What makes a good film protagonist

Hugh Farrell

From Forest Gump to Rocky Balboa, the great protagonists have been winning audiences over since the dawn of cinema. While the heroes may vary greatly there are some things that tend to stay the same to make a character great.

Ranker has the top characters of all time down as Indiana Jones, Forest Gump, James Bond, Han Solo and Jack Sparrow, as voted by the people and most of these well-established characters all follow similar traits. Besides Gump, the immediate pattern that stands out is suave, cocky characters that are able for any challenge.

The idea that these characteristics stand out is the idea that the hero has to be relatable. Seeing characters like James Bond, people want to be that cool. When people put on suits they even envisage themselves as the martini-swilling man of mystery. Even if the characters don’t directly follow how people are in real life, we get to see them in fascinating situations where we think “that could be me.” The escapism of the movies uses these characters to embody what and who we want to be.

The character arc is one of the most important aspects of a movie. When we watch a movie we don’t just want to watch James Bond in one big action sequence. We need to see the character grow to be able to face some seemingly impossible task. While Han Solo is the cool rebellious kind when we first meet him, he eventually grows to see the greater good and decides to be a part of something.

While their perception is important, the characters also need to be the ones to keep the story moving. If they have no direct impact on the events of the movie, they become redundant. The journey of a character should have some climax where everything they’ve learned in the movie comes to them making a decision that they probably wouldn’t have made before.

Arguably, however, the most important part of a character is how engaging they are. This is where Forrest Gump slots nicely into the analogy. How seemingly oblivious he is throughout the movie captures the viewer throughout. The likeability of him as a character comes from some kind place in his heart, where you’re happy to see his success and sad to see him in bad situations.

Finding what makes a character engaging is one of the trickiest things to do. So much of the time, their ability to be the protagonist seem intangable and it simply comes down to why they’re likeable in the first place but a character needs to feel in some way logical. This shows in films most hated character Jar Jar Binks. The character was completely exaggerated and clownish and is a lesson in everything a character shouldn’t be. There’s no positive way to engage with a character who’s over the top and has no logic.

If you do decide to make a movie and want an iconic character though, a good rule seems to be to give the role to Harrison Ford. He seems to know how to play them.
Hugh Farrell

Image Credit: Ironageinfo.com