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Top 10: Rooting For Murder

That Roadrunner is always so damn smug That Roadrunner is always so damn smug

We all know murder is wrong in real life, but when it comes to movies and TV, well that’s the time to indulge our dark fantasies. From Dexter to Death Wish, we’ve been there, cheering for someone to die.

Whether it’s a righteous hero’s quest for vengeance, or a protagonist in danger who is more annoying than endearing, sometimes we’re eager for someone to die. Here are 10 examples.

10. Mad Max

In post-apocalyptic Australia, marauding gangs own the roads. They’re savage and delinquent, and deserve everything they have coming at the hands of Mel Gibson’s Mad Max.

It takes a surprisingly long time for Gibson to finally flip the switch and begin the hunt for blood. Gibson seems to have a high tolerance for injustice, and chooses to take the high road until his wife and baby get run down on the highway. Then it’s a short trip from loving father to cold-blooded killer.

Throughout the flick, the audience is waiting for the moment Mad Max earns his name, and when he finally does, we’re pumping our fists as the bad guys bite it.


9. Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino never shies from bloodshed, and his audience knows what to expect heading into the theatre, but Kill Bill took the carnage to another level. Uma Thurman is a rogue member of a cadre of assassins whose entire life is stripped from her in one fell swoop when David Carradine as Bill orchestrates a massacre at Uma’s wedding rehearsal.

The remainder of the two-part epic is Uma getting buck wild on Bill and his henchman, who are responsible for the death of everyone and everything Uma loved.

From the moment the audience sees Bill put a bullet in the head of his pregnant ex-lover, we are on Uma’s side as she embarks on a killing spree worthy of an ‘80s slasher franchise. And if that weren’t enough, the business conducted by the orderly at the hospital where Uma’s character lies in a coma is so despicable that the murder can’t start soon enough to balance the scales.

8. Dexter

America's Favorite Serial KillerAmerica's Favorite Serial Killer

When Six Feet Under’s Michael C. Hall reemerged on the small screen as a serial killer in Showtime’s Dexter, it signaled the debut of the most likeable serial killer in T.V. history. Okay, so there haven’t exactly been a lot of likeable serial killers in T.V. history, but still…

Viewers may not always be prepared to condone what Dexter has done throughout the series, but for the most part he’s at least selecting appropriate victims. In fact, the first season opens with Dexter hunting down a child-murderer. Not a bad introduction to get the audience to put off judgment of a murderous protagonist.

As the series continued, we came to accept Dexter as judge, jury, and executioner more and more easily. What does that say about us?

7. Phantom Menace

Here’s our first example of a movie unintentionally causing its audience to root for the death of a character.
From the moment he spoke his first words, Jar Jar Binks was doomed to be hated. This film was a case of viewers turning on the filmmaker’s intentions, and ultimately not receiving satisfaction as Jar Jar, predictably, went on to survive the full running time of the movie.

Not only that, but the film’s principal villain, Darth Maul, was a very cool (if somewhat short) badass with that two-sided light saber and some straight-up ninja flips and whatnot. What Star Wars fan hasn’t played a version of the Phantom Menace in his imagination that involves a long, slow evisceration of Jar Jar Binks by Darth Maul?

6. Gladiator

Okay, it’s pretty easy to get us on board for this bout of retribution, which we know almost from the film’s opening is inevitable. It’s the magic formula: evil coward + the death of a brave hero’s family = audience bloodlust.

But it’s worse than that - Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t kill Russell Crowe’s family himself, he orders other people to do it. And it’s not just that Crowe’s wife and son die, it’s that they are crucified on his front lawn. How much more loudly could a movie villain be asking for it?

By the time we reach the final confrontation in the arena, there isn’t a death slow and painful enough to satisfy our deep-seated hatred of Phoenix’s character.

5. Home Alone

Depending on how old you were when this movie was released, this could be a controversial pick. But it shouldn’t be.
Home Alone made Macaulay Culkin a household name, a fact Culkin was never able to parlay into any kind of a respectable career. Maybe it was because, as time wore on, more and more people came to see Culkin’s whining and hopelessly annoying Kevin McCallister as worthy of being abandoned by his parents.

It’s perhaps pushing the boundaries of credulity to suggest that an audience might root for the death of a child, but consider the two burglars who become victims of McCauley’s Looney Toons-esque violence.

First there’s Joe Pesci. Who doesn’t like Joe Pesci? If you were asked to choose between a world without Pesci in Goodfellas or without Culkin in, say, the film version of Richie Rich, what would you choose?

And then there’s Daniel Stern as the other burglar. Stern was the voice of the adult Kevin Arnold on the long-running sitcom, the Wonder Years. Could there be a nicer guy than that? Now imagine him getting a scalding iron to the face courtesy of a tow-headed bug-eyed brat.

I rest my case.

4. Friday the 13th

Jason Voorhees was just a pre-pubescent camper with a malformed head when Camp Crystal Lake’s drug-addicted nymphomaniac counselors left him to drown. Then, after his dear mother murdered a bunch of said counselors, they beheaded her. Poor Jason.

Certainly we can forgive Jason for being upset, but maybe we ought not to go so far as to say that we’re cheering for him in the eternal duel between weirdoes who lurk in the forest and sex-addled teenagers. Then again, if you spend any amount of time observing the kind of people who hang out at Camp Crystal Lake, you might sing a different tune. They utter only ridiculous dialogue and are never concerned with anything that could be deemed remotely important.

Plus, Jason is the guy who made hockey masks scary, he never delivers corny dialogue (or any dialogue), and he’s a zombie. Naturally you’re going to root for someone that cool.

3. Death Wish

The ultimate vigilante movie, in many ways Death Wish set the benchmark for this film genre. Charles Bronson stars as a mild-mannered architect turned rampaging killer of evildoers. Once again, it’s the story of a man whose family is attacked, leaving his wife dead and his daughter mute.

This time there’s no clear motivation for the initial attack, and there are no names for Bronson to hunt down, so he has to go out and just start murdering criminals of all kinds.

At first, the audience may not necessarily be prepared to embrace Bronson’s perpetuation of the cycle of violence, but when we see the film’s closing scene with Bronson cocking his finger into an imaginary gun pointed at some hoodlums in a train station, it’s impossible not to smile.

2. Man on Fire

There’s nothing more heinous to movie audiences than bad guys messing with a little kid. Throw in Denzel Washington as that loveable cliché, the troubled badass with a heart of gold, and you can nestle into your seat for a couple hours of a violent manhunt where all the right guys get what they deserve.

This film will tug at the heart strings, too, as Dakota Fanning gradually softens Denzel Washington, who is in need of redemption after slipping into a life of alcoholic indifference. No wonder we become so defensive on the little girls’ behalf, and no wonder we rejoice so heartily to see Denzel sending corrupt police and gangsters to meet their makers.

1. Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner Cartoons

The Roadrunner is so smug and enjoys the pain he visits on poor Wile E. so much, that you almost never find someone who will tell you they prefer the bird to the coyote in this classic Warner Brothers cartoon.

Also, consider the fact the Wile E. Coyote simply needs a meal. It’s the food chain - predator eats prey – nothing sinister about that. We’ve all got to eat. And yet, for doing what comes naturally, Wile E. finds himself stuck in a perpetual cycle of futility and suffering at the hands of his would-be meal.

Viewers’ sympathy for Wile E. grows as we watch him concoct ever more ingenious methods of attempting to ensnare the dim-witted Roadrunner, who only ever escapes due to some turn of dumb luck.

For anyone who’s ever had an undeserving co-worker promoted ahead of them, or been otherwise frustrated by how little life resembles a meritocracy, watching these cartoons is like pulling teeth. Yet we watch again and again, hoping against hope that someday the universe will right itself, and Wile E. Coyote will finally be able to satisfy his grumbling stomach.


Writer for Rosebud Magazine

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 June 2011 19:30

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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