Jennifer-as-The-Hunger-Games-Katniss-Everdeen-jennifer-lawrence-31068372-1920-816“If you think, for just one second, that you’re getting a smile out of me, you are LOCO, ESE!”

Today I’d like to do something different. I talk a lot about concept on this site, coming up with an exciting idea that’s easy to market, but concept is nothing unless it’s paired with a memorable main character. In fact, one can argue that people come to the theater more to see the characters than they do the movies. An idea is merely a construct, a vessel to tell your story. But a character, a character is a “real person,” someone who can be our best friend, a role model, or somebody we see ourselves in. In that sense, you want to give both the concept and character equal weight. They must both be great.

Unfortunately, whereas a concept often comes to us out of the blue, creating a memorable character takes time. You need to figure out their history, their fears, their flaws, their views, their secrets, their relationships, and anything else you can about them. You also need to make them relatable, identifiable, interesting, and most of the time, likable. Most writers don’t spend enough time doing this. They think if their hero’s dishing out cool one-liners, they’ve done their job. But creating a truly memorable character that resonates with readers (and hopefully, audiences) takes a ton of work. So what I’d like to do is look at the top 10 movies from last year and their main characters. I’m going to highlight those characters’ key qualities and see if there aren’t some commonalities we can identify which we can then apply to our own characters. I recommend you pay attention. These are the movies audiences spent the most money on last year. Obviously, they’re relating to these characters for a reason.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Main Character: Katniss Everdeen
Character Breakdown: Just like the first movie, Katniss is painted as the underdog, which is one of the easiest ways to get an audience to root for a character. She’s also great at what she does (the whole bow and arrow thing) which audiences love (someone who’s mastered their skill). She’s smart, craftily getting herself out of tough situations. And she’s selfless, constantly worried about others over herself, another quality of likable heroes. The only thing that trips me up about Katniss, something I’m surprised audiences didn’t care about, was that she was devoid of any personality. Not to mention a bit grumpy. Maybe the reason it still works is because those qualities are motivated. People are dying. She can’t save them all. You’re not exactly trying out your latest stand-up routine when faced with everyone you know being killed. But yeah, it is strange to see the hero with the least personality at the top of this list.

Iron Man 3
Main Character: Tony Stark
Character Breakdown: The charming rogue is a proven audience favorite that’s been around forever. Just like in real life, we like people who are charming. So if you’re good at writing charming characters, you probably want to incorporate one into your script. Another big thing about Tony Stark is the wish fulfillment factor. I’m not referring to the superhero element, but rather Tony’s attitude. Tony Stark is confident as hell and doesn’t give a shit about what anybody says. We all wish we could be that person. So when we’re watching Stark, it’s like we’re watching who we want to be. That’s exciting. Note, however, that this doesn’t work if the character isn’t also charming. If they’re an asshole, then this “confident and doesn’t give a shit,” attitude can actually backfire on them. You always need good traits to balance out the bad ones.

Main Character: Anna
Character Breakdown: With these traditional animation films, it’s imperative that the hero be likable. Anna is sweet, kind, adorkable, and just like Katniss, an underdog. So they definitely covered all their bases. She’s also fearless. She’s too young and inexperienced to pull off the job she’s been given, yet she goes after it anyway (audiences love characters who aren’t afraid to take on tough tasks). And remember that it’s not just what’s on the outside that makes a character. It’s what’s going on inside. And with Anna, she’s dealing with a ton of conflicting feelings stemming from the trauma of losing her sister. What’s going on in your character’s life that’s affecting them?

Despicable Me 2
Main Character: Gru
Character Breakdown: Out of all the protagonists in the Top 10, Gru was the riskiest to write. He’s actually a villain (or started as one in the first film), but like any “bad” character, if you make them funny enough, we forgive them (balance out the bad with the good!), and Gru’s “perpetually annoyed” sense of humor keeps us laughing throughout. He also loves children. And it’s pretty hard to hate a character who loves children. The writers also do a good job of highlighting what’s missing in Gru’s life (a woman). If you put a huge emphasis on what it is your hero’s missing, we, as an audience, inherently want to stick around to see if they get it.

Man of Steel
Main Character: Clark Kent
Character Breakdown: Superman is the ultimate wish-fulfillment character. It’s why he’s the most popular superhero of all time. We all wish we could be Superman. On a deeper level, this version of Superman explores themes of having to hide who you really are. That’s a battle that speaks to a lot of people, and therefore very relatable. Remember that if you can make your hero relatable in some way, readers are going to latch onto him.

Main Character: Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock)
Character Breakdown: If we don’t like Ryan, not a single aspect of this movie works. The whole thing depends on us wanting her to survive. How did the writers tackle this? They had Ryan recently lose a child. Not only do we feel sympathy for someone who experiences loss, but notice how that event informs every choice Ryan makes. Yes, this movie is about a woman trying to survive. But it’s also about a woman deciding if she wants to live. Each choice tells us that she wants to keep going, that life is still worth living. And it’s not always easy. There are times, like in the Chinese space capsule, where she doesn’t think it’s worth it anymore. Gravity reminds us that the external battle is fun, but it’s the internal battle that really draws us in to a character.

Monsters University
Main Character: Mike
Character Breakdown: Well lookie what we have here. Another animated film, another underdog playing the protag. Mike’s character also embodies a lot of struggles people are going through in their daily lives. He wants to fit in. He wants to be accepted. These are things we all want, so we feel close to Mike. One final thing to note is that Mike isn’t a sad sack whiner about his underdog position in life. The underdog character usually works best if he’s a fighter. What we love about Mike is that despite all his limitations, he still tries his hardest.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Main Character: Bilbo
Character Breakdown: Even J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote this book back in 1937, understood the value of an underdog. Both Bilbo and Frodo are the ultimate underdogs. They’re the smallest people in the land, tasked with going on the biggest journeys. The most memorable moments in the Hobbit films to me, are when Bilbo is outmatched, yet still figures out a way to prevail. Whether it be from giant spiders or a game of wits. Tolkien also uses Bilbo as a way to explore themes of temptation (the ring!), which is obviously something we all relate to. I will say, however, that out of these 10 entries, Bilbo is the least interesting protagonist of the bunch. The Hobbit films have always been about their immense cast of characters. They’re not as “hero-driven,” which is probably why they work despite the lack of a truly memorable hero.

Fast & Furious 6
Main Character: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)
Character Breakdown: A character that tends to work a lot is the “dangerous charmer.” Think of them as the “bad boy” girls are always attracted to. They’re fun at first, but ultimately screw you over. That kind of danger is exciting to the ladies, and exciting to us moviegoers as well, which is why we love Dominic Toretto.

Oz The Great and Powerful
Main Characters: Oz
Character Breakdown: Oz isn’t exactly the most likable character. He’s a liar and a cheat. But the great thing about writing a fallible character with major flaws, is that you get someone a lot more complex than your garden variety hero. Not everything’s on the surface, like, say, Anna, from Frozen. Which means you have more places to go with the character. Just remember, this kind of character still needs a sliver of likability somewhere, so we don’t write him off as an asshole. With Oz, it’s his charm. If you can pull that combination off (a hero with issues who still has a sliver of likability), you’ll probably have a hero that wins readers over.

So what did we learn here? Obviously, underdogs play well with mainstream audiences. Who doesn’t like to see the little guy succeed? We got hooked on this device all the way back when our mothers read us “The Little Engine That Could” as a child. So if you can work an underdog into your script, do it. I also realized that there were a lot more “non-traditional” heroes in the top 10 than I’d thought there’d be. We have Oz, Dominic, Tony Stark, and Gru. Goes to show you don’t need to write an angel hero to appeal to the masses. AND, if you’re going with the not-so-likable main character, it’s a great idea to make them charming. Charm helps mask a lot of a character’s more damning traits. Finally, I learned that there’s a bunch of ways to skin a cat. You can’t plop down a universal hero that works in every story. Each story has its own set of requirements and therefore its own unique set of characters. Once you figure out what kind of story you’re writing, ask which kind of hero best fits inside (the rogue, the goodie-two-shoes, the trickster) and that’ll be the character you go with.

  • Mondo Protag

    Very interesting article, though I would posit that the biggest reason some of these films made over a billion dollars has little to do with their protagonists.

    Frozen, for example, succeeded on the strength of its soundtrack, followed by audience trust in the Disney brand.

    Fast & Furious 6 was a hit because of its stunts/sfx/action sequences. The same thing could be said of Gravity.

    This isn’t to discount character, entirely. Despicable Me 2 most likely hit paydirt because the marketing emphasized the absolutely hysterical Minions, the film’s supporting cast.

    The only film on this list I think drew audiences in based on its protagonist is Iron Man 3. The case could be made for the Hunger Games, but as much of that success is owed to the popularity of the books and the audience’s infatuation with its lead actress. Iron Man was never as big a title as some of its Marvel brothers pre-film. Chalk up its current popularity to the writing of the series. Tony Stark is one of cinema’s great swashbucklers, on par with Robin Hood, Zorro, Han Solo, Jack Sparrow, and all the rest. You hit the nail on the head by talking up how essential it is that the rogue and charm parts of the charming rogue characters be balanced. If we can learn how to do that, we’ll have a character whose fun to write, and fun to watch!

    • ScottStrybos

      I really liked this article, but I agree that what drew people in to these movies was, most likely, not an identification with a protagonist (except perhaps Katniss Everdeen). What attracted an audience was either the franchise or the spectacle.

      However, what makes a character earn the audiences support is still at work in all of these people.

    • Randy Williams

      I know many, including myself, who thought the idea of seeing “Iron Man” was low brow or just not on their radar. Yet, Tony Stark was making the rounds, hitting page six, and was someone you just had to know.

  • Dale T

    I wish there were more Mike Wazoski type protagonists, those tend to be my favorite. The ones who are so full of life and are determined to reach their goal and are brimming with so much innocence, that you cheer hard for them to succeed and wish to protect them from the criticisms of the world. And your heart would break if you saw them give up.

  • paul

    Man of Steel was terrible. I don’t know why that’s on this list. Superman the brand and special effects will bring the audiences….this is one of those examples like Transformers where audiences will show up no matter how stupid the movie is.

    • G.S.

      Superman is one of this interesting stories where the premise and character are virtually one. That’s partially why he’s so difficult a character to write. Most writer-types I’ve talked to about him usually end up asking where the drama can be with an invincible hero. And the key is the same as with other characters. You make his foe the polar opposite of him. Superman’s biggest conflicts are internal.

      And I think Man of Steel did a masterful job of peaking under the cape in the origin story. There are so many big questions being asked that we can identify with – Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Will I be accepted? And Man of Steel packs Clark’s character full of “flaws” juxtaposed against those questions. “I’m an alien. I don’t know why I was sent to Earth. I want to help people but they’re afraid of me/reject me.”

      As opposed to the Christopher Reeves version where these elements are very minimal and he just seems to up and decide to fight crime one day, this version amps up all of those things and we get to see what really drives him to become a superhero. He has to overcome his doubts and fears in order to truly answer those questions and win the day.

      And while I didn’t agree with the way they killed his father, it made sense within the context of the story. In the Reeves version, the message seemed to be about him not having the power to save the one he loves, culminating in the horrible “turn back the world” ending. In this version, fear of rejection (as transferred to him by his father) was what held him back which had to be overcome by going public with his abilities.

      I actually don’t understand why people are so down on Man of Steel. I think it’s the most interesting take on Superman I’ve seen.

      • ChadStuart

        There’s a great bit in one of the comic books (I can’t remember which one) where Lex Luthor claims he can defeat Superman with a single sentence. So, at the end, Luthor tells Superman “You can’t keep us all in a bottle” (referring to the city of Kandor). It breaks Superman, who falls to his knees.

        Superman’s greatest weakness is that he can’t protect all of us all of the time, no matter how much he wants to. His perfectionism is his greatest flaw. It was actually gracefully touched on in Donner’s “Superman” when young Clark realizes that with all of his powers, he couldn’t stop his own father from dying.

        And, to me, that’s what “Man of Steel” got so wrong. By giving him all these feelings of alienation they took away his single, greatest, most appealing quality, i.e. that he loves the human race unconditionally. He’s been built up to be a Christ character (origins are Moses) over the years, and we respond to him for the same reason we continue to look to Christ en masse. Superman is the best example of us, and we all strive to be like him.

        The drama and conflict comes in the fact that as great and as powerful as he is, the one thing he wants most, a normal life and relationship with Lois Lane, is something he can never have. Not because he’s an alien, but because our own flaws constantly put us at odds, and he needs to step in to save us from ourselves.

        • G.S.

          I agree wholeheartedly that Donner’s Superman (and Superman as a character in general) wants to protect everyone. I don’t see that as “perfectionism”, but more a highly developed sense of justice – which we love in him. But I disagree just as much about “Man of Steel”‘s alienation theme. Alienation doesn’t invalidate love. It highlights it. I don’t feel alienated from groups I don’t want to be a part of. Clark wants to be “normal.” He wants to be a part of the greater human experience precisely because he loves humanity. In the same vein, it is his love of humanity that drives him to want to save us all. “Man of Steel” looks at how he learns to try and do both – to live in both those worlds (Superman saves the day and then shows up as a new reporter) rather than float about between the two (the oil platform scene). At least as an oil worker, he could meld into regular humanity. But it was unfulfilling because he knew there was much more to him and what he could do for the world.

          We certainly look to Superman as a shining example as a culture. But it makes more sense that humanity’s INITIAL view of him is with suspicion. People didn’t recognize Jesus as a Christ figure when he first began his ministry. Admiration and trust are won over time. A guy showing up that can bench press a train definitely would invoke fear (or at least trepidation) as a first response. Just because WE know he’s good, doesn’t mean that the people of that world would know automatically. “Man of Steel,” as an origin story, reads more ‘real’ because of that. Pa Kent’s fears are true on some level and we know it. So Clark’s initial reticence at revealing himself is equally so.

          • ChadStuart

            But, to me, making his father be the progenitor of that fear of alienation then removed the teachings the character normally endows upon his adopted son. Clark’s sense of justice is historically derived by a good old fashioned American upbringing, steeped in morals and values. They lost that in “Man of Steel”.

            An easy fix would have been to transfer those fears to Martha. Typically, mothers are the ones who fear what the world will do to their children. If she were the one preaching to hide who he is, and his father was the one who accepted the fact that he was “sent here for a reason”, then I would have connected much more with the character. (And then we wouldn’t have been subjected to that awful scene where Jonathon dies saving the damn dog.) Not to mention, it would have given Martha more of an arc.

            I agree with you that to feel alienated, it has to be from a group you want to be a part of, but they didn’t sell that in this movie. They hit the themes of alienation so hard, and didn’t touch on his love of people enough, that it disconnected the character from the very roots of who he is. By using Zod as the main antagonist, it gave him a choice to be part of who he really is, as opposed to truly being the last of his people, and desperate to be part of a group.

            All of that and the fact that the action was loud and repetitive was what really turned me off. Just as Bryan Singer needed to learn there was more to Superman’s powers than lifting, Snyder needed to learn there’s more to them than punching.

          • paul

            Somehow, the Donner Superman was just so charming and likeable, whereas Snyder’s Superman was not. That’s a great point about his greatest weakness is that he can’t save them all and also the point about alienation of the new superman. The new superman also had a big wasted opportunity when the movie made Lois Lane aware of Superman’s identity from the start—it took the fun dynamic of “Oh superman! Clark’s an idiot” dynamic that was so fun in the first. It may also come down to execution. Snyder’s superman had all the subtelty of a Jackhammer. I guess I know what they were going for, but their superman was just so grim and unlikeable that I really did not care if he saved the day….. in fact, I kind of wished he got an azz beating. Compare that to Donner’s superman, who you just enjoyed being in his company. Who didn’t think his taking Lois Lane on a leisurely flight over the city was romantic? Or that Donner’s superman was very patient with Lois, kind to people and above all—just. Snyder’s superman was snapping necks and doing other wtf moments. I was just riveted by Superman 2 from start to finish…..the Man of Steel just felt like non-stop punching into buildings. There’s got to be some kind of screenwriting lesson as to why one version is so much better than the other.

      • Franchise Blueprints

        Umm I was depressed after watching Man of Steel. That was Superman in costume and title only.

    • garrett_h

      “Man of Steel was terrible. I don’t know why that’s on this list.”

      Carson said: “So what I’d like to do is look at the top 10 movies from last year and their main characters.”

      I doubt there’s many people that’ll think he picked it for it’s great character development or story in general. It’s one of the top 10 films from last year. It’s a pretty forgettable movie. Still, Kevin Costner hilariously tried his best to win an Oscar with that “let the tornado kill me” scene.

  • Robin the Boy Wonder

    GRAVITY would’ve sucked without Superman…

    • Franchise Blueprints


  • witwoud

    Off topic, but I watched Frozen last night and thought it was shockingly bad. One of the worst animations I’ve ever seen. The feeble plot might have been improvised by a child playing with her Barbies. But it’s the highest-grossing animation ever. What’s going on? Is it just me?

    • leitskev

      I got through the first 25 minutes. The plot was so ridiculous, it was losing my interest rapidly. The older sister stayed away from the younger because she could not control her magic…but the younger sister could not be told this? Why? And they couldn’t even talk through the door? I hung in until the coronation, but the story never recovered my interest or my confidence that it would make a bit of sense.

      • Trimegistus

        You-go-girl plot plus a big musical number which can serve as a metaphor for coming out of the closet = critical and box-office mojo.

        • witwoud

          Yeah, that makes sense. Sigh.

    • Nicholas J

      Because what it lacks in plot (which is a lot) it makes up for in the two lead characters. Also, the animation is great, the songs are solid, and it gets back to the style of old school Disney animated movies which brings in a nostalgic adult audience, yet it also takes those old school Disney movies and updates them for today’s audiences — most notably when Anna saves the day instead of a kiss from a prince.

      Could it be better? Yeah, but apparently it doesn’t need to be.

    • wlubake

      I’d agree that it feels like a mess at first. But my two kids have watched it maybe 25 times since getting the DVD, and I’ve caught about half of them. Those things bother you much less on repeat viewings. I remember thinking: “Tangled was so much better, but it didn’t seem to kill the box office like this.”

  • Stephjones

    The more I learn about writing the more I resist being ” moved” by the obvious. If it has a strong whiff of “audience being manipulated to like this character because…” Then I refuse to become engaged.
    That’s the problem I have with some of the recent animations such as Despicable Me. Even the Minions couldn’t hold my attention throughout. I shut it off halfway and have no desire to see how it turns out. The manipulation was overt. But, maybe it has to be that way for children? At any rate, the manipulation factor now extends beyond animated movies and has resulted in a marked decline in my enjoyment of recent movies. Ironic, yes?
    I also just watched Gravity. I fast forwarded through a lot of it. Could see how it could be a stunning visual experience as 3-D but watched it on a 7 inch DVD player. Story was overtly manipulative, IMO. Instead of tension and conflict I felt ennui.
    Maybe it’s just me.
    Sometimes our reactions to entertainment, be it book, movie or music can be colored by a general mindset. Right now, I need a vacation and am grumpy. Hard to like anything and if I feel pushed I want to push back. But, despite this, I feel like ” popular” movies and characters will forever be beyond my ability to write. I just can’t seem to force myself into a well worn groove and don’t feel talented enough to reinvent the wheel to a point where I rise above the masses.
    See. Told ya I was tired.

    • walker

      Hey, watch it now. Stay off my turf. I’ve been cultivating the tired-grumpy-need-a-vacation demographic for years now.

    • JakeMLB

      All screenwriting is manipulation. Good scripts just don’t make it obvious you’re being manipulated.

      • Stephjones

        Agreed. I guess what really irks is when I can sense the gears grinding in the writer’s room when they try and make despicable characters likable. Not necessarily compelling, but actually sympathetic.
        The Breaking Bad character is an example. Bound to get crucified for hating this show but I tried to watch it. Bought the first season. Watched 3 episodes. NEVER felt that the character was motivated by anything other than finally having an EXCUSE to be bad. It never felt noble or self sacrificial so he never became sympathetic. Just a bad guy wannabe finally able to rationalize his bad behavior.
        Felt the same way about Dexter. After 3 episodes. Not interested. Actually a little irritated by the writer’s expecting us to find a serial killer sympathetic because he only kills the bad guys.
        Now maybe there’s more to these shows than that but I resist these sorts of stories like I resist religion, despite a common thread found in all. Justified, rationalized bad behavior is still bad behavior.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Fell asleep twice watching Despicable Me in movie theater.

  • Randy Williams

    Looking back over the movies I saw in 2013, the character that remains most indelible in my mind is the mother in “The Conjuring” wonderfully played by Lili Taylor.

    She embodied warmth and humanity, and yet was made even more vulnerable- the scene where the little girl blindfolds her.

    She was put through a wringer, small twists at first that she tried to tackle alone (don’t they all?) and then that force taking her and you questioned whether anyone had the strength to bring her back from it.

    and then a physical action that defined her. A farm house mother on the porch bringing her children in from the dusk with a clap of the hands. But, not in this story.

  • leitskev

    I would like to discuss the “active” hero or main character, if anyone is willing to contribute. I’ll share some early thoughts to get it going…this is an area I’ve given some recent consideration on and would really appreciate hearing what others think.

    The conventional wisdom seems to be that a main character must be “active”, and a lot of weight is put into what active means. There is strong opinion out there that a character should not only have a big internal need, but a clear and powerful goal, and that the key events of the story should be initiated by his own action. I think it bears looking into this, especially in regards to the “reluctant hero”…which might be the most common kind of hero.

    For example, Neo from the Matrix. His destiny is to be “the one”, but he wants no part of it. To the extent that he does, it’s only to please Morpheus. In fact, the whole drama spins around the importance of Neo finally accepting that he is “the one”. His lack of goal is at the very heart of the story. It’s true he has a need when we meet him. He suspects there is more to the world than meets the eye and wants to know…and he has a need to escape his slavish cubicle life. But he does not pursue these goals. In fact, he is dragged out of that life kicking and screaming. When he finally chooses truth over unreality, it is a choice forced on him.

    In the Hunger Games, Katnip is active in that she chooses to represent her state in the games in order to save her sister. But that goal is forced on her, and after that every decision is one of mere survival.

    In the Hobbit, Bilbo wants nothing but to stay at home. Gandolf wants to rekindle the spirit of adventure that once existed in the younger hobbit, so he practically forces him to join them. Actually, that’s why this story doesn’t work, so not a good example.

    We don’t want our characters to be static. Giving them a powerful internal or external goal is one way to avoid that. But it’s just one way, and I think sometimes people get immersed with too much theory and these things take on more weight than they need(not Carson, who has a pretty flexible approach, which is why I come here).

    The reluctant hero often works, I think, because he resists change…resists the goal. Which is kind of passive. We see his potential to play the hero, to become the hero, and we want to see it fulfilled. The most important obstacle that has to be overcome is his very reluctance to accept that goal. This works whether the hero is reluctant because he is humble and unambitious(Neo) or because he is a scoundrel and selfish(Hans Solo, Oz).

    The reluctant hero takes initiative…but only when forced to by events. That makes him active in my book, as long as he takes initiative. But to many in the screenwriting field that are trained to seek an active hero, the idea seems to be that a hero which does not initiate events on his own is a passive character. I think this might be a mistake. I think it’s a meme that’s out there, taught in film schools and by gurus, but one which is widely contradicted by the evidence.

    • G.S.

      You’ve hit on an interesting wrinkle to the rule, but I see it more as a refinement to the old adage, than a subversion of it. Maybe the real key is that the hero needs to make decisions. Whether or not he is “forced” to make them would be a function of the story. After all, what is the inciting incident if not the hero being forced to become active in a direction he wasn’t expecting or has been avoiding?

      Neo’s goal (initially) was to understand the Matrix and leave the confines of his old life. He may have resisted in various instances, but he followed the white rabbit to find out about the Matrix. He chose to take the red pill. He chose (though not in as direct a fashion as the other two situations) to train with the crew to become an operative. And he definitely chose to go in after Morpheus. These were all the pivotal moments in the overall story as well as his journey to becoming the one. While his goal was a little nebulous, it was still there. He still wanted something and was making choices in that general direction.

      Similarly, Katniss wanted to protect her sister and made the choice to volunteer. Then her goal was to survive and she made various choices along the way. While not necessarily pushing the story at times (hiding in a tree) it showed who she was and what she wanted. She wasn’t a killer. Jumping into the fight like the “careers” would have been contrary to character. So in a way, you could say her choosing to be passive in that moment was her actively pursuing her goal to avoid having to kill anyone. She wanted to survive, but keep her soul as clean as she could while doing so.

      And I disagree on the Hobbit. Remember, they left without him. He chose to sign the contract and chased after them. Once he was all in, he got absorbed into the group and simply adopted the leader’s goal. But his alienation from the rest of the group (being an outsider) and his self doubt was constantly being brought up. So every day he DIDN’T go home was showing a choice he made.

      All these examples, though, are quite different from the Indiana Jones model of “active”.

      • leitskev

        I like your style, G.S., I think we’re not far apart at all. Part of the problem hinges on what is meant by “active”…and another problem might come down to the concept of ‘more’.

        Active is said to be a good thing…and more of something good is better, right? Well…let’s say someone gave notes on the Hunger Games script and demanded the hero should be “more” active. The writer might have created a Katnip that dreamed of playing in the games. That would be a mistake.

        Let’s say a guru suggested Neo be “more” active. The writers might have constructed a Neo that was aggressively hunting down what the Matrix was and solving clues along the way. It works better the way it is because the idea of being suddenly pulled from what we thought was reality is compelling. We imagine how we would feel if in Neo’s shoes. You can’t do that with an active hero trying to uncover the matrix. It would have been a mistake.

        Likewise, let’s say Neo aggressively fights the Matrix after being pulled out of it, eagerly embracing his superhero side. This would be a “more” active hero. But it would ruin the mystery(is Neo the One?), and it would make the character less identifiable. The reluctant hero is more identifiable because he is us…the little guy pulled into the story and told to play a big role.

        I’m just saying we have to be careful. As you said, they can’t all be Indiana Jones…and they shouldn’t all be. Stories work for different reasons. :Part of the dynamic can be creating a need in the audience to want to see a character DO something. This might require him to be passive for a long time…before he/she finally breaks out and does what he needs, takes charge. Neo is pretty passive the whole movie…until he says he’s going into the Matrix to rescue Morpheus…which is probably the turn into three!

        • G.S.

          Exactly. This ties right in with the article’s lightly touched idea of story and character being co-dependent, rather than independent, elements of a great (or at least lucrative) screenplay. Rudy and Neo are diametrically opposed on the “active” scale as typically discussed. Rudy wants to play for the Irish SO BAD! Neo wants to understand the Matrix, but all this stuff is crazy! (insert Neo vomit scene) “Let me out!” Neither of these screenplays work with their characters reversed.

          This is an important point for us to remember as we get those “more active protag” notes. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to change the character and their motivation. As best as I can tell, it’s all a matter of whether the protag is “actively” making decisions that advance story or character, or preferably both.

          And thanks for the compliment. I prefer a meeting of the minds to a verbal slugfest.

          • leitskev


            If you ever want to exchange reads and notes on a script. I already have a good network for that, but you seem particularly insightful.

        • JakeMLB

          To me, the simplest and most obvious conceptualization of being active is making a choice. Being active doesn’t necessarily mean PRESSING the action. It can often be as simple as making a choice. Even if these choices are forced upon our heroes or obvious given what we know of our character’s personalities. Our characters are quite literally defined by the choices they make: both large and small.

          As you point out, reluctance is often a hallmark of many protagonists. But being reluctant to begin the journey is quite literally Campbell’s REFUSAL OF THE CALL in the HERO’S JOURNEY. As pointed out by Nicholas’ comment, in the classical HERO’S JOURNEY, the CALL TO ADVENTURE is almost always external. Something HAS to change in the life of our protagonist to push them out of their comfort zone but it usually requires an active CHOICE by the protagonist to heed the call. Katniss volunteers. That’s a significant, active choice made by our protagonist. Similarly with Neo, he wanted to know what the Matrix was. He made the choice to play along. Even if that choice was simply to settle his curiosity.

          But I totally agree with you that the active protagonist has become somewhat of a meme. I think where it gets thrown out a lot is simply in response to bad writing. We see our hero reacting to a lot of external forces and so it’s easy to say that the hero isn’t being active. And while that may be true, there are countless examples of protagonists reacting to external forces but the difference is probably in the execution. Successful scripts have strong characters whose personalities are well established, even if they might seem simplistic. So even when they’re reacting to forces, they’re reacting in a way that we understand. Or they’re making small choices that surprise us, intrigue us or do in fact push the action in a different direction.

          I also feel that “reactive protagonist” is also code for boring story. Remember, the story engine isn’t always being driven by the protagonist. If the story isn’t moving, it’s probably easy to point to the protagonist and boil it down to “he/she isn’t being active” when really it’s just a boring scene with no stakes and no thematic or story relevance. You’ve probably heard it said countless times, but with notes you have to take the spirit of the note and not the note itself. If we hear reactive protagonist, it probably points to issues both of character and of story.

          • JakeMLB

            I’m rambling now but thinking this out loud. A lot of the issues of active protagonist really come down to story and plotting. You need a strong character with strong wants/needs, the ability for that character to change but initially resistant, and a strong opposing force with strong opposing wants/needs who is staunchly resistant to change. Set that up and you’re almost guaranteed to have action. Of course, that’s the hardest part.

          • leitskev

            Excellent points all around. I find nothing to disagree with. Maybe something to add.

            The story engine itself can be linked to the character’s passivity/activity. It can have a proportional relationship. For Indiana Jones, the more active the better since it’s a golden fleece story.

            But for The Matrix, Neo needs to be passive…until the time he is ready. It has an inverse and necessary relationship to the engine. What drives the story is our wanting to see if Neo is indeed the one…and wanting to see him except that. His resistance to this is a passivity…and it is totally required. If he were to be made active in the second act, it would ruin the story engine.

            Sure, he mad a choice in the first act, and he was curious about the Matrix. But he’s by no means an active character. He’s a shy guy that works in a cubicle, lives in a tiny apartment, hardly leaves his room. When given the choice between reality and unreality, he chooses the red pill…but he had not pursued that choice…it was thrust on him. Once out of the Matrix, there is nothing he pursues for the entire second act. He is trained. He’s almost forced into the training. He doesn’t even flirt with the girl, he doesn’t ask to see the Oracle. He’s on a bus ride called the second act and he never pushes the button to get off.

            I do believe you are onto something with things being code for boring story. But I also think it’s true that a lot of people with some level of training in this field have been sold on the idea that a character has to be active, and that being active means he’s driving the narrative…or at least trying to, even though things might be going a different way. And I think like a lot of things, it’s the result of people learning theory or hearing wisdom, but then never examining to see if this actually true of most films.

          • JakeMLB

            There is certainly more than one way to skin a cat. Part of what makes the Matrix work is that we’re learning the world along with Neo. And as you point out, there is still an engine driving the story forward.

            If we’re being honest, Neo isn’t exactly a great character and it’s probably for some of the reasons you point out. But as others have said, these type of characters work IF in the third act they become active — and that’s exactly what happens. Morpheus is largely driving the second act but it’s Neo in the third who decides to go rescue Morpheus after the latter’s kidnapping. And it’s not until Neo accepts that he isn’t the one that he becomes proactive.

            Hunger Games is kind of the same in that respect. Once Katniss is on the train we’re mostly watching her react until the third act. But throughout the film she’s still making small choices to show us her personality.

    • Gregory Mandarano
      • leitskev

        Timely, since I am attempting my first fantasy.sci fi novel as we speak. Thanks.

        • Gregory Mandarano

          Good luck! Writing a novel taught me a lot about screenwriting. I’m sure you’ll have a productive experience.

    • Nicholas J

      “But to many in the screenwriting field that are trained to seek an active hero, the idea seems to be that a hero which does not initiate events on his own is a passive character.”

      I don’t think this is true. The inciting incident is your bolt of lightning, and doesn’t need to come from the protag, in fact it probably shouldn’t. Jaws attacks, Buzz Lightyear shows up, etc. It forces your protag to become active. So your entire plot is based on your protag reacting to something, and then taking action based on that something.

      This can go throughout the whole script. Protag does something to fix the problem of the inciting incident, which doesn’t work, because a new problem arises, and protag then reacts to the new problem by taking action to fix it, but a new problem arises, protag acts, and on and on.

      This is what’s taught in nearly all screenwriting books, so I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that gurus (god I hate that word) say the protag needs to initiate everything on his/her own.

      • leitskev

        I agree with you Nich. But I’ve seen this kind of thing often in paid notes, mine and others. I think Carson had a tendency toward that position a couple years ago, but he’s moved on it somewhat. Maybe it’s just in certain circles. But I agree with you. While an active character has an appeal, depending on the story, often a character is reacting to events: obstacles, antagonism, etc.

        • Nicholas J

          I see. That’s probably just people misunderstanding things then. Reaction and action are pretty much hand in hand. If there’s nothing to react to, there’s probably nothing to act on.

    • brenkilco

      Do reluctant protagonists work? Rick Blaine and Michael Corleone. Nuff said. They are almost always better protagonists. Easily relatable. And our doubt that they possess the ability or inclination to confront the crises they face creates an additional layer of suspense. Hot shot detectives, genius lawyers, superheroes. B movie boring usually. Start with an everyman and you don’t have to sweat finding some flaw with a capital F to knock your otherwise amazing protag down a peg. Of course, at some point your protagonist has to take the bull by the horns and act. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting the world you create slap him around for a while.

      • leitskev

        Yes! Exactly.

    • Logic Ninja

      This is a fascinating point you bring up; I think, however, that in each of your examples, a strong goal EXISTS, one the audience is on board with (slay the dragon, free humanity from the Matrix, etc.), whether the hero is initially on board or not.
      Interestingly, this scheme immediately lends itself to an additional level of suspense: will the hero eventually come around or not? Great commentary!

    • PoohBear

      I’ve learned (and the credit goes to Scott Myers of GITS) that a typically hero’s journey starts out with the hero transforming through different levels of activity (active). I’ll use Tom Cruise in War of the World’s as an example since I saw it the other day. This ideas a little fuzzy in my head so bear with me if it’s a touch disjointed.

      The main character goes through the following change.

      Inactive > Reactive > Proactive > Coactive

      So Ray, played by Tom Cruise, is a self-serving, absentee dad. His kids barely know him. He goes through a state of inactivity in the beginning. Sure he tries to bond but really there’s nothing active he does until the tripods come out of the ground. There’s some inner conflict and the conflict between his kids but no real conflict before the inciting incident. He just wants to get through the weekend, get his son to write his report and try not to offend his daughter.

      Once the tripods start disintegrating folks, here he’s totally reactive. I got to get out of dodge asap. He grabs his kids. Remembers the van works. Hits the road. His main focus is to get out of harm’s way and oh yeah I have two kids to take with me. It doesn’t hit him what his next move is until he’s on the highway and Rachel is screaming. He can’t handle it. We’re going to mom’s.

      Mom is not home. Now he’s stuck with their safety full time, point of no return for him. For much of the movie it’s just them being reactive to this unstoppable alien force. Although his goal doesn’t change just his destination. Get kids to mom. Mom is in Boston.

      IMO at this point he’s still reactive with signs of proactiveness. He takes smaller roads instead of the highway. He has to let his son go in order to save his helpless daughter. Much of the interaction with the aliens has been reactive, there’s not much you can do.

      It isn’t until he meets Tim Robbins’ character in the farmhouse cellar that he becomes truly proactive. Tim is mentally unstable and presents a clear threat to the safety of his daughter. Ray makes a decision to murder this man in cold blood to guarantee the safety of his daughter.

      When the aliens discover Ray and Rachel in the cellar, another reactive moment where he axes the eye. He loses Rachel. Rachel is captured by the tripod. Ray again reacts by throwing a grenade.

      Now he’s facing the alien force, ‘face-to-face’ so to speak. He’s a little more proactive here. No he didn’t rally all the prisoners into taking over the tripod, not enough time for that. He grabs the grenades just before he’s roped inside to be chopped into fertilizer.

      From there it’s just get to Boston. The story could end here but let’s throw one more sequence in where Ray can be the hero. Ray’s a little proactive, he rally’s a platoon of soldiers here. It’s not Ray with javelin, shooting the tripod. That would be absurd. It’s Ray noticing (active) they have no shields and informing (active) the soldiers. It’s Ray staying in the tunnel (active) and yelling at others stay here (active) because ‘it’s safer in here’. That’s Ray being active. We see Ray being coactive… getting to Boston (the ultimate safe haven, mom) AND caring about his daughter in the process.

      Now coactive is where the MC’s inner journey and outer journey aligns together. Through his journey, Ray becomes a good dad and cares. He got his daughter safely to Boston. It is also reinforced when he embraces his son, Robby who had to do it on his own. It’s not just going through the motions because you have a legal obligation anymore.

      • MaliboJackk

        Good post. Some interesting things to think about.
        Two problems, IMO
        First — you’re assuming that WOW was a well constructed movie.
        Two — you may be overthinking it.
        (Even Spielberg himself is likely to tell you — Beginning, Middle, and End.)

        • PoohBear

          I probably am, last movie I saw, so it was fresh in my head. I liked every part of it except the Tim Robbins stuff. Maybe because of Tim Robbins.

          To keep on theme with the article. WOW made $591 m worldwide and 75% on RT, so is that blockbuster territory?

          • MaliboJackk

            Had the same problem with the Robbins sequence.
            Also had a problem with the son who ran off to fight the war
            (thought it was out of character and done merely to create conflict and make for happy when they reunited).

            The movie had some great scenes (thought the ferry boat sequence was amazing) and a great concept. Surprised it didn’t do more at the box office.

            Tom Cruise is the hardest working actor in Hollywood. But was his character memorable?

    • MaliboJackk

      Not sure if this helps but —
      Long before I became interested in screenwriting, I noticed that the protag
      would always seem to refuse the call to action before becoming convinced that he needed to take action.
      The reason seemed to be — the story would seem too simple, unrealistic, and/or boring if every decision went smoothly.

      So that’s why it’s in most scripts — and it’s simply the writer’s job to find an entertaining way to structure that refusal into an interesting scenario withn the script (instead of structuring it into a preset formula).

      But it all depends on what works for the script that you’re writing.
      There used to be tv westerns where the protag would do everything to avoid taking
      action for the entire show — only to end the show with a shootout.

      (Full Disclosure — I’m not big on formula.
      Do what works for the script you’re writing.)

  • walker

    Unfortunately I feel that the premise of this article is flawed. The majority of these characters are proven Intellectual Properties. The financial success of these movies is largely driven by marketing campaigns. This is basically a depressing survey of the venality of the entities involved in these abysmal blockbuster releases.

    • wlubake

      I’d disagree somewhat, only in that the character had to be established from the beginning of the franchise. Let’s take the franchise characters one at a time:
      1. Katniss – this one I give you.
      2. Tony Stark – Iron Man was somewhat of a fringe Marvel property. Not really known well outside of comic book fan boys. The introduction of playboy smartass Tony Stark as played by RD2 in Iron Man cemented the character. Iron Man was now a key Marvel property, whereas before it was not. I’d say the movie character made the property more than the property made the success of the movie. That same character helped support 2 sequels.
      3. Gru – He was original property in Despicable Me. You don’t have Despicable Me 2 if the first iteration of the character wasn’t a success. You could argue that people go to see the minions, though.
      4. Clark Kent – give you this one, too.
      5. Mike Wisnowski – He was original property in Monsters Inc., and like Gru had to succeed there.
      6. Bilbo – conceded.
      7. Dominic – Original property in F&F. Like Gru and Mike.
      8. Oz – Completely new character for this film. Had to be built from the ground up, because he was such a minor role in the original. While based on old property, this was no sure thing to succeed. What, there was only about 85 years between the two films?
      In summary, the franchise it surely helps. But for Stark, Gru, Mike and Dom, that character work had to be done by the writers at some point. None of these were sure fire successes. Hey, if we break in with a great script, you’ll want these skills when you are trying to get the next franchise assignment!

      • walker

        My point is really that these aren’t characters at all, they are cogs in machines. As a matter of fact, to the people who put these projects together, writers themselves are simply cogs in machines. Trying to learn about writing characters from these movies is like trying to learn how to cook by studying McDonalds and Taco Bell.

      • DforVendetta

        They are all kid’s films. The good character work (maybe) made the films better but it isn’t what made them sell.

        • wlubake

          Turbo, Planes, Free Birds, Legend of the Guardians, Fantastic Mr. Fox…just having a kids movie with a high marketing budget doesn’t make these things sell. Yes it’s a very good market to be in, but you have to execute as well.

          • DforVendetta

            That’s obvious. Still…these aren’t the best examples to teach CRAFT.

    • DforVendetta

      The entire list is either children’s films or spectacle flicks. Bad choices for examples on CRAFT.

  • Magga

    The reality of movies today is that they do most of their business on opening weekend, before anyone knows anything about the quality of the film. Therefore the concept and the brand is what draws an audience. As a result I think the best place to find out about character is on TV, where the reason we tune in week after week is to find out what happens to the fictional people we care about. In this context we need to look at Walter White, Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Rust Cohle, Nate Fisher and so on, and this paints quite a different picture. What has drawn viewers to these characters are darkness, moral complexity, the possibility of change or redemption, uncertainty about how they will react and so forth. These are also the qualities we find in many movies that last, including Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Vertigo, Goodfellas and even Shawshank, where the characters are/may be murderers. I understand that today’s post is geared towards selling scripts, and executives have no courage to go for complexity on the big screen today, but it’s interesting to note that that this is what often keeps viewers returning to a protagonist. Where this puts female characters is an interesting thought, and I suspect we’ll learn more about that in the next couple of decades. Who are the great female anti-heroes?

    • DforVendetta

      Olivia Pope.

      • Magga

        Will binge on Scandal soon

  • ChadStuart

    Although Anna is technically the main character of “Frozen”, she’s not the character people are connecting with; it’s most overwhelmingly Elsa. As evidence, Elsa merchandise still flies off the shelves at Disney Parks while Anna is a bit slower to sell out. Also, pre-release the studio tried to sell ‘For the First time in Forever’ (sung by Anna) as the big song, but after the release people overwhelmingly love ‘Let it Go’ (sung by Elsa).

    But, the reason the Snow Queen is more popular of a character is because of her arc. She’s told at a very young age to hide her “inner power” lest people fear it, which she does. But, after her powers are exposed she has a very freeing moment where she can just be herself, devoid of fear. She even sheds her turtle-necked costume for a slinky number that’s far more revealing.

    These are incredibly strong female empowerment themes here, and women are responding to them. Women are often made to be ashamed of the very elements that make them women, which is their inner power and beauty, and the notion of being free to revel in those beauties appeals to women.

    Then, beyond that there’s the theme that everyone, regardless of gender, feels like we have to hide our true selves from the world. We’re terrified that if the world learned these secrets, we’d be shunned. So, the notion of being able to let that side of us show publicly is incredibly appealing. It’s freeing.

    I really think these themes are what made the movie a success, because, let’s be honest, the story and plot are just a big old mess. It’s that one song and theme “Let it Go” that’s really resonating with people across the globe.

    • Randy Williams

      It’s very similar to the Broadway smash, “Cats” The story and plot are a mess, but the female constraint and then empowerment of Grizabella and her “Memory” song grabbed the universe.

    • Nicholas J

      This is why having a strong theme is so important. Watch this video in the context of a person who’s hiding something about who they are, ranging anywhere from their sexuality to their secret love of Hall & Oates, and bonus points if it’s something that society tells them they need to hide in order to conform. Then tell me it isn’t the best, most relatable character moment in a mainstream movie of the past year, and probably longer. It’s pretty clear why people like it so much.

      • witwoud

        This is the place, Nicholas, now why don’t you tell us about Hall & Oates? ;)

        Seriously, thanks for this link. I’ve just listened to the song again and come to the conclusion that I’m hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the world. Where others see empowerment, I just see narcissism. To me, Anna and Elsa resemble a pair of pampered Valley Girls, even down to the way they speak (‘like … kinda … sorta’ in every sentence.) They are ‘me me me me me me’ all the way. I know they are supposed to be an advance on the more traditional Disney princesses but I simply can’t see it. They just seem more shallow and self-centred.

        I dread to think what would happen to Snow White if the film were to be remade today. The dwarves wouldn’t get a look-in: Snow would be far too busy singing about herself to give them a moment’s thought. Mop a floor? No way! I’m a princess! I have servants to do that for me!

        But what do I know? I’m a grumpy old man who, if he were to appear in a Disney movie, would certainly be the villain. In fact, just call me Gru. (Now there’s a film…)

        • wlubake

          From the moment Elsa leaves, all Anna does is to bring her back and help her sister. Every choice Elsa makes is to protect Anna. I don’t see how they are all about “me, me, me, me.”

          • witwoud

            Elsa shares 50% of her genes, of course Anna will try to save her. Anyone would go after a sister. Whereas if they had been friends (as in the original Hans Christian Andersen story) then her motives would have been far more altruistic.

        • Nicholas J

          “They are ‘me me me me me me’ all the way.”

          Except for the part where Anna sacrifices her life to save her sister’s. ;)

          And my love of Hall & Oates is no secret, I’ll shout it from the rooftops. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna not listen to Hall & Oates anymore!”

    • carsonreeves1

      Interesting. I think they’re both good characters. I just related to Anna a little more. And yes, I’m a grown man saying that.

  • Cfrancis1

    While Anna in Frozen is a charming character, having a 6 year old daughter, I can tell you with certainty that Elsa is the one kids and adults love. She’s a bit more complex. Has a huge inner struggle. Really, though, it’s the team of Anna and Elsa that makes the movie. The movie wouldn’t have been as good without either one of them.

    • garrett_h

      Frozen really is Elsa’s story, and IMO she’s the protagonist. Anna is the main character, but she’s not the protag, she’s the agent of change.

      Just like Lethal Weapon. Danny Glover is the main character, but Mel Gibson is the one that goes through the larger emotional journey, thanks to Danny and his family.

      Wow, never thought I’d make that comparison…

      • Cfrancis1

        Yep. Absolutely. Frozen is totally Elsa’s story. Love the Lethal Weapon comparison, btw.

  • Eddie Panta

    Notice: It says how to write “Billion Dollar Character” not deep, memorable, or contemporary characters. Multi Million Character equals an American character. In order to get to a billion you need to fulfill the expectations of the international audience.

    This is essentially the John Truby school of character design. You build a mythological character for the international audience.

    The above list are franchises, with mythological characters, built on universal themes designed to appease the international distributors.

    This is why Hollywood has gone to Bro. Grimm fairy tales to mine for “universal” stories.

    “Frozen” being one of the best example. And also Snow White and the Huntsman, which was a huge spec script sale.

    These characters, especially Superman fulfill pre-adolescent fantasies.

    The characters in “American Hustle” are :”American” they won’t be fully accessible to an international audience.

    In other words, no one cares about white man’s burden anymore. Your story about you as a 20 year old in a suburb no longer plays, it won’t even play at the festivals anymore.

    Your white-bread, American character needs to have an affliction, one that can be universally understood. The characters above are all really misfits, they are aliens, even superman is an alien, even Liam Neelson’s character is TAKEN is a complete misfit.

    An ultra American story like SPRING BREAKERS plays better overseas because it’s really set in a sort of dreamscape rather than in Florida.

    • DforVendetta

      What about the fact that these are mostly kids movies? Kid’s films always gross more.

      • Casper Chris

        Titanic, Avatar and Lord of the Rings disagree :P

        • walker

          Sorry, but LOTR is kid stuff.

          • Casper Chris

            It’s certainly darker than Avatar?

          • walker

            I suppose that is true, and I also agree with your larger point that some adult stories may generate large revenues. But I am a great proponent of real Medieval literature, particularly in English, so I have always looked askance at Professor Tolkien’s comic books.

        • DforVendetta

          Those are called “exceptions that prove the rule”, but keep in mind….

          Titanic was a teenie-bopper movie starring Leo Dicaprio.
          Avatar was a spectacle film. The characters were cliche and it had the beats of a romantic comedy. It was something new and unseen, much like Gravity. And check the stats, I’m positive that kids played a big part in that gross.
          Lord of the Rings is classic literature, which most of the adults who seen it had read it as kids. Or saw the cartoon movie as kids. And again, most sci-fi/fantasy get their business from kids and teens.

          • Casper Chris

            You said ‘always’. You can’t have always with exceptions.

            And before you accuse me of being pedantic… if you look at a top 100 list of highest grossing movies of all-time, you will find that less than 50% are what you would call “kid’s films”. So your always is not even a majority.

            As for “most sci-fi/fantasy get their business from kids and teens”. Do you realize how many adults watch Pixar/Disney movies? Works both ways my friend.

          • DforVendetta

            I know what always means. How’s the low hanging fruit taste? I realize that adults see kids films. But if you think the revenue from adults tickets can compare to the revenue from kid’s tickets for a KID’S movie, you’re not qualified to converse with me. 70-30 doesn’t equate to “working both ways”.

            “List of top 100 grossing films”? I’m dealing with the list used here and the majority of them are kid’s flicks.

          • Casper Chris

            And what do you base 70-30 on?

            The age group 0-12 makes up less than 20% of the US population. So even if only every five adult went to the new Pixar movie, they would still beat the kids in ticket buys. And that’s assuming EVERY kid went. Not to mention, a lot of adults go to see Pixar movies without kids. Most kids go to see Pixar movies WITH adults. Put 2 and 2 together and I think it’s fair to say your stat is way off.

            On the other hand, the number of kids who went to see Titanic is pretty fucking meager compared to the number of adults and yet that’s the second highest grossing film of all time (not adjusting for inflation).

          • Linkthis83

            Lol. DfV said that Titanic was a teenie-bopper movie. Really? He might be trolling a bit today.

          • Casper Chris

            Yea, if anything, it was a senior citizen magnet.

          • mulesandmud

            Took some effort to follow this thread; lots of nitpicking. D’s larger point seems to be that all-ages films have a major box office advantage over less inclusive films. That is true, just the same as films with shorter running times have a major advantage over long ones. And yes, I know there are exceptions to that rule as well, which seems to be Casper’s larger point.

            As for Titanic, I owe the loss of my virginity to that film, as do several million other teenagers, I’m sure. You went into the theater a boy, but you came out a man.

          • Casper Chris

            D’s larger point seems to be that all-ages films have a major box office advantage over less inclusive films.
            I believe I was the one trying to bring attention to the fact that most of these so-called “kid’s movies” attract and appeal to not just kids.
            Pixar, for instance, does not consider their movies kid’s movies.

            Like I said, animated tentpoles are also more infrequent and so the few of them get more attention/hype.

          • DforVendetta

            Are you insane!? I was in high school when that came out. Teenage girls went out in droves to see that film. Over and Over. The fact that it was a great film that drew adults as well is what put it into All Time status. Put that thing hit middle and High school girls like Twilight. Pardon the blasphemy but it’s the only thing I’ve seen like it. A young Leo and Kate. You guys don’t understand or don’t have a bead on culture.

          • Linkthis83

            I was in college when this 4 quadrant movie came out. Also, just because a certain specific demographic are the ones who turn out in droves for a film doesn’t mean that film was made specifically for them.

            There is a Titanic exhibit that makes the museum rounds. The teenage girls aren’t showing up in droves for it, but others are. I only highlight to show that the movie wasn’t made just for teens and it wasn’t only teens who showed to witness the awesome film.

            (and yes, awesome film is subjective. But seeing it in the theater, even if you hated the story, was an awesome thing to see).

          • DforVendetta

            I wasn’t saying that it was made for teens. I said teens made it. And of course, I don’t mean that teens produced it. I mean that teens put it into the history books. And of course I don’t mean that teens made it a part of history, I know that it’s a true story (which sort of bolsters my point about pre-existing properties).

          • Linkthis83

            I don’t disagree one bit about the pre-existing properties. Of that list, 5 are pre-existing, 3 are animated (2 of which are Disney – also 2 of which are sequels so I’d even consider those already pre-existing), and then you have Gravity (not a great STORY or a great CHARACTER) and then F&F (which is also already pre-existing). Soooooo……that leaves GRAVITY. And I think we can all MOSTLY agree it’s because it’s so unique and not quite like all the other stuff coming out right now.

          • Franchise Blueprints

            Let me see if I remember Titanic correctly. Poor boy has sex with rich boy fiance. Cheating girlfriend wants to have adventures in poverty with poor boy. Rich boy can’t wait to get off this boat. Full speed ahead. Oops CRASH. Okay cheater girlfriend I forgive you. No I want to live a life of meaningful poverty. Okay Bitch gimmie back all my jewelry. Nooooooo you gave me those jewels as a token of our love before I cheated on you. Lots and lots of water. Last chance cheater I have a seat for two on this 20 foot Starcraft crossover boat. Huh!?! You in or out? Poor boy, Poor Boy where forth thou are Poor Boy? I bees in a trap, bees, bees in a trap, I bees in a trap, bee, bees in a trap. Enter Captain Save A BRO. More water, More water. Poor Boy lets run around this sinking ship. Fine by me. Its like OMG people are dying and want me to help. Let me kick this guy with my cobblestone boot. I dare he for trying to save his life. Rich boy I actually miss that girl. Whats that, last chance to leave. PEACE OUT. Boat sinks. Poor Boy punches A Family Guy as a final act of assholery. Cheater girlfriend I know I’m freezing and broke but its only right that you have everything. I love you Poor Boy. Meanwhile back at the ranch. Rich Boy still searching for his cheater fiance. Cheater secretly goes into ninja stealth mode while TIGHTLY holding on to the jewels. Cheater lived a middle income lifestyle financed through the theft of jewelry. In one last senile moment tosses jewelry into ocean. Rich guy looking down from heaven. BITCH. the end.

            Yeah I see why teenage girls liked this picture. Get yourself a sugar daddy. Sleep with poor cute boy. Keep something of value from sugar daddy. Try to make a life for poor boy. Oh no poor boy dead. Sugar daddy is it too late. Forget that I got your jewels you hear me cop, I got your jewels.

          • DforVendetta

            Also…I’m not trolling. I’m procrastinating on finishing my submissions for contests and fellowships and the like. #WarofArt

          • Linkthis83

            My apologies for the trolling comment.

          • DforVendetta

            @Titanic…I’m sorry. I’m an adult. Pre-teens and teenage girls are kids to me. And why do you keep bringing up Titanic? That wasn’t on the list. If it was I’d have 10% less problem with it.

            “Most kids go to see Pixar movies WITH adults”…….NO DUH! That’s the point! If a kid wants to see a movie, an adult has to come. If an adult wants to see a movie, he can go alone. 1 kid + 1 Adult equals 2 TICKETS.
            For instance…my 3 kids wanted to see Frozen. Though I didn’t care to see it, I had to go along. So along with the 3 tickets for the 3 that wanted to see it, they get to sell an extra ticket to a parent who didn’t.

          • Casper Chris

            You wrote “But if you think the revenue from adults tickets can compare to the revenue from kid’s tickets for a KID’S”

            So if a kid goes with mommy and daddy, that’s still 2 adult tickets counting as “adult revenue” against 1 kid ticket counting as “kid revenue”.

            And while your 3 kids may have dragged you along for Frozen, a lot of adults use their kids as an excuse to go see these movies. Hell, they’ll bring their toddlers.

            “And why do you keep bringing up Titanic? That wasn’t on the list. If it was I’d have 10% less problem with it.”

            I did not respond to you because you have a beef with Carson’s list. I responded to you because you wrote “Kid’s films always gross more.”.

          • DforVendetta

            “Always” was a slight embellishment. They usually gross more. As shown by the list. WHICH IS THE POINT! It’s rare that a kid movie flops. Their flops are $100mil flops. More when you count worldwide. Because cartoons and fantasy translate more readily than most American movies.
            To take me through all this over a word, when I’m sure you understood the point. The only thing constant is change. I’m aware that nothing is ever “Always”.

          • Casper Chris

            Not a lot of kid’s movies in the cinemas. That means when a new one premieres, it’s a “big deal” and people tend to flock to them. If there were as many kids movies in the cinemas as there are adult movies, you’d probably see a lot more flops.

            My smiley (:P) should’ve tipped you off that it was all in good jest. But then you got all defensive and we ended up here.

          • DforVendetta

            My bad. I’m in the middle of an intense bout of procrastination. Anything grabs my attention.

          • Franchise Blueprints

            One word. Balto.

          • Franchise Blueprints

            Technically there’s no such thing as kids revenue, unless that kid has a job.

    • tr3i

      I was about to write my envy into the comments section when I read your post and I calmed down. You’re right and I subscribe Eddie. Spot on. First of all this post isn’t about creating a character that will pass the test of time, but one that will make you embarrassingly rich. And second, if you want to achieve that, Eddie’s right, you have to go global. Stop thinking “local” and start thinking “relatable” and “human”. Your character shouldn’t have an “American” face but rather a “human” face. I hope that makes sense, it does to me LOL Anyway, good job Eddie, I’m with you buddy.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      I’m not completely feeling The Man of Steel. Honestly I felt I was watching some kryptonian not Superman. I feel the same way people feel that Noah was butchered from his biblical reference.

      Most comic book fans feel Batman’s moral ethic code is what makes him a better man. Technically Superman’s moral ethic code is borderline Jesus. IMO.

  • DforVendetta

    CARSON, you must’ve been having an off day when you wrote this…
    If the question is “How to Write Characters that Bank Billions of Dollars?”, then the answer is “WRITE FOR CHILDREN.” That’s the common factor here. With the exception of Gravity, which is more spectacle than character, and Fast and Furious, much the same.
    Kid’s films regularly make more $$ than their competition. And of course kids films have character arcs. And they’re mostly recycled and cliche.

    CHARACTERS AREN’T WHAT MADE THESE MOVIES SELL. No doubt, good character work made them better, but I have 3 kids and my 4 tickets (and subsequent Redbox rentals) to FROZEN were bought before any of us knew about Anna’s arc.
    You know what else sold a billion? Twilight. Come on, Carson, this is about craft. Instead of choosing the BEST SELLING films for an example on CRAFT, maybe try the BEST REVIEWED films or films from CRITERION or AFI’s lists.

    You’ve been on a roll as of late, I hope you find your way back.

    • JakeMLB

      If it were only that simple these films would lack the stay appeal they have and would not be reviewed favorably by critics and audiences alike. For every pre-established IP hit, there are countless failures.

      Frozen is being lauded for a superb script. It also broke records for an animated film. Screenwriters and critics alike are buzzing about this film as being on of the best Disney films in decades. Similarly, compare Hunger Games to the countless other YA flops and it pretty clearly blows away its competition both in terms of character and story — that is to say it’s screenplay was actually superb. All of these films, with the exception of MAN OF STEEL and IRON MAN 3 — which truly rode the IP bus to the bank — were built on the foundations of solid scripts with solid characters.

      • wlubake

        Yes. People forget that they almost killed the Fast & Furious series with some poor sequels. Recent efforts (5&6) really focused on quality to bring the series back. Amateur writers are far too dismissive of established property. These are the jobs you’ll want some day. Your writing should show you are capable of delivering on this level if you ever want to get hired for big jobs.

        • Jonathan Soens

          The Fast and the Furious series’ resurgence still boggles my mind. I mean, it’s like they realized the car-race thing couldn’t carry the burden anymore and just randomly switched mid-stream to make it more about heists.

          It’s like if the Gone In 60 Seconds movie had 3 sequels that were also about stealing cars, and then suddenly switched it up and the 4th sequel was about the main character (Nic Cage) having to steal the Declaration of Independence.

          • DforVendetta

            Right. The racing got old, bring in the heist template. Kill a girl off bring her back next time, who cares, right?
            Get a clue. F&F lives off the Latin culture’s affinity for these movies. Hence, it always involves Latin bad guys and themes and resurrecting Michelle Rodriguez’s role.
            Sure the later ones have gotten a LITTLE better but the $$$ it makes has little to do with the character development.

          • Franchise Blueprints

            The first 3 films smartly switched locations and changed the main protagonist. The second 3 films attempted to have this Star Trek cast having multiple adventures each movie. So now F&F is literally in Star Wars territory. Most people would agree the original 3 in F&F are the best in the series. Just like the original 3 LOTR, the first 3 Indiana Jones, the first 3 Hell Raisers, The first 3 Rambo’s, The first 3 Rocky’s, the first 3 Godfather’s (there were only 3 and that why it was perfect)

            I never got into Harry Potter so I have no idea which films were the best.

        • DforVendetta

          These aren’t the jobs I want one day. Non of those films will be remembered in 50 years. I’m about CLASSIC work.

          • Nicholas J

            So big box office numbers =/= classic work? Look all these forgotten movies that nobody remembers…

          • DforVendetta

            You do realize how stupid that was? There are too many factors involved which make adjusting ticket prices irrelevant. Namely the amount of choices the consumer had, not only in theaters back then but in the world. Let’s not go down that rabbit hole.
            Numbers never lie but they rarely tell the whole truth.

          • Nicholas J

            I realize that. As with any statistics, there are many factors to consider. So just like you can’t say a movie good because it made a lot of money, you can’t say a movie is bad because it made a lot of money.

            Either way, we should be studying successes and bombs, flops and award winners, just like we should be studying horrors and comedies, kid’s movies and adult movies — regardless of what we write. There’s something to be learned from all of them.

          • Jonathan Soens

            I don’t understand this attitude, as if real artists have to be above wanting to shape a franchise or a popcorn flick.

            Imagine you bump into Christopher Nolan 10 years ago, and somehow struck up a conversation. He tells you he’s in the middle of fighting to land the Batman reboot. And he confesses that he hopes he might get his hands on James Bond some day. How badly would you have judged him?

            Writers and filmmakers are allowed to like what they like. They’re allowed to see potential in a genre that many people think is laughable or lowly.

          • DforVendetta

            I don’t feel that way. Batman is dope. Neither Avengers or Superman are on it’s level. Tell me what film on this list is anything like Nolan’s work ….
            I can’t enlighten everyone…You get your Character development tips from F&F all you want. Good luck.

          • wlubake

            Lego Movie is a great example. Turning what feels like a cash grab into a fun, emotionally effective movie.

          • wlubake

            Good luck with that. That’s generally how people break in and sustain careers.

          • DforVendetta

            Not the Greats.

          • Franchise Blueprints

            I get where DforVendetta is coming from. He/she (IDK) is aiming for Steven Spielberg quality output.

        • Franchise Blueprints

          I disagree on F&F 6. There were so many things wrong with that movie.

      • DforVendetta

        If you think that the story/character growth is what made these movies sell you are mistaken. Or just here to argue.
        As I said, character helped, but are any of these movies the best movies of the year? NO! Avengers 2 will sell NO MATTER WHAT!

        Hunger Games IS better than Twilight but there are plenty YA novels better than Hunger Games. Not to mention Hunger games got it’s shot because of Twilight. And lastly…BATTLE ROYALE.

        MY POINT IS….are these movies the proper movies to learn CRAFT from?

        • JakeMLB

          Not here to argue, just to point out how wrong you are…


          You may not want to write such films, but many do.

          • DforVendetta

            Of course some may want to write films that wont be remembered a decade from now. You’ll be remembered as hacks.

            But you did prove me wrong…I thought the point was to be great.

          • wlubake

            The point is to work rather than post on a screenwriting blog’s comment section. Movies that make money pay money. I’ve got a wife and kids, so no starving artist romanticism here.

          • DforVendetta

            Wife? Check. Kids? Check. Check. Check. And I’m far from starving. I work to feed my Family. I write because I have something to say, stories to tell.
            Hack a good day.

          • wlubake

            Love to read one of your masterpieces sometime.

          • Nicholas J

            “The point is to work rather than post on a screenwriting blog’s comment section.”

            Speaking of which, I’ve got a deadline coming up and so do you, I’M OUT!

          • Linkthis83

            You don’t get to determine your greatness. Also, it’s highly unlikely that you will be an effective writer trying to already put your work into some future historical context.

            People who do what they love for a living will probably not even bat an eye at the value that YOU placed on their work.

            There seems to be quite a bit of fault in your logic. If you are aware of the influences that makes some movies what they are, you’d also think you’d have the same ability to put these CLASSIC films you speak of into context.

          • DforVendetta

            Of course the hacks don’t care what I have to say. But they obviously care about the opinions of others; hence following character and plot templates.

            Are you under the illusion that every writer who writes a cookie-cutter flick is happy doing that? Coming in as just another writer paid to fill gaps. Or sucking up to studios, getting idiotic note after idiotic note….? Is that what you think?

            “Highly unlikely that I will be an effective writer….. ”

            All the greats think about their place in history. Quentin often speaks on wanting to shape how he’ll be remembered. Artist of all sorts do things in hopes of putting themselves in the conversation of icons. Matthew McConaughy consciously took roles to change and shape his career.

            Firstly, Michael Jordan wanted to be the BEST EVER! From the start! That’s where the drive and ability to do so comes from. Secondly,”effective” implies a goal. My goal is to create true ART.

            Here’s my logic….Were these the BEST movies of the year? NO! Were the Characters the BEST characters we’ve seen on screen this past year? NO!

            So how are these the examples to best assist one’s Mastery of a CRAFT?

            Where are the faults?

            I do have a say in determining my greatness. And the first step in doing so is knowing that I do.

            Good luck getting your Character development education from Iron-Man 3.

          • Linkthis83

            You are more than welcome to refuse jobs based on your own beliefs and value assessments. The work, however, is not deemed classic upon creation. So…unless you have the ability to KNOW what will be classic and what won’t, you yourself might end up working on a project that deems your own work “hackish.”

            Since all this is always subjective, your determination and assignment of value to ANYTHING doesn’t contain merit. I love the movie The Cable Guy. I think it’s a classic. I don’t need the majority to agree, nor someone in the minority who thinks his opinion of what is great supersedes anyone else’s.

            That is why there is fault in your logic. You think you have the right to determine what is what. And not only that, you get to call all the other stuff, and those who write it, hacks. Well, my fellow poster, you need the hacks to have your classics. Even though, classics can be considered hacks too.

            And no, you don’t get to determine your greatness. You get to determine how much effort you put in and how hard you work. Also, you have to have a certain level of ability. Without it, all that work still isn’t going to accomplish greatness. Sure we love Tarantion. But not all do. And he can have a hope and a vision for how he wants to be remembered, but he doesn’t decide it. I may not remember him the way he wishes. Nor will all the others.

            Finally, your shot about getting a character development education from Iron-Man 3 is definitely something EVERYONE should do. You can learn from all movies. There is educational value in all of them. The greats know that. That’s your free lesson for today.

            Nobody is advocating or suggesting that you follow the character model of the article for today. Carson isn’t even advocating it. He’s highlighting it. Those of us who have the ability to discern and discard information we feel useful to us know this.

            As you can see by the comments here nobody is even saying — “Yes, we should write characters just like this.” It’s fantastic you feel this strongly against it, but the business side of art is still a business. Not everybody has the luxury you have of writing on principle alone, nor do they want it.

            Oh, and people fail. Some people put their heart and souls into this work you are so easily dismissive of and they just fail. They miss the mark they were aiming for. It happens. This, you will certainly learn with your disposition.

            One more defense for the “hacks”; these writers aren’t the only ones who have a say in the final product. There are so many influences on what shows up on the screen. This gets left out constantly. The screenwriter doesn’t have the final say.

            Man, this is a lot of good stuff for you today. Sure hope you are paying attention. Otherwise, good luck with writing on principle and I can’t wait to never see your movie that won’t ever get made unless you make it yourself, distribute it yourself, and most importantly, KNOW THAT IT’S A CLASSIC FIRST BEFORE YOU EVEN ATTEMPT THIS. That last one is key, my man. Good luck!!

          • DforVendetta

            There’s so much wrong here…. so paragraph by paragraph….
            The point isn’t knowing that it will be classic, it’s in striving for it. As opposed to following lame templates because you’re desperate for a sell.

            Cable Guy…a great example of character. That isn’t on this list. .

            Fault? I do have the right to say what is great and what isn’t. We all do. And if you write cliche, template, cookie-cutter stuff, you’re a HACK. And yes, some hack stuff resonates but it’s a formula not to be copied.

            Don’t be simple. Obviously history has the final say on greatness. But my say is in knowing what makes great art. Namely, individuality…originality. Templates are for the weak and non-gifted. I understand that not everyone is cut out for greatness. Hence more players than champions.

            AGAIN, take character advice from Iron-Man 3 if you want to. Practice doesn’t make Perfect; Perfect practice makes Perfect. Every teacher aint a good one.

            CHARACTERS ARE NOT WHAT MADE THOSE MOVIES SELL. In addition, with all the great characters that were written this year, to use these is a disservice. THAT IS MY POINT.

            EVERYONE has the luxury of writing on principle. Just like everyone has the luxury of standing on principle. Some find it easier not to.

            This is the price of principle. The point is to shoot for the stars…to aim for greatness. Of course you’ll sometimes miss but if you stay the path you’ll get to a level unattained by templateers.

            I’m aware that writer’s rarely have the last say. Hence me not attacking any by name or work. Even more reason not to follow a cut-out of a film pieced together by a list of writer’s who’s only interests are a check.

            Did you say “Good luck writing on principle”? Good luck writing without it.

            But like you say, I need you and the hacks you support to have my classics.

        • Nicholas J

          Who is saying these movies are the best of the year? Who is saying they’re THE movies to learn craft from? Carson makes roughly 5 posts a week year round. That’s 250+ posts. Surely some of them should be about MOVIES THAT MAKE A BILLION DOLLARS.

          Who is just here to argue again?

          • DforVendetta

            The post is about CHARACTERS that make a billion dollars at the B.O…..
            The premise is dumb. The characters aren’t what made those movies billions. On a list of things that made those movies billions, character development would not be at the top.
            If you want a post about Billion dollar grossing movies, I’m down with that. But a post about Character development? Using Iron-Man 3 as an example? Did Tony Stark do something different this time around. All of Carson’s points were there in Iron-Man 1.

          • Nicholas J

            I think you’re taking the title too literally.

            I haven’t seen Iron Man 3 so I can’t say. I saw the first and didn’t like a thing about it. But I won’t deny audiences obviously love Tony Start enough to stick around for a THIRD helping of him — one that’s worth $1.2 billion — while some other superheroes have been barely able to break even, much less round out a trilogy with the third film bringing in the most revenue.

      • JakeMLB

        I should qualify that by superb script in reference to Hunger Games, I mostly mean everything before the games. The actual games themselves was one deus ex machina after another.

    • Nicholas J

      Your kids want to see Frozen, but why? Because everybody is talking about it. Why is everyone talking about it? Better character work = better product = more satisfied viewers = more word of mouth = more $$.

      Why is Frozen banking significantly more $$ than any of the billion other computer animated features of the past 10 years? Speaking of Twilight, why did Catching Fire bank more $$ than New Moon? (Though New Moon was highly successful as well.) It’s hard to point to anything and say THIS IS WHY, but having better characters definitely helps.

      • DforVendetta

        You must not have kids. Nor know any. The moment they saw the commercial, they wanted to see it. They’re kids. They like cartoons. The Studios know it and they prey on it.

        • Nicholas J

          Okay, so if the only reason people are seeing it is because it is animated, why did Tangled make $400 million less?

          • DforVendetta

            Many reasons…the song, the hype, the timing, some ARE better than others, cool ice powers vs long hair. My point is children’s movie’s are not where we should be getting our lessons. Unless you’re planning on writing a children’s movie. Same goes for highest grossing. Were any of those films your favorite? Were they the BEST films of the year? Why weren’t they nominated? (Gravity excluded)?

          • Nicholas J

            The songs I’ll give you, but it’s no coincidence the most popular one “Let It Go” comes at the best character moment in the movie.

            The hype comes from people liking the movie and telling their friends, like I said, word of mouth.

            The timing… both movies came out in November.

            Why aren’t children’s movies a good study of the craft? Some of the best stories of all time are children’s stories.

            No one’s saying they were the best films of the year, simply that they’re worth studying.

          • mulesandmud

            Aw, man. Your larger points are great – I especially agree that todays article is functionally useless as advice on character creation – but you’re digging a hole for yourself by dismissing the lessons we can learn from children’s films.

            On a purely creative level, children’s films have the same artistic potential as any other genre. Great is great – I’m thinking of The Black Stallion, Babe: Pig in the City, Wall-E, and countless others. And good character work is any genre has plenty to teach a writer; a great noir villain may speak volumes to your sci-fi musical antagonist. The lessons are there if you want them.

            On an professional level, children’s films are a genre that gets a huge degree of imaginative freedom for those willing to work within the established parameters. Writers for all-ages studio projects have valuable skills on how to successfully navigate industry standards while retaining thematic ideas and finding interesting narrative opportunities, which are almost always the first things out the door when a studio works in other genres.

            Hate on Hollywood, hate on Carson, but leave kids’ films alone.

          • DforVendetta

            I never hated on kid’s flicks. I’m working on a few. I love Hollywood and I think Carson is dope.

    • brenkilco

      I have to agree. Looking for the key to effective characterization in last last year’s tent poles or successful kid’s animation is a pointless exercise. As is assuming that simply because the movies made money there must be something of value to be mined from their characters. At most you might latch on to some lowest common denominator gimmick . E.M. Forster said flat characters can be summed up in a sentence while round ones have the capacity to convincingly surprise. Not seeing a whole lot of roundness on this list.

  • Jonas E.

    Is it really the characters that works for these films, or is it the worlds they are set in?

  • JakeMLB

    2 Girls, 1 Snowman?

    Wait, that wasn’t Disney.

  • Nicholas J

    Because it’s one article and it’s looking at the highest grossing movies of the year to see what we can learn from them. Blue Jasmine is a good movie and has great character work. It made a cool $100 million at the box office. Frozen made $1 BILLION. Think about that. One billion dollars. I’d say that’s worth looking at.

  • leitskev

    I fully agree that in the normal 3 act view of things, especially if the model in any way resembles the Hero’s Journey(which though I am a huge fan of that work, a story does not have to follow that model), we begin with a hero who’s world is in status quo, and something happens(inciting incident) that begins to shake things up that will set him on a journey of growth and change. The key is to understand what is driving our interest in the story, and that can take different forms. Even once Neo takes the red pill, he’s a passive character until the third act. He trains, he visits the Oracle(not at his request either)…he goes where he’s told. He takes absolutely no initiative.

    Now, one can argue this is the exception. I would argue that the story itself demands that he be passive for the second act, and most of the first. Because the story is about whether he is indeed the One, and whether he will accept being the One. That requires reluctance.

    I am not advocating that characters generally be passive…but I do think a story requires careful consideration of what is driving things. Sometimes making a character too active, or active before he has become the hero he needs to be(end of second), will cause a problem with the story.

    Appreciate your points, and thank you for them!

  • Chris Mulligan

    That’s embarrassingly dumb shit right there.

  • carsonreeves1

    This is a great observation, Will! “I really think it boils down to this: People are known through their actions. That’s how we judge folks in real life.” It’s the easiest way to judge people in real life, and therefore should be in scripts as well.

  • ff

    This article would be 100 times more interesting if you got away from hollywood movies. Indy movies in general write much more interesting characters and for the most part are better movies overall.

  • ElectricDreamer

    OT: The Newsletter

    Great to get the AOW candidates on a Thursday night.
    Was a little puzzled that CALIFORNIA DREAM is getting the AF slot tomorrow.

    What happened to AESOP THE COURAGEOUS?
    Is that AOW winner being skipped over for some reason?

  • Citizen M

    If you want to see a great character, and a great performance, I recommend Cyrano de Bergerac, the 1950 version with Jose Ferrer. It’s available on YouTube.

    Cyrano is a playwright who has a way with words. He’s also a brilliant swordsman. He demonstrates both by improvising verses as he fights someone who challenges him. He has powerful enemies because his plays mock the nobles. He secretly loves his cousin Roxanne, who tells him she loves Christian, a soldier in his regiment, and makes him promise to look after Christian. He helps Christian woo Roxanne. And his big flaw is his huge nose, or rather, his belief that his nose makes him so ugly that no woman could ever love him.

    Oh man, it’s got everything.

    • MaliboJackk

      There’s also the Steve Martin version — Roxanne.

      • Citizen M

        Roxanne didn’t work for me. I saw it on release and was disappointed.

  • Citizen M

    Tony Stark is based on Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Elon Musk makes Bill Gates look cool. That guy is the definition of nebbish. I wonder does he seriously think the woman he married is with him because of his inner qualities.

  • ChadStuart

    It’s about more than the way they dress. And, there are all sorts of women, not all of whom dress scantily on Halloween.

    • Watchutalkinboutwillus

      I have yet to experience a culture that suppresses any kind of “inner beauty”.

      • ChadStuart

        Well, America sure does. It starts in childhood. Whenever a girl will talk out in class, the teacher will reprimand her for speaking out of turn, but a boy’s outburst are more tolerated. Same goes for at home during a dining table outburst. Girls are expected to be “mannered” but boys’ rudeness are tolerated as “boys being boys”.

        It doesn’t get better when they become adults, either. Women are expected to act like men to be successful. Crying is a natural instinct to a woman. It shouldn’t be suppressed, but if a woman cries at work, then she’s irrational. Men and women are just wired differently, but women are constantly asked to hide their femininity (not necessarily their sexuality, mind you) to fit in a man’s world.

        Slut shaming is still a real thing. Most women attending college are taught at orientation how to avoid being rape, but the men are never taught simply not to rape. Women are still held responsible for their own rapes.

        You see, women are, from a very young age, taught to be ashamed of themselves. They’re not taught to revel in being a woman, they’re taught that it would be easier to succeed if they were a man.

        And has also been pointed out, these feelings and the film’s themes resonate in the same way with gay men and women, people of color, and even religion. Many people feel like they have to hide parts of themselves.

  • ChadStuart

    You’re scaring me. I”m sorry I’m educated. And I”m sorry you’re terrified that your dominance on this planet is in imaginary jeopardy.

  • fragglewriter

    I didn’t watch any of the above movies, except for the original Superman as the characters and storyline didn’t intrigue me. However, I do like that if you have a not-so-likable character, make them charming. I think those characters stick out the best.