2014 offered up a wide selection of great characters, but only a select few had what it took to look outside themselves to be considered truly heroic. Some were tried and true superheroes and revolutionaries, while others’ heroism came in unexpected forms. So crank up that tried and true Enrique Iglesias hit, because we’ve got your list of individuals who proved more than ready to be your heroes this year.
7. Schmidt and Jenko- 22 Jump Street
Stats: Right off the bat I’m cheating, but it’s impossible to separate these two. Not only are the two unlikely cops faced with taking down a new drug operation, but they also must also navigate through the most off-putting collection of individuals ever amassed: college students. Schmidt and Jenko probably make more mistakes than any of the other heroes on this list, but that’s what also makes them the year’s funniest.
Defining Moment: I’m not sure if any comedic sequence this year was more insane than the climax’s helicopter jump and grenade toss. That, my friends, is how you do action-comedy.
6. Sam Wilson/The Falcon- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Stats: As comics’ first African-American superhero, Sam Wilson’s transition to big screen was a noteworthy and an impressive update on the character. Before he even suits up to aid Cap, he’s already got the hero thing down pat as a former pararescueman. If that wasn’t enough, he also runs a VA hospital. With a strong sense of humor and loyalty, Sam Wilson added some necessary personality to the Captain America franchise.
Defining Moment: Sam Wilson’s action scenes were undoubtedly cool, but for me (and I’m sure a few other comic fans), nothing was more satisfying than his final lines in the film, “When do we start?” which promised a future partnership between Captain America and The Falcon.
5. Katniss- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Stats: Katniss’ heroism is nothing new. After all, we’ve experienced it for two movies already. But Mockingjay provided a different look at Katniss, removing her from the role of “gladiator” and cementing her status as a revolutionary figure. She’s a hero caught between the decisions she can make for herself and the decisions that others try to make for her, all while remaining selfless and empathetic. As my fellow contributor and editor, Beth Reynolds explores in her feature, “Does Katniss Everdeen Deserve To Be Our Mockingjay?” Katniss redefines the traditional female hero.
Defining Moment: There’s no better moment in the film than when Katniss’ speech and call to arms is delivered from a place of passion instead of as a result of forced propaganda. While she may be a symbol, Katniss’ best moments always come from her free will.
4. The Guardians of the Galaxy- Guardians of the Galaxy
Stats: Yes, I’m cheating again, but individually, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot aren’t heroes. It’s only when they come together that their altruism surfaces. It seemed unlikely that a team of Han Solos could work together (just as unlikely as a talking raccoon and tree becoming two of the year’s most talked about characters), but not only did they pull it off, they pulled it off in style. Thanks to the work of James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, Guardians diversified the comic book movie universe and delivered five unique characters who are just as good with the action beats as they are with the comedic ones.
Defining Moment: “Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier…” Who would’ve imagined that the climax of a summer blockbuster would end with a musical number and a proposed dance off? Peter Quill signing to Ronan before linking hands with the rest of the Guardians is one of those great movie moments that just has to be seen. “Ooh-oo child, things’ll get brighter…”
3. Alan Turing- The Imitation Game
Stats: As one of the most important individuals of the 20th century, Alan Turing proved to be a hero in many ways. As the man behind the computer, he changed the way we live in every way. His Turing Test and exploration of artificial intelligence altered our thoughts on what it means to be human and changed the face of science-fiction. His code breaking work at Bletchley Park made it possible for the Allies to win WWII much sooner than they would have without his help. His relatively open homosexuality was a brave step during a time where there were career-ending and inhumane repercussions. While he was forced to make hard, sometimes unthinkable choices, his decisions always came from a place of exploration and interest in humanity.
Defining Moment: The latter half of the film is haunted by Turing’s decision to refrain from intervention upon learning the Germans’ plan to bomb a ship carrying civilians. The decision to preserve the intelligence was not an easy act of heroism, and while some would argue whether that act was heroic at all, Turing’s decision to place logic above emotion saved countless lives. Turing’s choice is a real world glimpse into the enduring puzzle of whether the lives of the few should be sacrificed for the good of the many.
2. Caesar- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Stats: As a leader belonging to two worlds, Caesar’s ape revolution carries a heavy weight. Like the great real world revolutionaries, Caesar doesn’t want violence, but he also knows there are times when violence is unavoidable, especially when individuals’ desperation to survive and retain their rights is called into question. Like a great Shakespearian character, he is pulled by his family, advisors, the future of his people, and his inner moral compass. What makes the film so remarkable is how understandable Caesar’s actions are, which in turn breaks down the barriers between man and animal.
Defining Moment: Caesar’s final battle with Koba is one of the best examples from this year of the final fight feeling like a deserved culmination of all the emotions and stakes that drove the story. In the act of violence Caesar must commit and the breaking of his code, there is heroism because it came as a last resort.
1. Olivia Evans- Boyhood
Stats: As a single mother of two, Olivia doesn’t have the flashiest role on this list, but she does have the most identifiably human role. While we usually think of heroism in terms of world-altering achievements and Joseph Campbellian journeys, there’s likely nothing grander or more difficult than raising an intelligent and considerate human being, let alone two. Through poverty, heartbreak, career dissatisfaction, and abuse, Olivia manages to raise Samantha and Mason into well-rounded and free thinking individuals. And that’s a particular triumph in today’s world.
Defining Moment: Olivia’s tearful goodbye to Mason before he heads off to college is one filled with regret as well as the understanding that she did the best she could. She recognizes and is able to admit that she didn’t always make the right choices, but she made the choices that she thought were right at the time. It’s the kind of heroism many of us are faced with every day, and that’s why it ranks so high.
Which movie hero of 2014 deserves to stand with our magnificent seven?