The 17 Steps of The Hero’s Journey and Their Manifestations in Film

12. James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) and “The Refusal of the Return”


The Stage

Our hero has achieved the ultimate boon (I know I have been talking about this “boon” thing a lot, but it’s important to stick to Campbell’s vernacular). However, instead of returning to their home as a fully functioning member of society, they decide to stay in the new world they have entered simply because it is so freaking awesome there. This does not mean they keep the boon to themselves, they just simply decide not to return to their old way of life.


The Scene: Jake Sully Becomes One with His Avatar

After having stopped the hostile corporate takeover of the planet Pandora and having saved the Na’vi from extinction (or at the very least from a life restrained to reservations and gaming licenses), Jake Sully has it all. He decides though, that instead of returning to a planet destroyed by pollution, a materialistic society, and a body that cannot walk, that he will instead become one with his Avatar form. He decides to stay in this adventure world. His people still receive the benefits of his journey, but he doesn’t want to go back…so he doesn’t. As they say…once you go black blue you never go back.


The choice is yours: Never walk again or fly around in paradise


13. Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) and “The Magic Flight”


The Stage

If the hero does decide to return home, they have to get back home by crossing over the threshold again. Often times this part of the journey is perilous, and magic has to be used to get back to the normal world, just as it was used to enter it. The hero is “brought back” both literally through a threshold, and metaphorically to their old life. Things are never quite the same though, and hopefully they are for the better.


The Scene: Peter Flies Home with His Children

In a seriously underrated film, Peter Pan finally defeats the sinister Captain Hook and saves his children. He needs to return home with his children and the ultimate boon of being a good father. To do so, he needs to fly back through the threshold separating Never Never Land from Jolly Old London. So he takes his children’s’ hands and flies straight on ‘til morning.



14. James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) and “Rescue from Without”

The Abyss

The Stage

Often times the hero is so exhausted or diminished after completing their quest, that they are incapable of returning into the normal world by themselves. Often times this is a deus-ex-machina. Sometimes though, they simply need reminded to return to the world with their boon, as it was what they originally set out to do. Either way, just as the hero needed a mentor or magical elements during the onset of their journey, they also need aid in returning from their journey.


The Scene: Virgil and the Crew Are Saved by the Aliens

In this often forgotten thriller from the 80’s, Virgil Brigman (Ed Harris) not only saves humanity from being self-destructive morons on an intergalactic scale, but also reconnects with his estranged wife. All seems lost though, for upon completing these tasks, our hero is diminished; being starved of oxygen and freezing to death at the bottom of the ocean.

The aliens, who Virgil saved, have been watching intently this whole time. They are impressed with the nobility of man, and decide to use their super advanced technology (which may as well be magic) to save Virgil and his crew from the depths of the ocean. Now they can all return and share their boon with society.


Or more likely be silenced by clandestine government agencies


15. Andrew Adamson’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) and “The Return Threshold”


The Stage

Sometimes the hero needs time to themselves before returning to their original world. They need to spend time traveling the world to fully process everything that has happened. Think of it like this: Soldiers often need time to decompress after a tour of duty. Simply rushing them back into society can be a huge shock to them and members of society.


The Scene: The Children Stay in Narnia for a Long While

The four children (Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan) have just fulfilled their quest of ridding the magical land of Narnia from the influence of the White Witch by teaming up with Aslan the Jesus Lion. They become kings and queens of Narnia and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity.
Who would want to rush back to normal life; especially to a world being bombed by the Luftwaffe? They spend so much time living in Narnia that they become full grown adults. It looks like they spend at least a decade in Narnia before they remember the old world and decide to return.


So now we have to go through puberty all over again?


16. Steven Spielberg’s The Last Crusade (1989) and “The Master of Two Worlds”


The Stage

In addition to simply growing as a person by obtaining the ultimate boon, the hero often saves others in the process. The hero achieves both an external reward for his people, and an internal reward of self-actualization. He is the master of two worlds.


The Scene: Indiana Uses the Holy Grail

Indiana Jones has proven himself once again. He was pushed to physical and mental breaking points. He overcame every intellectual and life threatening challenge thrown his way. He defeated the Nazis and prevented the Holy Grail from falling into the wrong hands. In addition to this obvious boon (benefiting society), he uses the healing power of the grail to save his father’s life, and also his relationship with him. It is the secondary, but equally important, boon of his journey.



17. John Boorman’s “Zardoz” (1974) and “The Freedom to Live (or Die)”


I deliver on my promises

The Stage

The biggest and most important thing along the hero’s journey is this: Accepting death as a part of life. Once you accept this, you no longer fear death. This gives you the freedom to live a more full and complete life. Knowing that any moment could be your last makes you appreciate love and beauty that much more. It makes you forgive and trust that much more. Life is too short and fragile to waste on fear and pain. It is the most important aspect of growing up.


The Scene: The Exterminators Kill Everyone

This is a bit of a curveball. This movie at first glance looks absolutely ridiculous. It is a legitimate movie though, and I wish we had more movies like this one.

In this story, there is a commune of intellectual hippies that have found the secret to eternal life. They live in a utopia and rule the rest of the barren mortal world from afar.

They are all actually miserable though, and long for death. Death provides meaning to life. Accepting it and not running from it is the most essential element in achieving fullness as a person. All their scientific, cultural, and intellectual achievements are at the service of nothing, as life no longer has meaning for them.

At the climax of the film, Sean Connery lowers the force field around the commune, allowing his friends to enter and kill everyone. Everyone welcomes death with open arms, and man is recreated, as is life.


Author Bio: Tim Hutchinson grew up in the greater Pittsburgh area and is a graduate of West Virginia University, where he earned a BA in German and an MA in TESOL. He has published a short story, “An Incident Along Piney Fork: An Appalachian Tale of Suspense”, which can be found on He currently serves in the US Army.