10 Great Movies in which the Heroes Are Doomed

Aren't you tired of those goody-goody heroes saving the day in every movie? When they walk off into the sunset, all happy and fulfilled, doesn't it eat into your bitter, desiccated soul? Here are a few great movies that let you take the edge off that anger. In these, the heroes are doomed. Dooooomed!

1. Wall-E


Don't get me wrong. I understand that, in Wall-E, we care more about a mute, possibly-anthropomorphized robot than we do about the entire human race, but it still seems like the movie ended with more problems than it began with. An entrenched system of power has just been overthrown by a group that has no ability to deal with the power vacuum. A planet that has been environmentally decimated is about to be repopulated by a group that doesn't have the experience or physical ability to deal with the challenges. But it's all going to be okay because, on that planet, there's exactly one living plant and exactly two robots that like to hold hands. Good thing the movie stopped right then, or we'd see all of humanity die off via war and starvation.

2. Rosemary's Baby

There seems to be a whole subgenre that's all about birthing the anti-christ. Occasionally the movie focuses on trying to get the baby in there, but the gestation process is — just this once — much more interesting. Rosemary's Baby is without question the best of these movies. For one thing, it's a good look at the danger of passivity in the face of an uncertain danger. Without blaming Rosemary for her own situation, it shows again and again her ignoring her own instincts until it's too late. She knows something is wrong, but everyone and everything in the movie pushes her boundaries right up until she's about to make a move, and then stops before she takes action. The movie is also smart in how it links the ultimate evil to the banal sins of greed and ambition that we see every day. Satan is the ultimate orchestrator of Rosemary's doom. He might be capable of killing off anyone who might help her, but his plan wouldn't have worked without a vapid, selfish husband who wants an acting career more than literally everything else.

3. Predators


Ever gotten to the end of a movie and realized that nothing's changed? All that fuss, all that work, and protagonists have the exact same problems they started with? You're not watching a story arc, you're watching Sisyphus with a very complicated rock. A classic example of not-solving-the problem is Predators. Every other Predator movie ends with the conclusion of a hunt. Not this one. I'm not even certain that this one concludes with the middle of a hunt. It's true, the characters resolved the immediate threat, and it's true that they went on an emotional journey — at least the ones that survived. In the end, though, they're still stranded on an alien world, without food, being hunted for sport by space-faring aliens with advanced technology. Which is where they were in the beginning. Compared to that, it didn't really matter that Adrien Brody learned the true value of teamwork.

4. The Stepford Wives


Another classic movie is The Stepford Wives. The screenplay was written by William Goldman, the writer of The Princess Bride, but there's not a lot of humor in this film. After moving to the Pleasantville-esque town of Stepford, Joanna Eberhart — through smarts, tenacity, and logical leaps that would impress a pole vaulter — figures out a grand misogynist conspiracy. This is what really breaks your heart. She actually figures it out. And she does so in the presence of someone who outright tells her that she's not crazy, and that, if she feels like she's in danger she should act on that feeling. And then she runs directly back into town, all alone, to set things right. Guess how that turns out.

5. Sunshine

Seeing people throw their lives away is fun, but occasionally it's nice if there's a point to it. Heroic doom is a good way to watch people be inspirational, without any temptation to actually follow in their footsteps. Which doesn't mean you want to leave the miserable, pointless death behind entirely. This is why, of the many movies that feature the doom of the hero, Sunshine is the best choice. Sunshine is an under-appreciated gem about a spaceship crew trying to restart the sun. The premise might put people off, but the movie is surprisingly detail-oriented and precise when it comes to the realities of space flight — namely that if anything goes wrong, everything goes wrong. This movie lets you have it both ways: It combines the horrible, pointless deaths that result from even the most trivial problems during space travel with a huge, noble sacrifice at the end.


6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers


Sometimes it's not select individuals that you want to see tank it. Sometimes it's everyone. That's why you occasionally need to seek out movies that require the entire human race to shuffle off into the sunset. The classic movie for this is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but you have to be selective. Every version takes the same line. Wouldn't it be great, or at least orderly, if the Earth were painlessly made into a nonviolent and organized society? Not all of the movies have the courage to follow through on the suggestion. To get your doom fix you have to pick the right version. The 1956 one is a bit too ambiguous, leaving us with questions about whether humanity will overcome its invaders if the alarm can be effectively raised. The 2007 version just fed us some garbage about a mother's love. It's the 1978 version, with a pre-mumble Jeff Goldblum that rubbed humanity out and said good riddance.

7. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Once someone has been set up as a sympathetic character, they tend to stay that way. It takes a very specific kind of terrible fate to change a character from someone we've sympathized with to someone we're afraid of. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a 1973 movie about a woman who sets goblins loose in her house. Since she set them free, they want her to be one of them. It sounds like a stupid premise, but it does work. There are a lot of movies out there in which a villain extends a hand to the hero and says, "Join me!" In this case, the villains just haul the hero off. We don't know what happens to her. We just know that in the end, when she does join them and we hear her voice screech-laughing with theirs in the darkness, it's terrifying.


8. The Cabin in the Woods

Sometimes the doomed heroes in movies seem like they could have made it out alive, if only they'd made a different choice. Other times, it's clear that we're watching the characters run one, unalterable course toward their death. It's just a question of when they know it. The ultimate, literal example of being trapped in a narrative is The Cabin in the Woods. The college kids are forced to their doom by people who, while rigging the game so that the victims have no real choice, claim that their victims are free to walk away.


But as we learn more, we realize that even the "showrunners" are doomed, even if they succeed. It's true that they seem pretty callous, and so they get less of our sympathy than the teenagers do, and it's fun to see them get a taste of their own medicine. Still, they have little more control than the intended victims. They are stuck in a system they can't fight, but that they can enforce. So they do the only thing they can. Would you condemn seven billion people just so five kids can live a little longer before they're eaten by monsters? (I have to admit, I wished they had killed off "Topher" and averted the apocalypse, just so I could see Kristen Connolly and Sigourney Weaver fight their way back up to the surface through a lab full of monsters.)


9. Night of the Living Dead

The 1968 version of this film is not the scariest zombie movie out there, but it is one of the saddest and most human. While the zombies certainly pose a threat, they're surprisingly easily managed. There aren't many zombie movies out there in which the authorities start getting the zombie outbreak under control in a single day. There aren't many zombie movies that characters can survive by locking themselves in a cellar and staying quiet. It's the people that doom each other. Petty squabbling, panicked overreactions, emotional numbness, and just plain lack of physical coordination get most of the people in this movie killed. When the last protagonist, Ben, is killed off when the sheriff's posse casually mistakes him for a zombie, the audience is the only witness to the massacre, and the only people who will ever know the story about how this group of people died.


10. The Haunting


1963's The Haunting is a mix between a ghost story and No Exit. It might work simply as a play, without supernatural elements, about people with wildly conflicting needs, stuck together in a house and making each other miserable. It's only towards the end that you realize that the house is another character, and that it's targeting the most vulnerable among them. This works, though, because it's an ambiguous doom. The main character, Eleanor, is lonely, and is shown throughout the film desperately trying to connect with the other characters, and constantly failing. The house wins by making her feel special and chosen, when no one else will, which makes her assimilation that much creepier. At the end, when she intones, "Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here... walk alone," you realize that the character you spent the movie rooting for is now someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

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