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Best Heroes of 2015


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we’ve reviewed the Best Movies of 2015.  Now it’s time to review the Best Heroes of the year, too.

I can’t wait to see what you’ve picked. Let’s get started…

I evaluated this year’s movie heroes by how memorable they were, how much they grew and transformed as characters, and how much they transformed others. Here’s my top 10 heroes list:

10. Freddie Steinmark in My All-American
9. Adam Jones in Burnt
8. Hugh Glass in The Revenant
7. Joy in Inside Out
6. Rey and Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
5. Adonis Creed and Rocky Balboa in Creed
4. Joy Mangano in Joy
3. Mark Watney in The Martian
2. Maria and Schoenberg in Woman in Gold
1. Joy in Room

It looks like you were enjoying a lot of “Joy” in 2015. Like you, I was motivated by the transformation of the hero in the story. But also, we were shown a number of heroes who were survivors. Here are my top 10 heroes:

10. Eggsy in Kingsman
9. Maria and Schoenberg in Woman in Gold
8. Adonis in Creed
7. Hugh Glass in The Revenant
6. Joy in Inside Out
5. Rey in Star Wars
4. Joy Mangano in Joy
3. Mark Watney in The Martian
2. James Donovan in Bridge of Spies
1. Joy in Room


You’re right about all the Joy in this year’s best heroes. This tells me that women played a more prominent role in shining as heroes in the movies, Greg. My Number 5 choice in 2015 was the hero-mentor pairing of Adonis Creed and Rocky Balboa in the film Creed. This film and the actors in it should have garnered an Academy Award or two. We have an underdog hero in Adonis, who wants Rocky to train him but Rocky resists. It’s a reluctant mentor story that contains many of the same elements as the classic hero’s journey. The movie, and this hero-mentor duo, are a joy to watch (pardon the pun).

True enough, Scott. However, I thought this was more Adonis’ movie with Rocky playing the secondary role as mentor. Surely, it was Adonis who underwent the greater transformation. Regardless of how you see it, Creed was a great hero’s journey. And the mentor story gave it a one-two punch.

My number 5 pick was Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This reboot of the fan favorite franchise put a woman in the role of the emerging hero. After the first three Star Wars films had barely a single woman in them, it was good to see a not just a prominent female, but also to see such a great mythic hero. Rey starts out an orphan on the dusty planet of Jaku and rises to be the heir to the Force. It’s a great hero’s journey and told in the classic style.

Greg, the best thing about this latest edition of Star Wars was this great hero pairing. Rey and Finn, are outstanding characters whom we grow to love and enjoy rooting for soon after meeting them. Both these characters are cut from that familiar Star Wars heroic cloth — they come from humble origins and are oblivious to their special pedigree. As these characters are tested, they begin to slowly transform into the greatness that was always there beneath the surface.


My Number 4 pick is Joy Mangano in the movie Joy. Joy has all of the characteristics of the Great Eight traits of heroes. She is smart, strong, charismatic, kind, caring, inspiring, resilient, and reliable. Her journey is tortured yet profoundly satisfying in the end. I was struck by the sea of humanity standing in the way of her dreams as well as by the people who came through for her to help her achieve her goals. Joy is transformed from a human doormat into a soaring business force to be reckoned with.

Joy and Rey as well as other heroes in my top 5 represent the survivor hero that was strongly represented this year. Joy was defeated. She had lost everything. The evil Texas businessman had stolen her product and tied her patent up in court. Then she did something so many heroes do – she changed her appearance. There’s this great scene where Joy dons black jeans and a leather jacket. And looking in the mirror, she bobs her hair. She makes the transformation from housewife to serious businesswoman. This is a common event for heroes – the transformation is marked by a change of attire and appearance. Joy was a joy to watch.


My number 3 pick was Mark Watney from the superb The Martian. Watney is another survivor hero. He draws upon all his scientific knowledge to eek out a meager existence on the desolate landscape of Mars. It’s a great story and a powerful lesson to pay attention in class. But seriously, there are secondary heroes aplenty in this movie with the ground crew trying to find a solution to rescue Watney and his team in the spaceship above weighing the cost of turning back for him. What a wild ride.

Watney was my Number 3 pick as well. Watney travels the full hero’s journey, and in every phase of the journey we witness a richness and depth that is rarely seen in the movies. As with Joy Mangano (see above), Watney displays all eight characteristics in the Great Eight traits of heroes. He becomes transformed from ordinary astronaut to an exceptionally innovative, pioneering colonist who rises to the challenge of surviving where no human has any right to survive. It’s a rich and utterly fulfilling journey of a hero.


My Number 2 pick was Maria and Schoenberg in Woman in Gold. These are two divergent heroes who enjoy a great chemistry. They each undergo a transformation albeit in different ways. Their most significant transformation is helping bring about much needed ethnic tolerance in Austria. By contesting the Austrians’ decisions to retain the painting, and then by finally winning a long, highly publicized arbitration battle, Maria and Schoenberg forced the Austrians to finally “own” their part in the atrocities of WW2.

I was touched by how Maria’s mission invoked a transformation in Schoenberg. He started as a mildly ambitious lawyer with little interest in his Jewish heritage. But tranformed into a staunch defender of his culture. It was a wonderful story of hero-mentorship.

My number 2 pick James Donovan in Bridge of Spies. Donovan didn’t have a clear mentor in his story. He was guided by his strong belief in the Constitution. There’s a great scene where an FBI man says “There is no rule book here,” and Donovan replies: “There is a rule book. We call it the Constitution.” He stands up for a man who is clearly an enemy to the United States because it is our deeply held belief that every man is innocent until proven guilty. And he puts up with hatred and vitriol to the point of being shot at. It’s a great story of a man standing his ground for what he believes is right.

Donovan was an extraordinary hero. The fact that he undergoes two hero’s journeys underscores this film’s mission of showcasing the depth of Donovan’s heroic integrity. A single hero’s mission isn’t enough for him. This movie needed two interlinked hero’s journeys, if only to show that Donovan’s deft skill in sparing Abel’s life in the first journey allowed for the opportunity for him to spare the lives of two other men in the second. Donovan didn’t make my list of best heroes because he doesn’t really transform at all in the story. Still, his double-heroic journey is noteworthy.


My Number 1 hero of the year was the character of Joy in the highly acclaimed movie Room. Her character follows a very unconventional hero’s path by beginning in the dangerous special world and moving into the safe familiar world. Except that the safe familiar world is toxic for her and reminds her of all the reasons she wanted to escape from it in the first place. Her journey is heartwrenching and is made possible, in part, by the strength and resilience shown by her young son.

I also picked Joy from Room. She fits in with my survivor hero pattern for 2015. Joy had to use all her cunning to defeat the villain “Old Nick.” She taught her son how to fake his own death. And once she was out of the “Room” she had to mentor her son in the wide-open world. It’s a fantastic story of survival.

Well, Scott. That rounds out our top ten heroes for 2015. It was a good year for heroes. I was pleased with the number of women and minorities we saw this year. Although the Oscars didn’t reflect that at all. I’m looking forward to what 2016 holds for us.

While Hollywood is incorporating more gender and racial diversity into its heroes, the industry still isn’t acknowledging them at Oscar time. Look for more women and people of color to take home some serious hardware next year.

We hope you enjoy our current 2016 reviews at Reel Heroes. And if you get a chance, check out our latest book, Reel Heroes & Villains.