The Hero’s Journey On Screen: A Monomythic Supercut

By  · Published on November 8th, 2016

One of the oldest narrative templates as applied to the movies.

In terms of storytelling, cinematic or otherwise, the monomyth – or the hero’s journey as it’s better known – is one of the most fundamental and often-used narrative templates in existence. Basically stated, the hero’s journey involves five elements: the hero themselves, the journey they go on, the crisis they encounter that results in triumph and sends them home changed for the better. Though the construct is as old as man’s ability to talk, it was only introduced by name in 1949 by renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, who added a couple or few supernatural components and tons of insightful analysis to the mix, but basically the gist remained the same: a good person has an adventure, trumps evil, comes home a better person. You can see it in every story from The New Testament to Moby Dick to The Dark Tower, as well as scores of famous movies. In fact, it is so common it’s antithesis has become common as well, the antihero’s journey, in which a good person goes out and encounters a crisis that changes them for the worse; think Breaking Bad, Dexter, or pretty much every Lars von Trier movie.

Jack Nugent at the Now You See It channel on YouTube is known for his insightful video essays, but this week he’s let the images speak for themselves with this very telling supercut that features several of Hollywood’s most successful depictions of the hero’s journey, including such seemingly disparate films as The Wizard of Oz, The Matrix, The Godfather and scores more (all listed below the embed).

Presented like this in a variety of genres from a variety of decades via some of the greatest films the world has ever known, the hero’s journey doesn’t come across as just some old staunch and rigid storytelling template that turns narrative into a cookie-cutter product – though certainly it can be used for that – but rather also as an agent of its own subversion: through his selections and the spectrum they cover, Nugent demonstrates how in order to stand out you have to first stand up to the conventions that define a medium, and you can’t do that until you’ve mastered said conventions.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Truman Show (1998)
Office Space (1999)
The Incredibles (2004)
Hercules (1997)
Spirited Away (2001)
Room (2015)
Elf (2003)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
The Matrix (1999)
The Hunger Games (2012)
Spider-man (2002)
Mulan (1998)
Django Unchained (2012)
The Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
The Sandlot (1993)
The Lion King (1994)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Interstellar (2014)
Wall-E (2008)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Mary Poppins (1964)
The Karate Kid (1984)
Whiplash (2014)
Evan Almighty (2007)
X-Men (2000)
The Godfather (1972)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Princess Bride (1973)
Die Hard (1988)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Jaws (1975)
Alien 3 (1992)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Cast Away (2000)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Rocky (1976)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Forrest Gump (1994)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Fargo (1996)

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist