Archetypes in Movies – The Leader

The leader represents a powerful force in the film. He serves as a beacon that others look to as a guide. He provides the guiding light to follow in the darkness. He inspires others to take action and leave their mark in the story. 

In a man vs. society or even man vs. technology narrative structure, leaders incite change and challenge the norms or powers that be. 

Traits of a leader

When making your movie, ensure your leader has infallible courage. He does not cower to speak up for the oppressed. He acts on what he believes to be right, even if it rubs the majority the wrong way. 

He is active and significantly involved in the plot outcome. In a nutshell, the leader archetype brings together people for a common goal.

Some traits mark out the leader in a film. Full of charisma and personality, others are drawn to him by his infectiousness and ability to inspire staunch loyalty. When it boils down to hard decisions that many avoid, the burden falls to him as a proactive decision-maker. 

The leader is not necessarily a trouble maker but he will not be backed into a corner as his morals are compromised. He savors leadership and will stand up when he needs to. Often, other characters come to him for advice and guidance. The leader is not always a positive force in a film. He can be a tyrant at times.

3 examples of leader characters in movies 

The Devil Wears Prada and its ruthless leader Miranda Priestly

Miranda Priestly assumes a position of influence and power in The Devil Wears Prada. She is a no-nonsense fashion magazine editor that rules over her employees with an iron fist. The editor-in-chief is arrogant and excessively demanding of her subjects. 

Her power extends beyond the workplace and into her workers’ personal lives. Things need to be done her way or no way at all. She is an example of the coercive leadership archetype, ruling through intimidation and fear. 

Her place in the organizational hierarchy is her source of power. Her followers (employees) live by her every word as they know the contrary would mean losing their jobs.

The leader wears Prada

A leader archetype has certain qualities that set her above the crowd. She is in a position of authority because of what she brings to the table that others around her can’t. It is a similar case with Miranda Priestly’s archetype in the film.

 She bears immense fashion knowledge that few can rival. Her expertise knows no equal as does her grasp of fashion trends. She is an invaluable member of the company for her know-how and experience in the industry.

Although a seemingly negative element in the film, Miranda Priestly helps those around her to grow. A leader inspires others to be better, and Miranda does that for her personal assistant Andrea Sachs. She motivates Andy to make more of her life and eventually shoves her to pursue her dream career. 

Juror No. 8 from 12 Angry Men

This timeless classic may have almost entirely played out in a courtroom, but it is without a doubt one of the most captivating films of all time. Most importantly, it offers a powerful illustration of the noble leadership archetype.

A lone man challenges stereotypes and fights for the truth when not many around him can see it. The 1957 legal drama features a jury that presides over a murder case of an 18-year-old-boy accused of killing his father.

The leader doing what’s right

Overwhelming evidence suggests the boy is guilty, including the murder weapon, a violent history, and eyewitness accounts. All 12 jurors vote guilty but for one. Davis (Juror 8) believes there is reasonable doubt hence the case should get more deliberation. 

Juror 8 fits the leadership mold in the film. 

He stands up for others and triggers critical thinking from those around him. He doesn’t fall in line and conform with the flow. He breaks patterns when he believes something’s not right. He speaks up and has a way with the words that convinces others. He doesn’t back down when the heat rains down on him.

Leadership is especially powerful when it comes from a place of no formal authority, when an ordinary man rises to the occasion. Juror Eight fits that description. He demonstrates how anger can get the best of people so that they say what they don’t mean when he messes with one juror. He takes risks and shows the courtroom how background and other prejudices affect decision making. 

Davis is a leader who embodies bravery and justice.

The leadership of Maximus Decimus and Emperor Commodus in the Gladiator

A general in the Roman army, Maximus Decimus plays the leadership role in this thrilling historical drama. He inspires loyalty from his soldiers. He knows them by name, leads by example, and ensures everyone knows their part in his war plans. 

So good was his leadership that the emperor of Rome thought he would make a better ruler than his own son (Commodus). Righteous and courageous, the emperor saw Maximus as the man to correct a corrupt and rotting system.

The envious Commodus kills his father upon learning the news, stripping Maximus of his position of authority as the general.

The slave versus the emperor

Yet, the fire of leadership isn’t extinguished as we see wrongly-convicted Maximus lead as an ordinary citizen. Maximus flees to another town where he participates in tournaments.

He garners a following wherever he goes. He becomes an authoritative figure within and without the gladiatorial arena. His organizational skills, charisma, and inborn desire to be at the forefront make him a natural leader.

He inspires passion and courage in the people around him, even proving pivotal in the ensuing political storm.

Gladiator offers a stark contrast of two leadership styles that can be fundamentally classified as good and evil. 

Emperor Commodus is representative of the latter. He rules by the whip, both figuratively and literally speaking. His subjects are loyal to him for the fear of what would happen if they aren’t.

When the two variations of leadership clash in battle, Maximus Decimus proves that the best kind is that which is earned. Protection Status