Protagonists in Thrillers You Love to Root For

The thriller genre has been getting more and more popular over the years, making movies about everything, from being trapped in a house with a killer, to terrifyingly re-imagined childhood stories. Thrillers excite audience members of all ages, providing stories that keep you on the edge of your seat and send shivers down your spine, while still giving you the safety of leaving the theater after, or pausing when you need. They are a temporary thrill that leaves you itching for the next one to watch.

While thriller movies are notorious for their final girls, the leading ladies aren’t the only protagonists that shine. The thing that makes a thriller good isn’t simply a solid villain to be afraid of, but also a hero to root for and follow through their terror. A good protagonist gives someone to the audience to connect with and draw them into the story. If they aren’t drawn in, then there’s no stakes or intrigue for the audience. A good protagonist makes a thriller movie worth watching, especially when you root for them to survive. These protagonists are some of the audience’s favorites to root for.


Pat – Green Room (2015)

This movie has the incredible talents of Anton Yelchin and Sir Patrick Stewart facing off against each other. Anton plays Pat, a punk musician playing gigs with his band when they realize their current venue wasn’t their target audience. The listeners in the venue turn out to be neo-Nazis, who don’t appreciate the anti-fascist and anti-Nazi music of Pat’s band. When Pat and his band members witness a murder in the green room, the neo-Nazis, led by Pat Stewart, trap them inside the room and the building. Pat is a caring and determined character that will do anything to save his friends. It’s clear during the film that he’s scared, and rightfully so, yet he continues to think fast and show his bravery when the time comes. He’s a strong and clever lead and is very likable. Even though to most audience members the role of a good guy is clearly Pat, he’s still charming and sweet-faced. His combination of qualities as a character makes him feel realistic and easy to root for.

Kate and Lisa – 47 Meters Down (2017)

Shark movies provide a thrill for audiences because of the reality within them, the likelihood that anyone we know might get attacked by a shark. Tons of people have a fear of sharks, and yet, that doesn’t stop us from watching them, and it doesn’t stop filmmakers from making more shark films. The terror in 47 Meters Down comes from the tragedy of the incident, of two sisters on vacation who just want to see sharks from the safety of a viewing cage when the line breaks and drops them to the sea bed. Kate and Lisa show true fear in the movie, and their bond as sisters makes them incredibly sympathetic to viewers. They’re terrified, running out of oxygen in their tanks, and struggling to give themselves help for a rescue or escape.

The large sharks that skulk in the murky waters around them make for formidable foes. As these two sisters try to come up with plans and ways to fight off the sharks, the audience is biting their nails in anticipation of each scare and tragedy they know must be coming. Viewers connect with Kate and Lisa as humans with a fear of sharks, but also as people with families and friends they would never want to imagine in this scenario. The audience wants nothing more than the two sisters to make it out in one piece, and the twist at the end of the movie makes their story heartbreaking.

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Adelaide – United States (2019)

The movie simply titled uswas directed by Jordan Peele, who has had even more success with the recent release of his movie nope. This chilling film about a family whose doppelgängers come after them is an incredibly-written thriller that is haunting in all kinds of ways. It centers around ideas of survival, family, identity, and trauma, and connects them all intricately. us also presents ideas about motherhood, as many horror movies do, and has the main character Adelaide at the center of everything. Adelaide was traumatized as a young child when at a seaside fair in her hometown, she walked into a fun-house and found an evil double of herself– the one that would come back to haunt her, along with the sinister doubles of the family she would make. Adelaide is forced to confront her past and her fears for the sake of her family, making her a heroic and strong female character that audiences want to root for. Not only is she a good and brave person, she’s a good and brave mothermaking her admirable and interesting for viewers of the movie.

Jenn – Sweetheart (2019)

Netflix’s movie sweetheart is a bizarre castaway tale starring Kiersey Clemonswho will be in the upcoming sequel to The Flash, as the leading woman, Jenn. She is separated from her friends and her boyfriend after their boat sinks, and then she finds the remains of one of her friends on shore. While on the island, she finds remnants of past people and camps that had also become castaways, and realizes they were killed by the same semi-aquatic monster that now haunts her. As she tries to fend the monster off and stay alive, she is reunited with her boyfriend and one other friend, both of whom have a sinister secret. Neither believe Jenn and lead her to believe she’s crazy, and Jenn’s boyfriend, Brad, is especially belittling and cruel to her. The audience attaches themselves to Jenn because they’ve all had bad relationships or times when loved ones don’t listen to them; she’s a relatable character in an incredibly unpredictable situation. But she’s a quick-witted fighter that almost matches the fish-like monster on the island, making the audience believe she has a chance and leading them to root for her.

Sarah – See No Evil (1971)

The classic movie See No Evil lives in the minds of multiple generations, giving a unique twist on the usual trope of the-killer-is-in-the-house. This film centers around Sarah, a blind girl who escapes being murdered because she is on a date while her family is killed. She returns home, and after some time, discovers the bodies of her family members, and is then taunted and hunted by the murderer. See No Evil is a unique watch because it offers a protagonist that is disabled and yet still able to fight and save herself. Her disability and the tragedy of her family makes the audience feel for her and want her to survive; they root for her not just so she can live but so she can also get justice against the killer.

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Finney – The Black Phone (2022)

This recent thriller inspired by Joe Hill’s chilling short story has captivated viewers and left them wanting to see more. The Black Phone is about a kidnapper and the boy he has prisoner, who is getting advice from the ghosts of previous victims through an old black phone. The movie has strong themes of identity, trauma, strength, and has incredibly realistic characters completed with a terrifying villain. The protagonist, Finney, is facing a fear that everyone has worried about in their lives, whether as a child or a parent– being kidnapped. He is trapped in a basement room and is trying to piece together a way out by using the advice from the ghosts. As the audience watches, they root for him to win over the kidnapped for the obvious reason of him being so young. Finney has barely had time to live his life, and he’s spent most of his time getting bullied – the audience wishes for him to have more than that. But they also root for him because they can see that his survival instincts aren’t just about himself, but also motivated by the need to get back to his younger sister, who he loves and doesn’t want to leave behind with their abusive father . Finney is selfless and courageous, especially for a boy so young. The audience roots for him with their whole hearts.

Detective David Mills – Se7en (1995)

This intense film about two detectives trying to hunt down a serial killer stars the surprising duo of Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt plays the new cop in town, Detective Mills, who finds himself swept into a case that suddenly turns from homicide into a serial killer leaving a pattern based off of the seven deadly sins. Mills is a somewhat cocky cop with a mouth like a sailor, but the audience is able to see how genuine he is. He cares about his case and his coworkers and, most importantly, his wife. Mills is honest in the way he works and interacts with people and is a breath of fresh air for viewers to watch. Members of the audience root for him as a protagonist not only because he’s a great character (and definitely the type of person we’ve all known at some point), but also because of the killer he’s facing off against. He’s a relatively young cop who just got transferred, and this killer is sadistically clever – everyone in the audience wants to see exactly how Mills might beat this guy. As the movie goes on, and it seems less and less likely that justice will prevail, it makes audiences wish even harder for his success.

Thrillers are nothing without a good protagonist. Having a character you can recognize or relate to is what makes a story whole. The protagonists that you can root for and want to see make it to the end are what really bring it all home, and make a movie worth watching and sharing. Seeing these protagonists go through these terrifying orders is what keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and waiting to see how a story plays out.

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