Archetypes In Movies: Discover Archetypes In Film & Movies

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How common are archetypes in movies? An archetype is a universal symbol or character that is instantly recognizable to audiences. In film, archetypes are used to help storytelling and for screenwriting character arcs. They can be characters, such as the hero or the villain, or script and screenplay plot elements, such as the quest or the journey. By using archetypes, filmmakers can communicate their story and motivation to a wider audience, as these symbols are often understood by people from different cultures.

There are many character archetypes in movies, film and media. Some of the most common building blocks are the protagonist, the antagonist, the rebel, or the overlook. The protagonist is the main character in a story and are usually good people who are trying to do something positive or save someone. The antagonist is the opposite of the protagonist and are usually bad people who are trying to do something negative or harm someone. The rebel is sometimes a flawed character who does not conform to society’s norms. They are usually outcasts or misunderstood people who are fighting for what they believe in. The overlook is a character who is not given much attention and are often side characters who play a small role in the story.

Character archetypes can be found in stories and films across cultures and time periods. Indiana Jones is a classic example of a rebel archetype – he’s a loner who doesn’t play by the rules and is always on the run. Villains are another common archetype – they embody all the dark personality traits that we as audiences are afraid of. It’s important to understand character archetype examples in movies because they provide filmmakers with a way to quickly establish a character’s personality traits and role in the script. Every character in a film can be stripped down to one or two archetypal roles. This makes it seem like we as audiences “get” the characters instantly, even if we’ve never seen them before.

There are all kinds of archetypes in movies, ranging from story-based to setting-based and—of course—character-based as well. These archetypes are present in every single movie ever made, and they can also be found in every work of fiction written or otherwise created.

Not every movie will include every archetype, but every movie will showcase at least a few archetypes from different categories. Some of these may be more realistic than others; for example, a fantasy setting may not be very realistic, but a Sage character archetype may be more likely than you realize in an actual person.

In this article, you’ll learn about several movie character archetypes you can consider the next time you watch one of your favorite movies. When you understand some of these more common archetypes, you’ll be well on your way to a more thorough understanding and enjoyment of films, too.

Read on to learn more!

Movie Archetypes

The list below includes nine different movie character archetypes for you to explore. After each description, you’ll find a short list of characters that embody these archetypes. Consider these characters and see if you can tell which of their traits help them fit into the archetype category they’ve been assigned here.

Archetype In Movies #1. Hero

The Hero is often the protagonist of the story, although doesn’t necessarily have to be. Most Heroes tend to be male or masculine characters, but more and more frequently, female or feminine Heroes are becoming prominent in film.

The Hero wants to do what’s right and wants to save the day, even if they are reluctant about it from the outset. This character has a lot of physical strength, emotional strength, or both, and uses that strength to push through challenges and struggles along the way. Most Heroes succeed in the end, and it’s very uncommon for the Hero to lose entirely.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Superman of the Superman comics and films
  • Luke Skywalker of Star Wars
  • Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series

Archetype In Movies #2. Mentor

The Mentor is a character who assists the Hero (as well as, sometimes, other characters) and provides advice or guidance to them throughout the course of their journey. Sometimes, the Mentor gives the Hero information that spurs them into action; other times, the Mentor’s symbolic death passes the torch onto the Hero and encourages them to move forward with their task.

The Mentor may be difficult to ask for information, or may be very forthcoming with it. This character may also be male or female, but like the Hero, is more commonly found in male characters in film.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Yoda from Star Wars
  • Dumbledore from Harry Potter
  • Mufasa of The Lion King

Archetype In Movies #3. Ally

The Ally may or may not be the Hero’s best friend, but often is at least part of the Hero’s friend group. The Ally can be an unexpected member of the opposing side turned good (sometimes also crossing into Double Agent archetype territory), or may be someone who has been with the Hero since day one.

This archetype is always there to support the Hero and provide assistance when possible, whether that assistance is physical or emotional. This character may have information or skills vital to the Hero’s success, but may also just be a symbolic shoulder to cry on. The Ally can be male or female.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Robin from Batman
  • Hermione of Harry Potter
  • R2D2 from Star Wars

Archetype In Movies #4. Herald

The Herald is a unique archetype that encompasses Bards and Messengers as well. This archetype involves characters that have useful information to spur the Hero into action. When the Herald gives the Hero that information, the story is set into motion or a central conflict is revealed.

Sometimes, the Herald continues to play a role throughout the rest of the story, or may reprise their role later on. Other times, the Herald is never really heard from again. Like most archetypes, this character may be male or female, and can also be of any age.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Effie from Hunger Games
  • Hagrid of Harry Potter
  • White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland

Archetype In Movies #5. Trickster

Tricksters aren’t always villains, but they are sometimes. These characters are very charismatic and good at talking their way out of almost any situation. They have a lot of skill with words and usually know just what to say to get another character to look the other way—or to do what they want—when mischief is afoot.

The Trickster, more often than not, looks out for themselves first and foremost. This character may be willing to help the Hero, but will only do so if there’s something in it for them as well. They may do the same thing for the main antagonist of the film.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean series
  • The Dude of The Big Lebowski
  • Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter

Archetype In Movies #6. Shapeshifter

Shapeshifters are characters that can either physically change their appearance and form, or symbolically alter their presentation to shift from one alignment to another. When discussing physical shapeshifters, these characters may start out as humans but may quickly take the form of monsters, animals, or even other humans.

On the other hand, when characters are personality-type shapeshifters, they may act as a Double Agent archetype and move from the good guys to the bad guys and back again. This is usually intended to benefit the Shapeshifter more than anyone else, but may not last long, as they often get caught.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Jack Jack from The Incredibles
  • The Evil Queen from Snow White
  • Severus Snape from Harry Potter

Archetype In Movies #7. Threshold Guardian

Yet another unique archetype, the Threshold Guardian is meant to defend either a character or a location from attack and from outside forces. These characters stand guard and will sacrifice their lives if need be to protect the secrets, information, or individuals beyond the boundaries of their thresholds.

These characters may be the strong, silent type. They may also be almost forgettable background characters who tend to blend into the scenery. Even when this happens, however, they serve an important purpose, either by protecting the Hero’s side or providing “bad guy fodder” for the protagonists to battle against.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Master Shifu from Kung Fu Panda
  • Heimdall from the Thor films
  • Stormtroopers from Star Wars

Archetype In Movies #8. Shadow

Almost always, the Shadow is simply another word for the villain of the story. However, even though most Shadows are villains, it’s important to note that they may not always remain as an antagonist. They could have a change of heart and turn to the side of good, or they could prove that there’s more to them than simply evil. The Shadow is not evil, but is not exactly good, either.

Many Shadows do have a heart and may have a strong moral code, too. Some are driven by pure evil, but many are driven by events in their past or feelings for other characters.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Darth Vader of Star Wars
  • Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty
  • Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter

Archetype In Movies #9. Temptress

Last but not least, the Temptress is also sometimes known as the Femme Fatale. This character is a strong female role who may or may not be part of the leading cast. She uses her femininity, physical attractiveness, or body to get what she wants from other characters—usually (but not always) men.

Sometimes, this character is forced into such a position by other characters who hold power over her. Other times, she enjoys living this lifestyle and flaunts herself whenever she gets a chance. Still other times, she may not even realize she is in this role. No matter what, she can take care of herself when she needs to.

Character Examples from Movies

  • Megara from Hercules
  • Padme Amidala from Star Wars
  • Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter

Conclusion

Did you find out something unique or interesting about the archetypes of some of your favorite characters? What’s the point of learning this information, anyway? How much can you learn about yourself and your personality by exploring movie characters?

When you take the time to consider the movie characters you love the most, you’ll find trends that connect them between their archetypes. You may find that you’re drawn to Tricksters and learn something about yourself in that way—maybe you’re a bit of a prankster yourself? Or you might find yourself always interested in Ally characters, which may show that you like supporting others or playing a follower role in life.

There’s always something new to learn about yourself from paying attention to the archetypes you can relate to. When you’ve got a few archetypes to explore, take some time to meditate or otherwise think clearly and calmly about the possibilities with relation to yourself.

In time, you’re sure to find some connections between characters you like and archetypes that are present in your own life, and in your own Self as well.

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