Movies tell stories about people. In every script, the writer has to create one character (or a set of characters) that the audience will root for or hate. This special character is known as the main character, often referred to as the protagonist. He or she will be the character with most obstacles and normally the one with most screen time.   

Creating interesting, realistic characters is an art in itself. To find the right dose of believability and novelty to mix together and form an exciting, plausible character ranks as one of the hardest tasks in screenwriting.   

Decades ago, the norm demanded main characters to be good guys on the right side of the law, like James Bond or Will Kane. Nowadays, however, the writer has enormous freedom to use anti-heroes or even crooks as their main characters.

films to watch

while you watch

think about heroes & anti-heroes: we often grow up with movies that have obvious heroes, but some movies may be complicated or unclear. In Mask of the Phantasm, how is Batman similar to the villain of the story? In Knives Out, do we know who the real villains are, or does it keep us guessing? In The Painter and The Thief, how do our feelings toward Karl-Bertil change over time? How do we feel about the “everyday” heroes of Eighth Grade or Support the Girls?

think about relationships: how do characters interact with each other? How are relationships built, maintained, or tested? And what’s the relationship between us as the audience and these characters? Each of these films explores relationships in different ways, from Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Andrea Beaumont to the unlikely friendship in The Painter and The Thief.

think about character development: how does a character change during the course of the movie, and how do our feelings change toward them? What do they learn, and what do they teach us?

activity: hierarchy of needs

In 1943, the psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that humans are motivated by a hierarchy of basic needs, beginning with physical needs such as food and water and moving toward “self-actualization.” In this activity, learn more about each level in Maslow’s hierarchy and then apply it to a character from a film. Does your character achieve self-actualization?

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