Your Favourite Films Exposed

1 December 2014

By Lauren E. White

The history of film began back in 1878 with the first motion picture ever made: The Horse in Motion. Following the early breakthrough of films, Technicolor was invented and the film industry evolved further and further. With hundreds of thousands of films made over the years, it appears that the most successful ones all follow the same structure and posses the same characters.

Yes, that does indeed mean that Finding Nemo follows the same structure as your favourite horror film (rated 18).

“How?” you might ask. Well, here is a guide to stripping down your favourite films and realising that actually, they all have the same points, just portrayed in different ways.


First of all, in any film, there are always characters and every successful film will have a character that fits the bill when it comes to these roles. According to Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, in each character belonging to a successful film the audience must relate to themselves. The ‘goodie’, the ‘baddie’ and all of the fiction in between – each member of the audience must see themselves in characters to engage and bond with the film.

The Hero

In order to have a successful film, you must have the hero whose purpose is to simply break away from their ‘ordinary world’; to make a sacrifice to get to their new – and often better – one. The hero plays an important part in the film as they go on a journey throughout – they are the protagonist and the journey is the plot of the film.

Mentor and Herald

The mentor is the character or presence who guides the hero on their path or journey and usually provides them with advice they need before they set off into the unknown. A mentor essentially builds the hero up, ready for the journey and helps to rid the self-doubt they have. In popular films, the mentor is usually a wise old man or woman, possibly a supernatural mentor with magical powers. Sometimes the mentor and the herald can be the same character, the herald often appears at the very beginning of a story, usually to announce the call to adventure. They are placed in the story to warn and to challenge as well to signify the upcoming adventure the hero must embark on.

Threshold Guardian

This role in a film may not be a physical character; it is, nevertheless, a vital one, crucial to the hero’s journey. The threshold guardian can be a secret vault, a locked door, a force or a character, and their sole purpose is to test the hero. The hero must defeat this minor bump in the road to move along with their journey.

Shape Shifter and Shadow

The shape shifter is a manipulative character who is there to disguise another character’s intentions and loyalties. The shape shifter causes doubts in the hero’s mind but never throws them off track, only pushes them to the edge. The shadow often represents our darkest desires and even our rejected qualities. It can also symbolize our greatest fears and phobias – this is because it is usually the hero’s enemies and villains who wear the shadow mask.

Once all of the characters have been written into a film, the producers use a machine called Epagogix to determine whether the film will be a box office hit or not.  Epagogix’s approach to individual film scripts works by identifying and qualifying how and where to improve their commercial value. The majority of popular films follow the same structure of characters and events in the film from a call to adventure to the resurrection in which it is the hero’s final battle with their enemy and the Epagogix method tracks these techniques, helping its prediction.

Unfortunately, it seems that some of your favourite films like The Hunger Games, Toy Story, Monsters Inc, The Wizard of Oz and so many more follow the patterns recognised by Epagogix, and some of these producers have used the machine to promise success.


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