Think about your five favorite movies and the main character in each. What are their goals? What kind of quest do they go on? Maybe some of these heroes have similar goals. “Kill the bad guy/save the day” and “get the girl” are popular ones. Do those goals tell you anything about yourself?
Some character goals are simple. If you look at most popular movies, it’s easy to tell what the character wants. In Jaws, for example (kill the shark/save the day), or American Pie (get the girl), the goals are clearly marketed to the audience even before the movie comes out. Often the goal is implied by the title (i.e. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Braveheart, Me, Myself and I, etc.).
“To boldly go where no man has gone before” is a great slogan for Star Trek. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. And who watches Star Trek? People who want to “explore strange new [fictional] worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.” Compare this audience to the demographic watching The Place Beyond The Pines. Now look at the audience for Fast and Furious or G.I. Joe: Retaliation and you can plainly see a different set of moviegoers to match the goals of the heroes.
One of the best pieces of pop cinema is Goodfellas. Henry Hill immediately tells us that as far back as he can remember, he always wanted to be a gangster. And he gets to. He walks on the other side of the law until it’s about to cost him his life, and then he jumps into hiding, and back into square society. This is a fantasy a lot of us would love to live out, and it’s no wonder that movie is a classic.
Sometimes the goal of the protagonist is a little harder to figure out. What is Don Draper’s goal in Mad Men? It’s tough to say it in a few words. How about the characters in Glengarry GlenRoss? As a rule, the more words you need to describe the hero’s goal, the less people will go to the theater to see it.
However our tastes are formed, it’s impossible to say all the reasons we like the things we like. Joe Blow might be a natural-born lover of spy thrillers while John Doe might be a sudden convert to historical dramas after seeing Elizabeth. Trying to appreciate someone else’s top five list is tough to do and involves stepping out of our comfort zone.
Here are five of my favorite movies. The hero’s goal in a few of these is fairly straightforward but some of them leave me wondering about my brain.
2001: A Space Odyssey