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.
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.
The Heroic Sacrifice:
In Wanted, our protagonist is a regular schmuck named Wesley who is inducted into a secret order of evil assassins, except they're not really evil because they only kill people who are destined to have a negative impact on humanity. The names of these people are revealed to the assassins by their magical Loom of Fate. They are sworn to obey what the magical assassination assignment machine says.
None of this is as weird as hearing Morgan Freeman say "motherfucker."
But the twist (spoiler!) is that at the end it turns out they really are evil, since their leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), has been faking the names that come up on the Loom for years and making money from these hits. When our hero reveals this treachery to the assassins, Sloan saves himself by claiming that all their names came up on the "to be assassinated because they're evil" list. He says that this means they have to either A) obey the machine and kill themselves or B) kill Wesley and pretend none of this happened.
Most of them seem to favor the latter option.
However, Sloan wasn't counting on Fox (Angelina Jolie) doing the honorable thing and actually following the code by shooting a single bullet that arcs around the room, heroically killing all the assassins ... including herself. We'll assume there were at least two more plot twists after this, because as soon as Jolie was out of this movie, so were we.
Wait a Second ...
So, she kills herself and all of her co-workers because Morgan Freeman said the magical machine said it had to be done. But wasn't she in the room just then when Sloan was exposed as a lying douchebag? More specifically, one who lies about the results of the Loom of Destiny? What makes her (or the other assassins, for that matter) think that he isn't also lying about the awfully convenient fact that all their names came up on the Loom?
Granted, it's a little hard to pay attention to anything with Jolie around, but what's her excuse?
The only evidence Sloan can produce to back up his claim is a piece of paper with each of the assassins' names on it. All this proves is that he had access to a printer. It would have been about as hard to fake as a high school hall pass.
"Why is this on the back of a cafeteria menu?"
Yet Jolie's character just barely gives the paper a once-over before killing absolutely everyone and herself, because apparently doing anything at all to double-check was just way too much work compared to trusting the guy who, as she just found out, had been tricking her to kill innocent people for years.
In short, she just found out someone she trusted has been manipulating her, and the first thing she does is take his word that she and all of her co-workers have to die. For a professional assassin, she's an awfully trusting soul.
The Heroic Sacrifice:
Despite being hailed as "the feel-good film of the decade" by its own poster, some pretty dark shit goes down in Slumdog Millionaire. For example, at the end of the movie, the protagonist's brother, Salim, decides to stop being a dickhead for once and help out his bro, which involves getting himself killed in a bathtub filled with money.
Which frankly looks like a better game show than Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
Jamal, the eponymous slumdog millionaire (spoilers), is in love with Latika, aka that girl he only knew for a few days several years ago. Problem is, Latika has been passed around from gangster to gangster since she was a girl, finally ending up with the one that Salim works for. Seeing his brother answering trivia questions on TV causes Salim to have a change of heart, so he lets Latika go free, despite knowing that this will undoubtedly piss off his boss.
As Latika escapes, Salim makes himself a nice comfy cash bath, lies down inside and shoots the gang leader when he bursts through the door before being pumped full of lead himself.
Just to make extra sure it was completely unusable to anyone, he also peed inside.
Wait a Second ...
While all that "dying in dirty money" stuff provided a nifty visual and moral counterpoint to Jamal's game show victory, there's just one problem: It makes no goddamn sense. Specifically, why couldn't Salim have hot-stepped it out of there alongside Latika?
We'd have been fine with the sacrifice if it had actually helped the girl get away -- he's sacrificing his own life to give her every possible chance. But it doesn't. Unlike her, he was a member of the gang, which should have given him much more freedom to come and go as he pleased -- she has a much better chance of getting out of there if he goes along. Instead, he sends her out without knowing if she's going be stopped at the door by another gangster and horribly punished for trying to escape. Nice one, dude.
Some might say that Salim had to stay so he could kill the gang leader and make sure he didn't go after Jamal and Latika, but we submit that lying in a bathtub (with money or otherwise) is not the most efficient way to kill someone -- unless there's a deleted scene where he spiked his drink with a laxative, Salim had no way of knowing that the leader would be the first to go into the bathroom.
"Whoops, too late."
Seriously, what was Salim going to say if someone else went into the bathroom? "Don't mind me, I'm waiting for someone else"? Salim would have likely been shot just for being a weirdo, and the boss would have survived to send someone after his brother and Latika ... which might still happen with the leader dead, seeing how most of the gang was very much alive at the end of the movie.
Fortunately, the killers were distracted when they had to join the impromptu dance number.
So either Salim did a pretty shitty job at helping his brother, or he simply never stopped being a dick.