5 of the Best Protagonists in TV and Film

Story posted January 25, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment by Jimmy Lu, Colton Pleslusky.

Every movie or TV show needs a good protagonist. But not every protagonist fits the Superman or Lone Ranger build. Today, Jimmy Lu and Colton Pleslusky of the CommRadio arts & entertainment department examine five of the best and most interesting protagonists across television and film.

Fleabag (“Fleabag”)

“Fleabag” wouldn’t be as successful as it is without its titular character. The show is told entirely from her perspective, and we meet every other character through her lens, as she continuously breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience directly.

Created and played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the actress and writer brings the character to life with a phenomenal performance. Fleabag is quick-witted, outrageous, extremely filthy, hilarious and, most of all, heartbreaking.

From her snarky comments about the different men she met to her emotionally devastating monologues, Waller-Bridge proves that she is a force to be reckoned with as an actor and as a writer.

It’s hard for the audience to say goodbye to this character at the end because the use of the fourth wall break creates an intimate relationship with the audience. It’s also a way to show us her inner thoughts and quiet rage that she hides from the rest of the world.

It’s amazing to see Fleabag’s insight and growth as she deals with grief, loss, love and family. It would be hard to find another female protagonist in comedy as well written as Fleabag.  —Jimmy Lu

Villanelle (“Killing Eve”)

One of the most interesting psychopaths in TV history is Villanelle from “Killing Eve,” another iconic character created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She may be a fashion icon, but she is also one of the deadliest assassins in the world.

What makes Villanelle stand out is that she doesn’t take everything so seriously. She isn’t your typical femme fatale. She’s fun and playful, even a bit childlike, but these are personality traits that makes the audience forget that she is extremely ruthless and genuinely enjoys killing.

Not only does Villanelle break the mold of the typical female assassin, she often makes fun of the overused spy thriller tropes. “Killing Eve” makes an especially bold move by not giving her much of a tragic backstory that leads her down this path. As much as the audience wants a sob story to justify her heinous actions, she doesn’t have one. This makes her even more of an interesting character to watch, simply because of her fun and charming personality, despite her countless murders of innocent people.

The unpredictability is why Villanelle is such a captivating character, and Jodie Comer knocks the role out of the park as the Russian assassin. Her ability to switch into different accents and personalities in a split-second is astonishing and terrifying at the same time.  —Jimmy Lu

Annalise Keating (“How to Get Away with Murder”)

At first, Annalise Keating may seem like a great lawyer who is just good at doing her job, but as “How to Get Away with Murder” goes on, we quickly learned that Keating can be extremely manipulative, cold-hearted and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goal, or in this case, get away with murder.

Her powerful monologues in the courtroom are the highlights of the show, but her little moments of self-doubt, shame and fear add so much more complexity to the character.

Keating is a deeply hurt character who buries her emotions with alcoholism, but the reason that the audience roots for her is because she is always trying to do the right thing, even though she is burned by almost everyone in her life.

Keating is played by the impeccable Viola Davis, who commands every single scene that she is in. Davis is no stranger to playing complex characters, but “How to Get Away with Murder” allows her to showcase the growth of Keating and flesh out the character with the different layers she puts on across the six seasons of the show, making for both thrilling and intimidating television.  —Jimmy Lu

Iron Man/Tony Stark (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

It would be difficult to look back on years past and not acknowledge the popularity of the cinematic version of Tony Stark. He’s witty and sarcastic, all while hiding deeper demons within himself. The Marvel character has captivated fans for well over a decade.

Portrayed beautifully by Robert Downey Jr., who was nearly denied the role due to his troubled past, Tony Stark shines within the MCU as one of its most compelling characters amongst a lineup of Avengers with their own backgrounds.

Stark started as a hardcore business man who didn’t care too much about the world around him, seemingly even less the people. But after the first “Iron Man” sparked a change in the genius inventor, morphing him into someone who just wants to save the world—and destroys his own psyche every time he falls short.

Additionally, due to his armor-making/upgrading tendencies, Stark has another avenue for character development that is represented by suit upgrades, specifically for his comrades. Every mistake that happens throughout the movies that involve his armor is usually solved in following films, showing that he is a fluid character that learns from his mistakes.

Culminating in “Avengers: Endgame” with his self-sacrifice to defeat Thanos, Tony Stark is a protagonist that many of this generation will remember for a long time.  —Colton Pleslusky

Luke Skywalker (“Star Wars”)

Quite possibly the best fictional embodiment of the “hero’s journey” way of storytelling, Luke Skywalker is a classic protagonist and one of Mark Hamill’s most recognizable roles.

Growing up in the deserts of Tatooine with seemingly no future, Skywalker is thrust into a life of wonder and justice as he realizes his destiny.

In “A New Hope,” Skywalker is just a farmer boy who gets his taste of adventure by joining the Rebel Alliance against the Empire by film’s end. He is inexperienced, untrained in many things other than flying, and, in some ways, clueless.

Moving forward to “Empire Strikes Back,” Skywalker becomes a major figure within the Alliance and begins his training as a Jedi. During this time, he is ill-tempered and constantly questioning the methods of Master Yoda, even not believing in the power of the Force itself. The revelation that Darth Vader is his father is also another experience that shakes his character to the core.

Ending with “Return of the Jedi,” Skywalker’s first scene in the film presents a different character. He has poise and carries himself with distinction as a Jedi Knight—something much different compared to what viewers saw in “A New Hope.”

At the end of the movie, Luke is on the verge of killing Darth Vader but ultimately decides to plead to what may be left of the good in his father. Were it not for Skywalker’s development as a character, Vader would not have redeemed himself and helped his son defeat the Empire.

It bears repeating—Luke Skywalker is the prime fictional example of the “hero’s journey,” and the lessons he learns have undoubtedly been inspirational to many “Star Wars” fans.  —Colton Pleslusky


Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu is a senior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email jfl5603@psu.edu.

Colton Pleslusky is a junior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email csp5289@psu.edu.

About the Contributors

Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu's photo

Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu

Senior / Telecommunications

Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu is a senior from Taiwan majoring in telecommunications at Penn State. He is a contributing writer for the CommRadio arts & entertainment department. If you’d like to contact him, please email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Colton Pleslusky's photo

Colton Pleslusky

Fourth-Year / Telecommunications

Colton S. Pleslusky is a fourth-year from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania majoring in telecommunications at Penn State. He is a director and writer for the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Department as well as the host on Nittany Stories and a co-host on Nittany Record Club alongside Emily McGlynn. He does behind the scenes tasks, including directing, producing, programming and more for the Centre County Report. To contact him, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).