Can a story still be good if the protagonist is unlikable?

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with friends and family about whether or not a movie/book/video game can still be considered good if the main character is unlikable. Mostly, these conversations have circled around the movie Gone With the Wind.

I will be the first to admit that Gone With the Wind is a technical marvel of a movie. It’s shot very well, and the actors did a great job (too great in my opinion). The crane shot over the train tracks is one of the most iconic shots in movie history and deservedly so. Not to mention it has the nostalgic benefit of coming out during the Golden Year of Cinema, 1939.

But it’s still my least favorite movie. It might even be my least favorite movie because the rest of the movie is so well done. However, as a story person, I just can’t enjoy it because I just hate the main character, Scarlet.

Scarlet stank eye

Why is Scarlet enough to kill my enjoyment of an otherwise good movie? Well, she’s whiny, entitled, arrogant, and never changes. At the end of the movie, she’s just as annoying as she ever was, but now she feels kinda bad just because she realized that maybe she kinda likes Rhett Butler, and now he doesn’t like her.

Also, Rhett doesn’t deserve her.

Rhett is bae.gif

Rhett Butler is bae.

I can’t stand this movie because of Scarlet, but my mom and many other film buffs still love it.

Maybe it’s a personal thing. Maybe it’s just me that can’t enjoy stories with unlikable protagonists. It’s not that I can’t enjoy stories where characters do bad things, even if they are the main characters. One of my all-time favorite book series, Artemis Fowl, has a protagonist who is, at least for the first few books, kinda the bad guy. But what Artemis Fowl has what Scarlet doesn’t, at least to me, is charm. And remorse. And personality.

artemis fowl

If you haven’t, you should go buy this book right now.

James Bond is another character that I probably wouldn’t like as a person (in most of his movies) in real life, but that I enjoy watching the adventures of. Bond is charming and handsome and self-aware. He’s kind of a jerk, yeah, but his good qualities outweigh his bad ones just enough for me to not cringe watching him.

Bond.gif

I don’t know of another movie or book with a main character so aggressively unlikable as Scarlet. Even boring characters I can sit through better than her. I won’t necessarily enjoy the experience if the protagonist is boring, but I also won’t be actively annoyed by their very presence the entire time I’m watching or reading.

I guess what really bothers me about Scarlet is what I mentioned above: that she never changes.

One of the best things about reading a book or watching a movie is seeing the protagonist grow. It’s not always that they become a better person. A great example of a protagonist who grows into a worse person is Michael Corleone from The Godfather. But  most protagonists change for the better. In the series that I mentioned above, Artemis changes throughout the books from someone who uses his massive brain for the wrong reasons to someone who does it for the good of others.

In Gone With the Wind, though, Scarlet is the same person she was at the beginning of the movie, just a little more weary and smart. By not seeing the protagonist change, I am robbed of one of the most fulfilling parts of a story.

For me, Gone With the Wind would be just as annoying as reading an entire book where Delores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series is the main character. Annoying, entitled, condescending. Great qualities for an antagonist, but not ones I want to have in my protagonist.

Rhett Bitch slap.gif

The greatest verbal b**** slap in cinematic history.

>>>>>

But now I’m curious. I can’t enjoy stories where the main character is unlikable, but what about you, dear reader?

And what did you think about Gone With the Wind? Do you agree with me about Scarlet? Disagree and think I’m speaking heresy? Or maybe the fact that she’s annoying doesn’t bother you.

Let me know in the comments.

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One thought on “Can a story still be good if the protagonist is unlikable?

  1. Chris Martin says:

    I have never liked GWTW for that very reason. Never thought it through to this depth. But I join you in your heresy.

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