The 20 Best Sopranos Characters, Ranked

When it comes to a show as expertly crafted and packed full of compelling characters as HBO's "The Sopranos," narrowing down a list of the best characters is a Herculean effort. Across all seasons of "The Sopranos," are just so many candidates, each with unique reflections of the show's themes of family dynamics, moral ambiguity, and the changing climate of post-9/11 America. Since the airing of its final episode in 2006, with an ending that perplexed viewers with it's famous "Don't Stop Believin'" moment, HBO's mob family drama has stood the test of time as a mark of quality yet to be matched or (surpassed) by any prestige television series. 

Thanks to a legendarily talented team of writers and directors who ignored the rules of television, led by show creator David Chase (who may be developing a sequel series in addition to the prequel film "The Many Saints of Newark"), it's not so difficult to break down exactly why the characters of "The Sopranos" continue to entertain and emotionally shatter us on every re-watch. We've tried to weigh these choices by how compelling their storylines are, how nuanced and insightfully they are rendered, and how they continue to speak to us long after that infamous cut to black in the show's hotly debated ending. 

Everything beyond this point carries a big spoiler warning: We can't delve into what makes these characters so fantastic without getting into some of the show's most iconic and memorable moments.

20. Little Carmine

In a lesser show, Little Carmine (Ray Abruzzo) could have been a purely functional character. As the son of Carmine Lupertazzi, the King of New York, he also could have been a textbook antagonist in a straightforward power struggle. But in "The Sopranos," Little Carmine is not a stock character but an earnest clown prone to nonsense and malapropisms.

Carmine is a master of mixed metaphors. He stumbles with phrases like, "A pint of blood costs more than a gallon of gold," or during a tense peace talk, "Certain incidents have expired lately." He means "transpired," but that's hardly his biggest mishap. His reference to the "sacred and the propane" and "I've had nine pictures under my subspecies" are worse. Then there are the instances where Carmine will speak for 30 seconds confidently and deliberately and yet convey no meaning whatsoever.

Carmine may get confused, but who's the fool here? By the show's end, almost everyone who mocked him is either dead, injured, or jailed. Carmine, meanwhile, is retired with his family, their investments, and numerous streams of cash. (Jack Hawkins)

19. Furio Giunta

In the show's second season, the DiMeo crime family grows its ranks with the introduction of Furio Giunta (Federico Castelluccio). As part of a deal scored by Tony on a visit to Naples, Furio is brought back to the United States and quickly becomes an indispensable member of the crew.

At first, the wonders of America are exciting and novel to Furio. His unflinching brutality on the job and loyalty to Tony bring him close to the family, and he soon becomes infatuated with Carmela. The feeling is mutual, and an unspoken romance blooms between Tony's wife and his right-hand man.

The longer Furio spends in the Italian-American world, the more he becomes disillusioned with his decadent new home and his employer. Tony's blatant disrespect for Carmela becomes a thorn in Furio's side, leading to a nail-biting sequence where Furio very nearly kills Tony by pushing him into the rear propeller of a helicopter during a drunken night out. We never learn of Furio's fate, as he flees the country after Carmela admits her affection for him to Tony.

We'd be lying if we said the idea of Furio and Carmela eloping to Naples wasn't an appealing one — but it wasn't meant to be. On the bright side, we get a loveable character who reflects the cavernous divide between the Italian and American Mafias. (Kyle Milner)

18. Tony Blundetto

Smart and personable but no less of a crook, Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) is an affable rogue, despite his violence. Blundetto appears in the fifth season after finishing a 17-year prison stint for armed robbery. Tony Soprano was supposed to have joined Blundetto, his cousin, but he missed the job due to a panic attack, although he claimed to have been violently mugged in the street.

Years later, after becoming boss and a millionaire, Soprano feels guiltier than ever about Blundetto's misfortune. He offers him a job managing a stolen airbag scheme, but Blundetto politely declines. Instead, Tony B has aspirations of becoming a licensed massage therapist. This marks Blundetto as the only hardened criminal in the show who makes a genuine attempt to go straight. After all, with an IQ of 158, he certainly has the brains to apply himself to many professions, but does he have the self-control?

Fun fact: this character actually changed the way Steve Buscemi chooses roles. (Jack Hawkins)

17. Johnny Sacrimoni

Johnny Sacrimoni (Vincent Curatola) is a killer like the rest of them, but there's a sense of class and professionalism to him. The bar is low, of course, but of all the tri-state gangsters we meet in the show's six-and-a-half seasons, Johnny Sack is among the closest to a businessman, for what it's worth.

There is a marked exception to Johnny's mannered veneer, and it's his wife Ginny, who gained a great amount of weight after childbirth. Almost all the wise guys are inveterately unfaithful, but not Johnny Sacrimoni. He describes Ginny as "Rubenesque." "To me, she's beautiful," he tells Tony Soprano. Naturally, his contemporaries are not so sympathetic. Ginny is the butt of numerous jokes, and when Johnny hears a particularly mean-spirited jibe by Ralph Cifaretto, he attempts to use any lever possible to see him killed. 

Johnny's not oblivious, though. Away from the crass jokes, he knows that Ginny is not healthy. They each have their vices, however: Ginny eats, and Johnny smokes. Together, they have a doting relationship with a commitment that is almost unheard of in their circles. (Bobby Baccalieri is the only other faithful mobster). (Jack Hawkins)

16. Gloria Trillo

In the show's third season, Tony (James Gandolfini) meets Gloria Trillo (Annabella Sciorra), a fellow patient of therapist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). Immediately taken with her, Tony successfully pursues Gloria as the latest of his many extramarital affairs. Although she only appears in seven of the show's 86 episodes, actress Annabella Sciorra delivers one of the most impactful and emotionally turbulent performances of the series as Gloria. Intelligent, confident, and independent, Gloria is arguably the one woman Tony Soprano could have plausibly left his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) for.

Unfortunately, complications of Gloria's personality disorder (which had caused the erosion of several past relationships as we learn in dialogue between Gloria and Dr. Melfi) lead to a tragic end for the character. After Gloria's jealous side begins to rear its head, Tony cuts their relationship off entirely. Fearing that Gloria will expose their affair to his family, he even orders one of his subordinates to threaten her at gunpoint.

In the fourth season, we learn that grief-stricken Gloria has taken her own life. It's a heartbreaking revelation for both the audience and Tony, who is haunted by Gloria's death throughout the rest of the series. Sciorra's performance as Gloria scored a well-deserved nomination for outstanding guest actress in a drama series at the 2001 Primetime Emmy Awards, and remains one of "The Sopranos'" most memorable characters. (Kyle Milner)

15. Artie Bucco

Alongside his wife Charmaine (Kathrine Narducci), Artie Bucco (John Ventimiglia) is best known as the co-owner and head chef of Vesuvio, an Italian restaurant popular with many of the show's characters. Charismatic and ambitious, Artie is a well-respected local figure. Underneath the charm, however, he's deeply insecure and wishes he could take part in Tony's less-than-legal enterprises.

His relationship with Tony is strained throughout the show. Most notably, Vesuvio burns down in the first season as a complication of a hit ordered by Tony's uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese). Although Tony hides his involvement in the incident and Vesuvio is rebuilt with insurance money, Artie eventually learns the truth through Tony's mother (Nancy Marchand) and never truly forgives his childhood friend.

John Ventimiglia's portrayal of Artie Bucco is equal parts charming and pitiful. In later seasons, Artie's desire to live a more extravagant life leads him into fruitless attempts at wooing younger women (including Adriana La Cerva, played by Drea de Matteo) and getting into crippling debt, which nearly leads to his death. He's a character you want to see succeed because he's good at heart, but his frequent self-sabotage is more cringe-worthy than anything else. (Kyle Milner)

14. Anthony 'A.J.' Soprano

One of the greatest parts of watching "The Sopranos" from beginning to end is watching the Soprano children (and the actors that played them) grow up from season to season. While Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigle) and A.J. (Robert Iler) are both great characters, Carmela and Tony's son ultimately takes this spot on our list.

From the early days of Mario Kart and bowl cuts to nightclubs and facial hair, Robert Iler does a fantastic job of capturing the troubled upbringing of A.J. Soprano. It's clear from the start that A.J. is cut from a different cloth from that of his father. He has little to no interest in becoming the heir to the mob family legacy and lacks the sociopathic edge required to survive in the business.

A.J. is sensitive and frequently struggles to meet his parents' expectations of him, not only at school but as a human being. Torn between old and new ideas of success and struggling to find a sense of identity amidst rapidly changing cultural, social, and political worlds, he's an excellent example of the post-9/11 American youth. (Kyle Milner)

13. Phil Leotardo

Phil Leotardo is a veteran mobster who returns to New York City in the fifth season after a 20-year stint in the can. Bitter and ill-tempered, he reminds everyone around him of his two-decade "compromise," which involves grilled cheese, radiators, and numerous tissues. Leotardo leaves jail the same hardened gangster he was in 1984, only now with a dangerous chip on his shoulder. He views himself as representing a mafia old guard with strict, masculine values, which translates to a brutal lack of empathy that is savage even by mob standards. 

It's a standout role from Frank Vincent, who plays Leotardo with a deadpan villainy that's reptilian but also dryly humorous. Quotes such as, "There are no scraps in my scrapbook," and, "Let me tell you a couple of three things" — each of them delivered with his blank expression — are lore for "Sopranos" fans. There's also his harassment of Joanne Moltisanti, Christopher's mother. He claims to be Christopher's friend from Alcoholics Anonymous, and when Joanne warily asks for his name, Leotarado says, "Well, we're anonymous."

The writers even find humor in Vito Spatafore's brutal murder, which Leotardo arranged and observed with sick pleasure. Days later, Leotardo consoles Marie, Spatafore's wife. First, Leotardo reprimands another man for watching a bodybuilding show on TV, which is hilariously inappropriate. Then, with all the emotional range of a wooden plank, Phil reassures Marie that he "loved him like a brother-in-law." Hatable and humorous, Leotardo personifies the show's excellent blend of drama and comedy. (Jack Hawkins)

12. Adriana La Cerva

Drea de Matteo is spectacular as Adriana La Cerva, loving partner to Christopher Maltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and under great duress, an FBI informant in later seasons. Adriana is an almost endless source of optimism and affection, bouncing back from countless instances of Christopher taking her for granted. It's impossible not to appreciate her infectious personality from the beginning.

When she's befriended by an undercover FBI agent in the show's third season, it's gut-wrenching to see her being taken advantage of to bring down Tony's crime syndicate. Her loyalty to Christopher initially keeps her from offering the authorities anything to work with, but as they apply pressure, she slowly buckles in the naïve hope of escaping with her boyfriend.

In a devastating but inevitable act of betrayal that still brings tears after all these years, Christopher ultimately chooses the family over his fiancé. Oh, Adriana. You deserved so much better. (Kyle Milner)

11. Bobby Baccalieri

In another life, Bobby Baccalieri (Steve Schirripa) may have been a cook or a butcher. But as it happened, Bobby was born into the DiMeo/Soprano family, a subculture of corruption and murder.

Bobby's father, Bobby Sr., was a formidable hitman who Tony Soprano nicknamed "The Terminator." Bobby Jr., however, is a sweet old bear of a man who begins his career as Junior Soprano's helper and servant. Bobby cooks, cleans, and drives for Junior with an easy, "aw shucks" demeanor that is endearing but not commanding.

However, with his steady loyalty and eventual marriage to Janice Soprano, Bobby rises through the family to become Tony Soprano's friend, confidante, and underboss — despite the cabin fracas in upstate New York. It's a curious trajectory that finally subsumes Bobby in the moral abyss around him. He may be kind, he may be a committed father, and he may have a quaint love of train sets, but Bobby is a senior organized criminal complicit in racketeering and murder. (Jack Hawkins)

10. Janice Soprano

On the surface, wayward hippie Janice Soprano is the antithesis of her younger brother Tony, but truthfully, the reason they clash so much is that they're more similar than either would care to admit.

Played by Aida Turturro in the series and Alexandra Intrator in the prequel film, "The Many Saints of Newark," Janice is a frequent issue for Tony. After many years of soul-searching, the eldest Soprano sibling returns to Newark to care for her elderly mother in the show's second season.

She becomes romantically involved with several members of the DiMeo crime family, including Richie Aprile (David Proval), Ralphie Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), and Bobby Baccalieri (Steve Schirripa). One of Janice's finest moments is her murder of Richie Aprile after he strikes her during an argument, gaining Tony's respect and proving that she's just as much a Soprano as her brother.

Janice might be frustrating as a character, but Aida Turturro's performance is arguably one of the show's best — especially during the moments in which Tony and Janice set aside their differences and reflect on their shared experiences as the flawed Soprano children. (Kyle Milner)

9. Carmela Soprano

Let's be honest. Edie Falco is such a good actress, she would've made a more mediocre character sing anyway. However, Carmela Soprano is one of "The Sopranos'" many examples of a great character brought to life by a fantastic actor.

Far more than just the quiet trophy wife of a mobster, Carmela Soprano is a complicated woman. While she's right in her criticisms of Tony's violent and opulent lifestyle, she certainly doesn't mind turning a blind eye when it comes to that lifestyle's spoils — a point that frequently drives a wedge between the couple throughout the show's run.

Carmela's complicated relationship with her husband's line of work is deeply compelling, and it's hard to resist rooting for her when she's tempted to stray from their marriage when Furio appears on the scene. Despite her mistakes, she's an intelligent, highly independent woman who tries her best to keep her family together through even the most nightmarish scenarios. (Kyle Milner)

8. Vito Spatafore

Vito Spatafore, played by Joseph R. Gannascoli, doesn't factor into "The Sopranos" in a major way until the show's third season. When Vito is caught in a compromising situation with another man in the fifth season, the ensuing story arc makes him one of the show's most memorable characters.

Vito is an effective earner, steadily rising up the ranks of the family throughout the series, but when he's caught dancing provocatively in a gay bar in the show's sixth season, Vito knows he has no choice but to flee or face certain death as a response to his bisexuality.

The story arc involving Vito's escape to New Hampshire where he falls in love with Jim, a local diner cook, is one of the show's most compelling examples of character writing. Torn between embracing his true self and giving up his cushy mob lifestyle, Vito serves as a prime example of the Mafia's conservative ideals clashing with modern progressive reality. (Kyle Milner)

7. Livia Soprano

Anyone would be forgiven for hating Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) — especially her son. Manipulative and cruel, Livia looms over Tony even after her passing thanks to a lifetime of put-downs and guilt.

Despite putting on the appearance of being a helpless widower, she conspires with Junior Soprano to have her son (unsuccessfully) killed in response to being moved into a retirement village. Her gradual mental decline in the second season is (guiltily) more than a little satisfying after seeing how she treats those around her. She's a superb villain, and the way she expertly gets under Tony's skin is incomparable to even the most deadly adversaries he faces in the show's run.

Livia was based on show creator David Chase's late mother, Norma, and the personal touches in conjunction with Nancy Marchand's performance are what makes her so effective. Vera Farmiga also knocked the role out of the park in the prequel film, "The Many Saints of Newark" as a much younger Livia. (Kyle Milner)

6. Paulie Gualtieri

Paulie Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) is one of the DiMeo crime family's oldest and most loyal members, having served under both "Johnny Boy" Soprano (Joseph Siravo) and his son Tony. He's undoubtedly one of the show's biggest sources of comic relief, but Paulie also has some of the most compelling story arcs in the later seasons.

Despite his constant wise-cracking (and iconic cackle), Paulie is ruthless in the field. He's also incredibly stubborn as best depicted in one of the show's most beloved episodes "Pine Barrens," in which he and Christopher almost freeze to death in the New Jersey wilderness after botching a hit. In fact, there are a bunch of episodes that are great simply because of Paulie.

As the series progresses, a much more emotional and superstitious side of Paulie is revealed. When he learns his beloved elderly mother (Frances Esemplare), may not be his real mother, Paulie is bereft and outraged, proving that there's a frightened young boy hidden deep down in many of the show's staunch Mafia men. (Kyle Milner)

5. Ralph Cifaretto

Ralph Cifaretto is a deranged dandy who is flamboyant, charismatic, and pathologically awful. He joins the show in the third season after a drug-fuelled period in Florida, and it quickly becomes apparent that Ralph is not just a hardened criminal but a dangerously unhinged psychopath, too.

Cifaretto is especially noxious while drunk or high, and we see the full extent of this in "University," the sixth episode of season three, which shows Cifaretto's brief fling with Tracee, a vulnerable young stripper at the Bada Bing, Silvio Dante's club. 

One evening, during a debauched party at the Bing, Tracee mocks Cifaretto's masculinity in front of his peers before heading out the side door. Ralph follows her and Tracee tells him she is pregnant. He leans in, caressing her face as he talks of love and the future. It's a ruse, of course, and Ralph proceeds to mock her with crude insults. When Tracee hits him, Ralph beats her to death. It's such a disgusting episode that Ariel Kelly, the actress who played Tracee, recalled many viewers canceling their HBO subscriptions. (Jack Hawkins)

4. Corrado 'Junior' Soprano

Tony's uncle Carrado, affectionately known as "Junior" to most, is without a doubt one of the show's most compelling characters, and he was also one of the most fun characters to write for.

With his father gone, Junior is one of Tony's few living connections to the old-school days of the DiMeo crime family. While their affection for each other runs deep, Junior's dwindling power becomes a point of contention for the pair in the show's first season, kicking off an ongoing feud that threatens to tear the family apart.

He might be a villain for much of the series, but Junior's relentlessly charming personality also makes him inherently likable, even when he puts Tony in a coma in the show's final season after his looming dementia causes Junior to mistake his nephew for a long-dead rival.

Junior's bond with Bobby Baccalieri (Steve Schirripa) is also adorable, even if he doesn't always treat Bobby with the respect or kindness he deserves. When Junior's mental state begins to significantly decline in the show's later seasons, the affectionate relationship between Bobby and Junior is among its most memorable. (Kyle Milner)

3. Jennifer Melfi

If there's any character in "The Sopranos" who can be considered an audience surrogate, it's Lorraine Bracco's Dr. Jennifer Melfi.

We spend a lot of time with Dr. Melfi, and that is one of the show's blessings. Fans of "Goodfellas" will know that Lorraine Bracco doesn't need to be the lead to absolutely command a film or television series, and that's just as true here. As Tony Soprano's therapist, Melfi digs deep under the surface of Tony's complicated psyche, forcing him to confront his behavior and ways of thinking far beyond any mob boss's comfort level. Yet, Melfi is far more than just a prompt for Tony Soprano's introspection. She's a complex character in her own right, confronting some of the show's most important themes of identity and morality in the modern age. 

When Melfi is violently assaulted by a stranger in the show's third season, she's faced with an incredibly difficult moral dilemma: She could enlist Tony's help and get violent justice, but she'd be condoning the very criminal behavior that she finds abhorrent in her patient. Melfi's ultimate decision is one of the show's most controversial moments, but it's a truly powerful stance from an all-time great character. (Kyle Milner)

2. Christopher Moltisanti

Tony's nephew Christopher (Michael Imperioli) is handsome, charismatic, and has a clear vision of the man he'd like to become. Unfortunately, he's also the king of self-sabotage.

It's hard to name the single best story arc involving Christopher Moltisanti because they're all superb. What makes Christopher such a brilliant character is his determination to make everybody proud, even if he constantly falls ten steps back for every step he takes forward. 

From his attempts at breaking into Hollywood as a screenwriter to his struggles with heroin addiction to hunting down his father's killer, Michael Imperioli delivers one of the show's most nuanced performances. You can't help but root for him to conquer his demons, even if those demons are usually self-created. 

Infamous scenes like Christopher's intervention and his accidental smothering of Adriana's dog while intoxicated are just a few examples of how simultaneously hilarious and dark the character can be, and Michael Imperioli takes that writing to the next level with his deadpan delivery. (Kyle Milner)

1. Tony Soprano

It feels like cheating to choose the protagonist and namesake of "The Sopranos" as its best character, but there's no way around it. Tony Soprano is not just the show's best character, he's one of the greatest characters in television history.

Driven by an incomparable performance by the late James Gandolfini, Tony constantly straddles the line between infuriating and loveable. It's not uncommon for long-running shows to run out of ideas for their lead, shifting the focus to more under-developed supporting characters or spiraling off into spin-off shows, but thanks to David Chase's insightful and multifaceted explorations of the modern man and the post-9/11 Mafia boss, "The Sopranos" effortlessly carries its audience through all of Tony's trials and tribulations.

It's not easy to pull off an antihero in the way "The Sopranos" does with Tony. There's no denying he's a monster who commits countless acts of violence against his enemies and even his loved ones. By so intelligently exploring and confronting the complex mechanisms of how people like Tony Soprano come to be and continue to succeed in our world, we are rewarded with a legendary television series that continues to inspire and entertain long after its final moments. (Kyle Milner)

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