Image from True Romance - Val Kilmer as Elvis

Am I Seeing Things? The Best Imaginary Friends in Film

Life was much easier when we were kids, no real responsibilities, no credit card debts, you could get lost in a world of your own imagineering. This went with your friends too, lots of us had at least one invisible mate that we interacted with when we were young, right?

Anyway, psychologists say boys tend to invent male friends and girls female ones, unsurprisingly. All pretty innocent stuff when you’re a kid, but once you move into adulthood hanging out with an ‘imaginary friend’ will likely get you a formal invite onto a cosy psychiatric ward.

However, Hollywood has long championed the fictitious companion, films featuring characters that were kind of there, and kind of not. With that being said, here’s our list of the best imaginary friends in movies. Oh and be aware, there are spoilers contained within.

Fred in Drop Dead Fred (1991)

The imaginary friend in this dark fantasy comedy is an out and out trouble causer, that’s why the perfect person to play Fred with his anarchic brand of humour was the late comedian Ric Mayall.

He’s the green jacket adorned companion of Lizzie (80s dream girl Phoebe Cates). As a child, she trapped Fred in a jack-in-the-box after he was particularly bad, but he’s released into her adult life to help make things even worse for her by sinking a friends houseboat and generally causing chaos.

But all is not lost as there may be a method to this all out madness, with the destructive events eventually leading to Lizzie overcoming her repressed emotions and combating her cheating hubby and her abusive mother. Nice work Fred.

Harvey in Harvey (1950)

Credit: Universal Pictures

This charming comedy stars James Stewart as the unassuming  Elwood.P Dowd, perhaps the nicest man you could ever hope to meet. People think Elwood is a little bit strange, mainly because of his best friend who happens to be a large invisible rabbit called Harvey. Or to be precise a Pooka, which is a shapeshifting goblin in Celtic mythology.

The town folk play along, mainly down to the fact Elwood likes to have a drink or two, or three, you get what we’re saying. Things get difficult for him and Harvey when Elwood’s sister Veta and niece plot to have him committed. But the plan backfires when Veta admits to the head psychiatrist that on occasions she sees Harvey herself, leading to her getting committed in his place.

From the film, we find out Harvey has the ability to stop time and go anywhere he likes with anyone. So he’s a handy invisible pal to have around, even if all and sundry think you’re completely mad for having him as a mate.

Lloyd the bartender in The Shining (1980)

Everyone needs a good barkeep in their lives, someone there to pour a drink when the chips are down and offer sage words of advice and a comforting shoulder to cry on. Lloyd, the bartender in The Shining is just that.

He’s the sounding board for Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) the caretaker to the spooky Overlook Hotel. After having brought his family to the isolated hotel to take care of the property over the winter and cure his writer’s block the hotel starts to consume him, and his son Danny begins to have ever increasing horrific visions. Danny also has a friend, but of the invisible type, often speaking to a man named Tony, nothing creepy about that.

Regarding our man behind the bar in the grand ballroom, a moment spent having a drink and a chat with Lloyd is a moment of sanctity for Jack Torrence, despite the fact he’s very much losing his sanity. But that’s not Lloyds fault, he’s just doing his job, and well. As Jack puts it in the film,

“You were always the best of them. Best God damned bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine. Or Portland, Oregon for that matter.” 

Frank the rabbit in Donnie Darko (2001)

There’s more than a nod to the aforementioned Harvey in the wonderful 2001 film Donnie Darko. Although the big bunny in this is a little more on the frightening side.

This tale of time travel and troubled teens set during the presidential election of 1988, sees our titular lead character Donnie sleepwalk out of his house one night where he meets Frank the tall demonic-looking rabbit named Frank, who tells him that the world will end in 28 days. When he gets back to his house a jet engine has crashed straight into his bedroom. All leading to questions about tangental universes and timelines and mental health.

Frank is seen manipulating Donnie throughout the film, as he tries to help the teen put right skewed universal timelines, or of course he could just be a big freaky bunny in his head? Who knows?

Donnie Darko and Frank the rabbit sitting in a cinema from film Donnie Darko

Credit: Metrodome

The Film & TV

Eric Cantona in Looking for Eric (2009)

The only famous imaginary friend on this list comes in the shape of legendary French footballing enigma Eric Cantona.
Eric Bishop (former The Fall bassist Steve Evets) is a football fanatic postman whose life is descending into crisis.

But after a short meditation session with fellow postmen in his living room, and smoking some weed stolen from his stepson, some hallucinations (must have been strong stuff) bring the philosophical figure of his hero Eric Cantona into his reality to offer him lots of good advice. The footballer helps him rekindle love with his ex-wife and see off the head of a drugs gang.

We could all definitely do with some of Eric’s words of wisdom at times.

Captain Howdy in The Exorcist (1973)

We all know that cult horror classic The Exorcist is about 12-year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) and the demonic force that inhabits her body. What many might not remember is that she refers to said demon with the cosy name of Captain Howdy.

His rather unscary moniker is revealed after Regan plays with an Ouija board and contacts a supposedly imaginary friend, leading to some strange activity from her daughter that leads her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) to take her to see a psychiatrist. Although the answer to their growing problem lies in priests rather than pills.

Director William Friedkin put a one second shot of Captian Howdy into the film to scare the lives out of people. As you can see from the image below Captain is more imaginary foe rather than a friend, not someone we’d like to hang about with.

Captain Howdy from The Exorcist.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Elvis Presley in True Romance (1993)

In decidedly less scary territory comes Clarence Worley’s (Christian Slater) imaginary mate in the brilliant True Romance. In the movie, Clarence is visited by his idol, Elvis (played by Val Kilmer), although the Presley Estate wouldn’t allow the use of any of the King’s music so the character is referred to as ‘Mentor’ in the credits.

And mentor he does, although we’re not sure it’s typical advice. During a couple of scenes, he lurks in the background wearing a gold lamé suit jacket, offering heartfelt advice. In one pivotal chat, he convinces Clarence that killing a pimp (Gary Oldman) by shooting him in the face will “make the world a better place.” If you say so Big E, thank you very much.

Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999)

If you’re reading this and are the one person left who hasn’t seen Fight Club, firstly have you been living in a bubble impervious to cultural events? Or maybe you’ve just never fancied it, well it’s good, so watch it. Anyway major spoilers lie ahead. So the film is narrated by depressed salesman Ed Norton (credited as The Narrator), he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) when he sits next to him on a plane. Throughout the film we get lots of clues that Tyler may be a figment of our narrator’s imagination, that’s because he is.

Tyler Durden is an anarchist of an imaginary friend who tries to get Ed Norton’s character to become more honest with himself about his life. To do this Tyler ‘helps’ him to blow up his apartment, leading to the narrator moving into Durden’s palatial hovel. And then onto the creation of an underground fight club led by them where fellow men can live out their primal urges by beating lumps out of each other. Things quickly escalate with members of the club becoming agents for chaos as they try to bring the system down from the inside.

Brad Pitt and Ed Norton in Fight Club

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Tyler Durden represents the Narrator’s inner self and the freedom every person wants to achieve. And if you have to cause a bit of chaos by blowing up a city to achieve that, then so be it (N.B. The MALESTROM doesn’t condone such actions).

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