NO MORE HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO: Why TV & Movies Have More Fantastical Figures Than Ever Before

by Anne W. Brennan


Two brothers who hunt the things that go bump in the night, contend with Heaven and Hell, and save the world.  And still bicker like brothers – a lot.

A genius billionaire playboy philanthropist who saves himself from death every second of the day with an implant in his chest, and who uses that genius to bring peace to the world.  With a little attitude.

Teenagers who, having been turned into monsters, still try to maintain their humanity and innocence in the face of thousands of years of war and blood.  And have great parties every week.

A man who was marooned on an island and honed himself into the perfect archer to survive and bring home those skills to help his childhood city.  And be an older brother again.

A man who discovers he is a hunter from fairytales, and rather than kill wholesale, defends with morality and honesty.  And a clock-fixing werewolf buddy.

A fairytale prince and princess who, having regained their memory, fight an evil queen to regain their homeland and bring peace to a kingdom inhabited by a legion of storybook characters.  Including some dwarves.

A young man whose recklessness and courage saved Earth and earned him a crew and a starship, even after having been almost kicked out of his Academy, deserted on an ice planet, and choked nearly to death.  Plus, he gets a lot of girls.

These are just the tip of a very large iceberg created of assassins, scientists, vampires, angels, gods, hunters, Viper pilots, demi-gods, mutants, and cheerleaders.

Now, more than ever in the history of entertainment, in both movies and TV, there are heroes everywhere you turn.  Sam and Dean Winchester, Tony Stark, Oliver Queen, Snow White and Prince Charming, Natasha Romanov, Nick Burkhardt, Kara Thrace, Myka Berrin and Peter Lattimer, Buffy Summers, Captain Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity, James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701, the list goes on of everyday folk who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and must delve deep within themselves to save the day.  Yes, there’s magic, there are demons, there are legacies, there is blood, there are robots, but in the end, it’s about normal people being heroes.

Why are there so many heroes now?  Over the past two decades, the number of shows and movies about heroes and fighting the forces of evil has proliferated at an astonishing rate.  There are still the hospital shows and the police procedural shows, but magic and heroes and heroines are becoming the normal fare for viewers.  One could say that it started with September 11, 2001, when our seemingly safe world was destroyed along with over 3,000 lives and our worldview that America was untouchable.  But it’s more than just that.  Fond as I am of technology and social media, the overwhelming presence of iPhones, Androids, tablets, laptops, Pin-It, tumblr, InstaGram, and yes, Facebook, has brought the world into our homes in all its wonder, weirdness and frightening danger.


So how do we react to the encroaching tide of the world?  We look for heroes.  We’re inspired by those men and women who find themselves in those horrible, extraordinary circumstances and learn from them.  Even as magic and angels and demons crop up on our TV screens and in our movie theatres, we, in the “real world” move to help and aid, as bystanders did in the Boston Marathon Bombings.  As people do to help starving children, mistreated animals, and our languishing planet.  “With great power comes great responsibility,” and we see that in these heroes and heroines who make us feel safer, and who make us feel like we, too, can make a difference.  We can’t all be lawyers or policemen or doctors, but we can be ordinary people doing extraordinary things and give someone five dollars for a meal, or help pinch off an artery so someone doesn’t bleed to death.

Bad things happen to good people, and in this world where there are so many questions as to who is “good” and who is “bad,” we feel that we need heroes more than ever.  We’re always seeking a savior, someone who will bargain with the powers of light and dark for our souls, someone who is relatable but has special skills and who will use those skills to help their fellow human (unless you’re a Norse demi-god, and even he became mortal in order to learn the lesson of humility and the value of life).  These heroes and heroines rush in where angels (unless you’re Castiel) fear to tread, and do what needs doing.  And it doesn’t matter what era, what planet – whether you’re fighting “Oblivion” to save the human race, or battling in a “Revolution” to bring back elecricity and, therefore, order, we look to these characters to help us figure out and conquer the insecurities and fears of our own troubled lives.  We don’t know where evil might be – it might be right behind us – but perhaps we all have those skills deep inside that will spur us to run towards those who need help.  These larger than life TV and movie heroes and heroines aren’t really larger than life – they’re just living up to their potential and doing what needs to be done.

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Of course, it’s all very entertaining, as well, and if the TV show or movie is well-written, we cheer, we laugh, and we want more, hence the onslaught of sequels and reboots.  Nothing beats back the blues of the real world like escapist fantasy and a valiant and victorious ending.  But the real reason we love the magic and the fairytales and the struggles between good and evil?  Because we can be heroes and heroines, too, in our own lives, whether it’s a tiny act of assistance or a “newsworthy” moment of valor.  No gesture is too small, or too big, and we have our Winchesters, Crightons, Nobles, O’Neills, Skywalkers, Ripleys, Jacksons, Waynes, Wolverines, Holmeses, Starks, cheerleaders, Kirks, Greys, Summerses, Rogues, Wonder Women, and Romanovs to thank for giving us courage.

There are heroes everywhere you look.  You might even find one when you look in the mirror.