Alfred Pennyworth, Batman series
Why he was wise: The venerable old butler — played by a long line of formidable actors, including Alan Napier, Michael Gough, and now Michael Caine (pictured, right, with Christian Bale) — never lets loyalty to his vigilante master interfere with common sense. Caine’s Alfred is quick with a bon mot, a soft touch when need be, and he is always, always right (even if Bruce doesn’t immediately grasp the truth).
Wise words: ”Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” —Lanford Beard
Yoda, Star Wars series
Why he was wise: Yoda, the wisest of sages is. Learn from him, you can. And not just about how to achieve victory, but how gracefully to accept defeat. When the Jedi Order, which Yoda had led as Grand Master for centuries, was largely exterminated on his watch, he went into exile. But he didn’t give up — or lose hope. It’s doubtful Luke Skywalker would have been able to rebound from his own defeat at the mechanical hands of Darth Vader had he not had Yoda’s example for guidance. Also, let’s face it, when 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not.
Wise words: ”Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate…leads to suffering.” —Christian Blauvelt
Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter series
Why he was wise: The headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry may sometimes appear serious, but he’s always encouraging Harry’s curiosity — even if it might welcome trouble. It’s no coincidence Dumbledore is the only wizard Voldemort has ever feared. Whether he’s passing along an invisibility cloak from Harry’s father or figuring out an ingenious way to get Harry the resurrection stone, this elder statesman of wizardry was always an ally — no matter what Rita Skeeter said. Even after death, Dumbledore’s guidance, and his army, lived on.
Wise words: ”It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” —Erin Strecker
Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid series
Why he was wise: The ever-patient horticultural enthusiast not only trained Daniel in the techniques of karate, but also taught him an important lesson about standing up to bullies. His methods may have been unorthodox, but the proof was in the painted fence, the waxed car, and Daniel’s tournament-winning crane kick. Mr. Miyagi knew the path to wisdom is sometimes a winding one.
Wise words: ”Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.” —Erin Strecker
Merlin, The Sword in the Stone
Why he was wise: He’s a legend throughout history — and with good reason. Though Arthur’s foster father presumed his older brother Kay was the strongest son and the family’s best chance to win a king-making tournament, Merlin recognized potential in Arthur from the moment they first met. Though the king who would pull England out of its Dark Ages was a mere scrawny, tow-headed boy at the time, Merlin saw the power in him to save his people. Not through brute force of the convenience of magic, but through inner strength.
Wise words: ”Now, don’t you get any foolish ideas that magic will solve all your problems, because it won’t.” —Erin Strecker
Kambei Shimada, The Seven Samurai
Why he was wise: Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece has displays of heroism in abundance. But as the calm, clear-eyed leader of the titular septet who’ve sworn to protect a farming village from bandit attacks, Kambei may set the greatest example. When a young boy is taken hostage, Kambei shaves off his top-knot — a shocking, even disgraceful, act for a 16th-century samurai warrior — so he can pose as a non-threatening priest and take the kidnapper by surprise. George Lucas was so moved by his selfless devotion to duty that Kambei partly inspired his creation of Yoda. When the Jedi Master rubs his bald head in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, he’s mimicking Kambei’s own recurring gesture.
Wise Words: ”This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.” —Christian Blauvelt
Morpheus, The Matrix trilogy
Why he was wise: Now, you could argue that messianic cyber-warrior Neo didn’t learn much from Morpheus, the captain of the hovercraft Nebuchadnezzer, about how to fight the machines that had killed off most of humanity. Most of his fighting skills he acquired via direct download: ”I know kung fu!” But what Morpheus lacked in instruction, he made up for in faith: that his protégé was The One to save them all, no matter how much Neo doubted it himself. And if that isn’t worthy of a ”Whoa,” what is?
Wise words: ”Sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, that there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.” —Christian Blauvelt
Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Why he was wise: Middle-earth aficionados will squabble about who’s greater. Is it Gandalf the Grey or Gandalf the White? A pointy wizard’s hat covering a tangled mess of hair or combed, bleached locks? Travel by foot or by magical stallion? The thing is, it’s possible to like both flavors of the mage known to mentor members of the Baggins family, fight insensate evil, and blow killer smoke rings.
Wise words: ”All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” —Christian Blauvelt
Mickey Goldmill, Rocky series
Why he was wise: I dare you to watch the moment Mickey gives the Italian Stallion a cufflink from Rocky Marciano and not feel like you’ve been socked in the gut. He may have been a feisty old codger, but Mickey loved his protégé more than mere words could say. Burgess Meredith brought a scratchy-voiced gravitas to the grizzled old guy, making him surprisingly poignant. ”Mickey loves ya”? The feeling is mutual.
Wise words: ”You know kid, I know how you feel about this fight that’s comin’ up. ‘Cause I was young once, too. And I’ll tell you somethin’. Well, if you wasn’t here I probably wouldn’t be alive today. The fact that you’re here and doin’ as well as you’re doin’ gives me — what do you call it? — motivization, to stay alive, ’cause I think that people die sometimes when they don’t wanna live no more. And nature is smarter than people think. Little by little we lose our friends, we lose everything. We keep losin’ and losin’ till we say you know, ‘Oh what the hell am I livin’ around here for? I got no reason to go on.’ But with you kid, boy, I got a reason to go on. And I’m gonna stay alive and I will watch you make good, and I’ll never leave you until that happens. ‘Cause when I leave you you’ll not only know how to fight, you’ll be able to take care of yourself outside the ring too, is that okay? Okay. Now I got a little gift for you. [Pulls off his necklace] See that? This is the favorite thing that I have on this Earth. And Rocky Marciano give me that. You know what it was? His cufflink. And now I’m givin’ it to you and it, it’s gotta be like an angel on your shoulder, see? If you ever get hurt and you feel that you’re goin’ down this little angel is gonna whisper in your ear. It’s gonna say, ‘Get up you son of a bitch!’ ’cause Mickey loves you.” —Lanford Beard
Prof. Charles Xavier, X-Men series
Why he was wise:The Martin Luther King to Magneto’s Malcolm X, Xavier fought for the rights of mutants through diplomacy and education rather than direct confrontation. If Yoda, Kambei, and Morpheus weren’t already evidence enough, Xavier is definitive proof of the correlation between baldness and wisdom.
Wise words: ”Mankind is not evil, just…uninformed.” —Christian Blauvelt
Splinter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Why he was wise: Any rat clever enough to learn ninjutsu from his human master will indubitably have some knowledge to drop. As enthusiastic as the tubular teen turtles were, Splinter helped them go next-level with their Renaissance-artist-inspired names and their tutelage in the ways of the warrior. Also, he could chop the heck out of a wooden board (hence the name Splinter).
Wise words: ”My Master Yoshi’s first rule was ‘Possess the right thinking.’ Only then can one receive the gifts of strength, knowledge, and peace. … Anger clouds the mind. Turned inward it is an unconquerable enemy.” —Lanford Beard
Morgan Freeman in everything
Why he was wise: When director Tom Shadyac needed someone to play God in Bruce Almighty, he knew exactly the man who could take on that level of majesty. Is there greater inspiration than the velvet tenor of Morgan Freeman’s voice? Take your pick for his most sagacious role: Sgt. Rawlins in Glory; Det. Somerset in Se7en; Red in The Shawshank Redemption; the narrator of March of the Penguins. Odds are, you probably wish he had narrated this gallery.
Wise words: ”And what are you? So full of hate you want to go out and fight everybody! Because you’ve been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain’t dying.” (Glory) —Christian Blauvelt