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Ten Times When the Hero Should Have Died

by Nick Wood
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

How many times have you watched a movie only to wish the creators had added a touch of plausibility to the fight scenes. After all, they can’t all be Saving Private Ryan, but sometimes the audience is left scratching their heads at how so many villains are so bad at closing the deal on their dogooder foes.

It’s hard not to feel like Scott Evil—Dr. Evil’s angsty teenage son—who, after learning of Austin Powers’s capture, urges his follicly challenged father to shoot his nemesis there and then. To which Dr. Evil responds: “I have a better idea, Scott. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.”

This top ten runs through some of movie history’s most obvious “should be pushing up the daisies” moments for some of our favorite heroes.

Related: Ten Most Unlikely Movie Heroes

10 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Voldemort in the Graveyard

In the Goblet of Fire (2005), directed by Mike Newell, Harry finds himself yet again in a life-and-death situation. After the Triwizard Tournament, Harry and Cedric become cornered in the graveyard by the one who shan’t be named. Of course, the hero is used to close shaves, but he shouldn’t have made it out alive from this one.

To say the odds were against him is an understatement. He’s fourteen and surrounded by death eaters. And as their name suggests, dispatching their enemies is right at the top of the death eaters’ C.V. If that wasn’t enough, the most powerful wizard in the world is leading them and is determined to take more than merely school lunch money from young Potter.

In the end, it’s Voldemort himself who saves Harry by thinking he alone should finish him off. It’s a familiar trope of outnumbered heroes, as the supervillain prevents their own henchmen from finishing the job by taking on a monologue instead. Either way, a fortunate Harry survives to continue his journey, although, unfortunately, Cedric isn’t so lucky.[1]

9 Star Wars: Episode IV: Hans Solo vs. Blaster-Toting Stormtroopers

The butt of a thousand memes, the stormtroopers’ lack of any military ability has gone down in movie folklore.

If it’s plausibility you’re looking for, then I wouldn’t suggest you look in a galaxy long ago and far away. The original trilogy’s climax sees teddy bears who are hardly able to clamber over a fallen tree trunk inflict a crushing defeat on the universe’s most fearsome elite fighting force.

However, the scene described here is from the original 1977 Star Wars movie—later renamed Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Here, after landing on the Death Star, Hans Solo undertakes the iconic single handed charge at the stormtroopers, followed by his equally iconic running away in the opposite direction.

The problem is that this platoon is fully armed, and instead of using their high-tech weapons, they run after Solo like a bunch of school kids after a soccer ball.[2]

8 Bourne Identity: Shot, Drowned, and Dragged Overboard

Bourne Identity – Opening Scene – Clip #1 – Matt Damon

The Bourne Identity (2002) was directed by Doug Liman and saw Matt Damon take on this genre-defining trilogy. Heralded for its gritty realism, there are still plenty of unlikely escapes along the way, none more so than the opening scene.

Jason Bourne is floating in a storm swell, full of bullets and unconscious. He’s then tangled up in a fishing net and dragged onboard an Italian fishing boat.

The chance of anyone surviving this is as remote as having a random Italian fishing boat captain who speaks perfect English and just happens to be a first-class trauma wounds specialist.[3]

7 Raiders of the Lost Ark: Chase to the Plane Scene

Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford are a match made in movie heaven. Immortalized in 1981 by what some call the greatest action movie of all time—Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As an ’80s kid myself, I assumed action movies would always be that good. Little did I know how lucky I was. Good fortune is also something moviegoers could attribute to Professor Jones, with life-threatening scrapes coming thick and fast from the first frame.

It’s another one of Harrison Ford’s trademark sprints from the ranks of foes which I’ve selected for closer inspection. In the iconic opening scene, we see Jones surviving an array of poison darts, miraculously well-engineered ancient booby traps, and Nazi treasure hunters. This is swiftly followed by Jones running for his life through the jungle, pursued by a tribe of heavily armed warriors.

Luckily, these fearsome tribespeople went to the stormtrooper’s weapon-aiming academy! Presuming that they depended on their bow skills to survive from the moment they could walk, all sense of spatial awareness now goes out of the window.

We see volleys of razor-sharp arrowheads go in every direction except toward Indiana Jones. Fortunately for movie fans everywhere, this allows Indy to make it back to his waiting seaplane and rise to movie immortality.[4]

6 Iron Man: Tony Stark and the Ten Rings

Iron Man Opening Scene – Iron Man (2008) – Movie CLIP HD

In the first installment of Marvel’s iconic Iron Man series in 2008, Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., begins his shift from the merchant of death to metallic ass-kicker. His transformation begins in an ambush from which Tony—lacking his trademark suit—should not have walked away.

When his convoy of American G.I.s gets ambushed, everyone is wiped out except for him. To start, the entire side of his armored vehicle gets shot through by golf ball size shrapnel. Then shortly afterward, a mortar shell explodes at arm’s length.

The scriptwriters did put a bulletproof vest under his tailored suit as a nod to plausibility, but Tony’s head, arms, and legs should have been beef jerky by the end of that memorable opening scene.[5]

5 John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: Fight against the Shinobi

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) – Shinobi Assassin Fight Scene (9/12) | Movieclips

At number six is everyone’s favorite floppy-fringed dog lover. Bearing in mind that Keanu Reeves is actually a pretty good shot and trains at a high level in a bunch of martial arts, it’s still hard to see even this youthful action hero surviving.

Directed by Chad Stahelski, the third installment of the John Wick franchise sees the hero taking on two equally highly trained assassins of the Shinobi… with nothing more than his belt.

Luckily for Mr. Wick, his attackers take it in half-hearted turns to attack, and when they do come in with knives, it seems that they would have a hard time cutting a tomato on a dinner plate. Swinging left and right like a wasp is attacking them.[6]

4 The Dark Knight Rises: Fight with Talia al Ghul and Bane

The Dark Knight Rises/Best scene/Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale/Bane/Tom Hardy/Marion Cotillard

In the crescendo of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the caped crusader, played by Christian Bale, gets stabbed under his body armor.

The knife is held by Talia Al Ghul, played by Marion Cotillard. The femme fatale subsequently goes full Dr. Evil, explaining her plan, history, and motives in poetic detail. Meanwhile, incapacitated Batman is unable to do much but hope the story continues long enough for help to arrive.

In the “Being a supervillain for dummies” book, they should really dedicate at least the first chapter to why monologues are best saved until they’ve dispatched the superhero, not before. Sure enough, Batwoman appears in perfect timing to dispatch Bane and rescue the dark knight.

In the final part of the movie, Batman flies the villain’s nuclear bomb out over the bay with his batwing jet, saving Gotham in the process but seemingly not himself.

No one really explains how the mortally wounded superhero survives that, and many film fans have scratched their heads about the logistics. Especially when, in the closing scene, we see a sunkissed Bruce Wayne living it up in the South of France.[7]

3 Casino Royale: The 007 Parkour Chase

Casino Royale Movie CLIP – Parkour Chase (2006) HD

Whether in an online chat room or on backstreet bar stools, many an hour has been passed debating the question: Who is the greatest James Bond? A good contender for that accolade is Daniel Craig, who in 2006 began his fifteen-year run as 007 with the epic fan favorite Casino Royale.

No list of unlikely escapes would be complete without Her Majesty’s secret agent, and a top ten could easily be made of nothing else but Bond’s close calls. My contender is also one of my favorite scenes, the famous parkour chase in Casino Royale.

Set in Madagascar, the film finds Bond pursuing an energetic bomb maker—played by Sebastien Foucan—across a multitude of parkour-friendly obstacles.

The catch with this scene is that the bomb maker has a gun the whole time and only pulls it out once Bond is safely behind the wheel of a bulldozer. He inexplicably holsters the weapon again until he’s two hundred feet up on a construction crane.

Conveniently, the pistol is out of ammunition as he finally fires point blank. Despite this, a few seconds later, Bond finds himself dangling by his fingernails. The bomber misses the opportunity to press home the advantage and instead runs off in the opposite direction. This leaves a very lucky secret agent to begin his own run as one of Bond’s best incarnations.[8]

2 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Bilbo Baggins and the Trolls

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Battling the Trolls Scene (5/10) | Movieclips

Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth makes for a spectacular franchise. Whether the original Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit prequels, Jackson’s storytelling largely does justice to Tolkien’s masterpieces.

However, when it comes to The Hobbit movies, all of them force us to unplug the plausibility machine. Countless times the characters remain unscathed when they should have become Orc hors d’oeuvres.

In the first of the prequels, we see Frodo trying to pick some food out of a troll’s pocket. Baggins is discovered and thrown around like a rag doll. His dwarf friends come to his aid, only to be recaptured and held by the arms and legs in mid-air until his accomplices drop their weapons.

Somewhat remarkably, Bilbo survives this and walks away without a single broken bone, protected by the ever-invincible plot armor.[9]

1 Commando: John Matrix and His Epic Single-Handed Rampage

Commando – Mansion Shootout Scene (2/3) (1080p)

It’s 1985, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is at the height of his action-hero prime. In Mark L. Lester’s Commando, Arnie puts every action movie cliché on steroids.

With plausibility neatly left at the gym door, we see the hero John Matrix finally track his daughter to the bad guys’ secret jungle camp. Armed to the teeth, he sets out to single-handedly rescue her in explosive style. Outnumbered by a hundred to one, Arnie needs not worry—these bad guys are keener on charging in lines or back-flipping off buildings when Arnie looks in their direction.

For his part, our hero doesn’t bother much with cover, preferring the “run out into open grassy areas before returning fire” approach. Magazine clip after clip is emptied at Schwarzenegger, yet he dispatches every goon one-handed, with machine guns, shoulder anti-tank rounds, and grenades.

Even a full squad of special forces would have struggled to win this battle, but Schwarzenegger makes it through, finding his daughter just in time while still puffing on his Cuban cigar.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen