16. Dev Shah
On-screen, the protagonist of Netflix’s Master of None (played by Aziz Ansari) gave voice to issues rarely discussed on TV, from buying Plan B for a date to dealing with immigrant parents. Off-screen, he inspired debates about diversity and dating in the digital age.
15. Poot Lovato
This fan-fiction character—based on an unflattering and likely manipulated photo of pop singer Demi Lovato—is undeniably absurd; Poot is supposed to be Demi’s secret twin sister who has been “locked in a basement her whole life,” according to her Tumblr origin story. But she nonetheless became a meme in October, pulling attention from Demi’s new album release and proving how Internet fandom can redefine celebrities’ carefully groomed images.
14. Glenn Rhee
The apparent death of The Walking Dead fan favorite—which the show revealed as a fake-out after several weeks—generated thousands of tweets and headlines, and prompted discussion about the ethics and consequences of toying with viewer emotions.
13. Stella Carlin
Within days of Orange is the New Black’s third-season debut, its newest inmate was an Internet obsession—challenging traditional beauty and sexuality norms and turning Australian model Ruby Rose, who plays Carlin, into a global icon. (The “Justin Bieber lookalike” jokes didn’t hurt, either.)
12. Jessica Huang
Fresh Off the Boat reinvigorated the family sitcom for a new era by looking back to the past, and Jessica (played by Constance Wu) was at once its most traditional and most forward-looking element. Onscreen, she was a 1990s immigrant mother whose strict parenting methods evoked both laughs and a meaningful sense of cultural difference. In the context of TV, she was an all-too-rare Asian-American series lead, part of a vanguard of representation on broadcast airwaves.
11. Christian Grey
Jamie Dornan’s performance as the entrepreneur whose tastes are very…singular helped make Fifty Shades of Grey one of the highest-grossing R-rated films of all time, and reportedly caused a rise in the sales of bondage toys around Valentine’s Day. In June, author E.L. James released Grey, a Shades spinoff told entirely from Christian’s perspective; it became an instant bestseller.
The “Bad Blood” video protagonist (played by Taylor Swift, of course) and her all-female squad of assassins set the bar for music-video spectacle in the Internet age, logging 20.1 million views in a single day.
9. Mark Watney
The Martian’s charmingly resourceful botanist (played by Matt Damon) became a role model for future scientists and refocused media attention on the Red Planet—helped, naturally, by the news that NASA found flowing water on the real-life Mars, which broke the same week Watney’s fictional exploits hit theaters.
8. Alexander Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s vision of the first Treasury Secretary as a scrappily ambitious fellow with a flair for rhyming anchored one of Broadway’s biggest hits in years, luring fans like Katy Perry and President Obama.
The breakout star of Pixar’s Inside Out brought millions of viewers to tears, and helped pull in more than $850 million at the global box office; she’s now being used as a teaching tool to help kids get in touch with their emotions.
6. Jon Snow
After Game of Thrones’ reigning heartthrob (played by Kit Harington) was apparently stabbed to death in the fifth season finale, fans—and hundreds of media outlets—rallied around him, parsing photos and script leaks for clues about his fate. In November, they got their biggest one yet: a season six promo poster, featuring a close-up of Snow’s face.
5. Imperator Furiosa
In a landmark year for heroines, this vigilante out-fierced them all, stealing Mad Max: Fury Road out from under Max Max himself. That performance (courtesy of Charlize Theron) helped net more than $375 million at the global box office, proving that smash-hit action films can be unapologetically feminist.
4. Atticus Finch
The fact that To Kill a Mockingbird’s patriarch, a seemingly righteous Southern lawyer, harbored racist views—as revealed in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman—made global headlines, driving massive book sales and fueling debates about bigotry and literary ethics.
3. "Hillary Clinton"
Kate McKinnon’s now-infamous SNL character—consumed by ambition, unleavened by personal warmth—became so closely tied to the real-life candidate that some pundits suggested it might destroy her image. But Clinton didn’t seem to mind: “A vote for Hillary is a vote for four more years of Kate McKinnon's impression,” she tweeted in October, after joining her fictional alter ego for a live sketch.
2. The Minions
The cutesy yellow sidekicks—first introduced in year 2010’s Despicable Me—took center stage this year, netting more than $1.1 billion at the global box office. Universal also licensed the brand to some 850 companies, including McDonald’s and Crayola; one firm’s plush Minion toy even saved a five-year-old’s life by cushioning her fall.
1. Cookie Lyon
With her high-drama scheming and higher-drama wardrobe, the Lyon family matriarch (played by Taraji P. Henson) was the biggest draw on TV’s most popular new show, Empire, luring more than 13 million viewers a week. In addition to spawning countless memes and catchphrases, she also helped inspire a clothing line at Saks Fifth Avenue. As Cookie herself said, “That's my name. Take a bite."