Naming one’s protagonist is a pretty big decision for a writer. Sometimes whole franchises have been built upon that singular name and it’s difficult to see how the Wizarding World would have played out if it wasn’t for the name, “Harry Potter.” In the same way, the Indiana Jones franchise has been propelled by the titular adventurer and fans can’t imagine their hero with any other name.
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Therefore, it’s very rare to come across a big movie that refuses to name its main character. Yet, across cinema history, there have been countless examples of protagonists that were simply never given a proper name. Sometimes these characters are referred to with a nickname or a title, but those in the audience are still unaware of what they are truly called.
Updated on March 17th, 2022 by George Chrysotomou: It’s a strange trope within cinema history but there are multiple major characters in significant releases that have still yet to be given a name. It’s therefore important to see which other films have actually taken this risk and decided to leave out such a vital detail.
15 Honorable Mention: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
While it’s often the protagonist that goes unnamed in these situations, for the original Star Wars the lead villain of the piece was never actually directly confirmed to be Palpatine. Fans know the characteristics of Darth Sidious very well thanks to the prequels and spin-off materials.
However, for those early films, the character was simply referred to as The Emperor, an ominous figure lurking in the shadows and one of the most powerful men in the galaxy. It makes sense that he wasn’t titled as Palpatine much though, as it keeps his uprising largely murky so that audiences question how he gained such a position, to begin with.
14 The Road (2009)
The post-apocalyptic film based upon the book of the same name is a bleak trip across the country as a father and son try to survive the ongoing chaos. The Road is absolutely haunting in both its visuals and its narrative and the choice of the characters only aided in the alienation of these themes.
The man and boy in The Road and many other supporting characters are all nameless. This creates a detachment from the audience as they witness the events unfold, but it also suggests the notion that this could happen to anyone. At the end of the world, names don’t matter; the only detail of significance is survival.
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13 Waterworld (1995)
The production of Waterworld has gone down in film history as deeply problematic and the movie itself became a bit of a flop. Yet it’s also become a cult classic and lives on as an oddity. It’s a project of huge ambition and certainly managed to move the genre itself in a different direction.
Kevin Costner’s lead of this incredible tale is only ever referred to as The Mariner. There is an alternative cut of the film that actually reveals a new name of the character with Mariner getting replaced by Ulysses, an ode to the hero known as Odysseus. Regardless, the choice for a nameless protagonist demonstrates how important the roles within this community are to someone’s identity.
12 The Ghost Writer (2010)
The interesting notion of a ghostwriter is that their name remains a mystery. They work on other people’s behalf after all, which is essentially how The Ghost Writer begins. But as the lead character gets brought into a complex political and espionage-based plot, his lack of name becomes more important.
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Much like with spies, it’s vital that the character is essentially given a code name to hide his identity. As this author tries to finish the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, he is only ever referred to as The Ghost. For Ewan McGregor’s investigation, he really will have to act like he’s not even there.
11 V For Vendetta (2005)
The dystopic V For Vendetta, based on the popular graphic novel of the same name, tackles a number of complex themes. It’s about anarchy, revolution, and toppling the corrupt. All of that is inspired by a faceless individual played by Hugo Weaving that the movie gets its title from, V.
Much like other revolutionary heroes, V has created an identity that so many can follow. But it’s not based on a real personality but is instead a symbol that anyone can become. By using the Guy Fawkes mask, anyone else can inhabit the role and become V, regardless of their true identity.
10 Tenet (2020)
Christopher Nolan recently chose to not name his main character in Tenet. Often, his films are a trippy metaphor for some larger theme that he is trying to explore. Inception, for instance, was symbolic of the filmmaking process, with each character taking on the role of someone in the movie-making business.
For Tenet, Nolan is exploring much larger themes about the fundamentals of storytelling. To match that theme, many of the characters in the movie aren’t actually named. Instead, they are referred to in the credits with titles such as Driver, or Uniformed Official. The most meta of these inclusions was Nolan’s choice to call John David Washington’s main character, simply, “The Protagonist.”
9 Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club is still talked about to this day thanks to its incredible twist involving the main character’s split personality. Indeed, thanks in part to Fight Club’s success, 1999 is often referred to as one of the best years in film.
What really sold this idea of the split personality, though, besides the many hidden clues throughout that Brad Pitt’s Tyler was actually a figment of Edward Norton’s mind, was the naming of Norton’s character. He is simply referred to as “The Narrator,” which means audiences shouldn’t have been shocked when he turns out to be unreliable!
8 Doctor Who (1996)
There’s one huge mystery that has reverberated throughout time when it comes to Doctor Who. The show has gotten very close to answering this question in the past, but the film followed suit and refused to really give a proper solution to the conundrum: what is The Doctor’s real name?
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Names hold power and it seems that The Doctor likes to keep control of that knowledge. As the Time Lord’s history continues to unravel itself and new discoveries are made in Jodie Whittaker’s era, perhaps they will shine further light on the part that Paul McGann’s Doctor plays in the character’s timeline. Very few people in the galaxy actually know the real name of this iconic alien.
7 Drive (2011)
Ryan Gosling has taken on a huge range of complex characters over his career, thus far. The actor has pushed himself into a number of different genres and Drive was a clear demonstration of the capabilities of the rising star.
The role of a getaway driver in a movie has to fulfill a certain set of expectations. They must be discreet, almost invisible, and be able to be flawless behind the wheel. It’s perfect, then, that Gosling’s character is only referred to as “The Driver.”
6 The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
Clint Eastwood’s career has been defined by the Western genre. These stories play off of The Lone Ranger concept: the mysterious character who will get the job done with a single shot and return to a crowded saloon as an almost invisible warrior.
The legend of a gunslinger can only be heightened if no one truly knows their name. Something can be feared or misunderstood about a character without a name who just shows up in town and just as quickly disappears. Consequently, the protagonist of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, is only referred to as “Blondie” or “The Man With No Name.”
5 Mother! (2017)
Mother! is perhaps the most bizarre role choice of Jennifer Lawrence’s career thus far, yet it received critical acclaim, thanks to its unique tone and bold storytelling. This strange cinematic experience is only heightened by the lack of names for the key characters.
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Names can be humanizing, but they can also be too familiar. The tone of the film is pushed by the fact that the audience is constantly uneasy by the events of Lawrence’s married life unfolding. By refusing to give these characters names, Mother! is even more unsettling and it’s an easy yet effective technique from writer and director, Darren Aronofsky.
4 Beauty And The Beast (1991)
Disney has so many iconic characters and fans know all of their names, right? After all, most of the company’s animated classics have the name of the protagonists in the title. Look closer though, and there’s one big exclusion from that list of famous princes and princesses: what is the Beast’s real name?
Fans have later been told that it’s actually Adam, but for the animated version of Beauty And The Beast, the character is simply referred to as “The Beast.” It seems that the name should have changed after Beast’s despicable acts come to an end and he returns back to human form, although even the credits do not reveal the true identity of Belle’s husband.
3 Zombieland (2009)/Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
The Zombieland series has become a bit of a cult classic. In fact, the popularity of this zombie-infested universe has become so great that at one stage, there was a TV show in development. That is, until its cancellation and before Double Tap was released.
There are a lot of rules to follow when trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. One of them is that people don’t really use their real names. The main characters go by nicknames instead: Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock. The only character that is only referred to by their actual name is Bill Murray in his extremely unexpected cameo.
2 The Polar Express (2004)
There’s a big debate surrounding The Polar Express in regards to its place amongst other Christmas classics. Weird visuals aside, there are a great number of magical moments throughout this festive spectacle.
An interesting choice was to not name any of the characters besides Billy. This may have been a decision to showcase the idea that any child could go on this incredible journey and see themselves within these characters. The story itself, after all, is a universal one of kindness and holiday spirit.
1 Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)/ Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
Quentin Tarantino has chosen to leave his characters unnamed a few times in his career. 1992’s Reservoir Dogs saw the protagonists given nicknames like Mr. White and Mr. Orange, but the most famous instance of this is in the Kill Bill franchise.
The vengeful warrior played by Uma Thurman is simply referred to as “The Bride,” due to the trauma that occurred on her wedding day. It’s an effective use of holding back on the name, as it consistently reminds audiences of the tragic backstory that has led The Bride on this violent journey.
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About The Author
(1101 Articles Published)
Politics graduate, freelance writer and all around film geek. If George isn’t lecturing someone on the history of the MCU, he’s probably ranting about the political consequences of Boris Johnson’s latest hairstyle.
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