Most of the faceless minions seem to exist only to carry things, threaten the heroes, and be beaten (or run away) at the end of the story. They are stock characters in both fantasy and science fiction stories. They can be clever or oblivious, inflexible or cowardly, depending on the needs of the story.
There have been some movies lately focusing on the minion. Igor (2008) told the story of one mad scientist's assistant who was more intelligent than the scientist and wanted to be one himself. Two other charming animated films appeared in theatres the same summer (2010): Despicable Me with its crowds of short overalled minions, and Megamind with *one* minion (named "Minion").
Now, much as I liked Igor and his fellow minions, I *really* liked the minions of both Despicable Me and Megamind. The two types couldn't be more different, though. Minion of Megamind is an alien fish in a giant armored suit. He/It is smart, loyal to his childhood friend, supports his zany plans but yet is not afraid to tell Megamind when he has gone offtrack. He also seems to be a good actor (as much as a fish in a giant armored suit can be with just a wig and an apron). In one scene he clearly is the equal of his friend.
The minions of Despicable Me, however, have been created by Gru. Together in a group, they look alike - overalls, goggles, yellow skin and a few hairs - and speak a very strange language. However, they do have individual differences - some are tall, some short, some have one eye, others have two - and individual names that their creator Gru knows. They are loyal to Gru, but the personalities of each vary. Some are very smart; others are childlike and amused by the odd things (as shown on a separate DVD with three mini-movies).
In each movie, as soon as the audience meets the minions, you know these villains (Megamind and Gru) are not all bad. They can't be. Both Minion and the little minions are just too *nice* to be loyal to a truly bad person. And Megamind and Gru obviously care about their minions - unlike other villains and their faceless armies of supporters.
Often minions exist to demonstrate the overwhelming force of the villain. After all, what would any conqueror be like without their enormous army? Minions carry out the villain's plan and follow his or her orders without question. The few times in literature or film that they dare to question orders, they are usually killed (there are always more minions to replace them). The ability to have that many beings fear the villain emphasizes his or her power.
But I did enjoy seeing villains with minions who actually argue with them. Minions who are cute and cuddly in their own right.
Have you come across any memorable minions?
By the way, Despicable Me 2 will be released sometime in 2013.