Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
1. Ordinary World
In a movie with about 317 characters, give or take a dozen, we first have to pick who the hero is. We pick Anthony because he experiences the most character development, for better or worse, during the film.
To start with, Anthony's ordinary world is one of diners and carjackings. He loads up on pancakes and gets ready for some real-life GTA.
2. Call To Adventure
When Jean Cabot and her husband Rick "George of the Jungle" Cabot get into their slick SUV, Anthony and his partner Peter decide to carpe auto and seize that car at gunpoint.
3. Refusal Of The Call
Anthony doesn't know it yet, but when he runs over a "Chinaman" and dumps his body at the hospital, he's missing out on a greater good he could be performing in life. And not just because he committed a hit and run.
4. Meeting The Mentor
Anthony fancies himself a mentor, lecturing Peter on the Black experience. He swears he's never robbed from a Black man, but then he accidentally attempts to carjack Cameron Thayer, because people are always mistaking Cameron for white. Now Anthony is about to get schooled himself.
5. Crossing The Threshold
Anthony is dragged across the threshold when Cameron pulls him into the car and speeds away.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
Having the tables turned on him by Cameron, Anthony has no idea what's going to happen to him. Cameron seems totally unhinged, and Anthony doesn't know what's going on.
7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
During the high-speed chase from the police, Anthony is totally confused. He thought he was a carjacker who only stole from white people, but then he accidentally stole from a Black man. Now, that Black man has basically carjacked him in his own car, and Anthony wonders if he might go to jail—or worse.
Although we don't see it on camera, we can only imagine how nerve-wracking it is for Anthony to wait in the passenger seat, hiding, while Cameron has a stand-off with white police officers.
9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Anthony's reward is that he gets to live. He's also rewarded with a lecture from Cameron, who tells him that he basically embarrasses the whole Black race.
10. The Road Back
The lecture doesn't appear to stick. Anthony passes by the van that belonged to the man he ran over at the beginning of the movie. He steals it to take to the chop shop for quick cash. Guess he isn't reformed, after all.
At the chop shop, Anthony learns the van is packed with Thai and Cambodian slaves. The chop shop owner offers to buy them and the van. About two dozen for the price of one. What a bargain. But Anthony declines the offer.
12. Return With The Elixir
Anthony frees the slaves. He has introduced them to America, a place where human slaves are still bought and sold, but sometimes they're freed to be racially profiled by others. For now, they're happy to free, and Anthony feels like he's done a good deed.