Six Types of Characters Audiences Love

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Indiana Jones. Hannibal Lecter. Seinfeld. Rocky Balboa. Walter White. These memorable characters are dynamic, puzzling, funny, terrifying, and inspiring by turn. Audiences crave characters that transport them to new worlds. They want characters who offer a vicarious thrill ride through lives they’ll never lead themselves – that’s part of the joy of movies.

Memorable characters are essential to good storytelling, so let’s take a look at a few crowd favorites that keep audiences coming back for more:

Look at me! I can climb stairs! Rocky (1976) Photo courtesy: MGM

No. 1 — The Underdog

There are few variations on a hero as popular as the underdog. Watching a hero struggle to overcome nearly insurmountable odds is one of the purest narrative pleasures ever conceived. Absolutely everyone loves an underdog.

One of the most famous underdogs appears in Rocky (1976). This classic movie tells the story of a small-time boxer who is determined to make it. In the most famous sequence from the film, Rocky races up the steps in Philadelphia to a soundtrack that has become synonymous with overcoming the odds.

Say hello to my extremely interesting character. Scarface (1983) Photo courtesy: Universal Pictures

No. 2 — The Obsessive

Audiences love obsessed characters. They are gritty, goal-oriented, indomitable — and fun to watch. Their passionate energy magnetizes everyone around them, including the audience. Take one of the most haunting portraits of raw ambition ever committed to film: cult favorite Scarface (1983).

Scarface tells the story of Tony (Al Pacino), who is consumed with the desire to make it as a drug kingpin. Audiences are still electrified by watching Tony rise and fall, all the way to end when Tony grabs his M16 and utters his famous lines: “Say hello to my little friend.” Tony is shot more than a dozen times, his life ending in unforgettable bloody blaze.

My box office receipts will go onnnnnnn…. Titanic (1997) Photo courtesy: Paramount

No. 3 — The Naif

Everyone was young once. We were all naïve. Some of us still are — which is part of the enduring popularity of this character: we’ve all been there. Watching someone lose their innocence is painful and terrible and poignant and relatable, a recipe for a pretty great character.

Titanic (1997) shattered box office records when it hit the silver screen. The story follows Rose (Kate Winslet), a young ingenue who falls in love with a grifter (Leonardo DiCaprio) just before the ship famously sinks. She begins as a confused girl and ends a woman who knows who and what she wants. It’s an extraordinary coming-of-age tale and its character are some of the most beloved ever committed to film.

Look at these great characters (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Seinfeld (1995-2002) Photo courtesy: Columbia TriStar Television

No. 4 — The Smart Aleck

We all love laughing, but we especially love a smart aleck. Consistently listed as one of the best shows ever to appear on television, Seinfeld featured a number of extraordinarily memorable characters. In fact, the show billed itself as being “about nothing” – the show was focused almost solely on the lives of its hilarious characters. And it all revolved around Seinfeld – a smart aleck.

I hate snakes! Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Photo courtesy: Paramount

No. 5 –The Adventurer

Very few of us would venture into a booby-trapped cave crawling with tarantulas to get a priceless ancient gold figurehead. But that’s exactly why Indiana Jones is such a compelling character: because we would never do the things he does. Audiences get a chance to live vicariously through adventurous characters. He’s handsome and interesting and brave and funny and all the things we all wish we were or wish we could find in a dreamy love partner. Indiana Jones is the consummate adventurer and one of the most memorable characters that has ever appeared on the silver screen.

Pro tip: do not anger retired assassins. Like, ever. John Wick (2014) Photo courtesy: Summit Entertainment

No. 6 — The Avenger

Most of us have been wronged by someone. Most of us have imagined elaborate revenges that involve machetes and cleansing fire. (Well, at least some of us have.) Watching characters avenge grievous injustices is deeply cathartic for anyone who has ever been wronged. It’s a vicarious thrill ride.

One of the most popular revenge films centers on a dead dog and retiree. This doesn’t sound like a recipe for a captivating character, but John Wick (2014) makes it work. When Russian thugs steal his Mustang and kill his dog, John Wick comes out of retirement as a master assassin to kill everyone who had a hand in murdering the beloved canine. Is there any better reason for revenge?

These spellbinding types of characters enrapture audiences. Audiences remember them forever – and love them because of it.

What are your favorite types of movie characters? Why do you love them? Sound off below!

 

 

 

 

author-avatar

Jennie Evenson is the author of "Shakespeare for Screenwriters" (Michael Wiese, 2013) and the forthcoming "Storytelling Secrets of the Masters." As a writer in LA, Evenson worked as a consultant for Netflix and developed ideas at production houses from DreamWorks to Focus Features. You can follow her on Twitter: @JM_Evenson

10 Replies to "Six Types of Characters Audiences Love"

  • comment-avatar
    Brian July 7, 2017 (8:03 am)

    Ash, Army of Darkness (1992)

  • comment-avatar
    Henri July 7, 2017 (9:50 am)

    Nice fun article to read.

  • comment-avatar
    Darrell Hines July 7, 2017 (11:15 am)

    Good read and info.

  • comment-avatar
    Anthony A. LoBue July 8, 2017 (5:46 am)

    I am a subscriber. How do I download your free 40 screenplays?

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      Jenna Milly July 8, 2017 (10:48 am)

      Please send a note to support@screenwritingu.com and we’ll resend them. They should come to you in an email the first time you sign up for the newsletter, but if it’s been a while, we’re happy to resend!

  • comment-avatar
    Anton S.Jayaraj July 8, 2017 (8:13 am)

    Very nice read indeed. I have learnt a lot about some memorable characters in this article. Thanks.

  • comment-avatar
    Fran Gertler July 8, 2017 (10:32 am)

    Helpful article. Thanks!!

  • comment-avatar
    Anna Ray-Jones July 11, 2017 (8:55 am)

    In all these characters, you couldn’t cite even one female lead or example? How about Clarisse in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? The two heroines who defy male authority in THELMA AND LOUISE, heroic female warriors such as Katniss Everdeen in the HUNGER GAMES, and the latest WONDER WOMAN. These too are important characters and much needed to be seen by women and young girls. That yu didn’t even name one is bewildering.

    • comment-avatar
      Jay Cee August 9, 2017 (11:22 am)

      I kind of agree. It seems like the kind of character audiences love are either action-driven men or women who spend most of their film buffeted by the whims of others.

  • comment-avatar
    Paddy July 11, 2017 (11:25 am)

    Oops – I guess Kate Winslet doesn’t count . Hmmmmm. And. Which male lead above is best for your sons? Probably not Rocky cause He lost the fight.

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