On October 5, 2011 the creators of Glee debuted a new horror series on FX and it became an instant hit among casual horror fans. For the last 10 years, American Horror Story has run 9 full seasons (currently in its 10th), a spinoff series, and has featured a multitude of talented actors in a wide variety of different roles.
Its anthology approach made it so each season was its own miniseries, it allowed the series to explore many different locations and even time settings. So in honor of the series’ 10th anniversary today, we thought it would be fitting and fun to do a countdown of the Top 10 Characters from American Horror Story.
Note: We’re basing the criteria on three things: how interesting is the character, how much of an arc did they get, and how well they were portrayed by their actor? Given how many actors play multiple roles, there may be some who pop up more than once. Also, we’re not saying all these characters are the best morally, just the most interesting to watch.
10. Mickey – Red Tide (played by Macualay Culkin)
The only character here from the newest season, Mickey is a character who we discover is quite layered the more we get to know him. On the surface, he’s drifting through life, struggling with drug addiction and supplying Belle with a source of blood.
He’s even aware of everything going on with the Chemist and the pills, but smartly abstains after seeing what people turn into with it. But what really makes his character heartbreaking is what happens when someone offers to buy his screenplay and he’s just shaken to his core that anyone would find anything he did valuable.
Which makes his fate in that season all the more tragic. There’s also a real life relevance as this role was something of a comeback for Macualay Culkin, who avoided the spotlight for a long time, but demonstrates here how amazing of a performer he really is.
9. Michael Langdon – Apocalypse (played by Cody Fern)
The Antichrist remains one of the most feared villains among a large population on this planet, so playing that character well is no easy task. We’ve seen him portrayed as a child quite often in films like The Omen, but Michael Langdon is an Antichrist coming into his own and initiating the apocalypse itself.
When we first meet Michael, he’s suave, sophisticated, and ready to take his place as ruler of the world. But it’s in the episodes that follow, where we see him growing and coming into his own and accepting his destiny that he’s a really interesting character.
8. Madison Montgomery – Coven/Apocalypse (played by Emma Roberts)
Madison is the ultimate mean girl, and don’t get me wrong, she’s downright despicable. But given where she starts, she grows quite a bit from a stuck up narcissist in Coven to playing a major role in saving the world in Apocalypse. Plus Emma Roberts always did a great job portraying a character who’s mean on the outside because of how vulnerable she was on the inside.
7. Queenie – Coven/Hotel/Apocalypse (played by Gabourey Sidibe)
Queenie suffered more deaths than any character should on this series, and it’s because she’s such a great character that it’s painful to watch. In a season that deals with witchcraft, and the uncomfortable reality that Cordelia and her coven got their magic from witches of color, Queenie should honestly be the focus of this season.
She then goes on to toil with vampires and become a member of the Hotel Cortez ghosts. She was a character that always had a great wit and took no shit from anyone and it’s a shame her primary season didn’t focus more on her.
6. Tate Langdon – Murder House/Apocalypse (played by Evan Peters)
It’s very unlikely that a character like Tate would even be written today, given the multitude of real life school shooting tragedies. He’s a character who’s done horrific things, and while it’s admittedly difficult to reconcile what he’s done, his character arc shows a kid growing up.
He’s the epitome of the rebellious teen when he meets Violet, but after Halloween, he’s forced to confront (in front of her) what he’s done, and ultimately it’s losing her that causes him to take a deep look into himself, probably for the first time in his life (or death).
5. Iris – Hotel (played by Kathy Bates)
Initially, Iris seems like nothing more than a typical worker gliding through life while hating her job. But the more we get to know her, the more we see the decades of pain and regret that she lives with, that only now she’s trying to make up for.
Between the estranged relationship with her son, to the dynamic with the Countess that sees her go from loyal servant to plotting traitor. Iris is someone who made a lot of mistakes in life, and we see her not only acknowledge that, but try to make up for it in the present. She tries to make amends with her son, and winds up owning her position at the Hotel Cortez.
4. Benjamin Richter aka “Mr. Jingles” – 1984 (John Carroll Lynch)
When we first meet “Mr. Jingles”, he’s a terrifying serial killer who escapes the asylum and feels like the archetype of any scary story. But we learn that his story is filled with more tragedy than rage.
And it’s what he does after leaving Camp Redwood that makes his character so interesting. Being someone who lived in a world of violence and death, it’s kind of darkly funny, as well as poignant, to see him question why people like violent movies. Not because it actually leads to real violence, but because for him that’s quite triggering.
Benjamin (as he’s properly named) solidifies his place on this list in his final act of returning to Camp Redwood to make things right. And in the final episode when he’s reunited with his son, I challenge anyone watching to keep a dry eye.
3. Kai Anderson – Cult (Played by Evan Peters)
In a season that was admittedly clunky and struggled with subtlety, Kai is a standout as perhaps the most dangerous character ever on American Horror Story. Not because of what he himself could do, but because of what he was able to convince others to do.
Kai seems like someone you would immediately write off as crazy, but he has a real hypnotic quality that convinces seemingly ordinary people to do terrible things. He’s chilling, and frighteningly realistic, when you look at previous cult leaders and how they were able to go so far. He’s the very embodiment of all that is wrong in the world, and it’s really disturbing that despite that he’s able to get followers.
2. Lana Winters – Asylum (Played by Sarah Paulson)
Land is the perfect example of a character who goes through hell and comes out the other sider cleaner than before. She’s unjustly committed at Briarcliff, only to lose her partner, her job, her freedom, and almost her life. And when she finally manages to escape, it’s into the home of a serial killing rapist, only to land her back in the asylum.
Lana is a character who begins as a little bit cocky in her approach, only to be extremely humbled and face a series of challenges that she must overcome, and boy does she overcome them. She gets Bloody Face to admit his crimes on tape and gets that out to the authorities, then manages to escape Briarcliff itself only to return with an expose to save others who had suffered before her.
And while powerful entities (like the Church) try to silence her, she becomes a thorn in their side and reaches Katie Couric level fame in the world of investigative journalism. She even triumphs over her murderous offspring in her old age and it just goes to show that Lana Banana was Lana Badass all along.
1. Sister Jude Martin – Asylum (played by Jessica Lange)
I’m afraid my bias might be showing, picking two characters from Asylum for the top two spots, but name two characters more iconic than Lana Winters and of course Sister Jude Martin. Upon first meeting Jude, she’s every stereotype of every strict nun that was famous for assaulting children with rulers and oozing self-righteousness.
Given her backstory, it’s not surprising that she goes overboard with zeal and piety, but she definitely finds herself in a position of vanity and envy as she tries to elevate her own career with that of the Monsignor. It isn’t until she comes across a much worse person, literal Nazi Dr. Arden (aka Hans Grouper) and demonically possessed Sister Mary Eunice that she finds the hero in herself and begins to pursue him.
Eventually this leads to her losing everything and being committed in the very same asylum she once ran. In taking away everything from her, Jude finds strength in herself and goes through the most fascinating and poignant arc of any character on this series.
She’s a great example of how even people we don’t like often are layered and dealing with their own issues. And her ending as something of a grandmother to Kit’s children is a great sendoff that definitely brings tears to the eyes.
Which AHS characters are your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
To support the site, check out our Patreon and consider joining!