Giant monsters, killer aliens, and massive explosions. For all the talk of “the human element” and the perceived need for relatable earthlings for the audience to latch on to, some blockbuster movies do just fine without pesky humans getting in the way of the good stuff. Likewise, a whole bunch of otherwise decent flicks get seriously dragged down by irritating humans stealing screentime from the aforementioned giant monsters and killer aliens.
We’ve put together 14 movies where the human characters, simply put, didn’t matter. They didn’t add to the narrative in any meaningful way, or the movie could benefited from their exclusion. Either way, the non-humans in these movies were definitely the main draw.
Here are the 14 Times the Humans Didn’t Matter in Blockbuster Movies.
Michael Bay’s Transformers films might just be the gold standard of how not to shoehorn humans into a story which is not about them. Way too much of the collective ten hour running time of these four movies (with a fifth on the way) is dedicated to the teenage/college-aged shenanigans of Shia LeBeouf and his irritatingly successful romantic conquests, to say nothing of the large cast of obnoxious secondary characters who exist for no other reason than to make the films dumber, or rather, more palatable for general audiences, as the studio would surely put it.
While the third and fourth movies took baby steps towards making the films more robot-oriented and dropping some of the stupid antics, we’re still impatiently awaiting a real Transformers movie in which at least 90% of all characters are robots and the humans stay out of the spotlight, or, even better, on the bottom of Optimus Prime’s foot.
13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Although not nearly as egregious as in Transformers, the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot was definitely hurt by producer Michael Bay’s over-reliance on silly human hijinks for comic relief, which doesn’t exactly gel with everybody’s favorite reptilian action heroes. Half of the appeal of the Ninja Turtles comes from their ability to kick The Foot Clan in the butt, and the other half comes their comical rapport while they do it. They don’t need human sidekicks offering pointless comic relief; they are their own comic relief! Everyone loves Will Arnett, especially when he references Arrested Development by eating sandwiches made with mustard and parmesan cheese, but when he gets in the way of the turtles doing their thing, we have a problem. We don’t want humans getting in the way of the turtles cracking wise and cracking skulls.
The Ninja Turtles might wind up getting a pass next time around, though: in the run-up to the June sequel, Out of the Shadows, new director Dave Green has stated that if the first film was two-thirds humans and one-third turtles, the new film will be two-thirds turtles. Here’s hoping he lives up to his promise.
12. Alien Vs. Predator
Like him or hate him, Paul W.S. Anderson delivers his films on time and under budget, so he’s probably not going away any time soon. Still, there’s little to defend in his most reviled work, the abysmal Alien vs. Predator, in which the usual aesthetics of the AVP expanded universe (Space Marines and terran colonies) are abandoned in favor of a bunch of researchers and mercenaries in a pyramid in Antarctica.
While the best parts of this watered-down PG-13 actioner are its occasionally entertaining slugfests between the titular characters, they are way-too-often broken up by meddling humans and poor attempts at characterization. Even Lance Henriksen appears to be bored out of his mind as Charles Bishop Weyland. A bolder decision would have been to cut the human characters entirely and make a film all about the Predator rite of passage, hunting Aliens and becoming a full-fledged adult. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Alien vs. Predator and it’s somehow worse sequel, Requiem, is now considered non-canon.
11. Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park is a classic, one of the all-time great Spielberg movies. It’s a perfect blend of family friendly adventure, legitimate terror, and infrequent bursts of gory violence. It also has color-coded characters. The God-like John Hammond wears white, the heroic Alan Grant wears red and blue, the milquetoast lawyer wears beige, and Jeff Goldblum wears black. All of this is to say that the human characters are inconsequential to the plot, which is “scary dinosaurs eat people.” They’re not characters so much as they are nourishment, and the dinosaurs are the only thing anybody really cares about.
Let’s face it: Alan Grant’s arc doesn’t make any sense. He starts out not wanting kids, but then he almost gets eaten with the two cute kids, and he ends the movie implicitly open to the idea of having kids. It’s not exactly Shakespeare. In this case, it’s not so much that the humans don’t matter, it’s just that nobody went to the theater in 1993 to see anything other than dinosaurs brought to life.
10. Van Helsing
Minor spoiler who those who have yet to see this Stephen Sommers CGI extravaganza: Van Helsing is an angel and at one point he becomes a werewolf. Despite being played by Hugh Jackman, he is, decidedly, not a human. For that matter, neither are his targets, from Dracula and his demonic brides, to Frankenstein’s Monster, to the transformed monster, Mr. Hyde.
The handful of human characters serve as plucky comic relief or obligatory romantic interests. Frankenstein’s Monster is the most tragically human of the cast; unlike Dracula or Van Helsing himself, his monstrous deformities ensure he will never be able to intermingle with ordinary humans without causing a riot, when all he really wants is to be human. Van Helsing holds a surprising moment of emotional depth… for a Stephen Sommers movie.
Twilight, sometimes referred to as “The Nickelback of Literature,” is loved by legions of fans, and loathed by legions of haters. The vampires are sparkly, the werewolves are fake, and the romance is stupid and unhealthy. Edward Cullen is over one hundred years old and he is in love with a seventeen year old girl whom he obsessively stalks and takes control over every aspect of her life? Gross.
But wait a second… There’s something in that Vampire/Werewolf cold war that’s worth revisiting, but without those nagging humans bringing everything down. A movie solely focused on the conflict between the two factions, with the Volturi, the evil cabal of ancient vampires, manipulating events for their own gain. Sounds like the foundations for a decent thriller, right?
What was supposed to be the disaster film to end all disaster films turned out to be something of a disaster itself. Roland Emmerich knows how to break stuff, and he does plenty of smashing throughout the film’s 158-minute running time, but the film could have been a much slicker 100 minutes or less if they had ditched the pathetic human cast and just made the whole movie a VFX demo reel or something. The drama between the insanely huge ensamble is a joke.
There are dozens of lead actors in 2012, and none of them seem to ever do anything but artificially pad the already over-inflated running time. Most characters can be characterized by their accents, and Tom McCarthy’s character, the heroic and romantic boyfriend of John Cusack’s ex-wife, spends the whole movie saving everybody’s life multiple times just to get unceremoniously killed off just so that John Cusack can get the girl in the end. That’s just offensive to step-dads.
As the most successful movie of all time, there are no shortage of haters out to get Avatar for any number of reasons. From all corners of the peanuts gallery, one can hear cries of “It’s just Dances With Wolves meets Ferngully,” or “3D hurts my eyes!” or the old favorite, “James Cameron makes the worst movies of all time!” No, we’re not going in any of those directions for Avatar’s inclusion on this list, but we will say that the human characters were completely unnecessary in the film.
Of course, this isn’t to say that they were thinly written or uninteresting, or killed the pacing of the action, or even that they stole the spotlight from other, more deserving characters. Rather, the world of Pandora is so richly detailed and fully realized that, were there no human characters in the film, the planet would still be a large enough canvas to tell any number of cinematic stories about Hometree, Eywa, and the various clans of Pandora.
Spawn is not a particularly beloved movie, though it certainly has its fans. Al Simmons is a soldier, and… A bunch of stuff happens and he becomes Spawn, an demonic entity who turns against evil and chooses to fight for the side of justice. It’s a visually arresting movie, even if the effects are, in 2016, supremely dated. The only problem is, so much of the film is spent on human assassins and a plot involving chemical weapons, that Spawn never really gets to cut loose and fight as many demons as we would like.
Imagine if the script cut out all the human characters, and truncated the origin story; then we’d have plenty of room for demon battles, as well as non-human characters getting more of the spotlight, like Cogliostro and Malebolgia, who were somewhat side-lined in the film itself. A potential Spawn reboot has been languishing in development hell since 1998, so there is but a thin slice of hope for his triumphant return. Still, hope, however slim the chances may be, is always better than nothing.
5. Godzilla (2014)
Ask anyone what Godzilla is about, and they’ll tell you, a big lizard wrecks a city, and sometimes fights a different monster. Unfortunately, nobody asked Gareth Edwards before they hired him, because his answer was… something else. Edwards’ Godzilla reboot in 2014 was a polarizing experience which relegated the titular monster way off to the sidelines in favor of some half-baked family drama with Bryan Cranston and Aaron-Taylor Johnson.
To make matters worse, they then completely wasted the enormously talented Elizabeth Olsen by having her sit at home, waiting for the phone to ring. The humans never had any meaningful effect on Godzilla’s quasi-heroic quest to kill the two monsters, so why were they even there in the first place? This is a case where endless monster-brawling, without any interjection from any creature less than one hundred feet tall, would have been very welcome.
4. Pacific Rim
Superficially similar to Godzilla, Pacific Rim is about giant robots versus giant monsters. In another similarity to Godzilla, it was also hugely polarizing to audiences; some people loved director Guillermo Del Toro’s attempt to essentially make a live-action anime with all the visual and storytelling quirks that come with the territory, while others would have preferred a no-holds barred, pared-down, 90 minute battle royale between giant monsters and equally giant robots, without all the anime-styled flashbacks and melodramatic tangents.
Everybody was able to agree that the monster fights were absolutely spectacular, but beyond that, audiences were divided. With Pacific Rim 2 delayed indefinitely following the film’s underwhelming domestic box office performance, who knows if we’ll ever get to see a return to the world of Kaiju and Yaegers? Still, the film more than made up for its American shortcoming with a healthy overseas gross (China to the rescue!) and we’ll always be happy to give Del Toro another shot.
Speaking of Guillermo Del Toro, none of the cool characters in Hellboy are human. The titular character, Ron Perlman’s demonic agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, is a massive red brute. He’s like a wise-cracking, cigar-smoking version of the Incredible Hulk. Abe Sapien is a blue psychic fish-man, and Johann Krauss is a bureaucratic puddle of ectoplasm. Sure, there’s some humans here and there, and Jeffrey Tambor for some reason.
While more entertaining than the Michael Bay examples, they are still ultimately of little importance because the non-human leads have enough personality to carry the films. The humans certainly aren’t needed in combat either, especially when Hellboy and company go up against monsters like The Behemoth or Nuada. Like Pacific Rim, we may never get another sequel after 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but if we do, maybe they can stop pretending like we need human beings to anchor the story for mass audiences.
2. Dawn of the Planet of The Apes
Think about this for a second: there are no Planet of the Apes movies solely about the apes. It’s always about the dichotomy between man and his other, with the role of “man” shifting depending on which movie one is watching. 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the most recent entry in the nearly fifty year franchise, is one of the few entries in the series (though a case could be made for Battle for the Planet of the Apes) in which the human characters don’t really matter. They’re shown less as individuals and more as a mass, a group of acolytes who follow the will of their leader.
Meanwhile, the true narrative of the piece lies with Andy Serkis’s Caesar, as he learns to be a firm but compassionate leader to his own clan, the apes. Even with every human role completely excised, but nevertheless being acknowledged as an armed and dangerous threat, there is still a beefy movie here, which was surely the intent during production; what better way to get to the roots of our humanity than to use non-humans to tell the story? It’s one of the hallmarks of the Planet of the Apes franchise, and is key to its longstanding success.
Babe is the gold standard of how to make a movie without humans. They appear sporadically here and there, but if the movie is not about them, why force them on the audience? Babe is a story about animals, and with animals it will be told. There’s no human/animal translator, and the titular pig very nearly becomes bacon for his master before he is given a greater destiny. It’s a family film which doesn’t talk down to the children, which has helped it to endure in popularity even twenty-one years after its initial 1995 theatrical release.
It certainly helps that Mad Max’s George Miller produced the two films, and also directed the sequel, the strange, but still very memorable, Pig in the City. Miller knows how to tell a story without dumbing it down for general audiences, or stooping to the level of the lowest common denominator, for that is not his target demographic, nor should it be the target audience for any film with a goal other than making the quickest of bucks.
What other movies could have done without the human characters? Should the next Fast & Furious just ditch the meatbags and become a subseries of Disney Pixar’s Cars? Let us know in the comments below!