"You need characters that you care about, and you need emotional investment. And then the action and special effects and the slime and the aliens and the coolness is the icing on the cake. But you need 'a cake' to put icing on it. You can't just eat the frosting, or else, uh, it's too sugary and it's bad for you, and you get the diabetes.""I don't care what happens to these people." A phrase coined by Dorothy Jones Heydt in a science-fiction based Usenet group in 1991 to describe an Audience Reaction to a work of fiction where the characters are either so universally bland and unengaging or so unlikable and unsympathetic that the reader simply loses interest in their fate and, by extension, the work as a whole. This can happen with or without the presence of more objective shortcomings, but the most interesting examples tend to be those where this is a critic's main complaint, single-handedly dragging an otherwise well-made story down to where it's unengaging. Note that "not caring about what happens to" a character is not the same as "not liking" them — some character archetypes, such as the Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist or Hate Sink, are driven by the notion that watching horrible things happen to people that deserve them can be entertaining. In other words, even if you hate the character, you still care about what happens to them (because you want to see them get their comeuppance) so you'll still follow the story. This trope comes into play when even that fails to arouse sufficient interest. In other words, apathy. Many Horror/monster/Disaster Movies try to avoid this by Developing Doomed Characters, only to make the audience care less about the characters because they aren't getting the slaughter they came there to see. Also often stated with added emphasis as "I don't care what happens to these people". See also Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, where an excessively dark setting renders the protagonist's struggle so futile that the audience can't bring themselves to get invested in it even if the characters have some shred of likability. Not to be confused with Seven Dirty Words.
In-Universe or Cited Examples:
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- Atop the Fourth Wall: Linkara cites this as one of the reasons he dislikes the works created or inspired by Rob Liefeld. None of the grizzled nineties antiheroes are anything more than props that fire massive guns and spew one-liners. He doesn't know who hardly any of the characters are, what they like or dislike, what their hobbies are, or whether or not they like pina coladas. And they only seem capable of displaying one emotion: pissed off. They're all so interchangeable that Linkara makes a running joke of referring to individual early Image comics as any of the other, similar early Image comics by "mistake".
- One reviewer about Flashpoint: It's hard to care about the events of an alternate universe that wouldn't exist or matter anyway after a few months. It's harder still when the overwhelming majority of the characters are so hideously unlikeable that you get the impression the world would be better off destroyed. Add in the fact that the only character from "our" DCU is Barry Allen, widely regarded as a Creator's Pet, and you have a comic that winds up mostly being a lot of empty, unpleasant noise.
Films — Animated
- The Emoji Movie is infamous for this. With almost all of the characters being flat, annoying, and/or just plain unlikable, you can't find yourself rooting for anyone to make it through in the end, with the exception of Akiko Glitter, who is the only character to die. There is also the fact that Gene has what Bobsheaux claimed is "probably the most depressing character motivation I've ever heard in my life." Add to it that The Mysterious Mr. Enter said that it doesnít remind him of Inside Out, Wreck-It Ralph, The LEGO Movie, or even Toy Story, but it actually reminded him of the Seltzer and Friedberg films, which are Shallow Parodies notorious for being unfunny.
- The DVD Verdict critic who reviewed the Mars Needs Moms Blu-Ray gave this as a reason why he felt the movie was classified as "Bad", saying it's "Emotionally Uninvolving". The description was "Despite all the high-stakes life-or-death situations described here, the story never feels substantial enough to really make us care if anyone lives or dies. The movie certainly plays with rougher-than-usual emotional territory (the death of one little boy's mother may be upsetting for some kids) but none of it manages to stick." It didn't help that none of the characters were likable when they weren't threatening to cross the dreaded Uncanny Valley.
- The original version of Zootopia was a much darker story, where Zootopia was a hellish, racist dystopia that put shock collars on predators because they were "dangerous", even if that predator was a child. Even beyond the collars it was still heavily discriminatory against them. The movie's director Byron Howard said that, in a positive example of Executive Meddling, a Disney executive said that no one would want the city to survive the movie's conflict because it's an awful place. The creators took the advice and toned down Zootopia's racism a good deal. Thankfully the change turned out to be a positive one, and Zootopia was a critically acclaimed hit.
Films — Live-Action
- This review of Battleship outright invokes this trope, nearly word for word.
- Peter Bradshaw expresses this view of Lawless calling it "an empty exercise in macho-sentimental violence", describing the supposed heroes of the film as flat heroes and the villain as "a pantomime baddie".
- Roger Ebert:
- George A. Romero's Day of the Dead (1985) received one and a half stars in part because much of the movie consists of "unpleasant, violent, insane" or ridiculously noble characters shouting at each other. And while he doesn't utter the eight words out right, he does say that in Romero's previous movies "we cared about the characters."
- Ebert sums this trope up in a review for another movie: "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is a movie about a hero I didn't like, chasing villains I didn't hate, in a plot I didn't understand."
- In his negative review for The Usual Suspects, Ebert notes that "To the degree that I do understand, I don't care."
- For Erin Brockovich he said, "lacks focus and energy, the character development is facile and thin."
- Todd in the Shadows: Todd had such an opinion of Bloodhounds of Broadway, summing it up in one word: "POINTLESS". His reason is that it's a compilation movie without any unifying story; the only common thread between the multiple plotlines is that the characters all eat at the same restaurant, and the film switches from story to story so abruptly that there's no reason to get invested in any of them.
- The Nostalgia Critic:
- For The Last Airbender, they note that the movie is nothing but exposition and gives the audience no reason to care about the characters themselves:
I DON'T FUCKING CARE! And you know why? Because I never once heard anyone in this movie say "I 'feel' this" or "I 'like' this" or "I 'wonder' this". There are no emotions being addressed. Traditional storytelling is setting up a character, sending them on their journey, and learning more about them through their journey. The Last Airbender is just chess piece storytelling: Character goes here, character goes there, character says this, pawn to king four.
- For Jupiter Ascending:
Yes, a lot of epics have big talks and complicated storylines, but the story of King Arthur works because we see our flaws and strengths in the character. Star Wars works because we like these people and want to see them get through alive. Thus, weíre with them when theyíre thrown in these complex and dangerous worlds. Here, you donít care about anybody, so you donít care about the backstories or the made-up worlds. It attempts instead to sound big instead of feel big. It tries too hard in lesser areas and not hard enough in the ones that really matter. If there is one thing thatís epic in this film, itís what an epic disaster it gave us in the end. It really is the Valhalla of botched epic stories.
- For The Last Airbender, they note that the movie is nothing but exposition and gives the audience no reason to care about the characters themselves:
- Chris Stuckmann stated in his review of Fant4stic that the film's poor world-building prevented him from caring about Earth as Doctor Doom began to destroy it, noting that a Downer Ending would have been more interesting than the actual outcome. Uninteresting characters and a lack of spoiler-warning-worthy events hardly helped.
- The Screen Junkies crew severely criticized Independence Day: Resurgence for its lack of compelling characters and interaction. They found it hard to care whether or not the Earth is blown up, unlike the first movie. Heck, some even wish the aliens had succeeded if only for the studio to not churn out any more lackluster sequels.
- Brad Jones, in his Midnight Screenings review of Jason Bourne, argued that much of the Bourne series falls flat for him as he finds the main character to be an absolute bore, simply existing to get into fight scenes and lacking the charisma of comparable characters from James Bond or Mission: Impossible, and pursued by government agencies that are equally uninteresting. He gave some praise to The Bourne Legacy for shifting the focus to the more compelling character of Aaron Cross.
- Phelous reviews horror films, spewing a lot of hate at the Hostel movies especially for this flaw.
- CinemaSins' 130th sin about Lucy.
"This movie should be f*cking OVER. Lucy wins and becomes air. I don't f*cking care what happens, except that what's actually happening is ludicrous.
- The premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is that the characters are forced to watch bad movies. The films are usually so bad that Joel/Mike/Jonah and the bots have zero engagement in the plot or characters, which allows the riffs to become bitingly funny. But once in a while this would be averted and they'd find themselves swept into the movie despite its shortcomings. I Accuse My Parents and The Girl in Lovers Lane are memorable examples of this.
- Alan Sepinwall gave a nearly word-for-word recitation of the trope name while reviewing Hostages.
- Too nasty to be likable but not unlikable enough that you enjoyed seeing American Horror Story: Murder House characters get killed off.
- Geoff Berkshire, writing for Uproxx hit this with the season six finale of Sons of Anarchy, due to it being a standout example of Idiot Plot.
At some point in the final season Jax will surely find out what Gemma did to Tara. And what Gemma did to John Teller. And what will Jax do?
I donít care.
Iím not interested in another season of overstuffed episodes full of characters who alternate between boring and stupid on the whim of the writers, punctuated by childish acts of violence inserted for shock value, convoluted gang wars, endless pontificating about what makes a good man, and musical montages.
- Cheers: Diane tried to prove Frasier and Lilith's hateful jabs at each other were masking attraction by bringing up Wiesel's quote, "The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference." Sam replied he didn't really care one way or another.
- On the Community episode "Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps", this is Abed's reaction to Britta's Epic Fail of an attempt at creating a horror story, saying that he doesn't finds the characters interesting at all because they are dumb. This is shot back at him afterwards when his story consist of a hyper-rationalist attempt at defying all of the regular slasher victim tropes and absolutely nothing else, completely killing the suspense.
- Annie: Ugh! Do these people ever die or what?!
- Dorothy Heydt:
- Mark Twain's essay The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper:
10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
- Slacktivist's page-by-page review of Left Behind often notes how the main characters are far less likable than the villain - who, of course, is the Antichrist. "No Heroes" is part of their review:
These are books without heroes because they are set in a world without heroism ó without the possibility of heroism. A world of inexorable prophecies and inevitable doom.
- The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! registers this complaint about the works of Stephen Sondheim ("Unlikable people with lives that are hollow / It's all food for thought, but a bit hard to swallow...")
- Shows up In-Universe in the play Seminar, where Leonard, a once respected novelist turned editor gives a series of writing seminars to four aspiring writers. Leonard is infamous for his Brutal Honesty and coarseness, and he repeatedly tears down what he feels are lifeless, bloodless stories from his students. When one of them protests that he hasn't spent enough time getting to know the narrator of her story, he delivers a scathing takedown that works equally well for the writer as well as her narrator.
I know who your narrator is. She's an over-educated, completely inexperienced, sexually inadequate girl who has rich parents who give her everything. She's got nothing to say so she sits around and thinks of Jane Austen all day. I don't give a shit about her.
- Diabetus declares a variation in the Dark Seed II wrongpurae, about the protagonist, Mike Dawson, who is suspected of murder.
- They declare the same thing when they tackle Zap Dramatic's Ambition series of flash games - they hate pretty much every character in the series, save for Designated Villain Duke Crabtree.
- Jesse Cox: At times he has stated that he doesn't really care for any of the characters in the Final Fantasy XIII games, but it wasn't until Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII came out that he finally couldn't stand it anymore.
- Ross Scott had this problem in his April Fools' Day review video of Wolfenstein (2009) in Ross's Game Dungeon. Nobody seems to really react to or have any sense of urgency regarding the horrors around them, which fails to invest him in the characters, which in turn fails to invest him in the game itself. That on top of the characters being badly voiced and unmemorable. It was bad enough that he couldn't bring himself to finish the game, a first for the series.
- This sentiment came back full force in his look at Episode 1 of Life Is Strange. The soap opera feel of the story, annoying and/or pretentious characters, and the bland protagonist killed his interest. He didn't even complete Episode 1 before calling it quits on the game.
- Max-Vader, veteran of the the Project A.F.T.E.R. forum and sometimes co-host of the podcast The Other Side has this as one of his main reasons why he hates Sugar Bits by Bleedman.
"I could forgive a bad story or clichéd writing if only the characters were likable and interesting. You see, in order to give a shit about the story, we need someone we can relate to ó a protagonist with human character traits. A good example would be Luke Skywalker. In the beginning we get to know him, learn about his hopes and dreams, and start to care about him. I can't stress this enough: Be sloppy with your writing when it comes to your protagonist, and you can kiss the slightest hope for quality storytelling goodbye. Bleedman doesn't give a shit. Emotional baggage, "tragic" pasts or Jerk Ass behavior do not make a likable, deep or interesting character."
- John K. Stuff: John Kricfalusi reviews Bob Clampett's black & white cartoons with animator Milt Gray, focusing on Porky Pig. He claimed that Porky was basically a boring prop character in the hands of Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin, and that Bob best understood how to make the character truly likable and sympathetic.
"Porky, in both Avery and Tashlin's cartoons is just this animated thing that shit happens to. You don't care about him at all. He's merely the focus of the story. In Clampett's cartoons the characters cause the story and what happens always seems spontaneous and immediate - and as a result, unpredictable. It is happening now, unplanned by a tyrannical director who merely needs characters to plug into his plot and gag structure. Clampett's unique talent is to make it appear that you are watching something in real time; animation that is shot live. He was also handicapped in this by having been forced to star Porky in every single cartoon. He did the best Porky, but Porky is basically a straight man, so Clampett had to create tons of other characters who could carry more comedy. There are some cartoons that star Porky only in name, because he got tired of ONLY directing Porky cartoons and wanted to try something different. But my point is, that only in his cartoons at the time did any of the characters seem like they were causing the action, rather than the writer and director causing the action and just plopping any old characters into the storyline."
- The Mysterious Mr. Enter:
- Mr Enter has noted that as of the "Little Yellow Book", he doesn't care about any of the main characters of SpongeBob SquarePants at all due to how Squidward's (the last character he had any care towards) actions in the end made him out to be remorseless.
- In Mr. Pickles, he notes that with its first episode, he already doesn't care about any of the characters shown because they focus more on ones who won't be seen again, rather than showcasing the titular Mr. Pickles or any other main cast member.
- He outright invokes the trope when reviewing Da Boom Crew; citing that the leads were all some variation of a stereotypical Flat Character and he didn't care about their journey because next to no identity was established for them, not to mention the Cliché Storm the story was, and the incomprehensible dialogue made them totally unsympathetic and unrelatable.
- He expresses a similar sentiment towards Legends of Chamberlain Heights for many of the same reasons, albeit to a greater extent; to the degree that he found the series worse than the above-mentioned Mr. Pickles on the grounds that every character was an unsympathetic and unlikable imbecile.