Discover the most famous examples of movies that follow the hero’s journey.
Hollywood offers many outstanding examples of screenwriting and filmmaking. Once you know to look for the hero’s journey, you can find dozens of popular films that use the hero’s journey. Basically, watch for films where an ordinary person hears a call to adventure, meets a mentor of some sort, and team-up with an ally and or a group of friends to defeat a common villain or foe. Along the way, they should acquire some powers, face setbacks, and change fundamentally. They’d be every Marvel and recent superhero movie, then!
1. Star Wars
Without a doubt, one of the greatest examples of a movie series that follows the hero’s journey is the 1978 movie Star Wars Episode IV by George Lucas. The follow-up movies also follow this framework.
We meet Luke Skywalker as a young farm boy. After receiving a call to adventure from R2D2, he goes on a journey to rescue Princess Leia and defeats the Empire. He encounters mentors like Obi-Wan Kenobi and villains like Darth Vader. Through this journey, Luke discovers his true identity as a Jedi Knight and returns a hero, albeit fundamentally changed. Similarly, other characters in the Star Wars franchise also experience their versions of the hero’s journey, such as Anakin Skywalker, Rey, and even Finn. The results are somewhat less enjoyable.
2. Harry Potter
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling follows the hero’s journey to the letter throughout multiple movies. The call to adventure comes in the form of a letter inviting him to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Once at Hogwarts, Harry faces a series of trials and obstacles as he learns about magic, makes friends or allies, and fights villains or: the dark wizard, Lord Voldemort.
Our hero faces many challenges and tests, like the chamber of secrets (a movie of its own), the Triwizard tournament, and the deathly hallows (another movie). Throughout the series, Harry Potter evolves from a young 11-year-old prodigy wizard into a hero who saves the Hogwarts Universe. For more, check out our guide to the best British authors.
3. Iron Man
If you are looking for the perfect archetype of the hero, check out the Iron Man movies… or any Avengers or recent Marvel movie. Tony Stark, in particular, follows the hero’s journey framework.
He starts as a somewhat obnoxious wealthy arms dealer before a near-death experience. He returns with new powers and changes the world for good. The Iron Man movies employ many hero’s journey tropes. Stark meets more than his fair share of villains and allies! In effect, Ironman or Tony Stark becomes a type of mentor in future Marvel movies that also use this framework.
4. The Lion King
Most people have a special place in their hearts for Disney, thanks partly to The Lion King. You follow Simba as he grows from a lion cub into the pack’s leader. Even though it is devastating when his father, Mufasa, passes away, watching him grow up is still a fantastic experience. Then, he challenges his uncle, Scar, who spends a lot of time in his cave. The Lion King can also be a great introduction to the world of Disney. It’s also family-friendly.
5. The Wizard of Oz
Not all hero’s journey movies are recent releases. Consider this entry from the world of classic Hollywood. Released in 1939, in The Wizard of Oz, we meet a young heroine, Dorothy, as she seeks to help a bunch of people who each have their personal flaws. You can watch Dorothy fight against evil witches, save her friends, and learn more about herself. Expect classic movie lines like “follow the yellow brick road” and “Happiness is the most important thing!”
6. The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings is a classic high fantasy work that follows the hero’s journey throughout three books. We meet Frodo, a Hobbit, seeking to save Middle Earth by destroying the One Ring. He travels with friends and allies like Samwise and Gandalf and faces off against villains and sorcerers like the Saruman and Sauron. The books are somewhat heavier than the movies, but both will lead you on a fantastical adventure. The series is filled with monsters, magic, and more twists and turns than you can count. If you want to see the hero’s many stages unfold, consider following Frodo from the Shire to Mordor. For more, check out our guide to the best fantasy authors.
The Spiderman franchise is another popular Marvel (and Sony) series that repeatedly uses the hero’s journey. There are numerous Spiderman universes, each of which has its own Peter Parker and variations on the hero’s journey. Peter Park, aka Spiderman, gains the ability to shoot amazingly strong webs from his wrists. He also acquires superhuman strength, stamina, and speed.
Throughout the movies, Spiderman teams up with friends and allies (including Tony Stark) to defeat villains like Dr. Octopus, Electro, and the Green Goblin. Spiderman: No Way Home (2021) is the best movie from the franchises as it incorporates all of these elements, heroes, and villains. Check out these essays about films.
8. The Matrix
Alongside Star Wars, The Matrix is the most popular recent example of a movie using the hero’s journey. Viewers follow Neo as he meets his mentor Morpheus and escapes the matrix. He acquires new powers, defeats a cadre of secret agents, and shows the rest of us that we’ve been living in a dream. The movie series has plenty of action scenes, numerous espionage examples, and an amazing adventure as Neo seeks to learn more about himself, where he came from, and what the future holds. It’s an excellent example of a dystopian work and also compelling science-fiction. It’s just a shame the sequels pale in comparison to the original.
9. The Goonies
Directed by Richard Donner and released in 1985, this film follows a group of friends, known as the “Goonies,” who live in the “Goon Docks” neighborhood of Astoria, Oregon. They discover an old treasure map in the attic of one of the member’s houses. This call to adventure causes them to seek a treasure to save their neighborhood from being turned into a golf course.
They face many obstacles and challenges along the way, including booby traps set by the treasure’s original owner and a group of criminals searching for the treasure. The Goonies discover an underground cavern and a shipwrecked pirate ship, where the treasure is located. Eventually, the group finds the treasure, but they must also escape the pursuing criminals and a collapsing cavern. The gang returns home to save the neighborhood and bond as a group. One of the stars of The Goonies is Sean Astin, who’s also part of the principal cast in Lord of the Rings.
10. The Karate Kid
Released in 1984 and remade years later as a Netflix show, The Karate Kid recounts the story of Daniel LaRusso. He moves with his mother to a new city, where a group of karate students bullies him. He meets a wise and skilled karate master named Mr. Miyagi, who agrees to teach Daniel karate to defend himself.
Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel in the art of karate, both physically and mentally. Mr. Miyagi uses tasks such as painting a fence and sanding the floor to teach Daniel the principles of balance, focus, and discipline. A famous quote from his mentor Mr. Miyagi? “Wax on, wax off.”
Daniel enters a karate tournament to face off against the bullies and the tournament’s reigning champion, Johnny Lawrence. He’s the leader of the group that bullied Daniel. With Mr. Miyagi’s guidance, Daniel defeats Johnny and wins the respect of his peers. Per the classic hero’s journey framework, Daniel learns important life lessons and develops self-confidence and self-worth.
Final Word on Movies That Follow the Hero’s Journey
These are just a few movies that follow the hero’s journey. Even though not all of them perfectly mirror Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, all the heroes mentioned hear a call to adventure, meet mentors and friends and face off against a villain or foe. Through this journey, they become a different person and change the world. Of course, many different characters play a role in the hero’s journey. Check out our article on the different character archetypes.
Whether you are watching a fantasy movie, a science fiction film, a thriller, or a comedy, see if you can identify individual stages along the hero’s journey. The power of myth is everywhere, one you know to look for! For more insights like this, check our list of great essays about heroes.
FAQs About Movies That Follow the Hero’s Journey
Is there a classic story that heroes are frequently based on?
Every movie is slightly different, but many mirror The Odyssey by Homer. This tale is regarded as one of the classics regarding heroes. The story follows Odysseus as he encounters trials and tribulations along the way. Many of the popular hero movies of today have some of the same elements as The Odyssey.
What are the individual stages of the hero’s journey?
The individual stages of the hero’s journey in the template include the Ordinary World, The Call to Adventure, the refusal of the call, the meeting with the mentor, the crossing the first threshold, tests and allies along the road of trials, the innermost cave, and the supreme ordeal.
There are of course many different characters who play a role in the hero’s journey. Check out our article on the different character archetypes.
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