The Case of the Unsung Hero

If we were to ask you, “Who is the hero of Die Hard?” You would have to say John McClane. What about The Princess Bride? Why, Westley and Princess Buttercup of course. Well sure, they’re the OBVIOUS heroes. But what about the people on the side? Who are the heroes in the background? Every once in a while, the outcome of a movie hinges on the presence of one character; and sometimes that character gets overlooked.

This week, we discuss the idea of an Unsung Hero in movies. We name some of our favorites, try (and sometimes fail) at finding examples in certain films, and question whether every movie has one.

Unsung Hero

  • What is an unsung hero?
    • A character with a relatively small role in comparison to the lead
    • This character makes a choice or performs an action that allows the protagonist to succeed in their goal
    • This character sometimes only appears in one scene, but without them the movie could not have continued forward
  • Does every film have one?
    • An unsung hero only serves a purpose in certain stories; If a story doesn’t involve a character attempting to achieve a particular goal or have a main protagonist, it’s more likely to not have an obvious unsung hero
      • For example, we struggled to find an unsung hero in stories like, “A Walk to Remember,” and “Dirty Dancing.”
    • In some films, the unsung hero is more obvious than in others. Not every film hinges on one moment or character. These characters are sometimes really fancy plot devices
  • Let’s name some classic films and which character is the unsung hero
    • Emperor’s New Groove: Kronk
      • Without his decision to spare the Emperor’s life, the story would have ended short for Kuzco. 
    • Die Hard: Sgt. Al Powell
      • His bravery and ability to keep the LAPD, SWAT, and FBI informed.  He also was able to restrain them from doing anything too rash.  In the end he also saves McClane by shooting Karl (Gruber’s right hand man).
    • Blade Runner: Gaff
      • His subtle decision to show that he spared Rachael’s life by leaving an origami unicorn at the apartment.
    • Finding Nemo: Nigel (the pelican)
      • Nigel conveys the message of hope to Nemo that inspires him to escape the tank
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Narcissa Malfoy
      • There are a lot of unsung heroes in the Harry Potter universe but one of the most unlikely is Narcissa Malfoy
      • Because of her choice to put Draco before the Dark Lord, she lies to Voldemort. This gives Harry the upper hand and allows him to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named
    • A Christmas Carol: Jacob Marley
      • In death and without any reward he comes to Scrooge warning him that his wicked ways will send him to an afterlife with chains.
      • There is no clear reward for Jacob Marley besides the knowledge of Scrooge’s redemption
    • Argo: Sahar 
      • Not only did she help to shelter the Americans but she lied to an intelligence officer convincing him that the guests were not American and had only been there two days (not the actual 5 months)
    • The Music Man (film) – Tommy Djilas
      • Tommy is the town trouble-maker that Harold Hill recruits to lead the band
      • In the end, Tommy comes through and actually shows that the band can play, much to Harold Hill’s surprise
    • The Neverending Story – Bookseller
      • Without his intentional reverse psychology in getting Bastian to take the book there would be no Fantasia to save and he would not have the courage to stand up to his bullies
  • We decided to name some films and try to find their Unsung Heroes on the spot! It didn’t work out as well as we would have hoped, but it was still fun
    • Princess Bride
      • The Dread Pirate Roberts before Westley became him.  This is because he spared Westley’s life, thus allowing Westley to save Buttercup
      • Possibly Miracle Max as well for bringing Westley back to life so he could storm the castle
    • Newsies: Bryan Denton
      • He helped bring attention to the strike with his writing and helped the boys to produce their own flyer gaining the public’s sympathy
    • Jumanji
      • We found out we need to see this movie again….
      • We had a difficult time deciding, wondering if it was Bentley, the cop that protects the children’s aunt and attempts to slow down Van Pelt (the gunman); Or was it Nora Shepherd, the aunt that bought the old Parish home?
    • Jurassic Park
      • Possibly the Raptor that killed Ray Arnold (AKA Samuel Jackson)
      • Or Samuel Jackson himself
    • The Princess Diaries: Lily
      • She brought attention to the fact that being a Princess will mean that Mia would be able to influence a lot of people, and that turning it down would be a waste of an incredible opportunity
      • We also considered Joe, who comes to Mia’s rescue and brings her to accept her position as Princess of Genovia
    • The Goonies: Rosalita
      • If she had not found jewels in the marble sac before Mikey’s dad signed the house over, then the treasure hunt would have been for naught.

Can you think of an unsung hero from a favorite film? Let us know! Thanks for listening!

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