Most Popular Heroes of Recent Movies

Everyone loves a hero in a story. No matter what stripe the protagonist of the story has, he or she is sure to have a crowd of adoring fans. From the most paragon-like of superheroes to the grittiest anti-heroes, the most popular movie protagonists steal most scenes in which they appear, whether by a quirky personality, unerring courage, or spectacular feats. Here are a few of the most popular film protagonists from recent films, even though some of them had their genesis in earlier films.

From “Revenge of the Sith,” the final film of the “Star Wars” saga released in 2005, we have Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi. In this film, Anakin has started down the path to the Dark Side of the Force, and fans widely derided his actions. Even though some of the most stressful situations such as entering the atmosphere in a ship not designed to do so, Obi-wan maintained his cool and poise, just as the ideal Jedi Master should be. Obi-wan achieved a feat that no Jedi during the Clone Wars had: killing General Grievous. Even Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu doubted his ability to do the job. The main appeal of Obi-wan is due to his appearances in other films in the “Star Wars” series.

In 2006, Johnny Depp continued his role as quirky pirate Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” His Keith Richards-like mannerisms and devil-may-care attitude enchanted fans everywhere. For several years, it was common to hear people add the word savvy as a question mark to their sentences courtesy of Jack Sparrow. His defining moment in “Dead Man’s Chest” occurs at the end of the film when Elizabeth Swann ties him to the mast of the Black Pearl while the Kraken comes for him. Rather than succumb to fright, Jack Sparrow says “‘Ello, beastie” and strides into the Kraken’s mouth with sword held high. This is after having spent the whole film looking for a way to resolve his debt to Davy Jones.

Interest in ancient Sparta saw a revival in 2007 with Zac Snyder’s “300.” Retelling the ancient battle of Thermopylae that had 300 Spartans defending the critical pass against thousands of Persians, this film had the Spartan king Leonidas as the hero. From practically his first scene-the one that introduced the mimetic “This is Sparta!” quote, the character practically bled testosterone. Leonidas had more than his share of motivational lines. The scenes where he cuts swathes through the Persian army while wearing nothing but a loincloth, cape, and helmet gained him more than a few female fans, and the so-called “300 workout” became popular for males trying to get the physique of the Spartans.

In 2008, Batman made his reappearance in “The Dark Knight.” Although “Batman Begins” was a popular film, its sequel was acclaimed as one of the best superhero films ever made. Batman exemplified what it was to be Batman when facing the most psychotic incarnation of the Joker yet played by the late Heath Ledger. Bruce Wayne nearly lost himself to the Batman persona, lost his lover Rachel Dawes, and at the end of the film took the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes. Despite the Joker’s efforts, Batman kept strictly to his vow not to kill even when it would have been easier and perhaps more pragmatic to kill the Joker.

Finally, 2006 also saw a re-imagining of MI6 agent 007, also known as James Bond. After 2002’s “Die Another Day” was practically a parody of the series, “Casino Royale” brought Bond back to basics. The film eschewed the innuendo-laden conversations, over-the-top gadgets, and spectacular action. It emphasized the assassin part of James Bond’s work, making him less of the super-spy action hero he had been as well as making him vulnerable. In one scene, Bond nearly dies from cardiac arrest due to poison; the tension in the scene was palpable, especially considering his defibrillator was malfunctioning. In earlier films, such a scene might have been met with relative boredom. The film was an attempt to reboot the franchise for the post-9/11 world and an origin story of sorts for the character; his iconic line, as well as the classic Bond theme, was not used at all until the end.

These are just five of the most popular incarnations of film heroes in recent works. The prevailing trend has been to make existing characters edgier, but despite the graying of their morality, the characters remain firmly entrenched as heroes in their audiences’ minds.