"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, Hate Sink, or just a really good villain, work because they are conduits for Laser-Guided Karma. 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. After all, the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy, and this trope is about when that apathy has set in.
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, and wondering why they're spending the first quarter-to-third of the movie watching personal drama they don't give a flip about.
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.
In-Universe or Cited Examples:
- 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 Anti Heroes are anything more than props that fire massive guns and spew one-liners. He hardly has a clue who 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:
"I mean, how much killing does it really take to underscore the point that Earth-Flashpoint is a horrible place? At a certain point it all just fades into meaninglessness, a body count for the sake of a body count, all of it entirely without heft or import because its effectively an "imaginary story" giving the serial reader no point at which to sympathize or otherwise care about the dead bodies left in its wake. For a comics company that has predicated its existence on the idea of stories that "matter" to create an enormous MacGuffin of a story that only exists to propel the company into its reboot is shocking for all the wrong reasons."
- 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, of course, 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 doesnt 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 the predator/prey tension was exemplified by requiring predators to wear shock collars to keep their primitive, savage ways under control (Nick would have run an illegal park where predators could take off their collars). While the creative team tried to present the existence of shock collars in a lighter, comedic tone, the audience during internal viewings kept reporting that they didn't want the city to survive the movie's conflict because of the way it was treating a portion of its citizens. The creators quite sensibly took the advice and removed the shock collars, toning down the conflict into a more mundane tale of social bias and unconscious prejudice that just so happens to feature Funny Animals.
- Jeremy of CinemaSins feels this way about the two main characters of Trolls because he finds Poppy to be such a complete idiot and Branch to be such a jerk that he doesn't care to see either of them succeed:
Jesus, this movie cast maybe the two most likable leads in the WORLD but gave them such huge character flaws that it's impossible to root for EITHER of them!
- On The Escapist, they make this observation of the movie Monsters, noting that both leads are unsympathetic Flat Characters.
- Their opinion of the human characters in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
- For Les Misérables (2012) as well, despite praising Anne Hathaway's performance.
- Held up as one of the biggest failings of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in his epic 4-hour deconstruction of the film, Really That Bad:
A movie killed Superman and I felt nothing!
- 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 imply it by noting 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 that the film "lacks focus and energy, the character development is facile and thin."
- Ebert's review of Exit to Eden mentions that his notes start out remarking that the film was slow and uninvolving; by the fourth page he's writing a grocery list instead.
- Todd in the Shadows 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:
- His harshest criticism about The Avengers (1998) evokes this, because he finds it next to impossible to care about the characters or what happens to them since the characters in the movie don't seem to care either:
If you havent figured it out yet, this whole entire movie is based on one friggin' joke: Theyre polite. They perform incredibly dangerous stunts and react with a calm, friendly retort. Thats it! Thats where all the humor in this movie comes from. Now, lets take out the fact that this is all based on one jokeand a particularly weak one at thatand ask one question: If nobody in this movie becomes passionate or excited about what theyre doing, why should we? Why should we care if they make it out of a situation when clearly they have as much energy and drive as Victorian senior citizen porn? Do they ever become interested in anything? Nope! They just talk politely about it throughout the entire movie.
- As does his harshest criticism about Alaska, where he doesn't care at all about any of the characters save for immensely hating Sean:
Worst of all, its the lack of any interesting interaction that really sinks it. Maybe if it was just about a family in Alaska dealing with the loss of their mother while traveling in the mountains, that would have been fine. That actually would have been interesting if it was done right. But they make no attempts to have these people talk to each other like theyre family at all. The brother and sister almost never speak, the mean-spirited boy is just way too rotten, the father is forgettably bland, and they never take the time to show how what theyre going through is affecting them. Its just set up for standard boring action scenes. Yeah, Alaska looks nice, but its not worth sitting through this rotten story to see it.
- 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, were with them when theyre thrown in these complex and dangerous worlds. Here, you dont care about anybody, so you dont 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 thats epic in this film, its what an epic disaster it gave us in the end. It really is the Valhalla of botched epic stories.
- His harshest criticism about The Avengers (1998) evokes this, because he finds it next to impossible to care about the characters or what happens to them since the characters in the movie don't seem to care either:
- 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 Bad Movie Beatdown episode on Bear had Film Brain getting so annoyed at the characters he gave up on their names and started using terms such as "Twat".
- JonTron's largest complaint about The Lost World: Jurassic Park is that all the characters are so monumentally stupid and so directly responsible for causing every single bad thing to happen with their constant idiotic decisions that he's unable to sympathize with them and simply doesn't care if they survive. The only thing he actually admits to liking is the scene of the T-Rex running amok in the city, but feels like the rest is just "going through the motions" and didn't actually understand what made the first film such a success:
I don't feel sympathy for any of these characters nor do I care for their survival because they're ALL IDIOTS!!! They're causing their own death through sheer idiocy or carelessness!(And later)Jurassic Park isn't just an amazing experience because dinosaurs, its appeal comes from the human element. What would you do if you were stuck in a broken-down dinosaur theme park? It brings it close to home and we can easily empathize with the characters onscreen since the reactions from the actors are genuine and probably similar to how you'd react in the same situation. The dinosaurs were really secondary to the emotions of the people in the midst of the action. A movie like this is only good if you care about the people caught up in it all. It's not about "Whoa, better run away from all these dinosaurs on the green screen!" It's really hard to care for a bunch of badly written characters who just seem like an excuse to see more dinosaurs!
- 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 dont care.
Im 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.
- 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 find the characters interesting at all because they are dumb. This is shot back at him afterwards when his story consists 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. This is because Carpathia (said Antichrist) is a dynamic character in the sense that he is trying to change the setting's status quo through his plans and machinations. Whether his evil plots succeed or not, he is enacting them, and therefore putting events into motion because of it, so whenever he is on screen things are moving. The majority of the quote/unquote "heroes" enact no such inertia; since they believe in the biblical prophecies that the Antichrist is destined to succeed in his plans for world domination for a time before he is cast down, they believe that his ascent is unstoppable, and therefore, they don't even try. The context of the below quote comes from a scenario where Buck and Raymond discuss what to do with Buck having an upcoming face-to-face, one-on-one meeting with Carpathia. They decide to either duck the meeting, or how to go about it without making anyone mad. The review states that any other hero who is given a meeting with the villain would either stop them or redeem them: Buffy would march in with a sword and tell Carpathia that his plans stop now; The Doctor would give him one chance to stop before he has to step up and take action, and so on. Any hero would move to stop the villain except the ones in these books. The reader cannot root for them, because they take little to no action to better their situation. In fact, "No Heroes" is the title of their review of the chapter in question:
These are books without heroes because they are set in a world without heroism without the possibility of heroism. A world of inexorable prophecies and inevitable doom.
- A short online story described a writer being visited by a flat character, on behalf of all the characters who have been killed by the eight deadly words, and seeking the author's help in revitalising them and making their stories engaging. The writer declines to help, since he doesn't care what happens to them either.
- The Average Viewer certainly felt this way about The Reckoning by the time it revealed why Pete Banning murdered Pastor Bell.
...His wife banged the pastorafter being convinced that Pete was dead, by the way. Pete's reasoning was not only flawed, but also so inherently stupid that it makes for bad storytelling, leading to not only a unsatisfactory conclusion, but you groaning out loud at the stupidity of the author who thought that it was a good idea. And it turns out, the wife didn't even bang the pastor. She fucked the slave, which doesn't make anything better, story-wise. If anything, it makes things worse because you realise the whole story, from Pete killing the pastor, to us reading about his time in the war and him being brave amounted to nothing because he was an idiot. I don't mean that in terms of his personality; idiots can be made into convincing characters. No, he was an idiot character, spun from nothing and given the slightest substance and depth.
- 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.
- This is a common criticism leveled against Final Fantasy XIII by its detractors. Due to the game's exceptionally Slow-Paced Beginning and the reliance on datalogs in order to understand the events of the first several chapters, many players simply give up on trying to follow the story, who the characters are, what they are doing, and why. Add that to the incredibly restrictive gameplay and level-design, the fact that many of the protagonists fail to make good first impressions and all seem to hate each other, topped off with some extremely repetitive dialogue, and you end up with a huge number of players who soon become not only disinterested in the story and characters, but intuitively sick of them. Basically, you need a lot of empathy and patience in order to enjoy the game and see it through to the end, which, obviously, not all players are going to have.
- Even worse, it can leave such a bad impression that the Eight Deadly Words can carry directly over to its sequels. Case in point, Jesse Cox has stated that he doesn't really care for any of the characters in the FFXIII games, but it wasn't until Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII came out that he finally couldn't stand them anymore.
- Spoony expressed the exact same sentiment in his review, best summarized by this line:
Spoony: You have to have exposition to avoid completely alienating your audience. If they don't know anything, they can't care about anything. There's nothing, not even a brief text-crawl or introductory monologue to form even the most rudimentary base of a narrative. I don't know where we are! I don't know who anyone is! I don't know what the rules are, and I shouldn't have to read a fucking novella of footnotes to have this explained. And when the footnotes fail to explain it's own fucking terms, I don't even know how to define what a complete failure at even the most fundamental aspects of storytelling this fucking is!
- Then there's Yahtzee Croshaw's reaction:
Yahtzee: You know why this game is on three discs? Not because it's a complex roller coaster of an epic. It's because it's padded like a menstruating firehose. I've spent the entirety of the last five hours running down three different linear corridors. if this were Modern Warfare, I'd have curb-checked every terrorist in the free world by now. The central plot element has only just been introduced! I only vaguely know what the story's about because I made myself read all that ancillary textlog bullshit. (increasingly angry) This is not good storytelling! You're supposed to weave exposition into the narrative, not hand the audience a fucking glossary as they walk into the theatre!
Some people have told me that FFXIII gets good about 20 hours in. You know that's not really a point in its favor, right? Put your hand on a stove for 20 hours and yeah, you'll probably stop feeling the pain, but you'll have done serious damage to yourself. The story is paced like an ant pushing a brick across a desert, the characters are either completely unlikeable or act like they're from space, and the art design is like a painting of a fireworks display: lots of garish color and flash, but take one step to the side and you'll see it's completely two-dimensional.
- 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.
- This comes up a lot in Yahtzee's reviews of games (Yahtzee, as a writer himself, being a very story-based gamer), perhaps most amusingly cited in his own review of Wolfenstein (2009) (which was entirely delivered in limerick form):
I guess the ultimate question is Why
Should I even bother to try?
Every last NPC
Fills me with apathy.
Am I expected to care when they die?
- Played with in-universe in Wurm Online, whose PVP servers have an Excuse Plot about three largely interchangeable factions fighting a low-key Forever War over land and resources, with some sort of Cosmic Chess Game between the gods going on in the background that seems not to affect anything in the gameworld besides periodically spawning a new raid boss... But the non-PVP servers are explicitly described in the lore as being their own separate faction, formed of people who've decided that the war is stupid and pointless and walked away to go do their own thing. One cannot help but suspect a bit of Reality Subtext there, given how many players Play the Game, Skip the Story.
- 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 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 Jerkass behavior do not make a likable, deep or interesting character."
- DM of the Rings is an In-Universe example. The comic is ostensibly about a group of people playing a Tabletop Game, but the Game Master is the king of Railroading — he expects the players to follow his script to the letter, has Gandalf as an overpowered GMPC with a death grip on plot's steering wheel, and resists any attempts to deviate as if his life depended on it. As a result, the only player even mildly invested in the plot is Gimli, and even he has his limits; Aragorn and Legolas are constantly grumbling about how much they hate the game, the Hobbits quit the game after the events of Fellowship to play Star Wars d20, and Boromir left after his character died because choosing not to roll up a new character was the first time he'd had anything resembling agency in the entire campaign.
- 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 for whom he cared at all) 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.