Best movie characters: 10 Character-driven films

In this post, we offer character-driven films with the best movie characters in cinema history. Films focus on the relationships, internal conflicts, choices, and emotions of the characters that could be called character-driven films. If you plan to build your story on a character, your approach is at least as important as creating a character.

Do we recognize your characters in the first 10 minutes of the movie and understand what he is fighting against, or are we trying to get to know them until the end of the movie because their inner motivations are hidden? Is your screenplay a narrative that uses your character as a tool, or a journey through which we will witness the character’s inner world?

Here, in this post, we will leave you alone with these questions and present character-driven films with the best movie characters that has made their voices heard with different approaches. Watching these movies and pondering them will help you determine your approach to your character.

Best movie characters

400 Blows (1959) – François Truffaut

Best movie characters

The 400 Blows (1959) establishes his approach to his character through personal experiences. The French director François Truffaut focuses on adolescence in this film, but instead of addressing adolescence from a nostalgic and social perspective, he creates an existential and personal story based entirely on his own experience. Nothing is representative in the film. It is all about the growing pains of the character named Antoine Doinel during his adolescence with his family, friends and the environment. Thus, it becomes easier for the audience to establish an emotional connection with the character.

The foundations of this approach, which we frequently encounter in today’s cinema, is based on the late 50s with French New Wave films such as 400 Blows (1959).

Vivre Sa Vie (1962) – Jean-Luc Godard

Best movie characters

Vivre Sa Vie (1962) focuses on the life of a woman who wants to be an actress but finds herself as a hooker. Director of the film, Jean-Luc Godard, does not allow us to identify with the character and establish an emotional bond with her. He divides the film into 12 episodes informs the audience with inter-titles in advance of the main events to be experienced in each episode. The audience, who knows the events beforehand, loses the sense of curiosity and tends to look at the character from the outside. Thus, Godard succeeded in producing a narrative that led to the emergence of cold judgments, on the contrary, instead of giving the audience an emotional experience.

8½ (1963) – Federico Fellini

Best movie characters

8½ (1963) focuses on the life of a film director who has a crisis of self-confidence and the relationship with actors, producers, and friends during preparations for shooting. Director of the film, Federico Fellini, reveals the dreams of the main character, his idealized childhood, his complex relationships with her parents, his Catholic education and his feelings of shame and guilt with the sequences of dreams and memories. This is is a very comprehensive character-driven film that allows us to travel in the inner world of the main character, recognize him step by step and move freely between reality and imagination. This comprehensive approach of Fellini allows us to both look at the character’s entire life and his past with a wide-angle and experience a director’s creating pains and dilemmas.

Fellini created one of the best movie characters in cinema history and managed to offer a unique experience that every screenwriter and director can easily identify with.

Claire’s Knee (1970) – Eric Rohmer

Best movie characters

What makes Claire’s Knee (1970) different is that it confronts us with the thoughts of the main character. The film is about a middle-aged diplomat who becomes interested in a 16-year-old girl during summer vacation, and slowly this interest turns into passion. French director Eric Rohmer handles the thoughts of the character in dialogues with such mastery that the inconsistency between the character’s actions and thoughts creates a constant urge for the audience to question him. The success of the film lies in the feeling of tension created by these strong impulses that go back and forth between identifying with one of the best movie characters and questioning him.

Opening Night (1977) – John Cassavetes

Best movie characters

John Cassavetes, one of the first names that come to mind when it comes to American Independent Cinema, focuses on a few days of a famous actress who has experienced mid-life crises during the preparations for a theater play. Cassavetes does not need to scrutinize the whole life and past of his character, as Fellini did in 8½ (1963). But he still succeeded in creating a strong impression in the audience about his character’s entire life by presenting a few days of her. Cassavetes does not use his characters for secondary reasons such as telling us a story or giving us experience on a topic. Cassavetes only portraits a person who is in a certain situation under certain conditions with all its realism. At the end of the work, as a spectator, we spent a few days with this person, witness her personal crises, needs of attention, loneliness, and pain.

Vive L’amour (1994) – Tsai Ming-liang

Best movie characters

This film focuses on not a single character but on the intersection of 3 lonely people using a secretly empty apartment. The success of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang is that although he makes his characters talk very little, we have a lot of ideas about them. Ming-liang leaves many points about his characters ambiguous and makes us guess about them. Even the ambiguity does not disappear completely, we are able to witness the alienation, loneliness and desires of these 3 characters in city life.

Taste of Cherry (1997) – Abbas Kiyarüstemi

Best movie characters

The feature that distinguishes Taste of Cherry (1997) from other films in this list is that it does not give the opportunity to fully know its main character. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami focuses on a middle-aged man who wants to commit suicide and looks for someone to help him by driving around the city. However, we never know who the character is and why he wants to commit suicide. Thus, Kiarostami invites the audience to a creative process and asks each audience to complete the ambiguous parts. Of course, he does not offer the audience a blank canvas, he uses the character’s dynamic dialogues which motivate us to spend time with the character.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) – Cristi Puiu

Best movie characters

Romanian director Cristi Puiu focuses on tragicomic but highly realistic events that develop around the old who was suddenly disturbed and hospitalized with an ambulance and died that night. The director uses his character as a tool to show us the restless process and the alienation of health workers to human values within the corrupt system.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Inside Llewyn Davis stretches the Hollywood films’ classic characters. The Hollywood formula is as follows: In the first 10 minutes of the movie, we recognize the character and find out his conflicts or what he is fighting against. Then, during the whole movie, we witness the character’s attempt to overcome this conflict and change it. At the end of the movie, the character often overcomes the conflict.

This film begins exactly according to this formula. At the beginning of the movie, directors introduce us to a talented folk musician who couldn’t realize himself in the 60s. But it does not present a conflict that needs to be resolved because the conflict is the whole character’s own life. In the film, we witness a young musician who is insensitive to his surroundings, and his relationships with his family, friends, and colleagues for a week. He is selfish and arrogant despite his talent and therefore cannot achieve any success. But we do not see that the character has resolved any conflict or that the character has changed.

The Death of Louis XIV (2016) – Albert Serra

The Death of Louis XIV (2016) is a historical character-oriented film handled with a very different approach. The film focuses on the days before the famous French King Louis XIV’s death. However, the idea of the mortality of man destroys the main character’s historical personality. In the movie, we watch not a king, but an old man who is dying. This approach of Catalan director Albert Serra reveals the fact that we do not need to present historical personalities in an epic language in historical films.

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What is a character-driven film?

Films focus on the relationships, internal conflicts, choices, and emotions of the characters that could be called character-driven films.

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