Archetypes in Movies – The Underdog

In Hollywood movies, the underdog character sets out to complete a goal that seems way out of his league. On paper, his chances are slim. Very few are betting on him, as the odds are completely stacked on the opposite side. 

Nonetheless, he strays from the popular outcome and achieves what only a handful can manage. One of the most popular underdog archetypes in history has to be popular childhood hero Rocky from the similarly named movies. 

An example of man vs. man narrative, the original Rocky movie depicts a novice boxer going toe-to-to with Apollo Creed, a champion and a proven professional. In fact, many have opined that Apollo is Muhammad Ali.

What makes the underdog so relatable?

As a popular archetype in movies, the underdog evokes emotion and empathy. Audiences relate to the underdog because he represents the common man and his battles to overcome the huge challenges of life. 

His challenge often involves something bigger than him. The underdog’s story could be one of man vs. society or man vs. technology.

The underdog inspires by his never-say-die attitude. He never backs down. He gets right back up when he is knocked to the floor, sometimes quite literally. 

Certain qualities mark him out as the underdog. Typically, he works hard and puts in a lot of time to prepare for his mission. He faces criticism at every corner and voices of discouragement highlighting the impossibility of the challenge ahead. 

The underdog doesn’t care. His immense determination keeps him going even in the face of defeat. Often, the underdog is flanked by supporting characters who give him that little push when the tank is running low. 

From Rocky to Kung Fu Panda, there have been many great underdog tales. 

Here’s 3 examples of the underdog character in movies

The hockey team from Chak De! India

Chak De! India is a 2007 sports film that was inspired by the events of the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester. It follows the story of the Indian national women’s hockey team and serves up a tale of defying the odds. 

Our protagonists not only have to contend with being outsiders for the title but also have to deal with a myriad of issues exclusive to them. The movie explores religious bigotry, regional prejudice, and sexism that the members of the team endure.

⁉️ Hockey in India ⁉️

The team faces objectivity first in their home country. As they go about assembling the team amid malicious societal norms of the day, male chauvinism continually puts them down. At one point the coach is even told there’s no place for women in sports and that they belong in the kitchen. 

In the face of such a backward society, it’s considered a win that the team manages to get together in the first place. A female team that goes on to play in such a huge competition was quite unfathomable in the cinematic society depicted in the film.

They not only participate in the commonwealth games but also give a very good account of themselves. With a washout coach at the helm and sponsors proving hard to come by, the team is an underdog that no one backs for the World Cup.

Yet one challenge after the other, they grind to the final. Here their fairy tale concludes with a happy ending as they shockingly overcome Australia, a 6-time winner of the competition. 

Kung Fu Panda and its determined panda 

The adorable panda, Po, is definitely in over his head in Kung Fu Panda. He stands up to a master of the martial arts with his clumsy combat skills and zero self-defense experience. 

Armed with nothing but a grand dream and a courageous heart, the protagonist sets out to prove his doubters wrong. The movie showcases the charming panda’s hero journey from novice to Dragon Warrior in the backdrop of ancient China.

Kung Fu Panda the martial artist

His idols are the Furious Five, different martial arts masters represented by a variety of animals. Po often daydreams of fighting alongside one of them. His dream is akin to a young kid in rural Europe hoping to one day share a table with the queen. 

His passion is met by laughter and sarcasm. Despite the improbability and understandable disbelief of those around him, he never stops dreaming. A ceremony takes place in his town to unveil the prophesied Dragon Warrior, the most powerful there will ever be.

The title is bestowed on the dumbfounded panda, much to the speechless dismay of the crowd. Po isn’t a Kungfu master, he could hardly fold his fingers into a proper fist let alone fight.

An evil master with vast experience challenges the Dragon Warrior to a duel, believing it his destiny to defeat the chosen one. He doesn’t have the luxury of time either as the antagonist is set to arrive soon. He has to learn so much so fast. Against the odds, he beats the dangerous Tai Lung and saves his home. 

Erin Brockovich and the heroine who took on a corrupt system

Erin Brockovich is a legal drama inspired by a real-life person of the same name. This ultimate underdog story details how a single mother went up against a large multinational and won. 

With little money to her name and, on top of that, no formal law education, she successfully takes on a multinational committing environmental crimes. 

With a behemoth of lawyers at their disposal and immense financial might, it is unthinkable that a woman in her circumstances would even think of having a showdown with a company of such magnitude.

(Wo)man vs. society – making the world a better place

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, simply PG&E, had contaminated Hinkley’s groundwater with dangerous chemicals. Residents were afflicted by a range of health complications including lymphoma. 

When Erin gets a job as a clerk at a legal firm, she encounters suspicious medical records. As she begins investigating PG&E she is fired in suspicious circumstances.

She eventually manages to get her job back and keeps digging into the matter.

She uncovers that the doctors have also been in league with the company, citing other reasons for the residents’ health problems.

Knowing they will exploit technicalities and use their resources to delay the case, Erin and her lawyer Ed decide to pursue arbitration.

They manage to get a former employee to offer evidence of the cover-up and they come out on top, winning $333 million in settlement for the class-action. 

A compelling underdog tale, Erin Brockovich sees a no-nonsense suburban mother take on the proverbial goliath and topple a corrupt system. Protection Status