Common Archetypes in Film

All information provided by David Nelson at

Archetypes are, according to Carl Jung, the innate universal psychic dispositions that form the substrate from which the basic themes of human life emerge. But because that sentence is incredibly boring, let me put it another way: If you think about it, Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins are really the same character. They are both orphans, and unexpected heroes who must face great evil to save the universe, etc etc.

Let's look at... 1. The Mad Scientist!!

Whether benign, evil, insane, eccentric, or simply bumbling, mad scientists are a staple of cinema and an inspiration to every kid with a chemistry set. If a character appears on screen in a lab coat, chances are he'll deliver a monologue in which he swears revenge against the community that mocked him, and refers to all standard, garden-variety scientists as "the fools."

Let's look at... 2. The Loose Cannon!!

Lots of movies feature cops, but if all movie cops followed procedure to the letter, action films would contain approximately 2 hours of paperwork, and another hour of eating lunch. That's why we love the loose cannon, also known as "cop-on-the-edge." It doesn't matter how much property damage they cause, they're always ready to battle German terrorists with a witty quip and a grenade launcher

Lets look at... 3. The Wise Old Man!!

Sometime, sheer brawn isn't enough to save the day. You need advice or training, and who better to provide it than a wise old mentor; someone who's seen and done it all, and now has an entire goddamn philosophy to pass on. This archetype is there to train the hero, maybe provide some light comic relief in the form of loud snoring, and die a tragic but inspirational death.

Lets look at... 4. The Sidekick!!!

Sidekicks fulfill an important role in narrative structure. This archetype is the protagonist's best friend, ready to devote time and energy to whatever stupid task is asked of him. And in return, he can expect to be disrespected, patronized, and kidnapped repeatedly. But it's all in a day's work. There are alien sidekicks, corporate lackeys, junior deputies, and other variations of this humiliating lifestyle.

Extra Credit

Post your answer in the comment stream using the following prompt.

Select one of the archetypes listed above and discuss an example from a book or movie. How did the archetype help continue the plot?