In Spider-Man 2, Aunt May says:“Kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them to hold on a second longer. I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.”
This month, with Avengers: Endgame in theaters, FilmFisher’s writers celebrated heroism on the silver screen by picking their favorite movie heroes.
I’ll start us off with a little something for everyone.
- Paterson from Paterson from Paterson (2016)
- Superman from Superman (1978)
- Poppy Cross from Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
- Private Witt from The Thin Red Line (1997)
- Elastigirl from The Incredibles (2004)
William Connor Devlin
Tried to go a bit more unconventional, so no heroes in spandex or ones who wear capes (but you can best believe I debated just being outright and putting Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man as number 1 on this list).
- The Driver from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011)
- Atticus Finch from Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
- Marge Gunderson from The Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996)
- Jack Burton from John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
- Clarice Starling from Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- The Driver from Drive (2011)
- George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
- Shane from Shane (1953)
- James Bond from the James Bond franchise (1962-present)
- Batman from The Dark Knight (2008)
Jackson De Vight
Sometimes heroes are bad people who do a few really good things.
- Boromir, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy
- Hellboy, Hellboy (2004)
- Shoshanna, Inglourious Basterds (2009)
- Han Solo, Star Wars franchise
- Imperator Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
No one wants to get their hands dirty. Fine, I’ll do it.
- Shrek from Shrek (2001) the unconventional hero of the Millennial childhood and now a meme hero.
- Spider-Man from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007).
- Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi (1983) completing his Campbellian hero’s journey.
- Dumbo from Dumbo (1941).
- And to fall into a bit of self-parody here, David Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
5. The House of Stark in Game of Thrones. I don’t want to say much in case the uninitiated are reading but for all their faults the Starks make a Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) the greatest dark fantasy of all time. In a world dominated by devils, angels have little power except the beauty of their light. “Winter is coming” – see entry 3 below.
4. Queen Elizabeth II, The Crown. If you haven’t watched this already…what’s wrong with you? The moment that explains the beauty of Elizabeth’s heroism is when Queen Mary explains to her the purpose of monarchy: “The calling comes from the Highest Source, from God Himself. Monarchy is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth, to give ordinary people an ideal to strive towards, an example of nobility and beauty to raise them from their wretched lives. Monarchy is a calling from God. That’s why you’re crowned in an abbey, not a government building, why you’re anointed, not appointed. It’s an archbishop who puts the crown on your head, not a minister or public servant, which means you’re answerable to God in your duty, not the public.”
3. Captain America in the Captain America Trilogy. Thomas Paine (who I despise, since he is the father of American Jacobinism) wrote, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.” Steve Rogers continually proves that he is the true winter soldier, the evergreen tree built for the cold death of winter. In The First Avenger, Erskine reveals why Steve was picked, and unknowingly, why Tony Stark will eventually become the central villain of the MCU: “The serum was not ready. But more important, the man. The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great; bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because the strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows… compassion.” Technology amplifies and reveals what we are, it cannot make us better or fix us.
2. Rudolf Rassendyll in The Prisoner of Zenda (37 & 52 versions). Mr. Whittaker retells his own Ruritanian Romance in the Adventures in Odyssey episode “An Act of Nobility” to teach a badly needed lesson in Chivalry. This may be the single most Conservative and Christian morality tale ever told.
1. Friendship, E.T., The Harry Potter Franchise, IT: Chapter 1, The Lord of the Rings, Stranger Things, and everything Joss Whedon has created. Friendship is the reason for heroism. Friendship is the rebuke to the rings of Sauron and Gyges. Robert Wright wrote in Why Buddhism is True, “I don’t have a hostile disposition toward humankind per se. In fact, I feel quite warmly toward humankind. It’s individual humans I have trouble with.” This is 100% backwards. Villains act for the good of humanity, heroes act for the good of a friend. See Stark vs Rogers in entry 3.
- Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) in 12 Angry Men
- Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Magnolia
- David Dunn (Bruce Willis) in Unbreakable
- Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) in Hail, Caesar!
- Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) in Arrival
- Evelyn Abbot, A Quiet Place (2018) – There were several times during my in-theater viewing of A Quiet Place where I was sorely tempted to stand up and applaud Emily Blunt’s character. This remarkable woman cultivated a rich home culture despite tremendous difficulty and displayed authentic feminine strength in a way her cinematic supeheroine counterparts can never touch.
- Robin Hood, Robin Hood (1973) – In the face of powerful oppression good people do what they can for who they can, banding together with other upright individuals to not just alleviate suffering but to also to cultivate the kind of joyful subversion that prepares a people to receive their returning king.
- Jean Valjean, Les Misérables (2012) – Undeserved grace really can give a person a fresh start and a new identity. Those transformed by that kind of grace become agents of it.
- Ed Warren, The Conjuring 2 (2016) – Patrick Wilson’s Ed powerfully displays the idea that good men assume a need seen is an assignment given. He also reminds us that upright men push back against abusers, be they dead or alive.
- Sergeant Major Zak Carey, Tank (1984) – Watching this film as a child taught me that good dads, when facing corrupt government officials attacking their children, have to act decisively to protect their families. I also learned that, when defending your family, a decommissioned M4 Sherman tank is a real asset.
- Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003)
- Farrier from Dunkirk (2017)
- Marlin from Finding Nemo (2003)
- Rooster Cogburn from True Grit (2010)
- Theo Faron from Children of Men (2006)
- Desmond Doss – Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
- Bernie Webber – The Finest Hours (2016)
- Chihiro Ogino – Spirited Away (2001)
- Jim Halpert – The Office (2005-2013)
- Sherlock Holmes – Sherlock (2010-present)
- Ellen Ripley, Alien
- Detective Loki, Prisoners
- Buscapé, City of God
- T-800, Terminator 2
- Grace Howard, Short Term 12
Also big shoutout to Tom Cruise and his ankle in Fallout and my boy Paddington, but I think the latter goes without saying.
5. Tie: Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2011-2019) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in the Mission: Impossible franchise (1996-2018—minus M:I:2). Two mythic American boy scouts who sacrifice their personal lives for the sake of what they hope is the greater good. Two men who, in their commitment to protecting the little guy, often find themselves at odds with the institutions that enlisted them for that very purpose. “I’m with you till the end of the line.”
4. Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, Éowyn, Théoden, Faramir, and Aragorn (to name a few) in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Although I could have listed the entire trilogy, Return of the King particularly strikes me as a film about a host of heroes. “My friends: you bow to no one.”
3. Neville, Lupin, the Weasleys, and Snape (and many others) in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (2011). Same principle as with #4. It’s no accident I failed to put Harry on the list. It’s not that Harry isn’t heroic, but what is significant about his story is just how many people are willing to lay down their lives to help him, and how he would have utterly failed if they hadn’t. “I’m sorry. I never wanted any of you to die for me.” “Others will tell [my son] what his mother and father died for. One day, he’ll understand.”
2. The farmers and the gunslingers in The Magnificent Seven (1960). One of the gunslingers, Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), insists he is not a hero and points to a deeper, truer version of heroism. But even he becomes a true hero in the end. “Responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists [your fathers] until finally it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage.”
1. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in the Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007). It’s not just predictable, it’s almost mandatory. I can’t think of any other film or franchise, superhero-based or otherwise, that deals with heroism so directly or profoundly. “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
Honorable Mention: The multiple Spider-Folk of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018).