Up to this point, we’ve explored the familiar territory of stories with a single protagonist, the one who makes the choices and takes the actions needed to drive the narrative. But what if we venture into the realm of narratives with not one but TWO main protagonists? 

When two protagonists share a story, a unique set of rules must be followed.  This dynamic can present challenges and benefits, as the characters must experience the narrative together, even when they are physically apart.

Let’s look at two films featuring two protagonists with unique roles and interactions.

Independence Day

With its ensemble cast and global stakes, Independence Day’s story is big enough to need two heroes with the required skills to stop the alien invasion.  While we meet them on opposite sides of the country when they’re introduced and when they first encounter the alien ships, Captain Steven Hiller and David Levinson must unite as a unified force to destroy the alien mothership and save the planet.

When we first meet David, it quickly becomes apparent that his computer skills and technological acumen go far beyond his current job. His knowledge of computers and deciphering the alien code give the film the initial ticking clock that sets off the first wave of alien destruction.

Steve is in the U.S. Air Force, and his first official encounter with the aliens is from a jet fighter.  As he and his team attempt to fight the aliens in their smaller craft, we see his skills as an Air Force pilot.  When he’s the only one left of his squadron, he finds a way to crash one of the alien craft and capture one of the aliens.  

Both men have been shown to have the needed skills to defeat the alien menace, but it’s not until they come together at Area 51 that both men realize how to take them out.  

Hiller and Levenson then have to fly the alien craft to the mothership, launch a nuke, and get out before it detonates.  Without each man’s companion skills established at the movie’s opening, the aliens would have won and destroyed Earth.

Dude, Where’s My Car?

Aside from when they wake up at the movie’s start, Jesse and Chester spend the entire movie together.  This means they experience all the wacky, bizarre, and downright goofy events throughout the movie as they attempt to find Jesse’s car.

As the story unfolds and the mystery of what happened to them the night before becomes clear, Jesse and Chester must work as a team to find the answers and prevent the enigmatic Continuum Transfunctioner from detonating at the film’s climax.

While they aren’t the brightest guys, Jesse and Chester are an effective team. Even at their dumbest—and there are plenty of those moments—they still manage to move the story toward its big finale.

Final Thoughts

Most of the time, what may seem like a story with two main characters is actually one hero with a sidekick or love interest that helps them along the way.  The trick to ensuring it’s truly a two-protagonist story is that both characters experience similar events together, whether together or apart, and they work together to resolve the conflict at the story’s climax.

Seeing Double

What films have you seen with two protagonists?  What do the characters do together that indicates this?  Are Bill & Ted’s Excellent AdventureWayne’s WorldLethal WeaponRush HourTango & Cash, and Thelma & Louise two protagonist stories?

Leave a comment and let me know!

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