You are here:

The need for a hero’s journey


I’m not sure if I was the only one who liked the new Need for Speed movie at the premiere because after speaking to colleagues and the words ‘cheese’ and ‘predictable’ became associated with the latest film for petrolheads.

There is a very good reason why many films are perceived this way and it all comes down to what a man named Joseph Campbell theorised in the past century(Warning: this article will most definitely spoil the movie for you if you have not watched it yet).

He called it ‘The hero’s journey’ and almost all of the public’s favourite films followed the stages Campbell put forth. Let’s take a look at the new film and see how it fits into Campbell’s theory.

The first stage is called ‘The ordinary world’ and relates to the hero that is at the time unaware of anything. He’s living a normal life, much like our protagonist Tobey Marshall was in the opening scene where he operates his now-deceased father’s auto repair shop. This part also has to do with showing the hero’s history and how their life is causing stress, in this instance running a business and the recent death of his father that has Marshall.

The second part is ‘The call to adventure’ where our hero’s situation is changed by an external force and in this case it is Dino Brewster who attends one of Marshall’s street races and asks him to build a custom Mustang. This is the beginning of change for the hero. The next step is ‘Refusal to the call’ and is where the hero fears the unknown briefly - as Marshall does - before he accepts building the Mustang for Brewster to keep his father’s shop afloat.

The fourth part is ‘Meeting with the mentor’ where the hero comes across a foreign person whose presence helps with training, advice or equipment along the journey. In the film, Julia Maddon becomesMarshall’s mentor in a way, helping him this through difficult time and even providing him with two cars throughout the film.

The fifth step is ‘Crossing the threshold’ and is where the hero leaves the normal world for the new world created by the journey. In Need for Speed, Tobey leaves his world when he decides to drive that Mustang around the track in front of its wealthy owner and Dino. This sets up phase six, which is called ‘Tests, allies and enemies’ where Dino becomes the enemy and Julia is affirmed as an ally. Dino then challenges Tobey to a race to race with him and his friend in one of the three KoenigseggAgeraRs.

The next part is called the ‘Approach’, where the hero prepares to take on a challenge. This is the race with Dino in the Koenigseggsthat links with stage eight called ‘The ordeal’, where Marshall’s friend Lil’ Pete is killed during the race with Dino.

The ninth stage is where Need for Speed differs slightly: it is usually called ‘The reward’ and deals with the hero acquiring something for their efforts. In Need for Speed, Marshall goes to prison after being accused of killing Lil’ Pete and subsequently loses the money he made from building the Mustang when we as the audience know that it was all Brewster’s doing. 

The next step is called ‘The road back’ and deals with the herothat becomes driven to complete the adventure and faces a rough road to get there. In the film, Tobey gets out of prison and is driven to compete in the Deleon (a famous street) race where he aims to beat Brewster and claim vengeance for his friend with the help of his mentor Ms Maddon. The rough road literally comes to life when Marshall must drive the Mustang that Julia gives him to the Deleon, which turns out to be more difficult that he had imagined with police and a bounty on his head from Brewster.

The following part is called ‘The resurrection’ and is the climax of the film where the hero is tested once more. The hero becomes pure after the sacrifice made during the test and is reborn as the conflict is resolved. Tobey’s resurrection comes during the Deleon, where he has to beat not only Brewster in the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento but also guys driving a McLaren P1, Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, Saleen S7 Twin Turbo and GTA Spano in the same Koenigsegg Agera R that Brewster hid from police to frame Tobey in Lil’ Pete’s murder. From here, Campbell mentions a moment where sacrifice leads to rebirth and Tobey has this when Brewster crashes into him in an attempt to run him off the road Marshall has the opportunity to leave him and win the race but he instead helps his enemy and in the process purifies himself just as all hero’s do in film.

The final part is called ‘Return with the elixir’ when the hero returns home with some form of treasure, which in Marshall’s case is when he is released from prison after the race into a world where he now sees things clearly and can move on.

It is quite astonishing how so many movies follow the same basic plot. Do yourself a favour and apply it to The Fast and the Furious or any other car movie and see how accurate it is. We want to know what you thought of the new Need for Speed. Sorry if I have ruined it for those that have not watched it yet. Write to us at

Article written by Sean Nurse
You have an opportunity to be the first by writing a comment about this article. Ask a question or share your opinion!
Notify me via email when someone comments or replies
- Enter security code