13 of the Most Resourceful Characters in Film History

13 of the Most Resourceful Characters in Film History
Image: Pixar Animation Studios

There are all sorts of ways to live the Lifehacker lifestyle, and not all of them look like the way I do it, which is usually to encounter a problem in my daily life and then google it (“How to cook murder hornet Lifehacker”).

To paraphrase famed car-hacker Dominic Toretto, some people hack their lives a quarter-hour at a time (or something). And like Mr. Fast and Furious, many of them are fictional characters, for no life is easier to hack than the life that flows from a screenwriter’s pen.

Still, that the scenarios calling for a hack are pretend doesn’t mean we can’t be inspired by them. Here’s a baker’s dozen of cinema’s greatest lifehackers — truly resourceful film characters who can always pull out a brilliant solution in a pinch.

Dr. Emmett Brown (Back to the Future)

While it can be argued that time travel is the ultimate life hack — and beyond hacking his timeline to avoid being murdered by terrorists, Doc Brown gets bonus points for constructing his time machine in a repurposed luxury car good for little else — Christopher Lloyd’s iconic character in this 1985 classic, directed by Robert Zemeckis, embodies the maker spirit in all things. Not only does he build an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to avoid the annoying task of feeding his dog in 1985, he does it again when stranded in the Old West, using only the tech of 1885. He also manages to construct an ice maker (yield: one cube, but points for effort) and mod an old steam locomotive to travel 142 km per hour.

Ferris Bueller (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

It has been rightly pointed out that Ferris Bueller is director John Hughes’ greatest arsehole, but he’s a resourceful arsehole. He’s concocted a pretty foolproof scheme for scamming him parents into giving him a sick day, true — it may be childish and stupid, but then, so’s high school — but he doesn’t elide the details. On the off chance he’s checked on during the day, Ferris has developed a multi-layered cover story involving fake answering machine messages, doorbell hacks and a repurposed apartment store dummy “sleeping” it off in his bed (complete with movement and sound effects) — convincing enough to fool… well, his idiot mother, anyway. In a particularly audacious bit of phone phreaking, he fools the snooty maitre’d at a fancy restaurant into giving him a table, but he also manages to lead a parade, emotionally manipulate his best friend into letting him drive a priceless car and bend spacetime as he travels throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

Chuck Noland (Cast Away)

Tom Hanks earned an Oscar nomination for playing the titular role in another Robert Zemeckis joint, 2000's Cast Away, and rightly so: He made us care about the welfare of an inanimate object stained with blood, damnit! Chuck’s abilities go beyond mere survival skills — though props for making fire; I’d surely be dead long before I managed to cause sticks to spark — when he manages to create his own island companion in the form of aforementioned bloody beachball Wilson.

The Kim family (Parasite)

If necessity is the mother of invention, the Kim family — protagonists of director Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning 2018 film Parasite — have plenty of reasons to be inventive. Mired in poverty, trapped by menial jobs and living in an apartment that literally fills up with a river of shit whenever it rains too hard, they hack the class structure itself, preying on the rude indifference of a wealthy family in order to worm their way into their lives by taking over the jobs of their household staff one by one. Unfortunately, it turns out that some problems — cough capitalism cough — can’t be cured with a simple hack.

Mark Watney (The Martian)

If you thought Chuck Noland’s survival on a cushy deserted island was impressive, stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) does you a million times better in Ridley Scott’s 2015 sci-fi drama by playing Swiss Family Robinson on Mars. He manages to survive on the Red Planet for more than a year in an improvised habitat where he also manages to grow life-sustaining potatoes using inventive farming habits and his own repurposed poop. Better him than me, is all I’ll say.

Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max is the title character, and no slouch when it comes to survival, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the real life-hacking star of George Miller’s 2015 post-apocalyptic epic. Left for dead after being abandoned by a despotic warlord, she managed to rig up her own cybernetic arm and plot a mission of revenge, and countless times throughout the film, she proves adept and making good use of what’s around her — like when she uses Max himself as a tripod in order to steady a rifle shot. Lots of films would turn an amputee like Furiosa into a victim; in this one, she recognises that her body is just another tool to be wielded and manipulated in battle.

Mulan (Mulan)

The ancient legend of Mulan — which served as inspiration for both the 1998 Disney animated feature and the upcoming live-action remake — is built on a life hack of sorts: In ancient China, young Mulan shirks her duty to marry, cuts her hair, and makes off with the family sword to join the army in her father’s stead, thus saving his life. But she also proves to be pretty good at being clever otherwise, managing to stay undercover while in a camp full of dudes and using brains over brawn to make it through her training and get down to business to defeat the Huns. (Sorry about that earworm.)

Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption)

While I’m reluctant to agree with the internet majority that claims Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is the best movie of all time, I can’t deny that its protagonist, the wrongly imprisoned Andy Dufresne, isn’t hella resourceful. Not only does he manage to smuggle in all the tools he needs to escape from prison (said tools being, er, a book, a tiny hammer and a sexy pin-up poster), he also manages to frame the corrupt warden in the bargain — all from behind bars. Now that’s lifehacking.

Kevin McAllister (Home Alone)

There’s a fine line between resourcefulness and sadism in this 1990 Chris Columbus blockbuster, and Macauley Culkin’s Kevin McAllister runs back and forth across it with fist-pumping glee as he uses everyday household items to rig up traps capable of keeping two fully grown burglars at bay. But his best hack, if you ask me, is the free pizza scheme illustrated in the clip above. I just hope he included a good tip.

Tess McGill (Working Girl)

In the cutthroat corporate world of Manhattan in the 1980s, Melanie Griffith’s Tess McGill learns she can’t play by the rules if she wants to get ahead in director Mike Nichols’ crowd-pleasing awards favourite. When her new boss (Sigourney Weaver) steals her idea for a big money corporate merger, Tess takes advantage of a fortuitous skiing injury to pose as a high-powered executive herself, and not only rightly take credit for her work but see it through to completion. Tess gets bonus points for using the unfairness of a system that discounts the words and work of women against itself, managing to play coy where she needs to (particularly when it comes to partnering with another business wheeler-dealer played by Harrison Ford) in order to carry off her con.

The Abbott family (A Quiet Place)

The family at the centre of John Krasinski’s breakout 2018 horror hit manages to survive an invasion by bloodthirsty aliens who hunt via sound because they’ve already made it a habit of reshaping their lives around alternative ways of living. Specifically, when their daughter was born deaf, parents Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (John Krasinski) actually bothered to learn sign language so that they could communicate with her, which proved to be a huge advantage vis à vis the aurally fixated aliens. But more than that, the family also proves adept at scavenging for supplies, setting traps to warn them when the monsters approach their isolated home and generally just continuing to exist. I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t survive more than a day in the world of A Quiet Place, nor would I want to.

Wall-E (Wall-E)

The last surviving maintenance robot tasked with cleaning up titanic drifts of humanity’s garbage in this 2008 Pixar classic, Wall-E makes his own fun, turning the various junk he collects — from old VHS tapes to a discarded bra — into multi-purpose tools. When his fellow robot companion Eve shorts out and goes silent, he even takes the opportunity to decorate her like a Christmas tree. Never one to let anything go to waste, this little dude.

Tony Stark (Iron Man)

For the most part, first-Iron Man-era Tony Stark isn’t anyone I want to look up to — arms manufacturers not numbering among my heroes, generally — but you have to give him props for ingenuity: While being held in a remote cave by terrorists, he not only manages (with the help of another captive) to rig up a device that will keep a piece of shrapnel from piercing his heart, he builds a pretty impressive prototype for the robotic suit that will become his namesake.

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