Writing is hard. Believe us, we know. In movies, it's not always easy to do even the part you think would be a no-brainer: getting the audience to side with the good guys.
After all, in one film we're meant to cheer the vampires -- in the next we're supposed to go for the guy who's setting them on fire. In one movie we're cheering for the rag-tag rebels -- in the next, they're terrorists and we're supposed to cheer when they get beheaded.
Fortunately, Hollywood knows a few tricks to make you like, well, whoever they want you to like.
6Give Them a Dog
As Seen In:Gladiator, The Road Warrior, Hellboy, The Mask, Daylight, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Equilibrium, Dog Soldiers
For whatever reason, people just care more about animals in movies than humans, which is why they almost never die -- even when human corpses are stacking up like kindling. Who didn't cheer when Will Smith's dog outran an explosion in slow motion in Independence Day? You know, while an entire city full of men, women and children were incinerated behind him?
Hope they have food in there until the dust settles, or someone's going to have to eat that dog.
So when a film wants to inject some quick sympathy for a human character, it will give him a pet, or have him show kindness to an animal.
Even When it Doesn't Make Sense ...
Gladiator opens with a rag-tag bunch of Germanic peasants preparing to fight the Romans, who are trying to invade their ancestral land. It's like a scene out of Braveheart: The plucky locals are powered only by their axes and patriotism, while their imperialistic enemy uses armor, phalanxes, disciplined formations and a whole bunch of shit that's on fire. Go underdogs!
The Cubs playing the Yankees, except the Yankees have heavy shields and the Cubs have been set on fire.
Problem is, the viewers in this scene are supposed to be rooting for the Romans, led by Russell Crowe. The Roman emperor watching the battle is also meant to be a good guy. What's a movie to do?
Quick, give them a dog!
It doesn't matter in Gladiator that Romans didn't use dogs on the battlefield, or that the dog disappears from the movie immediately afterward. It's a very simple equation: The good guys are whichever team the dog shows allegiance to, because the dog would never make that kind of mistake, especially if it's an adorable dog.
You can see it in Hellboy, where we're introduced to the giant, demonic, bad-tempered hero as he picks up and hugs a kitten. In fact, at one point, Hellboy actually causes an almost-certainly-fatal multi-car pile-up in order to save some kittens, and that only makes us root for him harder. In Equilibrium, the exact point at which Christian Bale turns from cold, merciless murderbot into sympathetic hero is the moment he rescues a small puppy, and the audience happily forgets that he'd earlier allowed his wife to burn to death. Clint Eastwood's classification as the "good" in The Good the Bad and the Ugly seems to come almost entirely from a 10 second scene in which he pets a tiny kitten that's sitting adorably in his hat.
"Tell me where Tuco is and then get off my ranch."
Note, however, that this rule only applies to some animals. Dogs and kittens almost always work, but fully-grown cats can be ambivalent. A tiny monkey dressed in a Nazi uniform probably won't do the trick either.