A good film needs a motivated protagonist, but not necessarily “likable” or “good”. Some of the best movies and TV shows have seemingly “evil” protagonists, but audiences will generally engage with such characters if they’re motivated enough.
Netflix original movies are no exception. In fact, many Netflix movies have protagonists who need to become nicer, more decent people, and still others are morally ambiguous, problematic, and downright hateful. Yet such films can still be compelling and enjoyed if their characters very clearly mean something. After all, people everywhere know what it’s like to want something and therefore can easily access highly motivated personas.
ten Tick, tick… the protagonist of BOOM! is egocentric
Most critics and audiences agree that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, tick, tick… BOOM!, a musical film about the late Jonathan Larson, was a hit. Larson wrote the musical from which the film is adapted, based in part on his real-life experiences as an ambitious young playwright. Since Larson wrote that the protagonist was a fictionalized version of himself, both the musical and the film portray him as largely likable and quite self-aware.
Still, some of Larson’s behaviors are horrifying. He makes his friend’s HIV diagnosis on himself and is both so obsessed and indecisive about his career that his girlfriend leaves him.
9 The Irishman talks about a hitman
Critics praised The Irishman upon its release and, as of 2022, it is still Netflix’s fifth most-watched film. Nonetheless, it follows that, as a mob movie, the protagonist makes some very questionable choices.
Indeed, the main character of the film, Frank Sheeran, was once a hitman for the mob. This costs him his relationship with his daughters and eventually lands him in jail. Yet meeting a priest in the nursing home where he lives after his prison sentence, Sheeran shows little remorse for the lives he has taken.
8 The protagonist of Alex Strangelove hurts the people he loves
Critics and audiences praised Alex Strangelove, saying the film offers a nuanced portrayal of self-discovery. Its protagonist, Alex Truelove, realizes during the film that he is gay.
However, to come to this conclusion, Alex hurts his girlfriend and the boy he has a crush on. To some extent, this behavior is evidence of Alex’s internalized homophobia, which is a major theme and takeaway from the film. Nonetheless, Alex’s actions are always detrimental to those around him.
seven I care a lot about centers on a Conwoman
Although the film was not as popular with audiences as it was with critics, I care a lot won Rosamund Pike a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, and Variety even compared director J. Blakeson to Hitchcock.
Some have speculated that the audience’s lukewarm response is actually related to its protagonist, Marla Grayson’s likability or lack thereof. As in real life, unkind women in movies are off-putting to many viewers, even when those characters are highly motivated, and Grayson is a con artist who guiltlessly takes advantage of the elderly.
6 The Power of the Dog uses its protagonist to explore compulsive heterosexuality
The power of the dog has won numerous accolades, including twelve Oscar nominations and seven Golden Globe Award nominations. It was also named one of the best films of the year by the American Film Institute.
Phil, the film’s protagonist, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a closeted queer man who takes his own insecurities out on his step-nephew, Peter. While this allows the film to explore the idea of compulsive heterosexuality and Phil eventually bonding with his step-nephew, his growing up doesn’t overlook Phil’s starting point.
5 The titular King character rushes into war
The king stars the ever-popular Timothée Chalamet and is very loosely based on plays by William Shakespeare’s Henriad and the real life of King Henry V. The film received generally positive reviews from critics and viewers.
Henry V, “Hal”, begins his reign by making peace with the many enemies of his tyrannical late father. Eventually, however, he invades France without significant provocation because an adviser claims he will show strength. This choice causes many violent deaths, and Hal only realizes this mistake when his wife, Catherine de Valois, draws his attention to this adviser’s agenda.
4 Set It Up’s main woman is too good for her main man
Implement was and remains a success for Netflix. The workplace romantic comedy has two leads, Harper and Charlie, played by Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell respectively. The two conspire to set up a date with their high-achieving workaholic bosses to reduce their own untenable workloads.
Over the course of the film, Charlie proves to be a less than stellar guy. He discovers that his boss, engaged at that time to Harper’s boss Kirsten, is still sleeping with his ex-wife. Instead of informing Kirsten, however, he remains silent and lets Harper confess their scheme to Kirsten alone. Kirsten promptly fires Harper.
3 Mank does not glorify alcoholism
A Herman J. Mankiewicz biopic, man follows the process of writing its eponymous character for Citizen Kane. man garnered ten Oscar nominations, winning two, as well as six Golden Globe nominations.
Whereas man is especially sympathetic to its protagonist, he does not fear the consequences of his severe alcoholism. In particular, Mankiewicz throws a party while drunk and humiliates not only his bosses but also his friend, Marion Davies. Additionally, after receiving an Academy Award with Orson Welles for the Citizen Kane screenplay, Mankiewicz claims he wrote it himself, although this is factually inaccurate.
2 The titular kindergarten teacher character is obsessive
The kindergarten teacher was very well received, as critics praised Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance and the film won its director, Sara Colangelo, a Sundance Award. Although Gyllenhaal played her well, the protagonist, Lisa, is not a good person.
Lisa hears one of her kindergarten students recite a poem he wrote and, impressed by it, decides to cultivate this talent. What starts out as support, however, quickly turns into an obsession, and Lisa even kidnaps the little boy, planning to bring him to Canada so she can foster his gift.
1 A California Christmas is built on lies
Upon its release, A Californian Christmas was Netflix’s most-watched movie. Critics praised it for its heartwarming story and charming premise. The film follows Joseph, the nonchalant son of a real estate mogul, who, in an effort to coerce the Bernet family into selling their ranch, poses as a ranch.
As he falls in love with Callie Bernet, the eldest daughter of the family, Joseph has a crisis of conscience and tries to convince his mother to give up her efforts to buy the ranch. In the end, things work out for the Bernet family and for Joseph, but his lies and manipulation still make him a crummy protagonist.
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