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How To Make A Great Movie Hero

Aug 28, 2008
A film's protagonist can be the most important part of the puzzle when creating a great film. A great director, script or setting can be ruined if the central character, the hero, is badly cast or acted. Film characters can be as important as the actor who is cast, with some actors rescuing poor films while good actors face a futile challenge when cast as a badly conceived character.

When super-hero movies were making a big comeback, Halle Berry would have been forgiven for thinking that Catwoman would be a big hit but hindsight would point to the opposite. Weak characterisation and a non-existent storyline made the film a critical and box-office failure, while Batman, Superman and Spiderman have made a success of a similar plot. So, what makes a movie's hero successful?

A movie's success can be largely attributed to a well written script, with realistic characters and a strong plot-line. The film's hero must have some, if not all of the following characteristics: likable, believable, sympathetic, heroic, spirited, vulnerable and courageous. These traditional elements will help turn a movie character into a great movie hero.

Many of the most quintessential movie heroes are based on the main attribute of courage and heroism. Obviously, the term heroic will be evident in all movie heroes, but generally will be shown in adventurous, risk-taking and dangerous behaviour. This is epitomised by the characters of James Bond and Indiana Jones.

Massively different, yet representing comparable characters, the British secret agent and American archaeologist bear many similarities. Bond is charismatic, smooth and charming while Jones appears a rugged, brash and trying hero. Despite their superficial differences, they both risk their lives for their job and attempt (successfully) to seduce every female that they come across.

Although these characters appear vaguely realistic, they are fundamentally similar to the super-heroes of comic-book movies. Superman, as the name suggests, is one of the ultimate movie heroes in terms of powers and what he tries to achieve. Despite the obvious lack of realism regarding his strengths and abilities, Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent are based strongly in a believable and likeable human character.

The everyman character that enables the audience to empathise with them is the perfect movie hero when possessing additional characteristics or talents that elevate them above the supporting characters. Superheroes are traditionally normal people who transform into their more powerful, exceptional and 'special' self.

The heroic character will be represented in physical form by the super-hero, Batman, Superman or Spiderman, while the moral heroics will be evident in the human form of Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent or Peter Parker. All three of these characters possess the 'everyman' qualities of likeability without displaying traditional characteristics of an adventure-story hero.

Bruce Wayne is shy and introverted with little charisma or charm, depicted in the Batman movie by Michael Keaton. His quiet, softly-spoken persona removes him from the Batman character that we see in the same movie as he adopts a new personality when he wears the physical mask and suit. This Bruce Wayne is very similar to the Peter Parker as depicted by Tobey Maguire in the recent Spiderman movies.

Adversity plays a key role in the triumph of an heroic protagonist as they battle physical or emotional trauma in order to succeed. Russell Crowe's Maximus in Gladiator overcomes tremendous physical hardship as well as the murders of his wife and son before eventually gaining revenge on the film's antagonist. Although set in ancient Rome, the everyman character induces a tremendous amount of audience sympathy for the character's struggle.

A great movie hero is someone that fights their problems, not only physically, and despite any adversity maintains dignity and pride throughout the struggle. One of the most popular movie heroes to have demonstrated these qualities include To Kill A Mocking Bird's Atticus Finch who, despite social disapproval, defends a black man accused of rape. Finch is entirely impartial in the case and represents the conscience and good nature of the human race, in contrast to the judgmental and discriminating town members.

A hero's role within the movie is to represent the audience on-screen and act in a way that depicts the emotion and feelings that the viewers are experiencing. If this is achieved, then the hero will be successful, whether they possess superpowers, moral weakness or is just an everyman. To make the ultimate movie hero, the story will encourage an audience's empathy while maintaining the hero's position as a figure of unattainable and enviable power.
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