The kidnap plot is one of the most regularly used and reliable plot devices in cinema. It is found in every genre, and provides scope for all manner of action and narrative twists. It is a particular favourite of the legendary filmmaking duo Joel and Ethan Coen, who have once again employed the trope in their latest release Hail, Caesar!
It was also the centre of the critically acclaimed film, Room, which recently bagged lead actress Brie Larson her first Academy Award. These two, very different movies perfectly illustrate the vast spectrum across which the kidnap plot device can operate in film – but there are many more examples that fall in-between.
As with all plot devices, there are good examples, and bad. Too often, the kidnap trope is simply a means to an end – regularly using women as objects to be fought over, with no agency of their own, waiting to be rescued while under threat of violence.
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Taken is perhaps the most parodied example of these movies, with Liam Neeson growling and beating people while using his very specific CIA skill-set to find his teenage daughter, who has been kidnapped by sex traffickers. Or, there’s Point Break, where Lori Petty becomes an unfortunate, powerless pawn in the tussle between Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. Then, there’s the countless entries into the horror genre – often ‘torture porn’ – usually involving male fantasy versions of women being terrorized in captivity.
But, there are movies that use the kidnap plot device to better effect, to make interesting and compelling stories. These are not simply excuses for men to beat their chests and flood the screen with their awesome testosterone – these are well-crafted, well-executed tales of intrigue and mystery, which span different genres, and utilize fully formed characters.
Here, you’ll find seven of the best examples of the use of the kidnap plot device in film.