Top 10 From Zero to Hero Movie Protagonists

Script Written by Nick Spake. Everybody loves an underdog. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 From Zero to Hero Movie Protagonists. For this list, we’re taking a look at characters in movies that start off as losers, but become triumphant by the end of their journeys. Special thanks to our users MrManovar6, viliguns, 7AMart1 and Elliot Palatnik for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script Written by Nick Spake.

Top 10 From Zero to Hero Movie Protagonists

Everybody loves an underdog. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 From Zero to Hero Movie Protagonists.
For this list, we’re taking a look at characters in movies that start off as losers, but become triumphant by the end of their journeys.

#10: Neo
“The Matrix” franchise (1999-2003)

1999 brought us several movies about ordinary men frustrated with their mundane lives. “The Matrix” took this to a whole new level with Neo’s journey. Originally known as Thomas Anderson, this hacker spent his nights searching for meaning on the web. After following the white rabbit, Neo learns the shocking truth about his reality and that he’s the one who will lead humanity to salvation. A master of kung fu and able to bend the rules of the world around him – when he’s in the Matrix, at least – Neo gives hope to all desktop junkies seeking a higher purpose.

#9: Po
“Kung Fu Panda” franchise (2008-)

While pandas are undeniably adorable, they’re actually surprisingly vicious in real life. Of course only in the realm of animation can pandas perform kung fu. Slow, chubby, and voiced by Jack Black, Po is among the least intimidating creatures in the animal kingdom. Upon being singled out as the Dragon Warrior, however, Po strives to prove through persistence and realization that he’s more awesome than he appears. It goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover, even if the title is “Kung Fu Panda.”

#8: Daniel LaRusso
“The Karate Kid” (1984)

“The Karate Kid” introduced a generation of younger audiences to the sports underdog story and Daniel LaRusso’s zero to hero journey remains one of cinema’s most famous. This New Jersey native has trouble adjusting to his new life in Los Angeles, becoming the target of a local gang. Daniel sets out to study karate and he finds a gifted teacher in Mr. Miyagi. He of course learns self-defense, but Daniel also takes in several important life lessons, establishing himself asa noble fighter and rising up as a man.

#7: Katniss Everdeen
“The Hunger Games” franchise (2012-15)

As a resident of District 12, Katniss knows just what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel. After volunteering herself as a tribute for the Hunger Games to save her sister, however, she is unwillingly thrust into the public eye. Becoming a symbol thanks to her bravery, resourcefulness, and compassion, the world looks up to this survivor and centerpiece of the coming revolution. Although initially reluctant to accept her title as the girl on fire, Katniss eventually comes to terms with her responsibilities and vows to take down President Snow.

#6: Dave Lizewski
“Kick-Ass” franchise (2010-)

Comic book popularity is at an all time high, so why hasn’t anybody tried to become a superhero IRL? Dave Lizewski decides to give the costumed vigilante occupation a shot and immediately gets his ass handed to him. While he’s better at getting his ass kicked than kicking ass in the beginning, Dave quickly gains attention for standing up to crime, putting himself out there, and taking a punch like a champ. As he works his way up the superhero latter, this scrawny nerd slowly lives up to his name.

#5: Harry Potter
“Harry Potter” franchise (2001-11)

Phenomenal cosmic power; itty-bitty living space. When we first meet Harry Potter, he’s a 10-year-old boy living in a cupboard under the stairs at his mean old Aunt and Uncle’s house. But on his 11th birthday, he’s informed that not only is he a wizard; he’s one of the most famous wizards ever – with a hefty inheritance waiting, we might add. Harry spends the next years of his life living up to his reputation, and trying to put an end to the darkest wizard who ever lived: Lord Voldemort. With bravery, cunning and two of the best friends ever put to screen, the Boy Who Lived was willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of all wizardkind.

#4: Peter Parker
“Spider-Man” franchise (2002-)

Long before there was Kick-Ass, there was this nerd-turned-superhero icon. While Spidey’s origin story has been retold a couple of times, the same essential elements always remain the same: Peter Parker is your run-of-the-mill dork until a radioactive spider bites him. Although he isn’t sure how to use these newfound web-slinging abilities at first, he gains some valuable words of advice from Uncle Ben. As Spider-Man, Peter aspires to honor his uncle’s memory by defending New York, even if it means giving up any dream of personal happiness he may have.

#3: Luke Skywalker
“Star Wars” franchise (1977-)

Luke Skywalker’s story has become a textbook example of how to portray a hero’s journey. A simple farm boy, Luke looks up at his home planet’s moons in hopes of one day becoming something more. Upon teaming up with Obi-Wan Kenobi, he takes his first step towards becoming a Jedi knight like his father. Of course, Luke gets more than he bargained for after learning his daddy isn’t so clean-cut afterall. Through training, loss, and friendship, though, Luke finds his inner strength and rises as the galaxy’s last hope.

#2: Steve Rogers / Captain America
Marvel Cinematic Universe (2011-)

Despite constantly getting knocked down, the wimpy Steve Rogers always stands up for what’s right. This makes him the ideal candidate for a super-soldier experiment in which his exterior is altered to match his unbreakable spirit. He leads the U.S. in their mission to take down the Red Skull, sacrificing himself in the process. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as Rogers awakens years later to fight a new war. Of all the Avengers, his backstory is the most inspirational, making us all want to follow Captain America into battle.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III
“How to Train Your Dragon” franchise (2010-)
- Jamal Malik
“Slumdog Millionaire” (2009)
- Columbus
“Zombieland” (2009)
- Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior
“Divergent” franchise (2014-)
- Aladdin
“Aladdin” (1992)

#1: Rocky Balboa
“Rocky” franchise (1976-)

To date, “Rocky” is still the greatest underdog story ever told. Never has a sports movie been more rousing and never has a zero to hero protagonist been more compelling than Rocky Balboa, a down-on-his-luck boxer working as a strong-man for a loan shark, and who’s given a shot at facing the heavyweight champion of the world. While it takes him until the next movie to ultimately seize that title, the Italian Stallion demonstrates that you can come out on top even when you don’t win. He’s an everyman that motivates us all to go the distance.

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite from zero to hero movie protagonist? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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