the first curse of Storybrooke, her True Love saving her son’s life and awakening the town from its 28 year sleep. But it is not smooth sailing from then on. She remained guarded around her parents but in time she learns to forgive, embracing Storybrooke and her family as the home she always wished for- a place you know when you just miss it. Her journey towards true romantic love is a rocky one, but when she opens her heart and begins to believe in hope, and believe in Killian’s sincerity, her heart awakens from its long sleep, and they find a deep and everlasting bond that survives both succumbing to the Darkness, and a test of True Love ordained by the Gods. In the final step in her journey and the final battle she overcomes her fears and makes the ultimate sacrifice, solidifying her position in the series as its greatest hero and Savior as she sacrifices her life for everyone, only to be resurrected with love. Despite the magical aspects to Emma’s character, she remained the most grounded character of the series. And importantly, Emma Swan is emblematic of the kind of inspiring hero, as well as showcasing qualities that many of us face every day. She is a beautiful depiction of a woman who exemplifies what it means to be human. Like all of us, she is neither all tough and hard, nor all soft and gentle. Emma Swan indeed is a hero, but she is more importantly a woman who taught us all that we decide the kind of person we are no matter what the world may tell us, and that strength comes not just from physicality and defeating monsters, metaphorical or otherwise, but by being vulnerable enough to open your heart to forgiveness and love. And that is why the woman with red leather jacket and yellow bug, the metaphorical color that arrives in Storybrooke, is such a profound character. And it is why Emma Swan, the lonely soul who becomes the strong, resilient, triumphant hero, Princess, Savoir, Sheriff of Stoybrooke, caring daughter, gentle and wise mother, and deeply loving wife, who realizes that her happy ending is truly a happy beginning, is Once Upon a Time’s greatest character.
Honorable Mentions: Ruth, Dr, Whale/Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Isaac (The Author), The Blue Fairy/Mother Superior, Sidney Glass/Magic Mirror, Tiana/Sabine, Merida, Alice/Tilly, Blackbeard.
Special recognition: Alice, Cyrus, Will Scarlet, Anastasia and Jafar from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (These are all wonderful characters and although Will and Jafar both appeared in the main show, their true greatness lies with Wonderland along with the other main characters of the series.)