The institute unveiled its ranking Tuesday night of the top good and bad guys in American film on the CBS special "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Heroes & Villains."
Finch, played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 classic, was a faultlessly noble widower raising a daughter and son amid Southern racial unrest as he defended a black man accused of raping a white woman.
"I think Atticus Finch just represents the goodness all of us want to see in others and feel in ourselves," said Jean Picker Firstenburg, the institute's director. "This is a hard time in human history, and we look for the bright spots that show us the way."
Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was No. 2 on the heroes list, and Sean Connery's James Bond from "Dr. No" came in third.
Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins in the 1991 thriller plus the sequel "Hannibal" and the prequel "Red Dragon," was a delectably fiendish serial killer who boasted about eating a man's liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) of "Psycho" was second on the bad-guy list, and Darth Vader (played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) placed third for "The Empire Strikes Back."
Arnold Schwarzenegger, host of the AFI special, was the only actor to place essentially the same character on both lists. His malevolent cyborg from "The Terminator" was No. 22 among villains, while his nice-guy cyborg in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" placed 48th among heroes.
"I am absolutely ecstatic about it," Schwarzenegger said. "To say you are one of the 50 favorite villains and one of the 50 favorite heroes in the history of American motion pictures, that is unbelievable, and I felt very honored."
Rounding out the top 10 list of heroes, in order: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), "Casablanca"; Will Kane (Gary Cooper), "High Noon"; Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), "The Silence of the Lambs"; Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), "Rocky"; Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), "Aliens"; George Bailey (James Stewart), "It's a Wonderful Life"; and T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), "Lawrence of Arabia."
The rest of the top 10 villains, in order: the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), "The Wizard of Oz"; Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"; Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), "It's a Wonderful Life"; Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), "Fatal Attraction"; Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), "Double Indemnity"; Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), "The Exorcist"; and the Queen (voiced by Lucille LaVerne), "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
The 100 heroes and villains were chosen from 400 character nominees on ballots sent to 1,500 actors, directors, critics and others in the movie business.
The heroes list included one dog (Lassie in "Lassie Come Home," No. 39), two comic-book heroes (Superman in the 1978 movie version, No. 26, and Batman in the 1989 film, No. 46), and loads of real-life figures.
Along with T.E. Lawrence, heroes based on real people included Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) in "Schindler's List," No. 13; Norma Rae Webster (Sally Field) in "Norma Rae," No. 15; Mahatma Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) in "Gandhi," No. 21; Gen. George Patton (George C. Scott) in "Patton," No. 29; and Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) in "Erin Brockovich," No. 31.
The villains list contained a range of non-humans, including the HAL 9000 computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey," No. 13; the murderous extraterrestrial in "Alien," No. 14; the shark in "Jaws," No. 18; and the Martians in "The War of the Worlds," No. 27.
Humanity as a whole made the list: "Man," whose encroachment menaced forest wildlife in "Bambi," ranked as villain No. 20.