Adventure Movies

12 Best Movies That Follow the Hero’s Journey

December 10, 202312 Mins Read

Everyone who’s interested in how stories are made is bound to have heard the term “the Hero’s Journey.” Also known as the monomyth, it’s a story archetype coined and popularized by Joseph Campbell in the mid-1900s when he noticed that heroes in myths typically go through the same 17 stages in their journey, from the call to adventure that gets the character out of their comfort zone, to the freedom to live found at the end of the ordeals in their adventure.

This narrative template has served as the basis and inspiration of countless stories throughout history – including numerous outstanding films. From a grand fantastical story like Star Wars, to something more grounded in reality like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, these movies don’t always follow every single one of the steps outlined by Campbell, but they stick to more than enough to call each of them a hero’s journey. A tried-and-true way of telling successful stories that resonate with audiences of all ages and nationalities, movies that follow the Hero’s Journey, if well-written, are always a delight like no other.

12 ‘Men in Black’ (1997)

Barry Sonnenfeld’s Campy Sci-Fi Comedy

Men In Black
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

One of the most iconic movies you may not know is based on Marvel comics, Men in Black is the story of a cop (Will Smith) who, after a chase with an otherworldly being, is recruited by an organization that monitors and polices alien activity on Earth. There’s something for every sci-fi fan to enjoy in this movie, from visually stunning special effects to mind-blowing action and just the right amount of humor.

Men in Black follows the Hero’s Journey nearly to a tee, from Agent J getting the call to join the mission of protecting the planet from alien threats and initially refusing the call, to him finally learning to master his two worlds and become the hero he was meant to be. The result is a thrilling sci-fi action adventure that doesn’t get nearly enough praise nowadays, with a heroic protagonist that’s a joy to follow through his journey.

Men In Black

Release Date
July 2, 1997


Watch on Hulu

11 ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ (2000)

Joel and Ethan Coen’s Take on an Old Classic

John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou
Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Coen brothers are masters of making some of the most entertaining crime movies, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? is definitely one of their best. Loosely based on Homer‘s The Odyssey, it’s about three fugitives roaming the southern U.S. in search of treasure with the law hot on their heels. Unlike the Greek classic, however, the Coens’ crime film has great Southern American music, traditional Western tropes, and stars George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro.

The characters in O Brother, Where Art Thou? encounter mentors, face challenges, and go through profound transformations, just like the heroes in the monomyth do. The ensuing adventure is as humorous as it is exciting, an offbeat adaptation of a massively important and influential classic. You can’t go wrong with a well-written and well-directed Coen brothers movie, so O Brother should easily please all cinephiles’ palates.

Rent on Apple TV

10 ‘Batman Begins’ (2005)

Christopher Nolan’s Reinvention of the Caped Crusader

Movies with Hero’s Journey archetypes are fun enough as they are, but mix those elements with a superhero origin story, and you get one of the best entries in the superhero genre. That’s what Batman Begins is, as it reinvents the story of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) origins as the vigilante hero Batman, by placing the character on a journey to become the guardian that his beloved Gotham City deserves.

Christopher Nolan’s first installment in his Dark Knight Trilogy feels more like a character-driven thriller than a traditional superhero film, in the best sense possible. The director cleverly fits Bruce’s process of becoming the Dark Knight into Campbell’s monomyth, showing audiences how the hero is eventually able to master his new identity to save his city.

Watch on Max

9 ‘The Matrix’ (1999)

Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Game-Changing Extravaganza

Three Agents standing in a digital rain hallway in The Matrix
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

When the Wachowskis released The Matrix before the turn of the century, the world was taken by storm, and the sci-fi genre in films would never be the same again. In the movie that cemented him as an action star, Keanu Reeves plays Neo, a man who joins a group of insurgents in their fight against the powerful computers who rule Earth. To this day, The Matrix still receives praise as one of the best sci-fi movies ever.

With its visual innovations, clever cinematography, and unique philosophical themes that have been endlessly analyzed throughout the years, The Matrix was unlike anything audiences had seen before at the time of its release. Perhaps one of the main reasons why its story clicked so well with viewers around the world was because it closely follows the stages of the Hero’s Journey, as Neo goes from an average Joe to an all-powerful hero.

The Matrix

Neo (Keanu Reeves) believes that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), an elusive figure considered to be the most dangerous man alive, can answer his question — What is the Matrix? Neo is contacted by Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), a beautiful stranger who leads him into an underworld where he meets Morpheus. They fight a brutal battle for their lives against a cadre of viciously intelligent secret agents. It is a truth that could cost Neo something more precious than his life.

Release Date
March 31, 1999

136 minutes

Watch on Max

8 ‘Kung Fu Panda’ (2008)

Mark Osborne and John Stevenson’s Martial Arts Adventure

Kung Fu Panda
Image via DreamWorks Animation

For those that think that family animated movies are exclusively for children, Kung Fu Panda is the perfect mind-changing watch. It follows Po (Jack Black), a lazy panda who dreams of being a kung fu hero, as he’s thrust into a journey of discovering his destiny as the Chosen One. There are many examples of the Hero’s Journey in movies that logically follow the same structure, but the creative things that Kung Fu Panda does with the archetype are entirely its own.

Just like all the compelling heroes of Campbell’s model, Po is called to action, goes through several life-threatening ordeals with help from friends and allies, and finds that the power to be the guardian of the Valley of Peace comes from within. Sprinkled with hilarious humor, outstanding voice acting, and some of the best action in any animated film, it’s undoubtedly one of DreamWorks Animation’s best efforts.

Kung Fu Panda

Release Date
June 4, 2008

Mark Osborne , John Stevenson


Rent on Apple TV

7 ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

Andrew Stanton’s Love Letter to Fatherhood

Dory and Marlin smiling as they swim through a circle of fish in Finding Nemo
Image via Walt Disney Studios

Hero’s Journey movies are usually action-focused epics, and not often family-friendly stories about fish. That only makes Finding Nemo even more special. It’s the story of Marlin (Albert Brooks), a timid clownfish who, after his son Nemo (Alexander Gould in one of the best child voice performances in animated cinema) is kidnapped, sets out to find him against all the threats that the deep blue sea has to offer.

Though Finding Nemo isn’t your typical kind of hero’s journey, where the story is much more intimate and the biggest threats that the characters face are mostly internal, it very much follows the formula. What finds itself transformed in the end is the relationship between Marlin and Nemo, in one of the most touching endings of Pixar’s filmography.

Finding Nemo

Release Date
May 30, 2003

Andrew Stanton , Lee Unkrich


Watch on Disney+

6 ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939)

Victor Fleming’s Timeless Musical Classic

Wizard of Oz
Image via Loews Incorporated

An exciting adventure that uses both black-and-white and beautiful color, through a fantastical land that any movie fan would love to live in, The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy (Judy Garland) in her journey through the magical land of Oz, searching for a mysterious wizard who can send her back home.

The movie was an absolute sensation when it came out, and even after more than three-quarters of a century, it’s still remembered as one of the greatest American movie masterpieces. The stages of the monomyth are clear in The Wizard of Oz: the ordinary world is Kansas, Dorothy crosses a very literal threshold to a vastly different world, and her journey of transformation is full of faces both friendly and menacing.

The Wizard of Oz

Release Date
August 15, 1939

Victor Fleming , Mervyn LeRoy , Richard Thorpe , King Vidor

Judy Garland , Frank Morgan , Ray Bolger , Bert Lahr , Jack Haley , Billie Burke


Watch on Max

5 ‘The Lion King’ (1994)

Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s Twist on Shakespeare

1994’s The Lion King is a movie that needs no introduction. Many would say that it’s the best-animated movie to ever come out of Disney, and it’s fully understandable, thanks to its timeless songs and the animated film’s brilliant depiction of grief. It’s the grand and epic story of Simba (Matthew Broderick), a lion cub prince who’s tricked into exile by his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons), who wishes to have the throne for himself.

The animation is majestic, with some really charming character designs, and the story is compelling from beginning to end. Its philosophical themes of identity and self-discovery are beautiful, and the way they’re conveyed through a classic hero’s journey structure in The Lion King is simply perfect. The film is in certain ways an adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet, but its fidelity to Campbell’s monomyth is much more interesting to dissect.

The Lion King (1994)

Release Date
June 24, 1994

88 minutes

Watch on Disney+

4 ‘Harry Potter’ Saga (2001 – 2011)

Warner Bros.’ Magical Journey Through Hogwarts

Hogwarts as seen in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Image via Warner Bros.

The Harry Potter series features not just one, but eight of the movies that best follow the Hero’s Journey. From Chris Columbus‘s Sorcerer’s Stone to David Yates‘s Deathly Hallows — Part 2, the franchise follows the coming-of-age story of the titular character (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two best friends, as they grow to become key players in a war against an evil wizard.

Everyone has a different favorite installment in the series, but every Harry Potter movie plays an equally crucial role in the overarching narrative of the story, which very closely follows the monomyth. Not only that, but each film follows a smaller version of the general model as well. It’s probably what makes these movies so easy to enjoy, since they so faithfully walk along the lines laid out by Campbell and so many filmmakers from before 2001.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Adaptation of the first of J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s novels about Harry Potter, a boy who learns on his eleventh birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. He is summoned from his life as an unwanted child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents’ mysterious deaths.

Release Date
November 16, 2001

152 minutes

Watch on Max

3 ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy (2001 – 2003)

Peter Jackson’s Walk to Mordor

Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd as Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin looking to the distance in The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring
Image via New Line Cinema

There are countless things that make Peter Jackson‘s The Lord of the Rings trilogy one of the best fantasy film franchises of all time, and one of the most important is the fact that all three installments in the trilogy truly feel like part of a greater whole, as they collaborate in telling the story of Frodo (Elijah Wood), the Fellowship of the Ring, and their efforts to destroy the greatest tool of an evil tyrant terrorizing Middle-earth.

Of course, the monomyth-following template was already there, set in stone by the legendary J.R.R. Tolkien when he wrote what’s undoubtedly one of the best series of fantasy books in history. Even yet, the way Jackson and company built on top of that, telling a story that feels undeniably cinematic, is admirable beyond measure.

Watch on Max

2 ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941)

Orson Welles’s Groundbreaking Masterpiece

Image via RKO Radio Pictures

When Orson Welles made his passion project Citizen Kane, he probably had no idea that he was making what would in the future be referred to as the single greatest film of all time by thousands of people, as well as one of the most essential movies of the ’40s. Inspired by magnate William Randolph Hearst, it’s a character study about a group of reporters trying to decipher the last words of Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a powerful newspaper tycoon.

Citizen Kane is an entirely unique picture, and the way it’s structured is just as well. Citizen Kane follows Campbell’s monomyth formula in a very non-traditional way, which only makes it more of a groundbreaking story. There are plenty of good reasons for its fame, and that’s certainly one of the biggest.

Citizen Kane

Release Date
April 17, 1941

Orson Welles , Joseph Cotten , Dorothy Comingore , Agnes Moorehead , Ruth Warrick , Ray Collins


Rent on Apple TV

1 ‘Star Wars’ (1977)

George Lucas’s Revolutionary Space Opera

Han Solo, Leia and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
Image via 20th Century Studios

Perhaps no movie more famously follows the Hero’s Journey archetype than Star Wars, with George Lucas having taken direct inspiration from Campbell. The hero in this particular story is Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a young farm boy who’s thrown into an adventure far greater than anything he’d encountered before, joining the Rebellion against the dictatorial Galactic Empire.

One of the best space operas of all time, Star Wars showcases what makes the monomyth such an effective way of telling stories and celebrating the art of storytelling itself. Luke is a deeply compelling hero, his journey is incredibly entertaining, and all the allies and villains that he encounters along the way are equally iconic. As far as modern myths go, Star Wars is certainly one of the best.

Watch on Disney+

NEXT:Movies You Didn’t Realize Were Based on Greek Mythology

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts


Get our latest downloads and information first.
Complete the form below to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

No, thank you. I do not want.
100% secure your website.