Follow TV Tropes


Diabolus Ex Machina / Live-Action Films

Go To

Diabolus ex Machinae in live-action movies.

  • 2012: Tamara and Gordon: After all the sexual tension, the hinted pairings and each of their respective moments of awesome, Gordon is pulled into the Arc's gears, and Tamara is drowned when water floods into a room she's trapped in, even though the room next door (the one with the main characters! Imagine that!) has an air pocket, and yet everyone else lives. Gordon gets forgotten quickly (did anyone actually ask about him?), though Tamara kinda saves the girl and her dog, but other than that, they are both just killed and forgotten about.
    • Just to make it worse, Tamara's death doesn't make any sense. The reason she gets trapped is that water is pouring into the ship through the stern hatch, and several bulkhead doors slide shut to contain the flooding. Given that there is only one way for water to get into the ship and the watertight bulkheads are working properly, there is no reason for her compartment to keep filling up.
    • Advertisement:
    • To say nothing of Sasha successfully landing their plane, only for the ice to collapse from underneath the front of it.
  • Parodied and subverted in Airplane!. As the plane is coming down to land, the runway lights abruptly go out. In the cockpit, the two leads look to each other, realizing how much more difficult it's going to be to land the plane, before we cut to Cuckoolander Johnny in the control tower, who had intentionally unplugged the lights. He admits he's just kidding before plugging them back in.
  • Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been a persistent figure throughout the film and successfully executes a plan to get back at Oscorp for screwing him over. However shortly before the climax he injects himself with the venom of the spider that bit Peter and it has bad effects, to say the least. He straps himself to an experimental Powered Armor then hunts down Spider-Man. After putting two and two together he realizes that Spider-Man is Peter Parker and understands that an earlier slight he suffered at the hands of Spider-Man meant that he was being slighted by Peter, someone he thought was a friend. He snatches Gwen, flies up to the top of a clock tower, and the rest more or less writes itself. Really, aside from setting up future story arcs, his sudden appearance is solely so Peter can wind up grieving the death of Gwen and rebuilding his Heroic Resolve thereafter because he had otherwise served a greatly different purpose for most of the movie.
  • Advertisement:
  • The 1978 disaster film Avalanche leads this into Narm territory. After spending 3/4ths of the movie introducing us to the various characters in the film, the titular avalanche kills a vast majority of them because they don't see it coming. Then, by sheer incompetence do many others die. The worst case is the male lead's mother. She survives the avalanche, survives the kitchen of the winter resort blowing up, survives suffering a concussion and going into shock and we're shown her being taken to a hospital. However, she doesn't survive that as the stupid driver decides to wipe out by driving down the hilly road like a madman, sending everyone except the leading lady to a fiery death. That's not counting the Disaster Dominoes caused by the first responders racing to the rescue.
  • In The Blue Lagoon, a movie based primarily around emotional and physical self-discovery, Diabolus is personified in the form of a three-year-old boy. Richard is exploring one of the islands in the archipelago while Emmeline is watching over their son. Emmeline nods off to sleep in their rowboat and while doing so, their son Paddy throws one of the oars overboard. Richard swims out from the island and retrieves the oar, but is spotted by a shark. Emmeline throws the other oar at the shark to distract it and Richard is forced to abandon the other one to escape, and their boat is swept out to sea. To make matters worse, Paddy has gotten his hands on a bunch of dead-and-berries, swallowing a handful before his parents stop him. With a dying baby and no hope of rescue, Richard and Emmeline eat the remaining berries...barely hours before a ship with Richard's father (Emmeline's uncle), who had been searching for them for several years, happens upon their boat.
  • Advertisement:
  • Subverted in Cabin Fever, in that the one guy who apparently survives is the Jerkass, and just as you're thinking, "You mean the asshole lived?" he gets cut in half by machine gun fire.
  • A variation happens at the end of Cabin In The Woods. Every sacrificial ritual in the world is thwarted (hell, in the Japanese scenario nobody dies.) Unfortunately, because at least one ritual needs to succeed to stop the Ancient Ones from destroying the world, exactly that happens. From the viewer's perspective there's way more context, and the surviving main characters choose to let the world end, but from the perspective of every other failed ritual, they succeeded at stopping the main threat only to get flattened by an out-of-nowhere Outside-Context Villain.
  • Carlito's Way. The producers and bigwigs actually allow the main character Charlie Brigante to die as he's about to escape to paradise. In the commentary, the filmmakers joke about whether or not to shoot the "Bullet Proof Vest Scene" before even showing the current cut to their higher-ups for approval.
  • City of Angels. Less than a day after a fallen angel has given up his immortality to be with the mortal woman he's fallen in love with, she's inexplicably run over by a truck driven by the Diabolus Ex Machina. One might suspect his fellow angels of having summoned it in order to teach him a lesson...
  • Averted by Clerks, which originally ended with a robber killing Dante, but after the distributor complained that this was pointlessly violent and tragic, the scene was removed.
  • Cloverfield. The three surviving protagonists get on an evac helicopter headed out of New York before a massive bombing run to obliterate the beastie, but Clovie takes down the copter, eats Hud, and forces the last two to take shelter under a bridge, awaiting annihilation in the impending bombing run.
  • The Canadian Cube horror film series:
    • The ending of the first Cube: The female lead, one of two sympathetic characters in the whole movie, evades every trap, figures out how to escape, is right on the threshold of getting out... and is killed by the villain, who is Not Quite Dead. She dies, the villain dies, and only the mentally deficient guy escapes. To make this worse, the probability of the villain to be able to get to her is about 20,000 to 1.
    • Cube 2: Hypercube. After surviving many perils, the heroine, who turns up to be a special agent, manages to escape the Hypercube and return to the normal world... where her superior has her summarily shot in the back of the head for no apparent reason. The worst is that she obviously knows what's coming, but merely closes her eyes instead of trying anything.
  • In the last minute of The Cube, the man finds out that his escape was an illusion and he's still in the cube.
  • The allied bombing raid at the end of Das Boot. Sure, it was hardly an Ass Pull, what with World War II going on, but it's still just mean as hell.
  • In Dawn of the Dead (2004) at the end of the movie less than half of the characters make it to the docks and escape in a boat. In the credits, they reach an island and are swarmed upon by a horde of zombies with their fates left unknown.
  • The Devil Inside had a particularly infamous example. The three remaining protagonists, one of whom is possessed by a demon, have escaped the hospital the demon was tearing up in their van. Suddenly, the demon jumps into the body of the driver and forces him to swerve into the path of an oncoming truck, killing all three. The end.
  • In the 1974 car-chase film Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, just as the protagonists escape from the police and are celebrating their victory, they are suddenly killed when they randomly collide with a freight train. The credits roll over pictures of the burning car.
  • Dumb and Dumber plays this for laughs, since Jim Carrey himself came up with the idea to prove that Harry and Lloyd are dumb enough to waste such a golden opportunity. The girl the duo went halfway across the country to return a briefcase to turns out to be married, and in the final scene, when they encounter a bus full of swimsuit models looking for a pair of assistants to travel with them and oil them up for photo sessions, they (being idiots) direct them to the nearest town.
    Lloyd: "Do you realize what you've done!" [runs off and flags down the bus] "You'll have to excuse my friend. He's a little slow. The town is back that way."
  • The ending of Easy Rider was already on its way to being interpreted as a Downer Ending, with Fonda telling Hopper that, despite their financial success, they failed at their goals from a moral and spiritual standpoint. But even that was too ambiguous, so the movie sent a couple of truckers with a shotgun to shoot them both dead for barely any good reason other than opportunity. Closure!
  • Adam Sandler delivers this on himself in the middle of Eight Crazy Nights, by explaining his hate for the holidays with a flashback where a younger version of himself sparks a Miracle Rally for his basketball team. They win the game, but younger Sandler finds out that his parents were absent because they were too busy being dead. The game was played during Hanukkah, hence his holiday hate.
  • Epic Movie parodies this in one of its few actually funny jokes by having a waterwheel run over the orphans just before the start of the closing credits, and having "Borat" making an observation. Unfortunately, it ruins it by him turning around and slapping his almost bare butt.
  • Evil Dead (2013) has Diabolus coming around in the remake. You really thought both David and Mia would end up surviving the ordeal, do you? Well, then get a Senseless Stupid Sacrifice from David which actually makes things WORSE.
  • The Final Destination movies are built around Diabolus hunting down people who escaped his clutches the first time around and dispatching them in a variety of unpleasant and unlikely ways.
    • Final Destination 5 is the most egregious example though. A new rule introduced in the film is that if a survivor kills someone, they will live as long as the person they killed would've. And by the end, Nathan has killed a man by accident, and Sam killed Peter, who had killed Agent Bloc, in self defense. But then it turns out that Sam and Molly are boarding Flight 180 from the first film, which proceeds to first tear apart (killing Molly), then explode just as it did in the first film, with no explanation given for why they're dying now (especially since Molly appeared to be the intended target, and she was never a survivor). And down below, Nathan learns that the man he killed had a fatal disease that would have killed him in days (something never hinted at before), and proceeds to get crushed by falling debris.
  • Flight: In order to make sure that Denzel Washington's character is forced to pay for his crime (even if he might have managed to detox all on his own), the door to the next hotel room over just so happens to be unlocked (actually, locked open), and the balcony open so that the wind can make the door 'knock' until Denzel notices and decides to check it out and thus find a pile of liquor.
  • Diabolus' fickle finger can also be detected in the end of Forrest Gump; simple Forrest has finally achieved all he ever wanted in winning the heart of his troubled childhood sweetheart Jenny, who herself has finally fallen in love with a good man who loves her completely and unconditionally and can give her a good life... so Diabolus gives her a terminal illness. She's perfectly fine at the end of the book, however, though this is remedied in the sequel 'Gump and Co.'
  • The Half-Breed has some of the local Native Americans setting fire to the local forest because...well, for no damn reason. This sets up the climactic forest fire in which Lo the half-white, half-native protagonist rescues Love Interest Teresa but fails to rescue his evil father.
  • Halloween:
  • Haywire has a particularly bizarre one where, in a movie that otherwise strives for realism, the heroine manages to outmanoeuvre her opponents in a car chase only for the car to crash anyway because a freaking deer jumped into it.
  • Impostor revolves around a man trying to prove that he's not an alien-created replicant of himself with a bomb in his chest. At the climax of the movie, the man and his wife find the alien crash site where he was allegedly killed, and discovers his wife's body inside the spaceship, proving that his wife was the replicant instead. Then suddenly, in the last few minutes, the authorities that were chasing him through the whole movie discover the man's body as well, proving that he was also a replicant, and the man promptly explodes and kills everyone in the area.
  • Even James Bond is not safe from this demonic influence — in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Blofeld drops by to ensure that Bond's marriage becomes a SHORT one. Director Peter Hunt said that originally the film was to end with the wedding and then the next would start with the assassination and follow from there. However since George Lazenby gave up doing the sequels, it wound up in OHMSS. The following movie, Diamonds Are Forever, opens with Bond searching for Blofeld, presumably to avenge the ruined marriage. At the beginning of For Your Eyes Only, Bond is visiting his wife's grave, complete with "We have all the time in the world." MI6 pick him up by helicopter, except it's remote controlled by... a bald man with a cat, who tortures Bond the way he tortured Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.
  • If you think a bit more about Knowing, the survivors from the plane crash and later subway accident weren't so lucky after all. For those who haven't seen the movie, the sun incinerates Earth and all life on it a few days later. Bonus points for the whole world learning about its upcoming inevitable demise with several hours to spare...
  • A common criticism of the Bittersweet Ending to La La Land, where Mia and Sebastian break up and don't get back together again, despite affirming that they'll always love each other, and Mia ends up having a child with someone else. Though the director was clearly trying to go for a more realistic and less "fairy tale" ending, many felt that it didn't gel with the rest of the film, which wasn't averse to standard Hollywood magic tropes (such as an extremely famous casting director happening to be one of the few people at Mia's one-woman show and immediately gaining such an interest in her that she's willing to give her a good part in an upcoming big picture). Many were similarly unconvinced at the final breakup, finding it contrived, unnecessary drama, and a rather hackneyed attempt at being subversive when so much of the rest of the movie had no trouble garnering acclaim when it was typical fanciful Hollywood magic, and were unconvinced that the fantasy sequence couldn't have just been the true end of the film, or Mia and Sebastian getting back together when their careers have settled more instead of Mia apparently moving on immediately to another man and having a baby when one of the main reasons they broke up in the first place was that she could focus on her career.
  • At the end of the pre-Bond Daniel Craig vehicle Layer Cake, the protagonist has killed his treacherous boss, gotten the Serbian head-chopping war criminal off his back, made a pretty penny double-crossing the wealthy crime-lord-turned-tycoon, established his friends as London's new crime lords, gotten the girl, and plans to retire to a life of leisure. Then he walks out of the club and is immediately shot dead by a minor character with no previously shown propensity for violence.
  • Toward the end of the Eddie Murphy - Martin Lawrence movie Life, the two find out that the warden's hunting friend is the same corrupt, racist sheriff who had them sentenced to life in prison, and the warden basically declares that he screwed them over and "gave the state of Mississippi 50 years of free labor" which the warden overheard and literally shot him out of disgust. The warden then tells them that he'll sign the papers to release them the next day. That night he died on the toilet before he could sign the papers the next day.
  • The Life of Oharu is all about the ridiculous Trauma Conga Line that Oharu endures on her way from noblewoman to concubine to courtesan to domestic servant to Streetwalker to homeless beggar. Most of the stops along the way are caused by the cruelty and patriarchy of late 17th-century Japan. But one stands out as a Diabolus Ex Machina: just when it seems she's found a measure of happiness and security as the wife of a fan merchant, her husband is murdered, out of nowhere, leaving her with nothing when his family takes the business.
  • In both Love Affair and its remake An Affair to Remember, the two lovers are set to reunite atop the Empire State Building after six months apart. They're going to get married, and life will no doubt be blissfully happy—until the woman is hit by a car and paralyzed as she's crossing the street in front of the Empire State Building, thus missing the rendezvous. And the man didn't get any info on how to contact her after they left the trans-Atlantic ship six months before. Bummer.
  • The Film of the Book for Stephen King's The Mist takes this all the way into Deus Angst Machina territory.
  • At the end of the 50s B-Movie, The Mole People, Love Interest Adad inexplicably runs back towards the cave entrance during an earth tremor and ends up getting crushed by a collapsing pillar. It turns out this massive Idiot Ball moment was the result of Executive Meddling: Studio execs forced them to kill off Adad because they thought Adad and Dr. Patrick (played by John Agar) would constitute a "mixed marriage" and wanted to avoid encouraging "miscegenation." The woman on the movie poster is Adad, by the way.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail ends with our heroes assembling an army to fight the dastardly French and reclaim the Grail once and for all. Just as the army begins its assault, modern-day police vans hove into view and arrest everybody, including the cameraman, thus ending the film.
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968), in which the only survivor of the zombie attack is shot on sight by the rescue party. Echoed in the end of Dead Men Walking, where the sole survivor makes it out of the zombie-filled prison, only to be shot dead by one of the snipers sent to keep the zombies from escaping.
  • North Dallas 40: Long before the demons stuffed Carney and Anderson's kicks (which see below), it had Dallas bungling the snap on the point-after after we hear the commentator talk of the kicker being called "Mr. Automatic" for having successfully converted several consecutive previous attempts, thus preventing Nick Nolte's last-gasp TD from tying the game. New Orleans Saints fans might find that last bit familiar... As might Tony Romo (who co-incidentally ALSO played for the real Dallas on his fateful play).
  • Pandora's Box ends with Lulu, The Vamp who's been manipulating men throughout the movie, turning to prostitution—and meeting Jack the Ripper.
  • Pay It Forward, both infamously and egregiously. That came out of nowhere. AND served NO point. Except to ruin any good feelings you had.
  • The Phantasm sequels all end with the heroes defeating the Tall Man, only for him to come back and devastate them. In the fourth film, he kills Mike, one of the franchise's two leads... a death followed by a flashback to Mike as a kid, with no idea what's coming.
  • The ending of Pitch Black. The out-of-nowhere alien grabs the female lead just as she's about to escape. This is played as somewhat karmic, since she killed some people to save herself and the ship. To atone, she refuses to leave without saving someone, which ultimately gets her killed.
  • Planet of the Apes:
    • Planet of the Apes (2001): Leo spends the entire movie trying to escape and then stop General Thade before returning to his own time, only to find that Thade has somehow taken over Planet Earth in his absence.
    • In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the airborne viral agent Caesar used to make the apes smart is lethal to humans, and is spreading across the world.
  • The Sean Penn-helmed The Pledge had a particularly brutal example of this, and it also proves that you can make a Downer Ending out of the death of the antagonist. The child-murderer being pursued by Jack Nicholson's character dies in a fiery car wreck, drawing his full share of karma down on his head but ensuring that Jack never fulfills his titular pledge to find him, meaning that all he's risked in the movie, including winning the trust of the mother of the killer's next planned victim, is for nothing (other than the fact that the killer never makes his next hit). We last see Jack's character sitting in front of the rural gas station he owns, rapidly fading into self-hatred and senility.
  • The Butch storyline in Pulp Fiction arguably features a couple of these. Just as Butch is able to retrieve his heirloom watch after shooting Vincent in his apartment and is driving out of town, he just happens to come across his rival, Marcellus Wallace, just randomly crossing the street in front of him and who manages to recognize Butch. Things are further complicated after Butch hits Marcellus with his car, they get into a gun fight, and he seeks refuge in a pawn shop, not knowing that it's run by a couple of sadistic Neo-nazis who kidnap both him and Marcellus with the intention of sodomizing both of them. You could also argue that the Diabolus Ex Machina with Butch's complete chance encounter with Marcellus manages to ultimately be a Deus Ex Machina of sorts in the end, as Butch's decision to rescue Marcellus from Zed's crew ultimately results in Marcellus calling off his hit on Butch.
  • Remember Me had Robert Pattinson, playing the angsty Tyler, finally bonding with his father. While Tyler is waiting in his father's office, it seems everything will be fine... until he gets killed in the September 11 attacks in said office.
  • The Saw series of movies is chock full of Diaboli ex Machina, some coming within seconds of the protagonist thinking he's found a way out of the nightmare.
    • The third movie is particularly sadistic, but actually gives an explanation for it. The traps in the movie weren't actually designed by Jigsaw. They were designed by his ridiculously Ax-Crazy apprentice, Amanda, whose philosophy differed from Jiggy's in that she thought the people were irredeemable and explicitly deserved an unpleasant death. She catches a bullet to the neck.
    • The ending of Saw VI also counts: William, the health insurance exec protagonist has been put through utter hell and has apparently learned his lesson about the true implications of deciding who lives and who dies based on greed and advances to the final game...and finds himself face to face with the wife and son of a man who died because William cancelled his coverage. And it's their game, not his. Cue the son flipping a switch which injects William with gallons of acid.
  • Scream (1996): Tatum manages to really hold her own against the killer when her time seems to have come. She manages to knock him on his ass twice, and puts up the best fight so far. One might think she could escape to warn Sidn- wait why is she crawling through the cat flap?
  • In Screamers, the captain survives the Late to the Tragedy, survives the Twist Ending, and makes it to the Emergency Evacuation Pod in time to make it off the planet alive, only to take a cyborg teddy bear along with him for the ride home.
  • One particular death (Book's) in Serenity is a downer, especially since we never do get to learn what the hell his deal was (at least until the comic book), but another Wash's death falls right into this. He successfully manages to land Serenity from what is essentially a dead fall, and once he does and pauses to celebrate, his chest is pierced by a random Reaver harpoon. Joss Whedon mentions that he wanted to break the appearance of Plot Armor on the rest of the characters for the finale, and that the cockpit is the only place the Reavers could effectively shoot. In fact, the next shot missed Mal and Zoe by a few inches. So many fans will never forgive Joss for this.
  • The Suspect builds up one of the main characters - a small-town sheriff - to be NOT the stereotypical racist asshole seen in other towns...only to have him turn out to actually be racist AND criminally evil, just to excuse a final plot twist - betraying and killing an innocent man.
  • Vertigo. Just as it seems Earn Your Happy Ending ensued, a nun enters, scaring Judy who falls to her death.
  • The Wages of Fear has the only surviving driver from the deadly nitroglycerine convoy plunging to his death on his way home for no readily apparent reason.
  • Walk Hard's Dewey Cox dies 3 minutes after his last performance.
  • Parodied in Wayne's World. Just as everything is going smoothly, a series of increasingly unlikely disasters occur, culminating in an electrical fire that destroys Wayne's house and kills Garth while the slimeball villain gets the girl. Fortunately, Wayne and Garth turn out to have other ideas...
  • The film Whoops Apocalypse! follows a desperate attempt to stop a nuclear war, which would have succeeded were it not for a hypnotist routine being disturbed - a navy officer is programmed to believe there is a large fire in progress when the hypnotist snaps his fingers (desperately yelling 'FIRE!'). Owing to an unfortunate intervention, this is never undone. When the officer receives the good news that the missiles don't have to be fired, he is so relieved that he doesn't respond to the questions being asked - leading to somebody snapping their fingers to get his attention.
  • The French film Z does this with the ending titles. The bad guys have been caught and are all going to jail, the heroes have won out, freedom is on the march again in Greece, and then we get a news broadcaster discussing how the bad guys all got off light, some of the good guys went to jail for nothing, and, instead of the credits, ending titles listing all the things the military junta banned afterwards in Greece: "long hair on males; mini-skirts; Sophocles; Tolstoy; Euripedes; smashing glasses after drinking toasts; labor strikes; Aristophanes; Ionesco; Sartre; Albee; Pinter; freedom of the press; sociology; Beckett; Dostoyevsky; modern music; popular music; the new mathematics; and the letter "Z", which in ancient Greek means "He is alive!" The book is based on Real Life, and this more or less how things actually ended for Greece after WWII.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: