What would cinema be without instantly recognizable heroes like Indiana Jones, Cameron Poe, Harry Potter, and Luke Skywalker? Well, as far as their stories are concerned, apparently not too different. Of all the great screenwriting fails and narrative snafus, movie heroes who have no effect on the plot is among the most flagrant of sins, yet has produced a number of great movies that don't need heroes.
The idea of the ineffective hero was made infamous by a film-ruining moment in The Big Bang Theory that shook fan boys and girls to their nerdy cores by torpedoing Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since then, film fans have been endlessly debating which other beloved favorites are led by useless movie heroes. Was Voldemort's bid for power destined to fail with or without Harry being there? Is Atticus Finch the most brilliantly pointless lawyer in fiction? Let's destroy some great movie characters!
Raiders of the Lost Ark started this whole debate in the first place. The first installment of cinematic dream-team George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg's classic action/adventure series follows 1930s archeology heartthrob Indiana Jones as he endeavors to foil an occult Nazi plot (the go-to historical baddies) to find and harness the mysterious power of the Ark of the Covenant.
Except that, as explained by Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, "Indiana Jones plays no role in the outcome of the story. [...] If he weren't in the movie, the Nazis would still have found the Ark, taken it to the island, opened it up, and all died, just like they did."
And she's totally right. All Indie really does is slow the Nazis down. They still get their leather-gloved hands on the Ark, they still end up opening it, and the Ark is the thing that stops them, not Doctor Jones. Still, we'll always have that great gun vs. sword scene.
Actors: Harrison Ford, Alfred Molina, Karen Allen, Frank Welker, Denholm Elliott, + more
Initial Release: 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Also Rankedsee more on Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Boy Who Lived. And made no difference to the outcome of this film.
Think about it. Although the titular wizard in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone goes through a lot of personal growth in the first installment of this epic seven movie saga, he has very little significant impact on the plot. As with most of the Potter films to come, Professor Snape does most of the work and gets none of the credit; he keeps Harry safe from Professor Quirrell/Voldemort and does his best to foil the evil plot before Harry and the gang even start to suspect him/them.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione also needlessly go through all those deadly traps to get the Philosopher's Stone, despite it being perfectly protected already - it can only be obtained by someone who wants it without wanting to use it, meaning conniving Quirrell never stood a chance. In fact, the only significant thing Harry does is make it easier for Quirrell to obtain the Stone by just showing up. Good job, kid.
To be fair, this is all on JK Rowling, not the filmmakers.
Actors: Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Julianne Hough, John Hurt, John Cleese, + more
Initial Release: 2001
Directed by: Chris Columbus
#17 on The Greatest Movie Themes
#40 on The Most Rewatchable Moviessee more on Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
By the end of Alien, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the only surviving member of the spacecraft Nostromo crew. Since she fails to save any other member of the crew (besides the cat) and destroys most of the Nostromo in her escape, it's safe to say the outcome of the film would've been basically no different without Ripley - everyone would've died and the ship would've been rendered useless. Sure, she saves the cat, but left to its own devices, the cat probably could've eluded the titular extraterrestrial and survived for some time on all the corpses littering the ship.
The uselessness of Ripley is reiterated by the odd structure of the film, by which the ship's captain, Dallas, is essentially the protagonist until he dies, at which point Ripley, second in command, emerges as the hero. If she weren't there, some other crew member would've taken over, and all the same stuff would've happened. Thanks for nothing, Ripley.
Actors: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, + more
Initial Release: 1979
Directed by: Ridley Scott
#70 on The Greatest Movie Themes
#12 on The Best '70s Moviessee more on Alien
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) has praised as one of the greatest literary characters and cinematic heroes of all time. Yet, how much influence on the plot of To Kill A Mockingbird does he actually have?
Finch may be as compelling and eloquent a lawyer as they come, but, ultimately, his skills prove futile in changing any of the tragic events in this adaptation of Harper Lee's classic morality tale about prejudice and fear. If you remove Finch from the story, an innocent man would have still been killed in prison by the townsfolk, Boo Radley would have still saved Scout's life, and the outcome of the trial would have been the same.
Ultimately, Finch accomplishes nothing he sets out to do. Perhaps the point here is seeing the dignity in his failure. But still. He doesn't really do much.
Actors: Robert Duvall, Gregory Peck, William Windom, Alice Ghostley, Brock Peters, + more
Initial Release: 1962
Directed by: Robert Mulligan
Also Rankedsee more on To Kill a Mockingbird