10 Moments Where Problem Upon Problem Hits the Protagonist

Conflict is essential in every great story.

The amount and complexity of the situation can obviously vary greatly depending on the scope, settings and characters involved. In some cases, loading problem upon problem on your character(s) is important in that it shows what they are made of or it shows how they would react under extreme duress.

It often drives a story forward quickly or takes it in a new, interesting direction the audience may not see coming.

It isn’t enough to say your main characters have engaged in a “Fellowship” to carry this stupid gold ring across Middle-Earth and dispose of it in the nearest gold ring depository box, they now have to deal with this omnipresent all-seeing eye thingy, this weird little oaf who has been following you and annoying everyone with his constant whining and male pattern baldness and everyone wanting to kill you all at the same time.

The most interesting plot developments can come from how characters handle stimuli, and react to the situations you’ve created for them.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 examples where it seems like things are all “hitting the fan” at relatively the same time and how those characters react. This could be something simple like just trying to get through your day, successfully to trying to survive extreme surroundings or getting back home after a long journey.


  1. Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction

If you are Jules Winnfield, you have had a particularly trying, interesting day.

Your day as a hitman/henchman have been wrought with problems and you just want to end it in peace. People keep trying to mess it up for you.

You have:

  • Been shot at several times at point-blank range and missed. It must be a miracle!
  • Debated many important subjects with your partner in crime, Vincent, as he is constantly questioning your opinions and offering views of his own on important subjects like God and foot massages
  • Been made to clean up human brains, blood and bone fragments in the back seat of your car after your dumbass partner accidentally wasted a kid

Now, worst of all, you are just trying to enjoy a meal and get interrupted by this guy trying to rob the place with his girlfriend. They take your wallet and are brandishing their weapons and screaming demands at you.

What do you do?

Unlike your expected, usual course of action, you decide to give them a reprieve this time. You quote them your usual Biblical verse you always use before you unload; however, this time is different.

You explain and tell him they just happen to catch him in a “transitional period” and that you want to help him instead of kill him.

This problem is solved, or is it? Maybe they should just leave?

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

2. Joel Goodsen in Risky Business

High school kid Joel Goodsen has a real problem, how does he meet women? Obviously, the only real solution is to call and get a hooker to come to his home while his parents are away.

Sounds reasonable right?

After the most memorable musical “slide-in-your-underwear” in movie history, “perfect” girl, Lana, shows up. She gives Joel the night of his life and then expects to be paid in the morning.

This is where the problems begin:

  • Lana steals his mother’s priceless jewel egg when Joel fails to produce payment.
  • Joel uses his father’s Porsche (why did every movie father’s in 1980s cinema have a super cool car?) which ends up underwater after an incident involving Lana’s purse and now has to be repaired.
  • Joel’s house gets burgled by Lana’s pimp after having it turned into a one-night bordello to make money for car repairs.

Luckily, Joel remains levelheaded, purchases his furniture back from said pimp with part of his bordello profits and neatly arranges everything just in time before his parents return.

Funny how RISKY BUSINESS never really tackles the moral or ethical issues of prostitution, but that was a different time.


3. Dutch Schaefer in Predator

Dutch is the man in charge of his special military unit sent to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding a helicopter crash in the intense South American jungle.

He has got a bunch of serious ass-kickers with him who will execute his orders and do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Once on the ground, they make a grisly discovery. Skinned human beings hanging upside down from a tall tree dripping blood on the jungle floor.

Soon the group realizes they are dealing with a different kind of enemy after a few of their party are viciously killed. This enemy has no motives other than the hunt itself. He is a trophy-collecting space raider who relishes the thought of filling his time stalking and taking down his victims.

Dutch is slightly encouraged when one of their encounters seems to wound the creature.

“If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

Once all his comrades have been dispatched and former captive Anna has gotten “to the choppa”, it is time to resolve the final problem with some one-on-one action.

A key vulnerability is revealed when Dutch accidentally gets covered in mud while crawling out of the water. The predator walks right by and doesn’t see him. This means his vision must be heat sensitive, so as long as Dutch is careful, he can move about without detection.

To resolve this rather large problem, Dutch fashions some interesting traps and pitfalls. Then has to use himself as bait to lure the PREDATOR into entering them.

Predator (1987) - Predator vs. Dutch Scene (3/5) | Movieclips

This last act of the film is intense. Although there is little dialogue, it doesn’t matter. The intentions are conveyed accurately and the climax is exciting and entertaining.


4. The Uruguayan Rugby Team in Alive

The Uruguayan rugby team is presented with multiple problems almost immediately in ALIVE.

While traveling to neighboring Chile, a plane filled with the team and their family members crash in the Andes mountains. Any tale of isolation or extreme natural conditions will always make for an interesting arc. This one happens to be based on a true story also.

Among the challenges they confront are:

  • Dealing with grief as many of their friends and loved ones are dead.
  • They are isolated from the world and do not know how to return to civilization.
  • The weather is extremely cold. They have to huddle together at night within the fuselage just to stay warm.
  • They learn the search for them has been called off as they are presumed dead.
  • Their food is running out. They face the harsh reality of having to tear the flesh from the dead and consume it in order to survive.
  • A massive avalanche covers the inside and outside of the downed airliner with additional snow killing even more people.
  • The growing desperation and mental instability of the survivors having to deal with this all at once.

This is quite a bit to handle at once, correct?

Only through the fortitude and perseverance demonstrated with two of the survivors finally managing to gain enough resolve to climb out of the mountains to safety were they able to rescue the rest of their languishing comrades.

True stories do present an additional challenge not to stray too far from the source material; however, “dramatic license” does exist and you can still deliver on a dramatic story arc even if the climax is always known.

Think of other examples like APOLLO 13 or BRAVEHEART.


5. Marty McFly in Back to the Future

Science fiction really gives you the chance to use your mind and create an alternate universe where the story is only limited by your mind.

After Marty McFly is transported in the DeLorean belonging to his friend Dr. Emmett Brown back to 1955 and messes up the meeting of his parents, it is up to him to reunite them back together so Marty and his siblings will continue to exist in the present day.

His biggest problem now is his father is a total pussy and won’t take him up on his offer to ask his mom to the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance which is coming up.

Also, since his future mother is in love with him and the town bully has it in for him.

Oh yeah, he also has to figure out how to get back to his own time.

The opportunity presents itself when Doc and Marty figure a plan to jolt the car BACK TO THE FUTURE during a lightning storm which will strike the clock tower at a predestined time.

Meanwhile, back at the dance, Marty’s plan is working all right. His father lays out the town bully, his future mother is impressed and they go to the dance.

Oh no! A band member from the evening’s entertainment has injured his hand and cannot perform.

Marty is concerned saying:

“See, that’s where they kiss for the first time on the dance floor. And if there’s no music, they can’t dance. If they can’t dance, they can’t kiss. If they can’t kiss they can’t fall in love, and I’m history.”

Earth Angel Scene - Back to the Future 1985 HD

Having these multiple problems in front of him, Marty is not distracted and jumps right in to perform with the band to ensure the arc is completed and his existence is confirmed.

Luckily, his parents still fall for each other, albeit the story they tell their children of their meeting and courtship will have to be adjusted.


Simultaneous peril!

6. Walter White in Breaking Bad

If you are Walter White, what are you to do? Your chosen profession as a meth dealer certainly has had its “highs” and lows, but now you are in a predicament.

Two important events in your life are happening at virtually the same moment.

  • You just received word your wife, Skyler, is giving birth.
    • This is obviously very important and you must be there!
  • Saul has told you about another Meth dealer, Gus, who is interested in purchasing your product.
    • This is obviously very important also and he said he needs this to happen immediately.

Unfortunately, Walt chooses to deliver the drugs and get his money and misses the birth. Emotions are running intense as usual and it is an extremely tough decision to make.

In addition to what is going on with Jesse and Jane, this makes for an even more complicated life.

This plot moment aired over the two-episode arc “Mandala” and “Phoenix” in season 2 of the show and were considered some of the series’ finest moments in setting up the season finale, “ABQ”.


7. Henry Hill in Goodfellas

Real life gangster HENRY HILL has made a name for himself with his friends Tommy DeVito and Jimmy Conway.

He has had a life of excess where everything now was for the taking. As with any life of crime, you have extreme highs and lows.

Unfortunately, Henry’s life and many problems have taken a turn for the worse. He is now a cocaine addict and paranoid about everything and everyone.

He decides to try to orchestrate a drug/gun deal while also preparing a meal for his family.

Which is more important: making money from his dope deal or executing a successful spaghetti sauce?

Henry now has the additional problem of seeing a helicopter overhead and wondering the significance?

The day’s activities also include stopping at his girlfriend’s house, packing his drug shipment for travel by his babysitter and continually supporting his own drug habits in the process.

What a day this turns out to be! His itinerary gets slightly adjusted when he is arrested.

All of his multiple problems get resolved once that gun is pointed in his face.

Off to Witness Protection


8. Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

After an exhausting day of playing hooky from school which included museums, restaurants, baseball games, dancing in the streets of Chicago and dealing with the meltdown of his best friend, Cameron, Ferris Bueller needs to get back home to ensure his parents never discover his deception.

While on his way home, he runs in front of his sister, Jeanie, while she is also driving home. She had just also had an interesting visit to the police station where she ends up kissing Charlie Sheen. Gross!

After their near collision, Jeanie gives Ferris the evil eye and is now determined to make it home in advance to expose Ferris’s lies. This is definitely a problem.

Game on! Ferris runs through a few backyards, dodging hedges, neighbors and even running through the inside of a house to complete his journey. He just happens to run alongside his father’s car as he is also making his way home, but gets away undetected.

Ferris makes it home, looks for the hidden back door key, but discovers his nefarious principal, Ed Rooney is waiting for him.

Luckily, his sister opens the door and gives him a reprieve and invites him in. She knows Rooney had been inside their home earlier that day and can now blackmail Rooney if needed.

That was a close one!


9. Dante Hicks in Clerks

Writer and director Kevin Smith introduced the VIEW ASKEWNIVERSE to the world with his first film, CLERKS.

If only Dante Hicks would have not agreed to work at the Quick Stop convenience store today, all of his multiple problems could have been avoided.

In addition to being tired and having to deal with his sarcastic best friend, Randal, all day long, some jerk shoved gum in the locks of the store’s gate. He now has to make a sign just to tell the public they are open and has to constantly deal with people who want to confirm this fact.

“This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.”

In addition to this, his day consists of:

  • Talking with his current girlfriend, Veronica, about his goals in life, college and her propensity to suck 36 dicks.
  • Finding out his former high school girlfriend, Caitlin, is engaged. She then visits Dante to tell him she is not engaged and hot for Dante’s body once again.
  • Having a hockey game previously scheduled for today before he knew he had to work.
  • A former high school friend dies and the funeral is TODAY!
  • Dealing with these two annoying losers, Jay and Silent Bob, who are always loitering in front of the store causing a scene and selling drugs.

Ultimately, Caitlin becomes catatonic after she has sex with a dead customer in the bathroom of the Quick Stop thinking he was Dante in the darkness and is hauled away.

Dante is reminded by Silent Bob to not take for granted the girlfriend that has stood with and encouraged him.

“You know, there’s a million fine-looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work. Most of ’em just cheat on you.”

Smith has always pushed the envelope with his saucy dialogue which is the main element which makes his stories interesting. He tries to provoke through controversy, or at least make you laugh by throwing in a lot of “F” bombs and dick jokes.


10. Violet Newstead, Judy Bernly and Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5

If you are a secretary working NINE TO FIVE for the Consolidated Corporation, you may be unlucky enough to have the ultimate chauvinist boss, Franklin Hart.

“You’re a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”

The three female leads at one point, decide to get high and weave their own elaborate, twisted tales as to how they would bump off the boss: either by poisoning, left to rot while hanging from a spit in the old West, or shot with a shotgun having his head mounted on the wall.

When life starts to mirror these fictitious events, Hart eventually becomes aware and thinks the three ladies are really trying to kill him, so they need to take immediate action.

They immobilize Hart at his home to figure out what to do next. They do discover a scheme Hart brokered, but now need to keep the boss missing in action at the office for four to six weeks while their evidence is mailed to them.

What to do about these multiple problems:

  • Method of immobilizing Hart for this length of time
  • Nosy office busybody, Roz
  • Hart’s airhead wife, Missy
  • Other inquiries around the office as to his absence

The ladies end up using restraints including a dog collar and a garage door opener for Hart, sending Roz to a language school and his wife on a cruise. No one else around the office really even seems to notice.

The ladies remain cool under pressure.

They also make a bunch of positive changes while Hart is out of the office which is also noticed by upper management.

The problems are ultimately resolved when Hart is asked to go to Brazil and lead a new division of the company. He is kidnapped and never heard from again.


If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our article containing 10 Screenwriting Lessons We Can Learn from…BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)?


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