Generally, people like to see a hero succeed. It’s a truly satisfying moment when the hero beats the villain, escapes the burning building, and saves the world. However, sometimes, the story ends on a bittersweet note. The hero saves the day, but at the cost of their own life. This instance is rarer for obvious reasons. It’s a bit depressing to see the hero not get that big reward after going through so much adversity. We naturally want to see the hero succeed and live to tell the tale. However, sometimes, having the hero die can make a story all the more powerful. Sometimes, having the hero die can make or break a story.
Here are four films that didn’t do that, and why they could’ve been great had they killed off the hero. And considering we’re dealing with movie endings be warned that there will be a lot of spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
A lot has been said of the sequel to JJ Abram’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Most of it having to do with the fact that it feels like a crappy cover version of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Some of the arguments for this are more than understandable. Having Zachary Quinto shout out “KHHHAAAAANNN!” was definitely one of the most pathetic attempts to bank on the nostalgia people have for the original film. However, it goes much more deeper than that. What made Star Trek Into Darkness such a disappointment, at least to me, was the fact that it had all the workings of being a great film on its own while also borrowing from the source material that inspired it.
The movie attempts to focus on the fact that Kirk is a pretty rubbish captain. He’s parking starships in oceans, breaking the Prime Directive, and nearly getting his crew killed. This is understandable considering the fact that he was given the keys to Starfleet’s flagship just after getting reprimanded for cheating on a test. The man didn’t even finish his courses at the academy and he’s been put into a position reserved for only the most highly trained in Starfleet. The film cleverly acknowledges this and tries to take it somewhere, but ultimately fails to make this theme hit us with the impact it needed. And it’s because they didn’t kill Kirk when they should have.
The Ending We Got
After going up against Khanberbatch and his superpowered warship, the Enterprise is careening towards Earth with no power to get it flying again. Kirk, in a moment that mirrors Spock’s sacrifice at the end of Wrath of Khan, sacrifices his life to fix the warp core and save his ship and crew. Only to be resurrected five minutes later because this version of Khan has the blood of that cheerleader from Heroes. He’s learned his lesson on being a great captain, and all is well with the universe.
The Ending We Could Have Had
Essentially the same ending, except with one major difference: Khan escapes. Kirk makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his crew, and becomes the captain he was always destined to be, but there’s no magic reset button to save him. Spock doesn’t pull a Liam Neeson on Khan’s ass, and there’s no magic blood for Bones to save Kirk. And before someone snaps at me for overlooking the 70 or so superhumans they have on ice I suggest this be tweaked so that Khan gets away with them. An explanation could be that he woke them up so they could help him fly the super-ship. That way there’s no need for the ship to have that feature of being able to be piloted by one person, because that sounds like a really stupid function for a warship to have.
So it looks like there’s no hope for the Enterprise crew. Kirk’s dead, Spock’s left grieving for his friend, and an army of superhumans are no doubt beginning plans to conquer the Federation, all while the the truce between the Federation and the Klingons deteriorates. However, there may still be hope yet: Khan’s blood could resurrect Kirk. And Spock, going with the film’s other theme of him not being able to break the rules, decides to throw all the rules aside and steals the Enterprise to hunt Khan down and save his friend’s life (which would be a great way to reference The Search for Spock). You could even have the final scene be of the Enterprise warping into an unknown quadrant of space where Khan and his ilk may be hiding, making it a sort of trek into unknown territory. A journey, dare I say, into darkness?
3. Men In Black 3
On the whole, Men In Black 3 isn’t a terrible movie. There’s just enough creativity and charm to it that it manages to be somewhat better than Men In Black 2. However, there is one thing that kept this movie from not only being good, but from being one of the best Men In Black movies in the series. So just who had to die to make this movie truly great?
The Ending We Got
Agent Jay and a younger Agent Kay track down Boris The Animal to Cape Canaveral on the day of the launch of Apollo 11. While Kay battles the younger Boris, Jay takes on the older Boris to ensure that a planetary defense network gets installed on Apollo 11. With some wacky time travel trickery, Jay kills Boris, Kay installs the defense network, and all is well with the space-time continuum. Sadly, the younger Boris survives and ends up killing Jay’s father, who happened to be a general present at the launch site… for some reason… Jay returns to the present with a new understanding on why Kay acts the way he does around Jay. They eat some pie, and live happily ever after. Though Jay will probably live longer because I’m sure Tommy Lee Jones was a puppeteered corpse in the few scenes he was in.
The Ending We Could Have Had
Jay dies, sacrificing himself to save the earth and setting history back on track.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this had been the original ending the filmmakers had planned on shooting. Throughout the film the theme of death is ever present. The film begins with Rip Torn’s character, Zed, passing away and Kay is the one who gives the eulogy, which is stunningly short and bereft of any real emotion. Jay is appalled by Kay’s approach to this great loss, even going so far as to say: “Promise me that if my time comes that you’ll give me a better eulogy.” This is only one of many signs that Jay was supposed to die at the end of the film.
Another is the fact that Jay, one of the highest ranking agents in the MIB, is unable to read the files on how Kay took down Boris in the 60’s. The film’s theatrical ending makes it seem like this is because they want to keep the fact that Jay’s dad died a secret, which makes no sense for many reasons. The only legitimate reason for the MIB to keep one of it’s top agents in the dark is because it would be problematic for history if Jay found out what really happened. Not only that, but the reason why Jay is the only one who notices the changes to the timeline would make even more sense if it were because of the fact that he was a focal point in the events of history, not just because he’s really close to Kay.
Having Jay die would also shift the way people see the other movies in a drastic way. The idea that Kay knew Jay was going to die all along, that he had to be the one to bring Jay into the MIB and lead him to his ultimate destiny, would have been a mind blowing revelation. Not only that, but then having a younger Kay give Jay the heartfelt eulogy he wanted would’ve been a great way to call back to the beginning of the movie, and thus bring the series to a heart-wrenching, yet satisfying close.