Welcome to Random Power Rankings, a weekly column devoted to counting the best of whatever we feel like. This week, we debut with the top 13 fictional owls.
Last year, I read the HARRY POTTER series for the first time, and made reference to Hedwig’s place among the greatest fictional owls. After Andy pointed out a couple owls I had forgotten, I realized that I needed to do a deep dive into the catalog of fictional owls with serious consideration for each one’s place in history.
This was a difficult list to create, with several agonizing choices, but I now present to you the definitive Fictional Owl Power Rankings. If you disagree with my choices or think I left out a worthy candidate, then you’re probably wrong, but comment below anyway.
Sammy the Owl (Rice University mascot)
Look, I have nothing against Rice, but it’s hard to have much respect for Sammy when he can’t even finish a watermelon-eating contest (note the girl trash talking him at the 1:16-1:25 mark: “He SHOULD cry”) and when he can’t beat two kids in some kind of paddle race.
The Owl (Marvel Comics); Nite Owl, Owlman (DC Comics)
Marvel’s Owl is primarily a Daredevil villain who got owl powers and became a crime boss after the IRS ended his career in finance, where his nickname was, I kid you not, “The Owl of Wall Street.” Missed opportunity, Scorsese. Furthermore, he has hollow bones but somehow also super strength? Yeah ok. I don’t get this character. DC’s Owlman and especially Nite Owl are a little cooler. Nite Owl is from Alan Moore’s legendary WATCHMEN series, a character with fascinating psychological depth. Owlman is intended as a counterpart to Batman in the Crime Syndicate, an alternate reality supervillain group. But ultimately, both are grown men who dress as owls. And sure, there comes a time in every man’s life where he wants to put on an owl costume, but that doesn’t mean they belong on the same list as the real things.
Professor Owl (various Disney)
He originally appeared in a pair of 1950s Disney cartoons, reappearing decades later as the host for Disney Sing Along Songs. He seems likable enough, but I have little available to judge him by. Besides, the role of “smart owl” is well-filled later in the list.
The Guardians of Ga’Hoole
I know, and I’m sorry. But I haven’t read the 15-book series or watched the Zack Snyder animated adaptation. According to Internet, maybe I should. Fans of these books (and/or the film) may complain that I cannot call my fictional owl rankings definitive without checking out an entire series about fictional owls, and they may even be correct. But blatant inaccuracy has never stopped me from making bold claims before, and I won’t let it now.
So now, on to the definitive list!
13. Big Mama
Big Mama is the owl who finds Tod as a baby, and remains a mentor to him after arranging his adoption by Widow Tweed. She tries to help Tod learn the realities of the challenges his friendship with Copper will ultimately face, and finds Vixey to mentor Tod in how to be a fox in the wild (and of course, the two foxes fall in love).
(HARRY POTTER series)
Pigwidgeon is the replacement animal that Ron Weasley gets after his former pet rat turned out to be a dark wizard henchman who helped get Harry’s parents killed. So in terms of not being evil, Pigwidgeon is certainly an upgrade as far as Ron’s pets go. But other than that, he doesn’t really stand out amongst the series’ prominent owls. He’s small and excitable and has a name that Ron hates, but comparatively, he’s slightly forgettable.
11. Friend Owl
Friend Owl is hardly the most important part of Bambi, but he gave us the “twitterpated” scene, and that alone is worthy of recognition. He grumpily warns Bambi and friends of the suddenness with which one can fall in love, and despite their assurances that they can resist, he’s proven correct in every case. We as a society don’t use “twitterpated” enough. Probably because Big Dictionary is trying to keep the little man down by refusing to recognize it as a word. But it’s still a word to me. Thanks, Friend Owl.
10. Woodsy Owl
I have a thing for old public service announcements, and Woodsy Owl is a forgotten classic. He came from the golden era of PSA animals teaching lessons to kids: bears taught us to prevent forest fires, dogs taught us to take a bite out of a crime, and owls taught us to not leave our shit laying on the ground. I think the reason Woodsy didn’t endure as much as Smokey and McGruff is his slogan. “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” scores points for rhyming, but most of his actual messages involve simple litter. “Don’t litter” is still a great moral to teach, but I’m not sure he ever made a dent in real pollution; a kid picking up his candy bar wrapper isn’t really going to cut down on smog alerts.
9. The Grand Duke of Owls
Seven Inches is your place for all things ROCK-A-DOODLE! Check out Andy’s drinking game rules for the 1991 cartoon, especially if you’re a fan of alcohol poisoning (look at Rule #1; I’m pretty sure “Chanticleer” is said about 762 times in that film). The Grand Duke is the movie’s villain and certainly has presence, helped immensely by the great Christopher Plummer lending his voice for the character, and I’m pretty sure he terrified me as a small child. So why isn’t he higher on this list? Because I’m (arguably) no longer a small child, and here’s the thing I learned about Rock-a-Doodle as an adult: it’s a fucking terrible movie. Allow me to explain. The Grand Duke wants to bring about an eternal night, because owls. How does one do that, you might ask? He distracts Chanticleer from crowing one morning, so the rooster can see that the sun comes up without him. So then Chanticleer stops crowing, which brings about unending darkness because the sun…CAN’T come up without Chanticleer crowing. Even though the way the Grand Duke stopped the crowing was because the sun COULD. The Grand Duke feels a lot less threatening once you’re old enough to realize that his entire damn plan is built on self-contradiction.
(HARRY POTTER series)
Errol was the Weasley family’s first owl in the Harry Potter series. You could argue that, like Pigwidgeon, he’s relatively unimportant, but Errol BRINGS IT in terms of comic relief. He’s an elderly owl with bad eyesight who crashes and gets lost often. Anyone with a heart finds him endearing, though Ron is embarrassed by him because he’s yet another example of his family’s lack of wealth. Note how Ron goes straight for the letter in the clip above and doesn’t even check on Errol after his crash. What a dick.
Owl is pretty clearly the least creatively named member of this list, but he scores bonus points for coming from a beloved staple of my childhood. Owl rarely stands out amongst the Winnie the Pooh characters: he doesn’t have the memorable traits of Tigger’s boundless enthusiasm, Piglet’s constant state of terror, or Rabbit’s sarcastic exasperation. But every once in a while, like in the clip above, he gets the chance to shine.
6. The Great Owl
SECRET OF NIMH came out in 1982, directed by the great Don Bluth, starting a run of animated classics by Bluth. And at least one non-classic, since he also did the aforementioned ROCK-A-DOODLE. But I wonder if part of the reason that the Grand Duke came into being was because of a desire to elaborate on what Bluth accomplished with the Great Owl: unleashing the chance for an owl to be terrifying. But while I ultimately thought the Grand Duke suffered from the plot around him, the Great Owl was a shot in the arm to NIMH. Watch the clip above. He’s nestled himself deep within a tree, covered in webs and surrounded by the bones of his former victims. He reveals himself like an elemental force, casually murdering a spider and towering like the king of the forest that he is. His voice exudes instant gravitas, courtesy of the late John Carradine. His eyes burn yellow and orange and can peer into the depths of your soul. There’s a good chance that the Great Owl is the last thing we all see before we die.
5. Mr. Owl
(TOOTSIE POPS ads)
Mr. Owl starred in this classic commercial for Tootsie Pops, in which he bites to get to the Tootsie Roll center. The ad holds up well, and has inspired a number of parodies. But Mr. Owl is a deceptively interesting character. This kid with the weirdly emphasized ass goes around asking various animals how many licks it takes to get to the center of the sucker, and each animal admits he’s never made it, and refers the kid to another. Finally, we arrive at Mr. Owl, whom Mr. Turtle has told us is “the wisest of us all.” This makes sense, since owls are associated with Athena, goddess of wisdom. And Mr. Owl is drawn to confirm this recommendation, wearing glasses (because glasses=smart) and what appears to be a graduation hat.
Now, let’s stop and consider that hat. Did Mr. Owl just graduate? Probably not, since the oldest animal (Mr. Turtle) recognizes his superior wisdom. Is he an owl professor or the administrator at an animal college? Perhaps; that would go along with the wisdom theme, and faculty often wear the graduation hats at their students’ graduation ceremonies. So did Mr. Owl just come from such a ceremony? Maybe, but who wears that hat around all day afterward? No, most likely, Mr. Owl is wearing a graduation hat because he’s not just smart — he wants everyone else to know how smart he is. I can relate; when I want to pretend to be smart, I wear my Oxford hoodie so people can think I’m an alum (I’m not). But being an owl, his attire options are more limited, so he probably keeps the graduation hat on year-round.
That analysis, combined with his voice inflection, leads us to the conclusion that Mr. Owl is arrogant. Pompous, even. That foreshadows what is about to happen. Whereas three previous animals all had the humility to admit their inability to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop by only licking, Mr. Owl has no such self-awareness. He grabs the Tootsie Pop from the ass-emphasized child, and begins to take his licks. He does not ask for permission, because he’s Mr. Owl dammit, it’s a fucking honor for him to lick your Tootsie Pop. One, two, three licks, he counts off. Then CRUNCH. He bites the entire rest of the Tootsie Pop off in one bite, leaving nothing but a bare stick, because never forget that he’s still a bird of prey. Mr. Owl cannot even recognize the possibility that he in any way might have faltered; the stick is bare, so it must have been three licks. There’s your answer, ass-kid, and here’s your stick back. Don’t litter, because I know Woodsy Owl.
4. Hoots the Owl
I’ll be honest: Sesame Street was not quite the foundational program for me that it has been for many kids. I certainly have nothing against it; I just have far fewer memories of it than many other childhood classics. But Hoots automatically gets a huge boost from being created by Jim Henson, who might have been our greatest human. Although he has other hits that would have still put him on this list, Hoots gets this high thanks to the embedded song above, the classic “Put Down the Duckie,” a legitimately rocking song with guest stars ranging from John Candy to Paul Simon to Danny DeVito to Barbara Walters. I could (and have) seriously listen to that all day. The Sesame Street band as a whole might not have been the equal of Electric Mayhem, but “Put Down the Duckie” is the most rocking puppet/muppet song ever. And that’s thanks to Hoots’ jazzy, bluesy, soulful show stopper. That is one cool owl.
(HARRY POTTER series)
We arrive at last to THE owl of the Harry Potter series. Hedwig is the first birthday present Harry has ever gotten, courtesy of Hagrid, and earns quick aesthetic points for being a gorgeous Snowy Owl. But Hedwig makes the top three more for her personality. She’s loyal and affectionate to Harry, which he needs during his summers with the abominable Dursleys. But she can also be delightfully surly, reacting with distaste when Harry makes an unappreciated comment or doesn’t let her out of her cage enough. She acts annoyed by Pigwidgeon’s hyperactive behavior, and offended when Harry can’t send her to deliver a letter because she’d be too recognizable. She’s smart, unlike poor old Errol. She must have been a little intimidating; when Harry gives her instructions to not leave without a reply from Ron and Hermione, they have scars to show for their noncompliance. Because ultimately, she’d do anything for Harry. As much as I loved the Harry Potter books, Hedwig’s death was improved by the film version. Whereas Hedwig is hit in her cage by a stray curse in the book, the movie (with a clip above) lets her soar free one last time, striking back at Harry’s attacker and selflessly diving in front of a curse aimed at Harry. That’s how an owl of Hedwig’s caliber should have gone out. Just try not to dwell on the fact that she had to die but the entire Malfoy family got to live.
Yet another entry with an accompanying Seven Inches drinking game! And we didn’t even coordinate this! As I mentioned in the intro, the idea for this list was born when discussing Hedwig’s place among the all-time great fictional owls. At that time, I had Hedwig second. You see, I completely forgot Archimedes, and that stain is something I’ll have to live with the rest of my life. Not my proudest moment. But watching Archimedes laugh in the clip above might be among my happiest moments. If we could all have one moment of such pure joy as Archimedes has laughing at Merlin, then our lives would be well-lived.
Archimedes was voiced by the late Junius Matthews, a veteran voice actor who also did the original voice of Rabbit in various Winnie the Pooh stories. Like with Rabbit, Matthews brought a sarcastic, biting sensibility to Archimedes. This helps Archimedes become one of the greatest Disney sidekicks ever (a list that will have to wait for another day). While Merlin is young Wart/Arthur’s primary teacher, he is also a forgetful old man whose magic often backfires. That leaves plenty of room for Archimedes to either mock the wizard (as above) or help make up the slack. He rescues fish Wart from certain death (Merlin certainly wasn’t going to), thereby saving the entire course of (fake) English history. Then later, he has to take over Wart’s education, both in how to read and to fly, and he stays with Wart after Merlin sullenly leaves.
Archimedes combines a lot of the best traits of other owls on this list. He has the brains of Mr. Owl, the sassyness of Hedwig, the parental instincts of Mama Owl, but adds more humor than any of them. He’s a great owl, almost impossible to top. Except by…
True story: when I was in grade school, I had a teacher do a whole series of lessons on Greek mythology. She made it fun and all us kids got pretty into it. After we’d learned a lot, every student had to do a report on a different Greek god or goddess. However, too many kids all wanted to be Zeus or Apollo or Poseidon, so she came up with some name-drawing order for us to pick our deity in a row, and I got to go first. With the entirety of Greek mythology available to me, I picked … Hephaestus. My classmates were bewildered. Why pick the ugly god who can’t even get a girl? (I just now realized how much this foreshadowed my high school experience.) Because Hephaestus created Bubo, and that was enough for me:
In the original 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS, Athena balks at giving up her pet owl, Bubo, to aid Perseus, despite Zeus’ command, and has Hephaestus forge a mechanical replacement Bubo — whom we should really consider the Bubo, since it’s not like the nonmechanical version does anything. Mechanical Bubo, on the other hand, rocks. The late Ray Harryhausen, the legend of technical effects in his final movie, created Bubo and the other various monsters in CLASH. Harryhausen’s stop motion style adds greatly to Bubo’s charm. Stop motion was rapidly falling out of favor at the time, which makes Bubo (and the whole movie) feel all the more like a throwback to a bygone era.
Bubo was the forerunner to Errol, making his mark in his first scene by being bumbling comic relief. But he becomes far more. The climax of the film has Perseus and crew trying to rescue the Princess Andromeda from the monstrous Kraken. Bubo somehow gets there first, because he can outpace a flying horse. The entire city is looking on in horror as the Kraken goes for Andromeda, but Bubo just flies right in and tries to take it on single-handedly. He gets smacked away, but succeeds in distracting the beast long enough for Perseus to get his lazy ass there.
Then, because Perseus is literally NOTHING without Bubo, he loses the Medusa head, and Bubo has to shake off a blow from a gigantic sea monster to go retrieve it so Perseus can finally save the day.
And that’s why Bubo is the greatest fictional owl ever. In a battle of gods and heroes and monsters, it’s a diminutive mechanical owl with a heart of gold who ultimately wins the day — and our love.