In Getaway, Ethan Hawke stars as Brent Magna, a man who must follow the directions of a mysterious man (Jon Voight) in an effort to rescue his wife before time runs out. It’s another example of filmmakers using family as the main motivation behind the main character’s actions.
The trick is as old as time – but it’s also extremely effective. By seeing the protagonist’s family members in danger, it becomes easier for the audience to place themselves in his/her shoes. All moviegoers have to do is imagine their loved ones in the same situation and the story becomes more relatable. Even if the character resorts to vigilante methods such as kidnapping and torturing people (see Hugh Jackman in the trailer for Prisoners), it becomes excusable in our eyes because the character is ultimately trying to save his family – a noble goal.
In honor of Getaway, here are five of our favorite movie heroes who would do anything to save their family. Our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to submit your picks in the comments after you’ve seen our choices.
After a horrific tragedy left his wife and several unborn babies dead, clown fish Marlin is understandably paranoid of venturing out into the depths of the ocean. He would much rather stay safe inside his anemone home and have his only son Nemo play on the sponge beds.
His strict, overly cautious style of parenting leads Nemo to rebel on his first day of school and the young fish is captured by a good-natured Australian dentist; leaving Marlin with no choice but to set his fears aside and try to rescue Nemo.
On his perilous journey, Marlin (with new friend Dory along for the ride) must escape from the clutches of a group of sharks, brave a jellyfish forest, take a high-octane ride along the East Australian Current, and be saved from hungry seagulls – among other obstacles – as he tries to get to the now familiar address of P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way in Sydney. Along the way, Marlin even learns valuable lessons about enjoying life and undergoes a personal transformation to become more free-spirited, which makes this movie more rewarding than it already was.
In Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning slavery drama Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx stars as the titular hero as he joins Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on a mission to find and kill the Brittle brothers. After collecting their reward, Django reveals that his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) was sold and he intends to buy her freedom. Being the good German he is, Schultz offers to aid the “real life Siegfried” in his quest.
Honing his skills as an elite bounty hunter, Django risks life and limb as he and Schultz collect several bounties during the winter. As if murdering people wasn’t enough, he must also reluctantly pose as a black slaver – Django says this group is “lower than the lowest slave” – playing the part with such anger in an effort to impress plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Even when the villainous Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) foils his plan, Django stops at nothing to ensure his wife’s freedom.
He takes part in the bloody shootout at Candieland as he tries to blast his way out of the plantation. Despite being stopped by Stephen once again, Django refuses to give up as he fools the employees of the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company and returns to Candieland to literally blow-up the house as he saves his Broomhilda once and for all. Django just doesn’t kill several people to rescue his wife; he also does it out of love Schultz – a father figure to him – whom he avenges at the end of the film.
Perhaps the funniest of the James Cameron-Arnold Schwarzenegger collaborations, 1994’s action classic True Lies features the star as Harry Tasker, a “computer salesman” (at least that’s what his family thinks) who is actually a spy embarking on James Bond-type missions with his friend Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold). Due to the nature of his work, Harry has little time for his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and you can tell early in the film that their relationship is not in a great place. Their scenes together indicate a marriage that is falling apart.
When his life is nearly turned upside down by the belief Helen is having an affair with a sleazy used car salesman (Bill Paxton), Harry discovers in a tender moment that his wife craves excitement in her life. In an effort to give her what she wants, Harry humorously uses his resources to set up a faux mission in which Helen must do some role-playing to plant a bug in a hotel room. Of course, things don’t go according to plan as terrorists kidnap Helen and Harry – and Harry’s objective changes from spicing up his wife’s life to literally saving her life.
In typical Arnold fashion, Harry fights his way through a terrorist army and chases down a limo in a helicopter to rescue Helen. Just when it appears his work is done, Harry must leap into action once more to save his daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku) by flying a fighter jet – which he hasn’t piloted in years – to Miami and he does battle with more terrorists before his loved ones are returned to safety. Upon completing his goal (as well as coming clean with his family), Harry and Helen are in a much happier place in the film’s final scene.
Audiences fell in love with Indy long before we met any of his family members, but the third installment of this beloved franchise uncovers a layer to the character we hadn’t seen before as Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) comes along for the ride.
While Indiana must first brave a trip to a prison on the Austrian-German border to save his father and later track down a Nazi tank on horseback, the film’s climax is the most suspenseful rescue sequence. Indy must find the Holy Grail if he is to save Henry’s life from a gunshot wound. The three challenges are tough enough as our hero dodges razor blades, skips across stones, and takes a leap of faith.
The stakes are raised even further when Indy reaches the final room, only to find several Grail candidates where he must pick the right one or face severe consequences. After Donovan succumbs to one of the incorrect cups, Indiana puts his life on the line by drinking from the one he thinks is the Grail. Thankfully, he chose wisely and got to ride off into the sunset.
In the film that launched Liam Neeson’s second career as a bona fide action star, Bryan Mills (Neeson) must use his “particular set of skills” to track down the ones responsible for kidnapping his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy). In a now iconic exchange, Mills warns the culprits that he will find them and kill them.
Traveling to Paris to locate his daughter, Mills uncovers an Albanian human trafficking operation and wages a one-man war against the group. Murdering just about everyone in his path, he also tortures one of the kidnappers in an electric chair. Despite the underlying threat of being arrested due to his actions, Mills stops at nothing to ensure his daughter’s safety and is ultimately successful after a shootout on a yacht.
What makes Mills so remarkable is the fact that for a majority of the film, he is on his own – relying on his experience to solve the problem. While he does receive some minor pointers from contacts, he (unlike the other heroes on our list) does not have a close ally for help along the way. His methods may be a tad extreme, but his dedication to finding his daughter is admirable and something all viewers can get behind.
The “family in danger” plot device will continue to be a staple of Hollywood for the foreseeable future since it’s an easy way to craft an emotionally involving story. Some filmmakers will be more successful than others using it, but it’s clear the trope is here to stay – and not just in high-stakes action pictures. There are plenty of smaller, dramatic features throughout the years that use this option as well.
Now that you’ve read our picks, go down to the comments section and let us know some of your favorite movie heroes who would do anything for their family.
Getaway is in theaters August 30.
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