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Fate Worse Than Death / Live-Action Films

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  • In 12 Years a Slave, Robert dies on the ship down to New Orleans and his body is unceremoniously dumped overboard. Another slave points out to Northup that he is the lucky one.
  • The room in 1408 is a Psychological Torment Zone that tortures its guests for an hour with no chance of escape, and when the hour ends? It starts all over again, unless the guests choose to "take advantage of [the room's] express checkout system".
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  • Victims of the Eldritch Abomination that lives in the tunnel in Absentia suffer this. It keeps them alive for years, feeding them raw animal parts (bones and all), while it tortures them to the point of desperate insanity.
  • In Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet, The Gardener plans a great revenge on his old Professor. His main minion is promised to get Kvetuska, the Professor's beautiful granddaughter, and is allowed to do whatever he wants with her. He says he's going to prepare for her such a fate that is worse than death for a chaste woman like her. He plans to have his way with her, and then sell her to a South American brothel.
  • Russian film, Alexander Nevsky, gives this to the the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order and sever other captured Teutonic knights. Being defeated, and held by their enemies for ransom is certainly a great humiliation.
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  • At the end of the 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland (2010), the Knave of Hearts is sent into exile along with the Queen of Hearts. Rather than be exiled with the most hated woman in the world, he tries to kill her, but fails. He then begs the protagonists to kill him, but they refused his pleas. He eventually gets his wish in the sequel, as he is last seen as a corpse with a dagger embedded on his chest.
  • In An American Werewolf in London, David's many victims are doomed to prowl the earth in limbo, their corpses rotting away until the werewolf's bloodline is destroyed.
  • In The Beastmaster the Big Bad turned his political enemies into mindless zombies. Also, the lizardguys that ate people.
  • In Beetlejuice, Limbo is described as "Death for the dead." It happens to ghosts who are exorcised by the living. And considering how messed-up regular dead people looked already...
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  • The Black Stork is a pro-eugenics film from 1917 that advocates the Mercy Kill of disabled infants. Footage of the "defectives" who inhabit institutions is shown, with normal characters lamenting their existence and wishing they could be liberated from their "sentence."
  • The Hulu adaptation of Clive Barker's Books of Blood features several such horrors.
    • Con Artist Simon exploits a grieving researcher by pretending to channel her dead son, becoming her lover and using her to con wealthy investors. When his lies are exposed, Mary locks him her son's bedroom and allows the spirits of the Dead to have their way with him. He is left covered completely in bloody carvings, becoming the titular "Book of Blood" with the stories of the dead continuously carved into his flesh.
    • A new story was created for the film, following a tormented college student named Jeanna. After an incident at school, she had a mental breakdown and suffers from an extreme aversion to sound. She refuses to take her medication, running away from home while unable to determine what is real and what is a result of her broken mind. Jeanna ends up at a Bed & Breakfast run by an elderly couple, with the wife immediately taking Jeanna under her wing and offering emotional support. But Jeanna is tormented by strange noises, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and a roach infestation in the house. The couple are actually using the b&b as a front for a horrific operation — kidnapping their guests, and either killing them as "weeds" or adding them to the "garden". The lucky ones are simply killed, while their living victims are drugged, mutilated to remove their eyes and tongues, and then placed into the walls and floors of the house. The couple describe having done to this their own daughter and grandchildren, to prevent her from leaving them. Jeanna initially escapes this fate, but by the end decides to return to the couple and become part of their "garden" with her eyes and ears removed.
  • Made for TV movies Buried Alive did this to the spouses who tried to killed off husband/wife by burying them alive. In the first movie, the husband tricks his treacherous wife into going into a crawl space where the body of her accomplice is and surrounded by the money she tried to get from his death. He then nails her in as buries her completely with no way out. The second movie, the spouse that was nearly murdered gets revenge on her former husband and his accomplice by trapping them in a boat and scuttling it with them still inside. The ending showing they're still alive as the boat lies at the bottom of the ocean.
  • The Burning: Explaining Cropsy's condition to a new doctor, the nurse tells him that "It's a miracle he's still alive. Was me, I'd prefer to be dead. No way I'd want to be like this freak. He's a monster, man."
  • Played with in the movie Clue:
    Professor Plum: What are you afraid of, a fate worse than death?
    Mrs. Peacock: No, just death, isn't that enough?
  • Contact. Jodie Foster's character is given a Cyanide Pill before entering the Faster-Than-Light Travel machine, not only in case she's marooned light years from home, but also in case of a fate that they can't possibly predict.
    "There are a thousand reasons we can think of why you should have this thing with you, but mostly it's for the reasons we can't think of."
  • By the end of Cube Zero, staying in or around the cube becomes this to Wynn. He actually tries to get himself executed by making it clear that he chooses death over the cube, but he doesn't get a choice in the matter - he already waived this right a long time ago, which he simply doesn't remember. He's lobotomized by the villains and thrown back in.
  • Invoked in The Dark Knight Rises.
    Batman: Why didn't you just... kill me?
    Bane: You don't fear death. You welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.
  • In Death Becomes Her, there exists a magic potion that restores a drinker's youth and makes them immortal...but not invulnerable. Fatal injuries will kill the body but the person will still live, now trapped in an injured and decaying frame forever. This ends up being the fate of both Helen and Madeline, former worst enemies who are now doomed to rely on one another to repair each other's decaying bodies. Even when they fall down the stairs and break into several pieces, their severed heads lie next to each other, and talk about where they parked the car.
  • What the creatures in Deep Rising do to their "food". Their victims are swallowed up, have their liquids effectively drained and whatever's left of the body being spit back out. Oh, and did we mention that you're still alive when you get spit out? Dying afterwards is a mercy.
  • Technically, "A Fate Worse than Getting Your Dick Chopped Off and then Being Killed", in Django Unchained Stephen explains Django's punishment in this way. Instead of just castrating him and then torturing him to death, Stephen suggests that they sell him to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company where he will do backbreaking mining work until his back gives out at which point they'll hit him in the head with a sledgehammer and throw his body down a hole.
  • In Downfall, Hitler orders General Weidling's execution because he is thought to have moved his command post to the West. After his attempt to solve the misunderstanding, Hitler was impressed and appointed Weidling as the commander of the defense of Berlin.
    Weidling: "I'd have preferred to be shot!"
  • Invoked in The Duellists, where General Feraud is left alive by his arch-enemy at the end of their final duel, so he can live with the shame of defeat instead.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    Damodar: Do not let them escape or you will suffer a fate far worse than that which hath been inflicted upon me.
  • In Easy A, Micah's forced exile to his religious grandparents in Florida after its revealed that he contracted Chlamydia is suggested to be that.
    Olive: "And if there's one thing worse than Chlamydia, it's Florida."
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse alludes to this trope in its original meaning of rape. After a servant girl is raped off screen, her mother says "My little girl longs to die."
  • Foxy Brown, after putting a bullet through a few henchmen and dropping the main antagonist to the ground with another shot: "Death is too easy for you, bitch! I want you to suffer!" Cue anguished cry.
  • Lampshaded in Gamer with a very somber quip. In the Hellhole Prison where Kable is locked up, one of the inmates completely loses it and tears out his own throat while no one bothers to stop him. When the guards arrive to question what happened, an old con wearily notes "looks like he escaped".
  • Get Out (2017). Although it's arguably not as bad as some of the other examples of this trope, the consciousnesses of the black hosts are in this state, forced to see and hear everything that's happening while their bodies are being controlled by someone else, and judging by their reactions while gaining temporary control, they're not happy about it. At least they will probably die when their body dies, since the parasite will likely leave for another body leaving only the stem, which will die. Other victim's sunken places may be better or worse, as Word of God says that the sunken place is a construction of the individual mind, and different for everyone.
  • In Hellraiser: Bloodline, Pinhead decides to give John Merchant's son such a fate by planning to torture the child for a thousand-odd years, during which the boy "will wish he had died instead".
  • In The Human Centipede, a deranged doctor kidnaps three people and decides to connect them all together via their gastric systems (three people connected anus to mouth). In the ending, the guy in front kills himself out of shame, and the woman in back dies of septic poisoning, leaving the woman in the middle surgically attached to two corpses.
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss and Finnick speculate that this is what the Victors held captive in the capitol are enduring. Finnick even comments that he wishes Annie were dead instead. From the look of them after the rescue, they were probably right. Johanna is bald and looks like she's been tortured or experimented on, Annie is possibly worse of a wreck than she was already, and Peeta has been brainwashed to see Katniss as a monster.
  • I Shot Jesse James: Frank James decides to leave Robert Ford with this, saying that Bob's Love Interest Cynthy is leaving Bob for his rival John Kelley. Given how this makes everything Bob's done for naught, it's definitely a harsher punishment than a bullet could've provided.
  • In Inception, while dying in a dream simply wakes you up, dying while dreaming and being heavily sedated puts you in a limbo, where you think you are in reality and you are trapped there for years and years and you cannot wake up at all.
  • In Jeepers Creepers, the guy Derry found still alive in the basement.
  • Jug Face: The sacrifices who are shunned by the Pit ate forced to haunt the woods forever.
  • Beautifully stated in the prologue of The Karate Kid Part II:
    Daniel: You could have killed him, couldn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Hai.
    Daniel: Well, why didn't you?
    Mr. Miyagi: Because Daniel, for man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death.
  • Parodied here in the kung-fu movie segment of The Kentucky Fried Movie, where the Fate Worse Than Death turns out to be... Detroit.
  • Kill Bill:
    • Budd decides that only a Fate Worse Than Death was a fitting punishment for the Bride after she broke his brother Bill's heart. So he shoots her with rock salt, ties her up, puts her in a coffin, and buries her alive. She still escapes.
    • Elle Driver suffers one when The Bride snatches out her remaining eye after finding out she killed her master, and leaves Elle yelling and thrashing in Bud's trailer completely blind rather than killing her. Granted there was a Black Mamba snake in the trailer too. But even if Elle was to avoid it, she's now left stranded in the middle of a desert without her eyesight.
  • Guy de Lusignan from Kingdom of Heaven. He spent entire film confident that he will defeat Saladin and the Saracens. In the end, his entire army is annihilated and he himself is captured and paraded through Jeruselem and humiliated. In the end, with his spirit broken, he attempts one final time to kill Balian of Ibelin but loses the duel. Completely broken, he asks for death but Balian refuses and leaves Guy completely broken now and it is implied that the Saracens who retook Jerusalem likely imprisoned him.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Thor: The Dark World, Loki is sentenced to life in prison for his actions in Thor and The Avengers (2012). While that's not as overtly cruel as his punishment in mythology, and it would normally be considered more merciful than execution, consider that he could live four thousand more years, and would have had to spend that entire time in a small room and denied contact with other people, possibly to the level of complete solitary confinement. If his mother hadn't visited him behind her husband's back, and if Loki hadn't escaped prison almost immediately after her death, he most likely would have gone mad from the isolation. He is also threatened with a fate worse than death in The Avengers (2012), when the Other warns him that if he doesn't get the Tesseract for Thanos, Thanos will make him "long for something sweet as pain".
    • Whatever the hell happened to the titular Winter Soldier in the hands of Hydra probably counts, based on his flashbacks and the horrifying scene in the bank vault.
    • When T'Challa stabs Killmonger in the heart at the end of Black Panther they share this exchange:
    T'Challa: We can still heal you...
    Killmonger: Why, so you can lock me up? Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, 'cause they knew death was better than bondage. (Pulls out spearhead and bleeds out.)
    • As revealed in Avengers: Infinity War, Red Skull wasn't killed by the Space Stone but rather exiled to Vormir where he is forced to serve the Soul Stone as its guardian. The man who so desperately craved power on Earth was within reach of an immense power; but would never be able to attain it due to his fatal flaw, that of his inability to love anyone other than himself. By the time Thanos comes for the Soul Stone, Red Skull has spent over 70 years on Vormir, unaging and undying, effectively resigned to his fate of being stranded on a desolate wasteland. He eventually was freed from this curse when Thanos reluctantly sacrificed his adoptive daughter Gamora to obtain the Soul Stone.
  • Murder in the First: Young views going back to solitary as this, not without reason.
  • In Oldboy (2003) Oh Daesu's 15 year hotel room imprisonment is a torment he unsuccessfully attempts to escape through death repeatedly.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest:
    • And Bootstrap Bill considered even servitude aboard the Flying Dutchman preferable to lying strapped to a cannon at the bottom of the ocean, immortal and immobilized by water pressure.
  • While never said in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: It's pretty clear that Barbossa feels this way about his fate after the curse prevents him from feeling pleasures like taste of food, intimacy, and even the breeze on his face. When he's shot immediately after the curse is lifted, his Last Words are acknowledging that he can feel something, even if it is the bullet that killed him.
  • Conversed in The Princess Bride: Westley proposes he and Humperdinck fight "to the pain," which involves Humperdinck losing his feet, hands, nose, and eyes while leaving his ears perfect so he could hear the screams of anguish at his mutilated body.
  • Death is nothing compared to the penalty for violence in the town of Refuge in Purgatory.
  • Return to Oz: Mombi's final fate is this:
    Ozma: I forgive Mombi. Dorothy has punished her by removing her magical powers, and a witch without magic is a miserable creature indeed.
    Mombi: And that's a fact.
  • Sadako Yamamura of The Ring suffered a lot from this trope. She was thrown down a well by her father and was believed to have survived for seven days. Turns out in Ring 2 that she survived down the well for about thirty years on sheer will and died shortly before the events of the first film.
  • On Safe (2012), this is the "sentence" that The Mafiya passes to The Hero Luke: They kill his wife, they let Luke know that she was pregnant, and they assign people to keep a watch on him 24/7—and if Luke ever interacts with someone beyond casual knee-jerk courtesy (like when making purchases), The Mafiya will find that person and kill them. By the time Luke enters the plot, this plan has shown it's effectiveness—Luke has been Driven to Suicide and he's the "right man in the right place" because he was on the train station looking for the best moment to jump in front of it.
  • The Reveal in The Secret in Their Eyes: The husband of the murdered wife manages himself to kidnap and lock the killer up for twenty-five years, not even speaking to him and evidently making him Go Mad from the Isolation.
  • Se7en: This was what the sin of Sloth receives, in the estimation of every officer on the scene. The victim is also a drug dealing child molester; the only way most people wouldn't sympathize with the killer is since his fate was so horrific that we can't possibly call it justified.
  • Star Trek
    • Famously invoked in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. When another of Khan's attempts to kill Kirk backfires, he decides to simply takes the Genesis device and leave Kirk to rot in the center of a planet while he finishes off the Enterprise, leaving Kirk helpless to do anything.
    Kirk: Khan. Khan, you've got Genesis. But you don't have me! You were going to kill me, Khan. You're going to have to come down here. You're going to have to come down here!
    Khan: I've done far worse than kill you... I've hurt you. And I wish to go on... hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her... marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet... buried alive... buried alive...
    • The original movie averted, but touched on, the trope when a transporter malfunction hideously mutated the two people beaming onto the Enterprise before the beam was reversed, sending them back to Spacedock.
    Transporter operator: Enterprise, what we got back didn't live long... fortunately.
    • In Star Trek (2009), Nero and his crew end inside an artificial black hole. For what we know about black holes, is a fate worst than death. However, for Nero, being sucked up into a black hole was a lot more preferable to being helped by the Federation, preferring to watch Romulus' destruction a thousand times than be helped by them.
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin Skywalker is, according to Word of God, a man who made a Deal with the Devil... and lost. After the events of Revenge of the Sith, where he becomes Darth Vader, he is condemned to a life of constant emotional and physical pain (along with the knowledge that he deserves every second of it), and having to live the rest of his life contained in a suit until the very end of Return of the Jedi.
      • Just to demonstrate, after getting zapped by the Emperor's force lightning for only a short amount of time, it completely shuts down his life-support system, and he dies mere minutes later, weakly clinging to life the whole time.
    • Any creature unfortunate enough to stumble into the path of the Sarlacc on Tatooine - its victims lifespans are prolonged by the Sarlacc's internal fluids while they are painfully digested over the course of 1000 years. Boba Fett is lucky enough to escape this fate in the expanded universe. But in the expanded universe, the fate of Sarlacc victims is revealed to be much worse: after spending decades or even centuries inside the beast's stomach, the victims lose their bodies and survive only as disembodied consciousnesses. Worse yet, their minds become mingled with those of the Sarlacc's other meals and even with the rudimentary intelligence of the Sarlacc itself, to the point at which they almost start to believe they are the Sarlacc. Even after Boba Fett escapes, he is left with permanent scarring and weakened legs - and occasional intrusive memories from the lifetimes of other victims he simply can't recognize
  • The Phantom Zone in Superman and Superman II where General Zod, Ursa, and Non are imprisoned. In both films it is stated that the intention is that they remain trapped in it for eternity. Oddly the Kryptonian view is that this is somehow more humane than just executing them!
    Kryptonian Elder (to Jor-El): Imprisonment in the Phantom Zone, an eternal living death.
  • What the assimilation process of The Thing entails. It requires its victims to be alive while it digests and absorbs their flesh, inducing unimaginable pain at best. If you subscribe to the idea that the assimilated don't know they're infected, then they're definitely in this until they meet the sweet cleansing of fire.
  • In Triangle, Jess is stuck in a presumably endless time loop (or purgatory, depending on your interpretation) in which she murders her friends and accidentally kills her son over and over again.
  • In Two Women, Cesira says this almost word-for-word (in Italian, anyway), after her daughter is gang-raped by French Moroccan soldiers.
    Cesira: You ruined my little daughter forever! Now she's worse than dead. No, I'm not mad, I'm not mad! Look at her! And tell me if I am mad! Rotten crazy bastards!
  • In Universal Soldier: The Return, many people were killed by the wrath of Uni Sols (led by S.E.T.H.) but the most tragic case is for Maggie, who spend the majority of the film training with her partner Luc Deveraux and protecting his daughter Hilary from ruthless Uni Sols, only to get killed by a Uni Sol named Romeo. However, unlike the other victims, Maggie's body was taken to the Uni Sol building, where a neural implant is placed inside her brain, reviving her as a Uni Sol and forcing her into loyalty to S.E.T.H., much to Luc's complete grief. Eventually, Luc frees Maggie by killing S.E.T.H., but despite being grateful, Maggie states that she won't spend her life as a killing machine and asks Luc to leave with Hilary and blow up the building with herself and all the remaining Uni Sols inside. Understanding what Maggie went through, Luc reluctantly honors her wishes, and Maggie quietly accepts her fate perishing in the explosion, taking Romeo and the remaining Uni Sols with her.
  • War for the Planet of the Apes: The Simian Flu spreads over to humans destroying their ability to talk. Many of the people infected by The Virus would either try to kill themselves or ask someone to do it for them if they can't do it themselves.
  • Warlock: Discussed when Kassandra questions why the Warlock didn't just kill her instead of casting a Rapid Aging curse on her that would do the process much more slowly, and says she can't imagine a worse fate. Witch Hunter Redferne confirms that this was the Warlock's intention.
  • Warlock: The Armageddon. After an initial fake out in which he believed he had escaped, an unlucky guy is forever trapped by the Warlock in a dark nightmare world beyond the mirror.
  • The entire film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is all about this for both sisters. One sister appears to succumb to her torment, while the other sister enters a darker version of it by losing the last bit of her sanity.
  • A comedic example is seen in The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap Due to a law whereby the survivor of a gun duel must take responsibility for the deceased's debts and family (which got Chester Wooley in trouble in the first place) he quickly realizes he is untouchable as NO one wants to suffer taking care of Mrs. Hawkins and her kids. At least not at first...


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