Back when The Sopranos aired on HBO during Sunday evenings, the FBI would intercept conversations on Monday morning between Mafia families under surveillance… and often they’d be discussing how much they loved the series.
Not only that, but those same Mafia members would wonder if the series had an insider from the Mafia world working with them. Such was the authenticity of The Sopranos and its characters.
The show changed modern television in so many ways with its cinematic approach and its harsh, unfiltered violence. The Sopranos became proof for the television industry that many ideas that were once seen as “too much” for TV could actually be successful.
Though the show centered on the life of Tony Soprano, the vast array of other characters on The Sopranos each had an important role to play with their own complexity, moral compass, and personalities.
Here are our picks for the best characters in The Sopranos, what they brought to the show, and why they’re so compelling.
10. Paulie Gualtieri
Better known by his nickname “Paulie Walnuts,” Paulie is one of the show’s best comedic characters. He’s a hard worker who believes in the sanctity of the life he’s involved in.
He knows the rules of the game as well as anybody, and he’s ruthless toward anyone who’d try and cross him—a fact that’s evident when he joins Silvio and Tony in killing their longtime friend Pussy.
His friendship and loyalty to Tony are one of the series’ staples. Tony has always been able to rely on Paulie for anything he needs taking care of. Though he can often be annoying, Paulie’s assertive nature and comedic timing made him a fan favorite on the series.
9. Silvio Dante
Tony’s right-hand man and closest advisor, Silvio Dante is the level-headed calm to Tony’s fury. He often gets Tony to re-think the choices he needs to make, showing him that sometimes there are other ways to handle tough or delicate situations.
When Tony is in his coma, Silvio becomes the acting boss of the family—a role he struggles with as its pressures cause him to have a panic attack. Silvio is a likable character who the audience often sides with during confrontations because of said level-headedness.
However, Dante is also responsible for one of the series’ most brutal murder sequences, as he ruthlessly kills Adriana La Cerva for being a rat. The sight of her crawling away from the car as he walks after her, pistol in hand, is one of the most evocative images in the show’s history.
8. Corrado “Junior” Soprano
Junior is Tony’s uncle and jealous nemesis on more than one occasion. His role in the series is to be seen as the boss of the family, when in reality he’s only in the position at Tony’s courtesy. He tries to have Tony killed during the show’s early run because he finds this out.
He’s a detestable figure in the show, one that nobody ever liked—and that’s partly what made him a great character. He was the pain from inside the family, the whining man who thought he was owed his place.
7. Christopher Moltisanti
Christopher became one of the tragic figures in The Sopranos. His role initially wasn’t part of the Di Meo crime family. However, he was desperate to follow in the footsteps of his father and willingly walked the path that Tony laid out, rising to the rank of captain.
His drug problems eventually pulled Christopher into a spiral he never recovered from, even as he tried for a long time. He was the reason why Adriana died, as he told Tony that she was a rat rather than running away with her as she wanted.
In the end, he went back to his drug habit—and Tony finished the job when they got into a car accident because Christopher was high. His death was hard to watch as we loved Christopher. He was a good person at heart, but unable to escape the life of his family.
6. Meadow Soprano
Meadow Soprano is Tony’s daughter, a young woman with unflinching moral fortitude and a close bond with her family—although those parts of herself were often fighting the other because of her father’s career.
What makes Meadow so brilliant as a character is that she’s all the strongest parts of her parents combined. Her intellect and cunning nature are all from Tony, while she has the forgiving constitution of her mother.
As she grows older, Meadow displays all the traits that could have made her the boss of the family one day. But Tony doesn’t want either of his children to be part of that life, and Meadow has no inclination either.
In the end, she’s Tony’s heart and a person he will calm down for, which is not something reserved for all members of his family.
5. Livia Soprano
Livia Soprano is Tony’s hated mother and an unforgiving, resentful woman who tries to have her son killed for perceived slights against her. She was a villain in the series who Tony couldn’t simply get rid of.
Her role in his attempted assassination broke her relationship with Tony, who refused to speak to her again after the incident. Her treatment of Tony through his childhood—seen in The Many Saints of Newark—caused him to detest his mother for always being a drag on the family.
She was nonetheless a wonderfully written character who gave Tony many problems by her mere existence. The look of horror on her face as he leans in close and tells her he will never forget what she did? One of the best scenes in the show.
4. Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Dr. Jennifer Melfi was the only person who fully knew the depths of Tony’s character—in many ways, she knew Tony better than even Carmela did.
As Melfi grew closer to Tony in the show, we saw more of her life and the complications she battled. There wasn’t a person watching that didn’t want her to tell Tony about her rape and where the rapist could be found, since he’d have had him executed on the spot.
Her refusal to do so told the audience everything they needed to know. Melfi couldn’t ask Tony to do that—not because she thought it was wrong, but because it would cross a boundary between them. This is why the audience, much like Tony, had unshakable respect for her.
3. Dickie Moltisanti
For those who have seen The Many Saints of Newark, Dickie Moltisanti immediately stole a seat among the best characters in The Sopranos. The father of Christopher and mentor to a young Tony, Dickie was a gangster with a code of honor.
He did things differently and stuck up for the people he liked. He kept his family close by at all times. He killed his father for how he treated his new wife, literally beating him to death inside his car before hiding the evidence in a fire.
Dickie was a likable guy. He tried to keep Tony in line, and when he knew Tony could have a life beyond the Mafia, he attempted to keep himself away from Tony too. Alessandro Nivola did a stellar job in bringing Dickie to life in the film, creating a character who impacted the series immensely.
2. Carmela Soprano
Few can argue that Edie Falco’s performance as Carmela Soprano wasn’t the pinnacle of television acting. She dominated the screen whenever she was on it, alongside James Gandolfini.
Carmela is Tony’s wife and the mother of his children, Meadow and AJ. Her strong personality often clashes with Tony’s, though they do love one another deeply. And despite their many vicious fights, when the chips are down, they display a unity few TV couples can match.
Carmela is fully aware of Tony’s life—and she stays out of it. She’s often the peacemaker between Tony and Meadow, as well as the loving mother to Tony’s more intense personality. Adored by fans, she has a strength that stands out thanks to Falco’s extraordinary portrayal.
1. Tony Soprano
Tony was the focal point, the lens through which we saw the entire series. Whether as a patient, a husband, a businessman, or a father, he was far from perfect—at times, he was even evil. But what made him so great was the human complexity in James Gandolfini’s portrayal.
He was the best character in The Sopranos, only just beating out Edie Falco’s Carmela. Why? Because he had to hold the series together, and he did it with aplomb. We were never sure what Tony would do in situations, as he was intelligent yet wildly unpredictable.
He loved his children deeply and he’d never hurt Carmela (despite wanting to on a few occasions). It’s that trait that gave Tony the love of the audience. He was relatable on that most human level, and no matter what else he did that was cold and brutal, he did it for his family.