There's no easier way to make a movie character likeable than by having him heroically sacrifice his own life. Whether it's someone who's been an asshole throughout the movie or just a guy we've barely seen, a brave death always leaves a good impression on the audience ... as long as you don't stop to think about what you just saw, because it turns out that many times, "brave" is actually just "stupid."
Once again, we take a look at the most easily avoidable "heroic" deaths in cinema, and once again we warn you that this article is full of spoilers.
5Donnie Darko -- Donnie Darko
The Heroic Sacrifice:
Contrary to what countless stoners will tell you, the plot of Donnie Darko isn't really that complicated. Here's a quick recap of the entire movie:
A. Donnie narrowly avoids being killed by a jet engine that falls on his bedroom.
B. Donnie does weird shit for a couple of weeks, indirectly causing terrible things to happen, including getting some people killed (or directly, in the case of the guy he shoots in the face).
C. Donnie goes back in time and lets himself be crushed by the jet engine, thereby preventing all the deaths he caused.
See? Perfectly simple.
It's just a reversal of It's a Wonderful Life, where instead of the main character deciding to live because the community needs him, the character decides to die because the community is better off without him.
But how did Donnie cause people to die? Well, at one point he gets pissed off at a motivational speaker and burns down his house, accidentally revealing a massive kiddie porn stash there. The guy is arrested, which leaves Donnie's little sister without a chaperone for her dance competition in another city -- because of Donnie, his mother is forced to go along as the chaperone, and on the flight back, the plane is caught in a storm and crashes, presumably killing everyone on board.
Before that, Donnie hooks up with the new girl in school and one night convinces her to go to the house of a crazy old lady -- once there, the girlfriend is knocked out by bullies and run over by a car. She dies, and a distraught Donnie shoots the teenage-driver-in-a-bunny-costume, killing him, too.
So, saddened by all of this horror, Donnie manages to travel back in time to the beginning of the movie and decides to just stay in bed and let the jet engine crush him, saving everyone else. The final scenes indicate that, with Donnie out of the way, everyone will live.
Frank goes on to a successful career as a massage artist.
Wait a Second ...
Or, here's another idea: How about not being crushed by the engine and simply using the knowledge gained in the "future" to prevent those deaths? Because we're not sure that dying fixes everything.
For example, if Donnie never burns down the motivational speaker's house, that means his kiddie porn stash is never discovered and he continues amassing his collection and working with children. If Donnie decides to use his time travel as a do-over instead of a suicide, a quick anonymous call to the cops could have taken care of that.
This might have been avoided completely if he'd taken Donnie skydiving.
And then there's the horrifying fact that, regardless of whatever nonsense the crappy knock-off sequel was about, Donnie's little sister is still going to die. Sure, he saved his mother from chaperoning the dance team, but his sister is still going with the original chaperone (kiddie porn guy's #1 fan) and dying in the plane crash. Let's say Donnie's death changes the plans and the sister doesn't go: There's still a plane full of little girls who'll die. Maybe Donnie could have prevented that or maybe not, but he could have at least tried.
And finally, he could have warned his girlfriend that her mom was going to get kidnapped by her crazy ex-husband, which is never fun, and let's not even go into the Smurfs debate between Donnie's friends that will tragically go unfinished. Basically what we're saying here is that paranoid schizophrenics make really bad decisions.