Great Origin Stories from Movies & TV

What becomes a legend most? IMDb editors Melanie McFarland and Mark Englehart talk about the notable films and television shows that have created and chronicled the origin stories of some of our favorite classic and contemporary heroes and heroines.

“ We often think of origin stories as belonging to classic characters from literature centuries ago, but there are plenty of contemporary origin stories set in the here and now, the biggest centered around J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. With seven books -- turned into eight films -- Rowling created seemingly out of thin air a parallel universe with wizards that occasionally intermingled with our own.

The first film and book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, introduced the world to the boy wizard who always felt that he was a little bit different, and brought him to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In turn, Harry himself found out about his own origin story, and the night that his parents died at the hands of the evil Voldemort, and that he and that evil wizard were inextricably entwined -- though exactly how would not be revealed until the final book! ”
“ "Into every generation a Slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number." So goes, more or less, the prophecy of Slayer. But the prophecy said nothing about said heroine being blonde, relatively slight of build and possessing quick wit... and a fashion fetish.

When Joss Whedon introduced the character of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to American TV audiences, few people could have predicted how deeply Buffy Summers would resonate with her fans -- even now, after nearly a decade of being off the air. The name alone still keeps a significant number of people from watching it. Their loss.

What makes her an extraordinary character is the way Whedon and his team of writers blended heartbreaking pathos with a unique wit and word-play into every step of her adventures. And after Buffy, the characterization of the helpless girl in horror movies began to ring increasingly false. Yes, slasher flicks will always have young women recklessly stumbling into dark basements. But now we know that some of them can pack a serious punch. ”
“ The first film of George Lucas' space epic was released in 1977 and told the adventures of young Luke Skywalker, the feisty Princess Leia, and suave mercenary Han Solo, pitting them against the evil Darth Vader and his malignant Death Star. But in the world Lucas created, this film took place somewhere in the middle of all the action -- the real beginning was with a young Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobe, his protege Anakin Skywalker, and the royal Queen Amidala.

It took over 20 years until the very beginnings of the Star Wars worlds were unveiled with Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace. The results were decidedly mixed; while fans lined up for blocks to await the first Star Wars film since 1983, they were let down by some wooden acting by excellent performers like Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman, who were themselves upstaged with CGI creatures that muddied the action. As one of the most reviled of these new characters might comment, "How wude!" ”
“ Joss Whedon's other widely-loved creation was much more short-lived than "Buffy" or its spinoff, "Angel." "Buffy" fans were gifted with seven seasons of her adventures, while the exploits of Mal Reynolds and his crew are limited to a mere 14 episodes and a theatrical release, "Serenity." That was enough to develop a rich mythos for each of the characters navigating the hardscrabble, Wild West-style future following a war between the government and the outer colonies who struggled to maintain their independence.

Mal Reynolds, an unsung war hero and captain of Serenity, takes on odd jobs and works diligently to remain beyond the grasp of the authoritarian centralized government, the Alliance. But even his crew is unusual by TV and standard pop culture storytelling standards. It includes a preacher, Shepherd Book; the Tams, a doctor and his sister being hunted by government forces; a lunkheaded merc named Jayne; Mal's steely right hand woman Zoe, who was also his best buddy in the war; a throughout girly mechanic named Kaylee; Wash, a geeky pilot; and Inara, a "companion," the future's version of a courtesan. Each of them has an interesting backstory, only some of which was revealed during the show's only season. They were all so well realized in those episodes, however, that fans are happy to fill in the blanks.

In some cases, they no longer have to. "Firefly" lives on in comic books which, among other things, illustrate the pasts of the most auxiliary members of the crew (such as Shepherd Book). And if you explore the Internet, you'll even find a full boat of hip-hop songs devoted to Mal Reynolds and his crew. ”
“ The origin story concept of late has been aggressively co-opted by innumerable superhero films, all of which breathlessly await to tell you how exactly *this* hero came by his or her superpowers, the obstacles they had to overcome, and their first battles, leaving open the door for a hoped franchise of continuing adventure. Many have been done well, even more done badly, but one of the original standouts is also one of the first modern films to bring comic book heroes to the big screen: 1978's Superman, starring the charismatic Christopher Reeve.

A top-billed Marlon Brando played big daddy Jor-El, Gene Hackman got a second career wind as the evil Lex Luthor, and Margot Kidder set the template for feisty heroines as the fearless Lois Lane. However, it was the late Reeve who anchored the action and drama with his superlative superhero and geeky alter ego Clark Kent. ”
“ It's probably enough that "Xena: Warrior Princess" executive producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert introduced the world to the incomparable Lucy Lawless with this syndicated television swashbuckler. "Xena’s" die-hard fans, however, saw something much more profound in Xena's redemption story. The show's writers greatly capitalized on Xena's (and Lawless's) remarkable athleticism, and her ability to best nearly all challengers in hand-to-hand combat. They also had fun expanding her history of being a village girl transformed by vengeance into a warlord before, with the help of Hercules, turning into an agent for the greater good seeking redemption for past crimes.

But the beating heart of "Xena: Warrior Princess" was the heroine’s relationship with her best friend, the shepherdess-turned-bard Gabrielle. As the series progressed, Xena taught Gabrielle how to defend herself, eventually making her quite a force to be reckoned with on her own. Gabrielle, meanwhile, made sure Xena never lost her morality. And their bond felt real in the best and worst ways: Xena and Gabrielle turned away from each other, even betrayed one another, over the course of the series. In the end, their friendship was stronger than every obstacle -- including death. ”
“ Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 masterpiece The Godfather centered on the magisterial mafia kingpin Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), an aging patriarch looking for the right son upon whom to rest the mantle of his dynasty -- but how did Corleone become the powerful man he was?

In what's arguably one of the best sequels ever made, Coppola dove into both the present time of the Corleone family and its past, contrasting the machinations of new mafia head Michael (Al Pacino) with the origins of Don Vito, born in Sicily and then an immigrant to America, where he established himself as one of the most powerful mafia men in 1920s New York. A young Robert De Niro portrayed the young Don Vito, and won an Oscar for his Italian-language performance; Brando and De Niro became the only two actors to ever win separate Oscars for playing the same character. ”
“ At its best "Doctor Who," perhaps popular culture's finest example of the eternal champion, speaks to the audience's endless thirst for adventure and its fascination with beings, and concepts, most of us could not even imagine.

Mixing elements of fairy tale magic, dramatic historical events and old fashioned sci-fi weirdness, the longest-running science fiction television show in the world continues to delight audiences. In its latest incarnation, which features the youngest Doctor in the history of the franchise (played by relative newcomer Matt Smith), The Doctor is an odd hero who demonstrates a childlike fascination with the universe as well as a crusader's desire to do the right thing. He also possesses a fiery temper, which makes itself apparent whenever intergalactic bullies attempt to force their will on weaker beings.

What fans cannot count on, however, is The Doctor's face. As a Time Lord, he regenerates whenever his body is near death... and one can never tell what he's going to look like next. There have been 11 very different Doctors so far. And while we really like this one (and the one before him, immortalized by David Tennant) we remain as curious to see what face he'll wear next as we are to know where, and when, he plans to take us. ”
“ How many permutations have there been detailing the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise and the universe from which they came? There's been the original TV series (even an animated series), 11 films, and even four television series -- we won't even get into printed media -- but the story of how Kirk, Spock, McCoy and company actually came together was never depicted until 2009's Star Trek, which rebooted the movie franchise by taking viewers back in time.

It was there that we met the young crew who would go on to helm numerous adventures out in space, the final frontier. In going back to the origin story, however, writer-director J.J. Abrams played fast and loose with timelines, creating a parallel universe where the planet Vulcan was destroyed, and the elder Spock (Leonard Nimoy) met his younger self (Zachary Quinto). A new film is in the works now -- maybe one that will help put Vulcan back on the (literal) map! ”
“ When "Battlestar Galactica" was reimagined first as a miniseries in 2003, then as full TV series in 2004, it quickly evolved from a standard space action story into a study of theology, philosophy, and what it means to truly be human. Ostensibly the saga of the humans that survived the nuclear annihilation by the cybernetic beings created by man, "Galactica" soon became rooted in examinations of the value and meaning of existence. It also forced viewers to consider different paradigms when it comes to morality and choice -- daring to pose, at times, that certainly rights many democracies hold sacrosanct become luxuries when one's species is staring down extinction.

Not bad for a show that was inspired by a late-70s version considered by many to be a Star Wars rip-off. (Particularly 20th Century Fox, who launched a lawsuit against Universal Studios for that very reason.) ”
“ The first X-Men film presented the dynamic of Professor X and his archenemy Magneto, who warred over their differing views of how mutants should interact with the rest of society; X-Men: First Class dove into the beginnings of their friendship when they were still Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, discovering their mutant powers and working together to stop the threat of the Cold War.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender proved to be able younger versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, and the film threw in an extra origin story with the appearance of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who would grow into the silky, sinister, sexy (and very blue) Mystique. ”
“ Initially a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for viewers -- which camp you stood in largely depended on your stomach for gore and tolerance for unapologetic, often unromantic nudity and sex -- the first season of "Game of Thrones" blossomed into an illustration of the brutal truth that might often conquers right. Yet, it ended its first TV chapter with the tantalizing idea that the meekest of us all, those that war and circumstance banish to the wilds to survive or die with nothing but the threads on her head, can find a dragon's roar destined to move and shake all the other pieces on the chess board.

George R.R. Martin has spun five very long books delineating the grueling, bloody struggle for power among the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. On television, though, this "Game" has only just begun, and fans are eagerly awaiting the next installment of the legend, due to return in the spring of 2012. ”