In sci-fi and fantasy, the focus, of course, is often on the hero of the story, the one who has to overcome various obstacles to defeat evil and save the day. But in so many of our favorite movies and TV shows, part of what makes the story great is watching the protagonists grow and come into their own. And many of them would never have become the heroes we know and love without a strong mentor.
Heroes often need a strong father or mother figure to give them the confidence and training they need to defeat their enemies. At other times, heroes are reckless, and mentors have to teach them patience and caution. Regardless of the situation, there are many evil emperors and megalomaniacal supervillains that just wouldn't have been defeated without the help and guidance of a mentor.
Here are the 15 Best Mentors in Science Fiction and Fantasy
15. Alfred Pennyworth - Dark Knight Trilogy
Alfred has been played by a number of actors over the years. Notably, he was portrayed by Alan Napier in the 1960s Batman TV series and by Machael Gough in from Tim Burton's Batman in 1989 to Batman & Robin in 1997. But Michael Caine probably gave the most memorable performance as Alfred in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.
Alfred is a constant in Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) life, and was employed by his family as a butler at the time of his parents’ murder. So he was there for young Bruce at his darkest moment. He also knows that Bruce is secretly Batman, and is therefore in able to give him advice and guidance. Alfred is neither a billionaire nor a superhero, and is able to help ground Wayne in reality and provide a counterbalance to his crazy life.
14 Morpheus - the Matrix Trilogy
In the real world, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) is the inspirational captain of a hovercraft called the Nebuchadnezzar. Tank (Marcus Chong), a member of the Nebuchadnezzar's crew, even says that “Morpheus was like a father to them the crew, as well as a leader.”
Inside the Matrix, it’s Morpheus who locates Neo (Keanu Reeves) and gives him the choice of taking the red pill or the blue pill, between the real world or the imaginary fantasies of the Matrix. Morpheus serves as a spiritual leader, as well, and it’s in no small part his belief that Neo is the One that spurs Neo to action. In many ways, Morpheus is a touchstone for Neo throughout the franchise.
13 Melinda May - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
May (Ming-Na Wen) is another great role model for the younger agents. She’s battle-tested, and her savvy often informs decisions made by other team members. Whereas the younger agents are still finding their footing in some ways, May has, in a sense, “been there and done that.”
Her experience gives her confidence, and although she’s not without her drama from time to time, by and large she’s grounded in a way that provides a sense of stability. When things are crazy, which they often are on this show, May shows up and proves time and again that she can be counted on to come through.
12 Phil Coulson - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
May’s not the only mentor on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Phil (Clark Gregg) is much more than just the boss of the agents who report to him. He’s also a more experienced leader who has a certain wisdom and sense of compassion that brings out the best in his team members. He knows when to protect them and when to let them take risks in order to grow.
The best example of this is his relationship with Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet). Daisy grew up in a series of foster homes, and Phil becomes a bit of a father figure for her. From the start, he believes in her potential to become more than just a lone hacker. His support helps her to grow into a confident leader in her own right, and learn how to gain control of her Inhuman abilities and use them for the greater good.
11 Kathryn Janeway - Star Trek: Voyager
Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is a strong captain for a lot of reasons. She’s an idealist, and consistently lives up to her ideals, though she’s pragmatic as well. She’s tough, smart, and drives a hard bargain, but is also deeply compassionate.
The best example of her mentoring ability is her relationship with Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). Seven is a Borg drone who has been liberated from the collective. She has very little sense of her identity as an individual, and struggles to connect with others. Seven is a perfectionist, and has a hard time at first letting go of the cold efficiency of the Borg. But it’s Janeway who helps her discover who she is as an individual, build relationships with the crew, and begin to ease up on her desire for perfection.
10 Joe West - The Flash
When Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) mother is killed and his father is wrongly sent to prison for her murder, Joe (Jesse L. Martin) steps in and basically adopts him. Joe is pretty much an ideal father both for Barry and his biological daughter Iris. He has a strong sense of right and wrong, and instills it in both of them. He makes them feel unconditionally loved as children and provides them with a stable home life, which they both frequently reference as adults.
After Barry becomes the Flash, he’s often faced with difficult ethical decisions, and a lot of the time it’s Joe who encourages him to make the right choice and reminds him of what he really believes in. And when Joe finds out he has an adult biological son he never knew about, he does his best to show up for him, as well.
9 Jean-Luc Picard - Star Trek: The Next Generation
Picard (Patrick Stewart) is certainly one of the best leaders in sci-fi history. He’s an amazing captain because he’s thoughtful, open-minded, intelligent and compassionate. He’s a skilled communicator, and prefers to use diplomacy to solve conflicts, rather than battling his way through. Picard’s optimistic worldview sets the tone for the entire crew, and creates a space where they can grow and thrive.
There are probably no main character in the series who don't grow in some way as a result of Picard’s guidance. And he doesn’t just expect his crew to blindly follow orders because he’s in charge – he seeks out their input and genuinely values what they have to say. Picard is great because he really leads by example.
8 Uncle Ben - the Spider-Man series
Uncle Ben was played well both by Cliff Robertson (in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man) and Martin Sheen (in Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man) – though it’s the former who got to deliver the famous line, “With great power comes great responsibility,” on screen.
Ben is Peter’s (Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield) father figure. As Peter is evolving into Spider-Man, Ben helps to keep him grounded. Peter suddenly finds himself with new power, and he kind of struggles to figure out how to use it. It’s Ben’s example and advice that help Peter realize that just because he may be more powerful than other people, it doesn’t mean he’s better than they are. And as a result, he chooses to use his power to benefit others.
7 Buffy Summers - Buffy The Vampire Slayer
When we first meet Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), she’s in a new school, a little unsure of herself, and still growing into her role as the slayer. But by the time her supernatural little sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) appears in season 5, Buffy has evolved into a confident young woman and a powerful slayer. She has faced a lot of demons by this point – both literal and internal – and serves as a strong role model for Dawn.
After their mother dies, Buffy and Dawn’s relationship goes through a bit of a rocky period because Buffy has trouble serving as Dawn’s parent while also meeting her other obligations. But Buffy turns it around and continues to be both Dawn’s protector and an inspirational figure for her to look up to.
6 Cat Grant - Supergirl
Early in the show, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) comes off as a cold and demanding boss. But the more Kara/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) gets to know Cat, the more we see that Cat is actually a pretty sympathetic character. As the successful head of a major media company, Cat has learned a lot about how to succeed both professionally and personally, and she’s not shy about sharing those lessons with Kara. She also encourages Kara to stand up for herself and not allow herself to be bullied.
Interestingly, when Kara’s adoptive mother finds out that she’s Supergirl, her initial reaction is fear – she’s not convinced that it’s a good idea for Kara to be a superhero and feels that it’s safer for her to fly under the radar. But when Cat suspects Kara’s identity, she’s visibly proud of her.
5 Gandalf The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is the quintessential wise, old wizard. It’s definitely not his first rodeo, and his previous quests have given him the insight necessary to help Bilbo (Ian Holm and Martin Freeman), Frodo (Elijah Wood), and their fellowships win the day. But it’s not just knowledge (or sorcery) that makes Gandalf such a critical character – it’s also an ability to deeply understand the emotions and motivations of others. He knows where both his friends and enemies are coming from, and this informs the courses of action he takes.
He’s a mentor for basically all of the main characters, but especially Bilbo and Frodo. He helps both hobbits to understand that they have the potential to do more than live quiet lives in the Shire, then provides them with the opportunity and support to realize that potential.
4 Charles Xavier - X-Men franchise
Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart - again! - and James McAvoy) is an excellent mentor because he helps young people – who have often been made to feel like there’s something wrong with them – learn to accept themselves. In fact, his primary goal when establishing the Xavier Institute was to create a safe space where his students could learn to master their abilities and celebrate who they are.
He’s also a strong role model because of his hopeful approach to human-mutant relations. Whereas his foil, Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender), sees humans as a threat to be overtaken, Charles believes in the possibility of humans and mutants co-existing peacefully.
3 Albus Dumbledore - Harry Potter series
There are a lot of expectations heaped on Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) shoulders from a pretty young age. And at the end of the day, he’s the one who has to defeat Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) – though of course he couldn’t have done it without Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint).
In the middle of all the craziness, Dumbledore (Richard Harris and Michael Gambon) is the one who helps him make sense of it all, and believe that he’s up to the challenge. He takes a direct hand in Harry’s education and helps him hone his magical abilities, but also knows when to be hands-off, and when to allow Harry to make mistakes and learn. Most importantly, Dumbledore helps Harry gain the confidence he needs to take Voldemort down.
2 Obi Wan Kenobi - Star Wars series
Yes, Anakin (Hayden Christensen) turned to the Dark Side, but that doesn’t mean that Obi Wan (Ewan MacGregor and Alec Guinness) wasn’t a great mentor. He taught Anakin the ways of the Force, and developed a close friendship with his padawan. And in Vader’s (Sebastian Shaw/James Earl Jones) death scene, it seems like underneath it all, Vader really understands what Obi Wan had tried to teach him.
Of course, Obi Wan mentors Luke (Mark Hamill), as well. He’s the one who gives Luke the confidence to venture away from his predictable life, to learn the Force, and to fight the Empire. Obi Wan introduces Luke to a larger existence beyond Tatooine.
1 Yoda - Star Wars series
Yoda’s quasi-zen-like philosophy makes him an effective mentor, and a counterbalance to Luke’s somewhat impatient approach to learning the Force. He supports Luke but doesn’t coddle him, giving him challenges that will help him develop his skills. Yoda’s role is critical, because Luke realizes he can’t meet his full potential without some guidance, and fills that void.
Yoda is also a walking embodiment of the concept that it’s important to look beneath the surface of things. At first, Luke balks when he meets Yoda, not seeing how this small, elf-like creature of advanced age could help him learn the Fore. But Yoda teaches him that things aren’t always as they appear. And of course, Yoda demonstrates his talent as a mentor throughout the franchise.
Can you think of any other sci-fi and fantasy mentors that deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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