Lara Croft crowned the most iconic video game character of all time | BAFTA

Lara Croft of Tomb Raider has been crowned the most iconic video game character of all time, according to a poll by BAFTA.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has revealed the results of its players’ poll to establish the top characters from video game history. Launched to celebrate the 20th BAFTA Games Awards on Thursday April 11, the poll was engaged with by over 4,000 players from all over the world.

Today’s top 20 list features characters of all shapes and sizes from anthropomorphic animals to gun-wielding spies and brings together the most recognizable faces from across the world of games. These characters, and the games in which they star, boast a collective 44 BAFTA Games Awards between them over the past two decades, and make up some of the best-loved entries into the canon of video game history, and some of the most memorable characters of any medium.

Taking the No. 1 spot is the generation-spanning heroine Lara Croft, star of the Tomb Raider franchise. Lara Croft first appeared in 1996, nearly three decades ago, and since then she has been remastered and evolved several times for television, film, video games and even her own live immersive experience in London, England.

GB Event

GamesBeat Summit Call for Speakers

We’re thrilled to open our call for speakers to our flagship event, GamesBeat Summit 2024 hosted in Los Angeles, where we will explore the theme of “Resilience and Adaption”.

Apply to speak here

Franchise history


Ownership of the Tomb Raider franchise has bounced around.

Tomb Raider originated with Core Design, a British game studio which owned it from 1994 to 2006. The first game, Tomb Raider, came out in 1996. Eidos Interactive switched development duties to Crystal Dynamics from 2003 to 2008.

Then Japan’s Square Enix bought Eidos Interactive in 2009 and oversaw it until 2021. In 2022, Embracer Group acquired it. By 2022, the franchise had sold more than 95 million copies.

This year alone, Tomb Raider I–III Remastered was released across multiple platforms and the highly anticipated Netflix TV show Tomb Raider: The Legend of Lara Croft is scheduled for release later in the year. Shelley Blond, the original voice of Lara Croft, will also present an award at the 20th BAFTA Games Awards on Thursday 11 April, in the official ceremony hosted at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Mario and Agent 47

The Super Mario Bros. Movie hit $1.35 billion in revenue.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie hit $1.36 billion in revenue.

Jumping into the second spot is Mario, of the eponymous Nintendo franchise. Created by the legendary Japanese game designer and recipient of BAFTA’s prestigious Fellowship, Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario has been the face of Nintendo and a highly recognisable character in the wider world of video games since he first appeared as Jumpman in the 1981 arcade game, Donkey Kong. Since then Mario has featured in many games – including this year’s BAFTA-nominated game, Super Mario Bros. Wonder.

Taking third spot is Agent 47 from the Hitman series; this one is a real surprise to me. Conceived by Danish video game developer IO Interactive in 1998 and debuting in 2000 with the release of Hitman: Codename 47, Agent 47 has become an icon in the games industry, captivating gamers worldwide. The genetically engineered assassin has since appeared in eight mainline games, two spin-offs, two books, one comic series and two films.

The Most Iconic Video Games Characters of All Time

Agent 47? That's too many.
Agent 47? That’s too many.

These are ranked in order of votes received.

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider

First introduced to the world in 1996 in Tomb Raider for the Sega Saturn, Lara Croft has appeared in over 15 games, three films, multiple novelisations and comic book adaptations, and an upcoming Netflix animated series.

Mario, Super Mario

One of the most senior characters on this list, Mario was created in 1981 – not as the star of his own series, but as a player character in the first instalment in the Donkey Kong series. From humble beginnings, he has appeared in over 200 video games, two films, and numerous other multimedia adaptations.

Agent 47, Hitman

A genetically-enhanced clone with a penchant for murder, Agent 47 made his video game debut in 2000’s Hitman: Codename 47. Since then, he’s killed his way across screens both big and small, appearing in over ten games, two novelisations, and two live-action film adaptations.

Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic

Sonic the Hedgehog sprinted his way into the hearts and minds of fans worldwide in 1991 as the star of Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis. He has appeared in over 100 video games as both a main character and supporting cast, as well as starring in several TV shows and two films, with a third slated for release in late 2024.

Sackboy, LittleBigPlanet

One of the most customisable characters on this list, Sackboy made his video game debut in 2008 as the star of Sony’s LittleBigPlanet to instant critical acclaim. He’s since starred in all six LittleBigPlanet mainline games, as well as making an appearance in numerous other game franchises as everything from a playable character to an adorable easter egg.

Pac-Man, Pac-Man

This little yellow hockey puck has appeared in over 50 games and has made appearances in innumerable other trans-media properties.

Link, Legend of Zelda

The silent protagonist of the Legend of Zelda franchise, Link has appeared in 20 games in the series, as well as starring in his own animated series and multiple comic book and manga adaptations.

Master Chief, Halo

Full name Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, this Spartan super-soldier appears in six games in the HALO franchise. He appears as the main character in three of the 19 HALO novels, as well as in the 2012 film Halo 4: Forward Until Dawn and the 2022 HALO television series.

Kratos, God of War

From murder-hungry Spartan warrior to protective parent, Kratos has appeared in eight games in the God of War franchise. He’s also made appearances in two comic series, three novels, and in several games outside the God of War franchise.

Shadowheart, Baldur’s Gate 3

One of the youngest characters on this list in terms of release date, Shadowheart charmed her way into the hearts of players worldwide with the release of 2023’s Baldur’s Gate 3.

Arthur Morgan, Red Dead Redemption 2

The protagonist of 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2, Arthur Morgan is one of the few characters on this list to only appear in a single game.

Pikachu, Pokémon

The only Pokémon to appear on this list, Pikachu has appeared in over 100 properties across screens both big and small, as well as making appearances in multiple comic books and manga.

Steve, Minecraft

The iconic player character from 2011’s Minecraft (the best-selling video game of all time as of 2024), Steve has also made appearances in four other games including the Minecraft spinoff Minecraft Dungeons.

Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid

Debuting in 1987’s Metal Gear, Solid Snake (real name David) is a stealthy super-spy who’s appeared in over ten games in the Metal Gear franchise, as well as in multiple novelisations of the game series.

Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot

Introduced to the world in 1996’s Crash Bandicoot, this genetically enhanced marsupial has appeared in 20+ video games throughout his lifespan.

Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII

A mercenary and man of few words, Cloud Strife has made 30+ appearances in both video games and wider media properties since his video game debut as the protagonist of 1997’s Final Fantasy VII.

Astarion, Baldur’s Gate 3

Much like his fellow party member Shadowheart, Astarion’s rogueish charms have made him a fan favourite since his appearance in 2023’s Baldur’s Gate 3

Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza

A gruff former Yakuza mobster, Kazuma Kiryu has appeared in ten games in the Yakuza/Like a Dragon franchise, as well as starring in multiple film adaptations and a stage play of the franchise.

Ellie Williams, The Last of Us

Best-known as the star of 2013’s The Last of Us, Ellie Williams actually did not make her first appearance in the game. The world’s first introduction to the bad-mouthed teenager was in The Last of Us: American Dreams, a four-issue comic book series that served as a prequel to the game. She’s since starred in sequels and DLC for the The Last of Us franchise, as well as the 2023 TV adaptation of the game.

Nathan Drake, Uncharted

The gentleman explorer with a penchant for violence, Nathan Drake stars in six games in the Uncharted franchise, as well as multiple comic book series and a live-action film adaptation.

Lara Croft in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Lara Croft in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The next title is coming from Amazon Games and Crystal Dynamics.

Shelley Blond, performer and first voice actor for Lara Croft (number one in the poll), said: “I had no clue when voicing the original Tomb Raider game that it would be such a global phenomenon and neither did Eidos or Core Design.”

She said the devs had only ever done children’s games before and of course they hoped it would be a success, but I think it went above and beyond any and all expectations.

“When creating the voice for Lara Croft, it came just by looking at the rough sketches I had in front of me and I took note of the fact that she was a female Indiana Jones type of character, ballsy and well spoken. Lara is very special to me purely because she means so much to the gamers,” Blond said. “I love hearing stories from people around the world who played the game and channelled Lara to escape their bullies or to help them feel stronger when they wanted to come out to their loved ones. And most beautiful of all is hearing how gamers used to play it with their parent/s who are no longer with us and the sound of my voice, the music from the game and sound effects are all wrapped up in their memories of that loved one. I’m honoured to play a part in that for them.”

Blond joked, “I found out well into dating my husband that he had played Tomb Raider and used to enjoy hearing Lara scream and say ‘No’. Now of course he has to put up with that on a daily basis.”

Shigeru Miyamoto, legendary game designer, creator of Mario and BAFTA Fellowship recipient (2010), told Variety last year:

“When I first came up with the character, and we created the first Mario game, we had a limited capacity of the pixels that we could use. It was technically a 16×16 pixel square that we were able to use for characters – but as a designer, I thought that I needed to make the best out of those 16 dots. I felt it was my job to draw a character with recognisable features, so if I draw a big nose and a moustache I don’t need to draw a mouth,” Miyamoto said. “Also, if I draw a big hat I don’t need to draw hair, etc. And we were able to, within that limited space, create such an iconic character. I was really happy with the result, and I felt that this would be the character who will be my gaming legacy.”

David Smith, technical director at Media Molecule and co-designer of Sackboy (number five in the poll) said: “Sackboy started life as a humble yellow and magenta lump of debug graphics, with wiggling legs for running and stick arms for grabbing. Sackboy was never meant to have a gender but the name stuck. Their character is anchored in chaotic fun and creativity with an eager dog-like personality! Beyond this, they are whoever you want them to be. Sackboy grabs on to things with R1, the same as Wander in Shadow of the Colossus and this is no coincidence! The games from Team Ico gave us great confidence that ‘grabbing’ was an exciting addition to the tried and tested ‘run and jump’ formula.”

As Christopher Judge said in his acceptance speech at the BAFTA Games Awards last year (2023), as he took home the award for Performer in a Leading Role for Kratos in God of War – “It’s the role of a lifetime.”

Kratos reached number nine in the Most Iconic Games Character Poll, Christopher Judge reflects on his time creating the character exclusively for BAFTA, ”Playing Kratos has truly been a great joy of my professional career. How often do you play a character that gives you, the actor, as much as you give him? From being a father to even making me redefine what it truly means to be a man. Being a man isn’t about muscle, and it isn’t about how loud you are – ultimately, Kratos gave me that it’s about listening, and loving, and ultimately about opening your own heart and accepting being loved… what a gift!”

Neil Newbon, BAFTA-nominated performer at this year’s BAFTA Games Awards for his portrayal of Astarion (number 17 in the poll) in Baldur’s Gate 3, said: “Playing Astarion has been a career highlight for me. To be able to spend so long with a character, work with such an amazing company as Larian and working alongside the gorgeous writer Stephen Rooney, as well the awesome directors and crew at Pitstop Productions and employ every acting tool I’ve ever studied, to go incredibly deep into such a versatile and layer character, has been a dream job.

Christopher Judge after he won Outstanding Achievement in Character at the Dice Awards.
Christopher Judge after he won Outstanding Achievement in Character at the Dice Awards.

“Streaming has been a wonderful way to extend my work and passion for games and also interview fellow actors, directors and writers in the industry to help spotlight them. Film/ TV writer Tom De Ville and myself have had such a wonderful time creating our comedy/ interview show and the community that has sprung up around it has proven to be so wholesome and inclusive. We have been keen to make a safe space a cornerstone of our shows and thrilled that people have taken that to heart. It’s also super fun to re-experience Astarion as a player especially when our usual brand of chaos erupts (haha!).

“I feel so many people have reached out to me , the cast and everyone at Larian saying how they connected with the story and therefore the characters, so they felt seen and understood. For a game to have such an impact is beautiful and to have played a role that has captured people’s imagination is a gift. The community that has been created by the audience around the game I feel largely represents this spirit of togetherness and shared joy, which is the essence of roleplay games. A testament to Swen, Larian, the cast , writers and directors. I hope a legacy that will help further this in future games.”

In 2015, Ashley Johnson took home the BAFTA Games Award for her performance of Ellie in The Last of Us – who placed number 19 in the Most Iconic Games Character Poll – during her acceptance speech she celebrated the character for being “a strong female character that isn’t sexualised or a damsel in distress – or even the opposite of that. Ellie is vulnerable, and she’s kind, and she’s loyal and she’s the girl that probably wouldn’t have fit in at school. At times she was allowed to be scared…”.

The 20th BAFTA Games Awards take place on Thursday 11 April 2024 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London. The Awards will be hosted by comedian Phil Wang and livestreamed to audiences across the globe via BAFTA’s YouTube, Twitch, and X channels.