10 Awesome Movies Where The Bad Guy Wins

We’re all so used to seeing the good guy win at the end of films, but in reality, it just seems unrealistic, and so often, tacked on to satisfy more casual audiences who simply want pure, silly escapism. That’s precisely why the films that dare to mess with the formula leave the most profoundly memorable wounds.

The moral switcheroo legitimately counts as one of the industry’s greatest magic tricks. Even when it would be ridiculous for the good guy to suddenly become over-powered and take down a quasi-deity, to actually see evil prevail remains one of those moments that makes you catch your breath.

And thanks to the rise of anti-heroes and charismatic villains – who often have more dimensions than those who are wholly good (the old Batman vs Superman dynamic) – the effect can also often be entirely welcome. It’s not just a case of feeling robbed by the bad guy winning:some movies that follow that trend still leave the audiencefeeling satisfied, arguably more so than had everything been neatly tied up.

It goes without saying, of course, that massive spoilers lie ahead…

10. The Norton Flip-Flop – Primal Fear

Edward Norton delivers a masterful, Oscar-nominated performance asAaron Stampler, the seemingly shy and retiring altar boy who ends up being accused of murdering an archbishop. It’s Norton’s searing turn that keeps us on edge, preventing us from twigging the sublime twist ending to Gregory Hoblit’s cracking thriller, in which it turns out that, yes, Aaron was the bad guy all along.

Over the course of the film, we learn that Aaron has a second personality called Roy who appears to have caused the murder, yet at the film’s climax, we learn that Roy – or in fact, Aaron – never existed, and that Norton’s character simply concocted an elaborate lie, such that he would spend a few months in an asylum and then end up back on the streets soon enough.

Twist endings can feel cheap and forced, but Primal Fear’s works because while it’s a swerve, it’s also backed up by not only Norton’s commanding performance, but a live-wire script that, surprisingly, doesn’t feel convoluted.

9. The Ultimate Downer Ending – Brazil

20th Century Fox

Terry Gilliam’s entrancing, dream-like dystopian sci-fi is an unforgettable film, in large part due to its unexpectedly bleak ending.

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Price) is an office drone who, when following up on an administrative snaffu, winds up a wanted man, presumed to be a terrorist by those in charge. After being captured, it appears that he is sprung from his captivity, and reunited with his former flame, allowing him to live out the rest of his days in peace.

But of course, at the end, it’s revealed that none of this – at least the happy stuff – ever took place, and Lowry is still a prisoner; the film’s haunting final imagery is of Sam in a torture room, catatonic and clearly having lost his mind.

Given the fairly whimsical tone, this downbeat denouement came as even more of a surprise, yet without damaging the film’s tonal consistency.

8. If You Can’t Beat Them… – Rosemary’s Baby


Roman Polanski’s terrifying classic remains one of the greatest horror films of all time for good reason. Rosemary’s Baby revolves around a young couple, Rosemary and Roman (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) who move into a new apartment block, and before long Rosemary discovers that she is pregnant. However, strange goings-on begin to make Rosemary suspicious of her neighbours; rumours that the block used to be inhabited bySatanistsand witches does little to help.

In the end, it turns out that there is a coven operating in the tenement, and Roman is in on it; the son is not his, but rather the Devil’s, and Rosemary is left with a choice; abandon her son, or enter into the coven and care for him. Going by the haunting final imagery, it appears that Rosemary has decided that if she can’t beat them, she might as well join them, a terrifying note that lingers in the viewer’s mind long after the credits have rolled.

7. Chigurh Gets His Man – No Country For Old Men

Miramax/Paramount Vantage

No Country for Old Men benefits hugely from Javier Bardem’s superb, Oscar-winning performance as ruthless killing machine Anton Chigurh, such that while he’s a horrific, cold-blooded psychopath, he’s still oddly likeable, what with his wry sense of humour and strict honour code, and as a result, we’re not that fussed that he gets away at the end.

A film that actively eschews thriller conventions – choosing not to show the gunfight that kills the protagonist (Josh Brolin) long before the climax in particular – The Coen Brothers end things just as Chigurh survives a purely accidental car crash, slinking away with a broken arm, while Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) seems to concede the futility of his man-hunt. And to top it all off, Chigurh appears to have made off with all that money everyone’s so crazy about as well (though this is more implied than explicitly shown).

This is a great entry because it doesn’t rely on a twist ending like so many of the others; Chigurh stalks his way through the film like a phantom, and then disappears out of it in the same style at its climax, noting the pervasive presence of evil.

6. There Never Was A Missing Girl – The Wicker Man

British Lion Films

Unquestionably one of the most famously bleak – and downright brilliant – endings of all time is Robin Hardy’s sublimely creepy British horror film. Edward Woodward is sensational aspolice sergeant Neil Howie, whoreceivesa letter begging him to venture to an isolated island in order to investigate the disappearance of a young girl there. Howie obliges, but soon finds himself very much out of his comfort zone, if not only for the fact that the locals don’t think him welcome, but that they also are practitioners of theCeltic pagan religion. Howie, a staunch Christian, is unsettled from the outset.

But it gets a lot worse for old Howie, unfortunately; we discover that there is no missing girl, and Howie was simply a poor shmuck lured to the island in order that he could besacrificedby the pagans, in the hope that after a terrible harvest last year, such a sacrifice would appease the Gods and provide them with a bountiful yield next time.

Howie is placed inside the titular wicker man, which is then set on fire; the disturbing final images are of Howie helplessly sitting inside it, as the flames creep up and prepare to devour him.

5. Envy’s A Killer… – Seven

New Line Cinema

We’ve learned not to expect joyous, happy endings from David Fincher, and Seven is without doubt the most searingly downbeat of the lot, ending with the antagonist not only defeating the protagonist on a visceral level, but an ideological, psychological one as well. When two homicide detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) begin chasing the tail of a serial killer, they soon realise that the killings each appear to relate to one of the seven deadly sins, such as a man who was force-fed to death reflecting gluttony.

At the film’s climax, a man named John Doe (Kevin Spacey) hands himself into the police, saying that he will confess to the killings if the police will escort him to the location of the last two corpses.

At the remote location, a box is delivered to the two detectives, and inside is the severed head of Pitt’s wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), who at the time had been pregnant with their child. If this represents the sixth sin, envy, then Pitt’s subsequent rage-fuelled murder of Doe is wrath, completing Doe’s “masterpiece” and in death, allowing him to beat the protagonist in every way imaginable.

4. The Really Big Fish Swims Away – The Silence Of The Lambs

Orion Pictures

Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is unquestionably a bad guy, being a cannibal and all, but it’s often easy to forget this, given how he helps the FBI to catch Buffalo Bill throughout the film, and due to Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance, is also an insidiously charming fellow.

Him and FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) develop an uneasy rapport and mutual respect, but every so often, director Jonathan Demme reminds us of Lecter’s savagery, particularly during his thrilling escape from prison, in which he ends up posing as a police officer by, yes, wearing his face.

Lecter is home free, but can’t resist calling Clarice one last time from the Bahamas, before declaring that he must dash as he is “having an old friend for dinner”. Its hilarity somewhat offsets just how disturbing this might otherwise seem, and though Clarice ended up catching and killing Buffalo Bill, the bigger, smarter fish got away at the end of the day (even if this was somewhat undermined by the inconsistent sequels).

3. And That’s Why You Don’t Trust Murderers – The Vanishing

Argos Films

The Vanishing remains one of the best and most terrifying horror films ever made because of its hopeless and shocking ending. But from minute one,George Sluizer’s masterful thriller is keen to show us something we haven’t seen before, introducing us to the villain, Raymond, from the outset, showing him going about his daily life rather than resorting to a twist reveal later on. When a young couple stops at a petrol station, the woman, Saskia, goes missing, and her boyfriend, Rex, spends the next few years frantically, obsessively searching for her.

Eventually Raymond, intrigued by Rex’s obsession, offers to explain what happened to Saskia, proclaiming that if Rex drinks some coffee he hands him, he can experience exactly what Saskia did. Overcome by his curiosity, Rex drinks it, only to take up in a coffin, buried alive just as Saskia was. Raymond then goes back to his family life, and that’s that.

Sluzier later remade the film himself with Keifer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges, a vastly inferior effort that changes the ending – the girlfriend still dies, but Rex’s character kills Raymond – and completely denies audiences the same terrifying experience of the original.\

2. The Joker Gives Batman A “Little Push” -The Dark Knight

Warner Bros.

On the face of it, it might seem that the Joker’s sentiment that”This is what happens when a unstoppable force meets an imovable object” is entirely pertinent.

But, despite the fact that he winds up locked in Arkham and sees his grand double-bomb scheme thwarted by human nature, The Joker still wins in his agenda to ruin what Batman represents. It wasn’t enough for him to corrupt the Bat, he needed his dynamic with Gotham’s people to be compromised so his symbolism no longer had any effect.

And in the accidental corruption of Harvey Dent, the Joker achieves his chaotic manifesto. Ironically for a character who takes so much pride in complex planning – hiding a chess grand-master’s brain below a clown’s exterior for perversity – the victory is incredibly fortuitous, because it comes by accident.

He thought it possible to corrupt Batman’s moral centre, when that morality is exactly what leads to Batman taking the blame for Dent’s murders. So the exact thing he seeks to destroy ends up being his unlikely weapon of choice.

1. The Greatest Trick The Devil Ever Pulled… – The Usual Suspects

Spelling Films International/Gramercy Pictures/PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

In Bryan Singer’s fiendishly clever thriller, five men are arrested in the wake of a truck hijacking, and despite their lack of guilt, decide to team up and enact a plan of revenge against the cops. However, master criminal Keyser Soze, a shadowy figure whose face is never seen – at least until the end – believes that the five men owe him once this revenge plan is carried out, and their attempt to pay him back ends up with 27 men dying on a boat.

Sound confusing? That’s sort of the point of The Usual Suspects; all of this is relayed to the viewer, and to Chaz Palminteri’s bemused federal agent, in flashback, by one of two men who survived the boat debacle; a man suffering fromcerebral palsy called Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey).

Kint’s story checks out, and so at the film’s climax, he is let go, only for Palminteri’s character to quickly discover the error of his ways; Kint has been making his story up, using various objects stuck on the wall in front of him for inspiration. An artist’s impression from the other survivor makes it clear that Kint, in fact, is Soze, but before the mistake can be corrected, Kint, proving he doesn’t have cerebral palsy, disappears without a trace. “And like that, he’s gone.”


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