Chosen Ones are all over pop culture and even religion, from Jesus Christ to the Dalai Lama. They’re characters of destiny, often foretold by prophecy to become great leaders or bringers of profound change to the world,. In some cases their scope even reaches out to have galactic consequences.
Often, they are not born into greatness. They come from humble beginnings (so they’re relatable to the audience) to achieve profound prominence, most often to save the world or galaxy from some great, oppressive force of evil. They usually follow the Campbellian “hero’s journey,” being called to action, facing challenges and temptations, gaining great power through transformation, and ultimately succeeding. More often than not, they’re men, but, refreshingly, creators are giving us more and more women rising from unlikely beginnings to become profound heroes, and many are represented on this list. And just a warning: there will be some spoilers here because we have to discuss each hero’s complete journey.
It’s time to fulfill your destiny and read about the 15 Best Chosen Ones Ever.
For 2009’s mega-blockbuster Avatar, director James Cameron went to great lengths to show the humble beginnings from which his hero, Jake Sully, began. He wanted to use a generally unknown actor and purposely cast Australian Sam Worthington (whose beginnings were so humble that he was living in his car at the time) because he seemed like someone you’d want to have a beer with; someone relatable.
Sully starts off as a paralyzed military veteran and wasn’t even meant to be part of the Avatar program, but replaced his dead twin brother. The military leader in charge of his mission as an avatar on Pandora warns him that the indigenous Na’vi people are a problem, but in his avatar form, as a Na'vi, he learns to respect and defend them, even becoming one of them in a spiritual ceremony. But he faces his trials when he’s arrested by the humans for treason, while also losing the trust of the Na’vi. But he gets himself back into the tribe’s good graces and leads them to victory over the humans, then being named the tribe’s leader. It’s a rare case of a Chosen One leading a group of “others” to victory over humans, and it has actually been criticized for its use of a white male character as the Chosen One of another race, as though they couldn’t be saved without the white male human.
One path to being a Chosen One is being an heir to a throne, and that’s the case with The Lord of the Rings’ Aragorn. Like so many Chosen Ones, though, he did not know who he really was for most of his young life; he was shielded from the truth for his own protection. And he wasn’t just any old heir. He was descended from Elros, the first king of Numenor. That was a big deal.
The path to his destiny began when he met a group of hobbits and helped them on their quest to destroy The One Ring, a powerful bit of jewellery coveted by the evil Sauron, who would use it to dominate Middle-earth. He had mentors of sorts in Elven leader Elrond, who had informed Aragorn of his true identity, and the wizard Gandalf. Along the way he had supernatural help, as Chosen Ones often do; calling an army of the dead to join him in battle. Thanks to his help in defeating Sauron’s army, the hobbit Frodo was able to destroy the ring, and Sauron along with it. This paved the way for Aragorn to ascend to his destined place as king, reuniting the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor.
First of all, we spent some time debating whether or not John Connor of the Terminator franchise is actually a Chosen One, because he’s actually a Chosen One only in retrospect. The whole franchise revolves around the knowledge that John Connor leads the human race to victory over the machines in 2029. We know his destiny from the outset. But should Connor be penalized for what the audience knows in advance? We say no, because if you view his story chronologically from childhood, you can see his hero’s journey.
Like many Chosen Ones, he has a lost parent-- his father dies when John is an infant, trying to protect him from a Terminator. He has a troubled childhood, always on the run with his mother Sarah, but meets a series of mentors along the way who help train him in the various skills he’ll need to eventually defeat the machines.
Even robots who already transform by nature (if you can call it nature) can make the Chosen One transformation from humble beginnings to destined leader. Hot Rod starts off as an energetic and cocky young Autobot who transforms into a sports car, hence the name. Like many chosen ones, he has a mentor in older Autobot Kup.
His rise to power is illustrated in the 1986 animated film Transformers: The Movie. It began when he tried to help Autobot leader Optimus Prime in a battle against Decepticon leader Megatron. But his attempt backfired and Optimus was killed. He goes on to help the Autobots save their home planet, Cybertron, from being eaten by the colossal robot Unicron. Finding himself inside Unicron, battling Galvatron (who has undergone his own transformation from Megatron), the trope of supernatural intervention comes into play, as he grabs the Autobot Matrix of Leadership and it makes him the Autobots' next leader. The Matrix makes Hot Rod bigger and stronger and, ultimately, a leader, as Optimus Prime’s disembodied voice is heard saying, “Arise, Rodimus Prime.”
In the A Song of Fire and Ice series of novels and the TV series Game of Thrones, there’s a legend of Azor Ahai, a great hero and a Chosen One, who thwarted foes with a burning sword called Lightbringer. A prophecy states that he will one day return: “There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”
It’s pretty clear that the novels and the TV series are building up to this. They’ve been saying “winter is coming” forever, and it finally appears to be approaching on the small screen. That is surely the “cold breath of darkness” that is prophesied. But who will be Azor Ahai?
Daenerys is definitely a possibility. She bears the Chosen One hallmarks of overcoming adversity and being touched by the supernatural (you know, giving birth to dragons and being immune to fire and all). But Jon Snow is the other likely candidate. He’s risen from the lowly status of bastard child to become leader of the Night’s Watch, plus his supernatural intervention involves rising from the dead. This one remains to be seen, but again, both bear hallmarks of the Chosen One. The Chosen Two?
Famously, the character of Starbuck on the original 1970s Battlestar Galactica was a man, but recast as a woman named Kara Thrace for the 2004-2009 reboot. Portrayed with astounding, complicated charisma by Katee Sackhoff, Thrace certainly came from tough beginnings, with a military officer mother who beat her and a father who left them to pursue his dreams as a musician. But she rises to become the best Viper pilot in her fleet. Not surprisingly, considering her childhood, she had reckless and self-destructive tendencies, and it often put her on thin ice with her superiors.
Thrace is told by a Cylon that she has a destiny, that she is the “harbinger of death” who will “lead them all to their end.” Despite this dark prophecy, she does lead them. Chosen Ones often experience some form of supernatural intervention, and when Thrace dies after her Viper is hit, she soon comes back in an oddly pristine Viper, declaring that she is back to lead the fleet to Earth. But, after death, she’s different. She questions herself and her ability to lead them to Earth. Finally, she does lead them to a new Earth and mysteriously disappears, her journey complete.
In the original 1986 film Highlander, Christopher Lambert plays Connor MacLeod, a man originally from 16th century Scotland. When, at age 18, his family was involved in a battle with another clan, an Immortal called The Kurgan showed up and stabbed MacLeod in the stomach. It seemed like a death blow, but MacLeod didn’t die. Turns out, he, like The Kurgan, was immortal. His clan accused him of witchcraft and banished him.
Like many Chosen Ones, MacLeod had a mentor. In his travels, he met another Immortal named Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, who told him all about being an Immortal, most notably the Chosen One signifier, “There can only be one.” He says this in the context of “the Game,” which is a scenario in which Immortals must fight and defeat each other by beheading (the only way they can truly die) until there is only one left. That “One” receives “the Prize”, which essentially gives them all the power and knowledge in the universe. This being a list about Chosen Ones, it’s no surprise that MacLeod wins the Prize.
(As a preface, for simplicity’s sake, we’re talking about the original Earth-One Superman here.)
Was Kal-El born to come to Earth and protect humans from repugnant evil-doer after repugnant evil-doer? That’s debatable. But the fact is, his Kryptonian father, Jor-El, definitely destined him for greatness when he launched him in a capsule toward Earth to escape Krypton’s imminent destruction. Jor-El knew exactly what he was doing; he knew his son was going to have immeasurable physical powers due to Earth’s gravity and sun.
While Kal-El wasn’t born into modest means on Krypton (Jor-El was a highly regarded scientist), he was adopted into them by the Kent family, growing up on their farm and learning to be careful about his powers. He became the most powerful and beloved guardian of Earth, but he, too, suffered major trials and was distraught when Supergirl died. But many Chosen Ones must make a major sacrifice to prove themselves, and Superman was no different. He attempted to make the ultimate sacrifice-- his own life-- but was stopped, before DC switched things up.
In The Hunger Games series of books and movies, Katniss Everdeen certainly begins life as a textbook Chosen One, starting out far at the bottom of the socio-economic strata, looking up at a garishly opulent and oppressive ruling class in the Capitol. She lives in District 12, the poorest of all the districts. But there’s one way to get out: win the Hunger Games, a vicious blood sport that pits kids against kids in a last-person-standing death match.
Contrary to other Chosen Ones who seem destined for greatness, Katniss sets her own destiny in motion. When her younger sister is chosen to represent her district as a “tribute” at the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. But perhaps she is destined for greatness after all, because the very hunting skills she had to hone to keep her family fed were the skills that helped lead her to victory at the Games. From there, she was made into the face of the rebellion, who used the media to play on tropes on the Chosen One. They referred to Katniss as "The Mockingjay" and pressured her into a leadership role when all she wanted to do was keep her loved ones safe. Of course, she rose to the occasion, though like most Chosen Ones, she faced more than her fair share of trials along the way.
Ash Williams is the lovable, wisecracking protagonist of the original Evil Dead series of movies, as well as the current TV series Ash vs Evil Dead, which was recently picked up for a third season on Starz. In Evil Dead comics, we learn that Ash was anointed a Chosen One as an infant. A different child was meant to be marked as such, but Ash ticked off the evil force so much that it made Ash the one chosen to bear the mark of chaos, which would attract evil to him throughout his life.
In the films, after being tormented by evil in a cabin in the woods, Ash found himself thrust back in time to 1300 A.D., in the midst of a bloodthirsty battle between two kingdoms. Despite being a little dimwitted in other areas of life, he had a very fortunate knack for defeating evil through ingenious means. After defeating some evil nasties in “the Pit,” Ash was proclaimed by The Wise Man to be “the Chosen One” prophesied to save the people from the swarm of evil, undead Deadites that plague them.
The manga/anime character Sailor Moon is practically a blueprint for the Campbellian hero/chosen one. Her beginnings are humble; she believes she's just a normal teenage girl named Usagi Tsukino living in Tokyo, unaware of her true origin and destiny. Like many Chosen Ones, she stumbles into a mystical mentor in the form of a black cat named Luna. Usagi's mentor gives her a magical brooch and teaches her to become Sailor Moon, “the soldier of love and justice,” who must fight evil and search for the Moon Princess.
She gains a lot of power and forms a group of Sailor Soldiers, at which points she learns of her true, secret origin: she is the reincarnation of Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom, sent to Earth by her mother, Queen Serenity. This means she was the Moon Princess that Luna was looking for all along. She also learns she’s destined to become a queen on Earth.
Neo, from The Matrix trilogy, is one of the most explicit Chosen Ones in film history. After all, he’s referred to as “The One” and his name is a pretty obvious anagram for “one.” He was born a common man in a common world, as Thomas A. Anderson (even “Anderson” has the word “one” in it – are we reading too much into it now?), a computer programmer by day and hacker by night.
His whole life, he’s been unaware that he’s the prophesied Chosen One who will bring peace to the world. A mentor named Morpheus tells him of the Matrix-- what Neo thinks of as the real world, but is actually a computer simulation created by the machines that had taken over the world after conquering the human race. Morpheus tells him of his destiny and trains him to be the ultimate fighting machine. Of course, like they all do, Neo faces many challenges along the way, too many of which occur in the underwhelming second and third movies, but he ultimately fulfills the prophecy, even if it means sacrificing himself.
Following the Chosen One blueprint, Harry Potter, in the eponymous series of novels and films, was marked (literally) for greatness from the beginning. He had no idea he was anything but a poor orphan living with his nasty aunt and uncle, until he learned he was a wizard at the age of 11. The mark we alluded to was a lightning scar on his forehead, created by the Dark Lord, Voldemort, when Harry was an infant, at which time the evil wizard also killed Harry’s parents.
The scar made him famous and marked him as a Chosen One. Even as an infant, the mighty Voldemort couldn’t kill him and was in fact nearly destroyed himself in the attempt. But there was also a prophecy made before Harry was born that singled him out as “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.” He was even literally referred to as “The Chosen One.” Over the years, both trials and victories helped Harry grow stronger, both as a wizard and as a human being, and that allowed him to defeat the ultimate evil through the ultimate sacrifice.
The Star Wars franchise is just loaded with Chosen Ones. It could even be argued that there’s been one per trilogy so far. It may be too early to tell with The Force Awakens’ Rey, but it certainly seems she’s being set up as such: her parents are missing and she leads a tough life on a desert planet, only to find her way into the Resistance and discover that the Force is strong with her. Are bigger things in store for Rey? Will she become a great leader and again restore balance to the Force? We’ll see in the coming years.
Before Rey, there was Luke Skywalker. He, too, was raised on a desert planet without parents, leading a tough life. But he met a mentor in Obi-Wan Kenobi and another in Yoda, who taught him the ways of the Jedi. He faced trials and temptation when his father tried to turn him to the dark side, but his ultimate power was to never give in, which leads us to...
Anakin comes first in the chronology and he’s by definition a Chosen One: chosen to restore balance to the Force, according to a prophecy. He shows great strength from a young age and appears destined for greatness. But his dalliance with darkness takes a lot longer than most Chosen Ones, thanks in part to his mentor being pure evil. In fact, he gives into temptation for most of his life and turns to the dark side. Still, in the end, he sees the right path, the one that will help him fulfill his destiny. Rather than watch his son, Luke, be murdered by his mentor, Anakin kills the evil-doer, thus setting the galaxy straight again. For a while.
If you’re a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and why wouldn’t you be?), you know what was written on Buffy’s tombstone: “She saved the world. A lot.” If that’s not the epitaph of a Chosen One, we don’t know what is. Beloved creator Joss Whedon didn’t hide the fact that Buffy was a Chosen One. While she starts off unaware of her destiny, just another pretty cheerleader, she begins to have nasty dreams about girls killing demons. She’s soon visited by a “Watcher,” who tells her what the dreams mean: she’s the Chosen One, the next in a long line of Vampire Slayers, girls chosen to protect the world from evil.
While her first watcher, Merrick, is killed, her second, Giles, becomes her trusted mentor, ands she begrudgingly (at first) trains to become feared by demons of all kinds. Does she have her trials and temptations? Indeed, she dies twice and falls in love with not one, but two vampires. But in the end, she fulfills her destiny and, with the help of her friends, destroys the Sunnydale Hellmouth, and closes the portal between Earth and hell dimensions that allowed demons to pass through. But not before ending the line of single “Chosen One” Slayers, creating a Slayer Army of powerful young girls. And it’s for being such a faithful, engaging and self-aware hero that she’s our number one Chosen One.
Who's your favorite example of the Chosen One trope? Tell us in the comments.