HBO’s The Sopranos is one of the greatest shows to ever grace television sets in the United States and abroad. Part of what made The Sopranos so successful was its cast of complex and compelling characters. These characters allowed audiences to follow along with dark, comedic, and dramatic storylines about both American mob and family life. Before watching The Sopranos prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark, later this week, we revisit and rank the 10 best Sopranos characters.
How to Rank the Best Sopranos Characters
Before going forward, it is important to acknowledge and understand how one ranks and should rank the best Sopranos characters. The following characters have been rated based on their complexities, development throughout the series or their time on the series, and the impact they had on the series, its storylines, and other characters.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Sopranos!
10. Livia Soprano: The Least of the Best Sopranos Characters
Who else could be more responsible for the events in The Sopranos than Nancy Marchand’s Livia Soprano? Although Tony Soprano is undoubtedly the main character, his mother, Livia, is the driving force behind several key factors in the series. She is the primary source of Tony’s childhood trauma, the main reason he seeks therapy with Jennifer Melfi, and she even plays a role in an attempted “whacking” of Tony in the first season. While Livia does not appear in the show after the second season — other than a quick CGI appearance in season 3 — her impact on Tony and others is felt throughout the series.
9. Ralph Cifaretto
One of the best features of The Sopranos is the multifaceted nature of most of the characters. No one on the show is truly good or evil. Although Ralph Cifaretto, played by Joe Pantoliano, leans more towards evil, he is perhaps the best example of this dynamic. In one moment, he can be a charming comedian while in another he is nothing more than a cruel murderer. Because of this duality and his strength as an earner, Tony hesitates on what to do about Ralph and his actions. Eventually, Tony kills Ralph, but this event occurs just after Ralph undergoes a dramatic transformation. After his only son is almost killed, Ralph becomes more benevolent and empathetic, and it appears his days of cruelty may be behind him. However, Tony ultimately decides Ralph will have no more days on Earth, cruel or not.
Overall, Ralph Cifaretto’s presence and arc make a show, which is full of complicated individuals, even more attention-grabbing. He is undoubtedly The Sopranos‘ best villain.
8. Silvio Dante
As confirmed in an interview with the Talking Sopranos podcast, Steven Van Zandt, who is widely known for his work in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, was originally one of three actors considered for the role of Tony Soprano. While Van Zandt did not receive the role, The Sopranos creator, David Chase, liked Van Zandt and what he brought to the auditions so much that he created the character, Silvio Dante, just for him. Although Silvio does not have much screen time in the series, he is one of the best characters for the contributions he makes when present. Silvio can crack jokes, do Al Pacino impressions, kill when necessary, and ultimately provide a levelheaded perspective for Tony on several issues. Although the temporary pressure of being the boss was too much for him, Silvio Dante is without a doubt running things from behind the scenes.
7. Artie Bucco
Many of the people Tony Soprano surrounds himself with are not there by choice. Tony often works with what he has got. However, Artie Bucco, played by John Ventimiglia, is an exception. Although their relationship has many ups and downs, Artie is one of Tony’s oldest and in many ways only real friend. Despite driving each other crazy, the two appear to deeply care for one another. This allows viewers to receive rare insights into who Tony is.
However, Artie Bucco is a wonderful character all on his own. He, like many other characters in The Sopranos, is largely one of tragedy. However, the tragic nature of Artie is most often comedic. This is largely due to Ventimiglia’s performance, who plays Artie as an emotional, insecure fool. He is pathetic and flawed but mostly unaware of his flaws. So, despite being constantly upset by his failings, Artie being Artie fails to see his role in those failings. This irony makes him fascinating to watch and one of the best Sopranos characters.
6. Adriana La Cerva
Adriana La Cerva, played by Drea de Matteo, is arguably The Sopranos most tragic character. Despite her intoxicating smile and kindness, Adriana is constantly treated terribly. She is often beaten by her boyfriend and eventual fiance, Christopher Moltisanti, and is ultimately killed by Silvio Dante for working reluctantly on the behalf of the FBI. While many characters on the show are “whacked” for working with law enforcement, Adriana’s situation is different.
Unlike others who work against the Soprano family for themselves, Adriana does so selflessly. Though it causes her immense stress and stomach pain, by the end of her arc, Adriana truly believes that working with the FBI can save herself and Christopher, who frankly does not deserve her devotion. While she is certainly not some innocent figure of ethical fortitude, she is a good, loving person whose only crime was being mixed up with the Soprano family.
5. Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Before The Sopranos, actress Lorraine Bracco earned her fame and an Academy Award nomination for playing the wife of Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s classic mob movie, Goodfellas. Because of this, the casting directors for The Sopranos originally wanted her to play Tony Soprano’s wife, Carmela. However, Bracco, who did not want to play the same kind of character, declined the offer. It was not until meeting with David Chase that Bracco convinced him to let her play the role of Tony Soprano’s “shrink”, Dr. Jennifer Melfi.
As Melfi, Bracco gives an incredible performance across all six seasons. In their sessions, she helps guide Tony and gives viewers insights into his thoughts, trauma, and actions. However, as a character, she is much more than just a means of understanding Tony. She is a strong, Italian woman who overcomes her trauma after being raped in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the series.
Above all, Melfi serves as a powerful antithesis to the stereotypes commonly assigned to Italians on TV and in movies, most notably the stereotype of Italians being criminals. Dr. Jennifer Melfi is a caring, educated, and ethical individual who helps make The Sopranos so darn good.
4. AJ Soprano
Although Meadow Soprano arguably has more influence and likely more screen time in the series, AJ Soprano is one of the most interesting and best Sopranos characters. Unlike Meadow, Robert Iler’s AJ is largely ignorant about what his father does. Even after discovering his father is not involved with waste management, AJ still has little idea who his father is, what he has done, what he is capable of, and mob life in general. That being said, he still occupies an intriguing and important space in the series.
AJ Soprano is ultimately the unintended victim of his father’s lifestyle. Born into the privilege Tony’s crimes have afforded his family, AJ floats through life, searching for meaning. In his quest, AJ flirts with a few potential meanings: having a family of his own, avenging his father who is shot and hospitalized, and even joining the Army. Ultimately, AJ is persuaded into the movie business by his parents in the final episode. However, as a character who is uncertain of his role in life, what life means, and what the rules are, AJ serves as a perfect albeit tragic counterpoint to Tony, who plays a certain and vital role in his family, business, and the show itself.
3. Christopher Moltisanti
Michael Imperioli’s Christopher Moltisanti is one of the best Sopranos characters for several reasons. He, like most of the other characters, is made up of contradictions, questionable morality, but somewhere beneath it all is a good heart. Like most of the men in Tony’s family, Christopher commits several wrongs during the series. However, despite his actions, Christopher is a victim of his ambition, substance use disorder, anger issues, and Tony Soprano. These issues make him captivating to watch. At times, Christopher is ready and willing to die for Tony while at others he wants nothing more than to kill Tony. Like Artie Bucco, Christopher is a character with huge potential, but he is constantly undermined either by himself or by Tony. Yet, in Christoper’s case specifically, both the potential and penalty are far greater.
2. Tony Soprano
Adding Tony Soprano to this ranking is self-explanatory. The man is the lead of one of the greatest and most intriguing shows to ever air on television. From the beginning of the pilot to the last moments of the final episode, Tony Soprano is a complicated and compelling character. Tony has passions and vices, promotes rules and chaos, celebrates greed and giving, loves his wife and his goomars, embodies toxic masculinity and occasional open-mindedness, and lives a life of secrets while engaging in years of therapy. He is both complex and simple, good and evil; he is a man who will destroy a person with or without intention. Quite simply, Tony Soprano is one of the best Sopranos characters because he is a wrecking ball of hypocrisy and charm that is played to perfection by the late, great James Gandolfini.
But if Tony Soprano is number two, who is number one?
1. Carmela Soprano: The Best of the Best Sopranos Characters
Edie Falco’s Carmela Soprano is quite simply a show-stealer. Carmela is charming, intelligent, emotional, fashionable, and flawed. At times, she is the typical mob wife: understanding and complicit in her husband’s actions and worried about who he is with at night. But at other times, she is the only character on the series who truly challenges Tony, who forces him to confront who he is and what he does. While her character is impressive in the beginning, she becomes a force by the end. Carmela goes through some of the series’ best arcs and grows from them the most. Every encounter and issue makes her wiser and stronger. Whether through tears, ultimatums, strong words, or her uncompromising will, Carmela Soprano knows how to get what she wants, which makes her a better boss and often more interesting to watch than Tony. Because of this and so much more, she is the best of the best Sopranos characters.
Honorable Mentions for the Best Sopranos Characters:
The Sopranos is a show with dozens of amazing characters. Some of the other best Sopranos characters who did not cut the top ten include Johnny Sack, Tony Blundetto, Meadow Soprano, Paulie Gualtieri, Bobby Baccala, and Corrado Soprano.
Fans of The Sopranos can catch up with their favorite characters in The Many Saints of Newark in theaters or on HBO MAX on October 1st, 2021.
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