Devil’s advocates: movies where the villain wins

Movies where the villain wins

There’s some bad people in the world. We’re not going to name names (James Woods), but that goes double for movies. Usually, the heroes triumph and baddies take a dunk, so we can all leave the cinema with a sense of cosmic justice, but sometimes directors aren’t that nice to our sensibilities. Sometimes the bad guy wins, either obviously or not so obviously. So, to bum you out even more, here are some occasions where the villain wins. Fair warning, this will contain spoilers.



Wonder Woman (2017)

Patty Jenkins 2017

In Patty Jenkins history making superhero origin Gal Gadot’s Diana tears a warpath through central Europe with a ragtag team to hunt down Ares, the god of war. While also hooking up with Chris Pine, because even immortal demi-goddesses have needs. After plunging her sword into German general Luddendorf, Diana discovers that he is not in fact Ares, but the villainous god is actually the kindly Sir Patrick Morgan. They have a big CGI fight, and Diana kills him with the power of love like a badass. Happy ending, right? Well… no. Ares plan was to push an armistice forward, his belief that peace cannot be kept by humans and they will be drawn into another war, with mounting escalation and… he’s right. Sure, love interest Steve Trevor stops a plane full of gas and sacrifices himself for the greater good, and not long after the war ends, but it’s Ares’ belief that mankind is drawn to violence is correct. In little over twenty years another world war will begin, longer, bigger and nastier with more advance weapons, and sure Diana can intervene but her friends Etta, Samir, Chief and Charlie are all in their thirties or forties, they’ll be in their twilight years when the next world ending war comes, and it’ll continue, Vietnam, Korea, Spain, Fawlands, Gulf, Iraq, hell her sequel takes place in the Cold War, Ares got his way, and proved he was right.


David Fincher 1995

Kevin Spacey in SE7EN

By the end of Fincher’s film, detectives Mills and Somerset find themselves way out of their rain drenched town with serial killer mastermind John Doe, at this point we’re certain they’re going to sort things out and Doe won’t get his last two sins in and all will be well. Oh wait, then a van rocks up with a parcel. Plot twist – Doe has beheaded Mills’ beloved wife Tracy and has become envy, he taunts Mills who kills him becoming Wrath. Sure Doe ends up with a clip full of bullets in his big bald bonce but that doesn’t stop the fact that seven deaths have occurred inline with the seven deadly sins, pregnant Tracy’s head is still not on her shoulders and is in a cardboard box, Mills is at best going to be put in a psychiatric hospital and at worse put in prison, and Somerset is left the ponder his failure to stop all this.



George Lucas 2005

Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith

Yes, you might think the more obvious choice is The Empire Strikes Back, but by the end of that most of our heroes are united, Luke has a cool new hand, and they’re ready to get a plan together. Revenge of the Sith ends with the only good politician, former royal and new mother Padme dead from domestic abuse, all of the Jedi bar two murdered in cold blood, our chosen one burnt worse than the last burger at a BBQ, the empire in full swing and two twins split up without their birth parents. Palpatine played a long damn game, and he did it, over three films he usurped power by forcing a fake war, taking over an army, and turning a decent person needing guidance into a child-murdering robo-prick. Also… at some point Palpatine clearly bones down… shudder the thought.



Mark Pellington 1999

Arlington Road

There was, before 2001, a fear of terrorism in the US but it wasn’t of nondescript brown people, it was of the middle aged white man. Following high profile events, namely the Oklahoma City Bombing, many films in the US were terrified of their neighbour and movies reflected that. By the end of the largely forgotten but very good Arlington Road, good man Jeff Bridges who is convinced his new neighbours Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack are domestic terrorists. Tricked by them into racing to the FBI headquarters to thwart a bombing he discovers he’s been tricked. The bomb is in his car, and explodes killing him and leaving his son an orphan. Bridges has been labelled a lone wolf terrorist and Robbins and Cusack are free to run off to a new town and do this all over again, and probably have boring middle class white sex.



Mary Harron 2000

Christian Bale in American Psycho

Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ violent black comedy satirical novel is laced with out there visuals including the sight of Jared Leto having his head caved in with an axe to Huey Lewis and the News. Psycho murderer (and homophobic racist rapist) Patrick Bateman has a total breakdown and confesses his crimes, only for the next day to be confronted with all proof gone and people claiming he’s someone else. Bateman at first seems angry, until he realises the truth, everyone looks the same and he’s able to get away with it because no one really cares. There’s an argument that it might not have happened at all and is just a figment of his imagination but let’s say it did happen, and the 80s vapid self obsession has provided him with absolutely no consequences.



Paul Verhoeven 1992

Basic Instinct

Sexy bisexual novelist Catherine Tramell is suspected of murdering her boyfriend, a rockstar, and investigated by Nick Curran. As Tramell shags her way through everyone who stands in her way, Curran becomes comprised and things get steamy. The film ends with the mounting pile of bodies around Curran being pinned on Curran’s mandated shrink (and fuck-buddy) Beth Garner, apparently obsessed with Nick and Catherine. Nick goes home and has saucy sexy time with Catherine only to reveal an ice pick under the bed. Catherine did it, and managed to frame an innocent, and respected woman, and is now in bed ready to murder the last person that can link her to them.



Daniel Espinosa 2017

Life film 2017

Nasty little alien parasite that the ISS group have called Calvin goes about murdering everyone. The last two people, David and Miranda face off against Calvin and form a plan, there are two pods one headed for Earth and one into the deep recesses of space. David traps himself in a pod with Calvin, while Miranda records a black box message warning against Calvin and anything from Mars as an aggressive, intelligent monster. But… Miranda’s pod is damaged and sent into space where she will starve to death, and David is now completely restrained by Calvin, rescued by fisherman with several more boats there, and Calvin is free to attack, multiply and take over the planet. 



Anthony Russo, Joe Russo 2018

Avengers Infinity War

Yes, Endgame does give us the triple satisfaction of seeing Thanos get his head lopped off by Thor, get a juicy smack down by Captain Marvel with her “can I speak to the manager” hair and watching his empire collapse into dust before he goes the same way. However, if the world suddenly ended, or you swore off movies post-2018, then your final Avengers-related ending would have been Thanos, the old galactic ball-chin sat on his porch, content that he did exactly what he promised – take out half the universe with a snap of his begloved fingers. It’s dark, super dark, darker than The Empire Strikes Back, with no hope. He is, by his own admission, inevitable.



Richard Donner 1976

The Omen 1976

Bowl cut super-brat Damien Thorn is the son of Satan, couple that with his ability to make people die and you’ve got a recipe for a downer ending. Satanists, scary nannies and even the mighty David Warner come together in this horror thriller where by the end nice adoptive parents Katherine and Robert find themselves either thrown out of a window, or shot by police, while little Damien is free to watch the funeral, smug, as the president himself rocks up. He’s also born from a jackal, and causes David Warner to literally lose his head.



Frank Darabont 2007

The Mist

Despite well meaning Ollie popping a decent cap in not so much her ass as her chest, religious nutter Mrs Carmody wins this bleak Stephen King adaptation. She claims the only way to stop the sinister fog and the Lovecraftian beasties lurking within is to sacrifice a pure soul, that pure soul being artist David Drayton’s son. Obviously they disagree but when a group of them go off into the cold dark night their car breaks down and David has no choice but to mercy kill them all, including his son. Then the mist clears, the army is here and it’s killing the monsters. So, was Carmody right? Killing the boy ended the evil? Well we’ll never know for sure but it certainly gives credence to her belief, and David is left on his knees screaming in unrelenting pain and horror as military people look at him confused.



Anthony Russo, Joe Russo 2016

Helmut Zero Captain America Civil War

By winning we mean getting to see their plan to completion, and by that Helmut Zemo succeeds. His plan, turn the Avengers against each other by any means works, he shows Tony the video of Bucky murdering his parents, and thus forces Cap to admit his prior knowledge forcing them into a brutal fight to possible death. Admittedly, his final choice to end his life is thwarted by T’Challa’s intervention and discovery that holding onto hate and anger can corrode your soul, but still Civil War ends with one avenger partially paralysed, one emotionally broken, four in a remote prison, three fugitives, and the team near permanently fractured. Zemo won, and thanks to T’Challa is now free to sit in a cell and watch as the world is left with a broken Avengers.



David Fincher 1999

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in Fight Club

Insomniac “Jack” discovers his super cool bestie Tyler Durden is actually himself, and he’s super crazy. He also discovers he’s a cult leader and his followers dubbed Project Mayhem have planted bombs over the city in credit card buildings. “Jack” confronts Tyler and in shooting himself in the face, symbolically kills Tyler, and is free to reunite with equally damaged girlfriend Marla for happiness. Except the bombs go off, reducing several buildings to nothing, and he has a gaping hole in his face that is definitely going to bleed out and kill him… plus he’s got some, shall we say, issues.



Jonathan Demme 1991 / Ridley Scott 2001

Silence of the Lambs

Yes, main antagonist Buffalo Bill finds himself with a well placed round of bullets in him thanks to Clarice, but the other despite being charming, oddly sexy and cultured Hannibal Lecter ends the film talking to Clarice and planning to find his foe Dr Chilton. We might like Lecter but let’s not forget – he’s a cannibal, he eats people, and murdered two people on his way out of the prison. Factor in the sequel where Lecter is once again free, having chowed down on FBI agent Paul Krendler’s brains, cut his arm off, he’s on a plane making small talk with a kid. I get we like him, but it’s not a happy ending, he is still eating people.



Paul Thomas Anderson 2007

There Will Be Blood

By the close of Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece (sorry Twitter), Daniel Plainview has burned more bridges than he can imagine and decides to get blinding drunk in his owl bowling alley. Rich, and only getting richer, he gleefully sees local preacher Eli Sunday approach him. Eli, in dire financial difficulty offers to sell land to Plainview that he can use to drill for oil. Plainview agrees but only if Eli renounces his religion, which he reluctantly does, only for Plainview to reveal he has used slant drilling to steal the oil anyway, using the analogy of a milkshake. To add injury to insult, Plainview bashes in poor Eli’s skull. Plainview is so rich that he will buy his way out of any issue caused by a poor person being dead, and will be free to build more wealth, and grow that damn fine moustache.



Robin Hardy 1973

The Wicker Man

A remote English island has a missing girl so a police sergeant is sent to find out what’s going on and in the process discovers that the island is run by pagan cult headed by Lord Summerisle and they’ve lied to him so they can get a virgin for their sacrifice to their gods for a decent harvest. No missing girl, no proof of what’s happening, and stuck in a giant wicker effigy of a man (oh that’s why it’s called that, very clever) Sgt. Howie has no choice but the scream in horror and pray to his god as the flames engulf him, and on top of all of that he dies a virgin when in her prime Britt Ekland was there and clearly horny. Tough break lad.



George Sluizer 1988

The Vanishing

Being buried alive is a terrifying idea, and the final movement of Spoorloos plays on that. Rex is driven near mad when his girlfriend Saskia goes missing out of the blue from a rest stop. Three years on he refuses to give up looking for her, and eventually finds the person who did it, seemingly normal french professor Raymond. Raymond wanted to commit the ultimate evil and murder a young woman. With no proof to link Raymond to the crime and desperate for answers Rex agrees to go through what Saskia did to discover what happened to her, he drinks drugged coffee and wakes up buried alive. Terrified Rex screams and tries to escape, but there is no escape. Raymond, having killed two people and gotten away with it, returns home to his country house and relaxes with his wife and children. Claustrophobia and a bleak ending, nothankyouplease.



Zack Snyder 2009


This is actually a double downer ending. Billionaire genius Ozymandias sets the stage for a final confrontation in his ice fortress having tricked god on Earth Dr Manhattan into building a machine that can replicate his energy he sets about destroying several major cities across the world. Lucky then that Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Manhattan and Rorshach have arrived to smack him about and stop this plan. Except no… Ozy put the plan in motion half an hour before they arrived, and millions have been turned into vapour, and cities reduced to nothing, all in the name of world peace.A depressing “greater good” situation then, but despite the hoards of deaths world peace is nice, no? Well no, monolithically stubborn Rorshach who might be dead but gets the last laugh by dropping his diary off at a newspaper to be published meaning all those deaths will be for nothing and the inevitable nuclear war Ozymandias tried to stop will happen even quicker, even more aggressively.



Ryan Coogler 2018


Despite being two thirds of a solid film the slightly uninvolving finale to the groundbreaking Black Panther comes to a head with such emotion that Coogler redeems the film. T’Challa manages to gain the upper hand in a showdown with villain (and cousin) Killmonger and places a spear right through him. As the civil unrest in Wakanda calms down, both men sit watching the sunset together. There’s a way to help Killmonger but he doesn’t want it. His plan, use Wakanda’s vast arsenal and advanced technologies to arm the downtrodden black people of the world into an uprising against the white oppressors has been thwarted, but his intent hasn’t. As he removes the spear from his body, he looks out over the nation and comments on it’s beauty, before adding “bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.”

Yes, Killmonger has died, and with him another member of T’Challa’s family and connection to his father, but earlier it becomes clear his point – that Wakanda could have helped the world and didn’t, leaving billions of black people bound in chains, killed and oppressed while they thrived – remains. T’Challa in the ancestral plane chides his father and ancestors “all of you were wrong” he screams “to turn your back on the rest of the world”. T’Challa ends the film by revealing Wakanda’s true nature, it’s advancements and setting the stage for it to become Earth’s last stand against Thanos. His body dies, but Killmonger’s ideals (if not his methods) live.



Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg 1995


Yes even Disney musicals aren’t above a little downer ending. Sure, Pocahontas gets to throw down with John Smith and his hunky blonde ways before he departs back for the UK to put Governor Ratcliffe on trial, and yes Ratcliffe didn’t get all that gold he wanted but wait… Just because Smith met a pretty Native woman, and they had a little sing song doesn’t stop the fact that he’s a settler, and that Ratcliffe is a governor in the court of King James.

No matter the fictional machinations of the film, the fact remains, Ratcliffe is a member of high society, and a personal friend of the King, Smith isn’t. And sure, Smith and his men might claim he’s bad but really, James was the one who sent them to colonize, and history tells us James sends more, and more, and more. Pocahontas might have had a cute romance with a nice chisel chin, but Ratcliffe is alive and has knowledge of how their weapons are superior to the Native population. Ratcliffe IS going to talk to King James, and he is going to reveal their weakness, and James will send more numbers of colonisers to turn the US into a British colony, and the sadly, Pocahontas and her people are going to be brutally murdered, and Ratcliffe will be vindicated. Sorry kids.

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.