Discussion: Should The Bad Guys Win More Often?

In books and movies, the good guys usually win…but not always.

I was recently listening to a podcast and the two hosts were discussing how in most books, movies, and TV shows, there is a satisfying, if not happy, ending.

They tried to think of a couple of examples where the bad guy wins and really only came up with Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War — which they and I both agree may not count, seeing as that wasn’t the end of that story. The next movie, Avengers: Endgame, resolved a lot of the issues, closed out MCU’s phase 3, and while it ultimately doesn’t shy away from sad moments, it did undo Thanos’s snap (though not without consequences).

Oh man, sorry for the tangent there. I really love superhero movies and have seen every Marvel movie and TV show (and most of DC’s, too).

That discussion really made me think.

My initial response was that most movies and books and shows end happily because it is meant as an escape. We watch movies and shows and read books (usually) to escape into a story. To get lost in a new world. Sometimes we read and watch to learn or to reflect, but there is a reason fiction is vastly more popular.

We read and watch to escape — especially when you think about how, in real life, the bad guys DO often win.

The rich get richer. The politicians care more for themselves than for their constituents’ best interests (see: gerrymandering). Big pharma gets away with charging way too much for lifesaving medications. The oil companies and mine owners get away with hurting the planet in the race for ever more money. The bullies often get away with making us feel like crap. The person who was assaulted doesn’t usually get justice. The people in authority usually don’t seem to be held accountable. Innocent people are sent to prison. Innocent people die in terrible ways.

To be fair, there have been some major movies where the bad guy wins (SPOILERS).

Here is a list of 35 of them [this is not a comprehensive list of every movie where the bad guy(s) win]:

  • Alien: Covenant (2017)
  • The Neon Demon (2016)
  • Creep (2014)
  • Gone Girl (2014)
  • Watchmen (2009)
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005)
  • Saw (2004)
  • Matchstick Men (2003)
  • Jeepers Creepers (2001)
  • Momento (2000)
  • Arlington Road (1999)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • Storm of the Century (1999)
  • The Green Mile (1999)
  • Fallen (1998)
  • Primal Fear (1996)
  • The Crucible (1996)
  • Se7en (1995)
  • 12 Monkeys (1995)
  • The Usual Suspects (1995)
  • Basic Instinct (1992)
  • The Lawnmower Man (1992)
  • Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • The Vanishing (1988)
  • Brazil (1985)
  • Body Heat (1981)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • The Omen (1976)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • The Wicker Man (1973)
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  • Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

Here are the two lists where I got most of these movies from: Vulture and IMDb.

That is 35 movies out of the last 55 years. Yes, it has been 55 years since 1966. Sorry about that.

But overwhelmingly, most fictional stories have happier endings.

And to me, that makes perfect sense.

When I read a book or watch something, I am looking to be entertained. Sure, I’ve cried in movies and while watching shows and reading books. I want to feel something. Not necessarily terrified, but I want to be invested in the characters — meaning I want to see them as real people. And real people annoy you, make you laugh, cry sometimes, have tough times, and good ones.

And in the end, most of the time, there is some sort of satisfying conclusion where everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow and I can close the cover or leave the theater smiling.

My favorite part of a good book is the epilogue.

I love that even though the story is over, I get a tiny glimpse into what happens after the ‘happily ever after.’

Same with movies based on true stories — my favorite part is at the end when they usually show pictures and give a couple of sentences about what those people went on to do in real life. The next part of their stories. One memorable example is the movie Hidden Figures.

What do you think about great movies, TV shows, and books? Should the bad guys/villains win more often?

While I think it makes for an extremely interesting storyline and maybe even more complex, I maintain that I read and watch MOSTLY for entertainment and escapism. I WANT the good guys to win…maybe partially because we can’t always win in real life and it’s easy to get lost in the maelstrom of bad news.

Check out my book Concept to Conclusion: How to Write a Book and learn everything you need to know to conceive of, outline, write, publish, and market a book! Or check out my newest release, an anxiety journal: But…what if? A Journal For Anxious People.

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Entrepreneur, writer, editor, book coach, cat lover, weirdo, optimist. Author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.” & “Concept to Conclusion.” jyssicaschwartz.com

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