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Take A Third Option / Live-Action Films

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  • Interstate 60 has many examples of this trope, which is the subtext of the movie, until the point in which, iconically, the hero drives his car off the road instead of choosing one of two roads he doesn't want to go down.
  • In Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abganale Jr. has to make a choice concerning whether he wants his mother or father to have custody over him: unable to choose, he runs away, thus beginning his trail of bank fraud and crime.
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  • The movie The Adjustment Bureau has a big one. The main character is forced to choose between having a romance with the girl he was "destined" to be with and thus dooming her career, or breaking up with her and allowing them both to become famous and influential, she as a dancer, him as a politician. While initially he chooses to break up with her, he later finds out that because of this she's going to be hugely successful but very unhappy. So he takes option number three: he tries to convince God to change destiny.
  • In Chariots of Fire Eric Liddell has to either give up his Olympic race, or run on Sunday (which he is opposed to do so because to him it would violate the Sabbath). So, he decides to withdraw and enter a different race instead.
  • In Titanic (1997), Rose is unable to get her beloved Jack since he died in a Heroic Sacrifice, but she neither wishes to marry her arranged fiancé Cal who is almost surely looking for her. She assumes a false name on RMS Carpathia after having been rescued, thus distracting Cal; she reaffirms it by looking away when Cal himself is nearby, managing to dodge him.
  • The Matrix franchise:
    • In The Matrix, Morpheus is captured by the Agents and Neo has the choice of letting him be forced to reveal all his secrets, which would doom the resistance, or unplugging his body from the interface, which would mean instant death for him. However, Neo refuses to make either choice and decides to go in and rescue Morpheus instead despite the formidable opposition.
    • In The Matrix Reloaded, Neo is told Trinity is destined to die, and he can't save her. His solution is to bring her back after she kicks it. Problem solved.
    • In The Matrix Revolutions, the second issue is ending the war, which seems certain to end with either the machines or humans being wiped out. In the end Neo unites them against a common enemy.
  • In the first Spider-Man film, The Green Goblin forces the hero to decide whether to save Mary Jane or a Roosevelt Island Tramway cabin filled with young children. With great personal effort, and some help from the public, Spider-Man saves both.
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  • Parodied in The Cat in the Hat. As the crate containing the Cat's dimension is starting to leak, Conrad and Sally argue over whether they should pursue Nevins (their dog, who's run off with the crate's lock), or stay and call their mother for help. The Cat dramatically proclaims that there's a third option - "Murder" - before admitting he just made that up because the kids both had options and he wanted one as well. They then go with Option A, and leave to pursue Nevins while weighing down the crate's lid with their sleeping babysitter.
  • In Batman Forever, the Riddler forces Bats to choose between his brand-new sidekick or the girl. Using his wits and a few of his many wonderful toys, he's able to save both, defeat both villains (Two-Face flips his last coin), and secure his secret identity.
  • In The Dark Knight, this is both subverted and played straight. Batman saves Harvey Dent's life at the cost of Rachel's, since Commissioner Gordon would never make it in time to save her, with the added twist that the Joker purposely gave them the wrong addresses. Later on in the film, the civilians and the prisoners decide against sacrificing the other group in exchange for their lives like the Joker had originally planned.
  • In Superman: The Movie, Lex Luthor launches two nuclear missiles headed for opposite ends of the country so that Superman can't stop them both. By reversing the flow of time, he manages to do so anyway. This was perhaps not the fastest option, though.
  • In Who Am I?, Jackie Chan's character is confronted by two thugs on the roof of a building, who give him two choices: "Give us the disk and jump off," the disk being the MacGuffin of the movie, or "We take the disk and throw you off." Instead, Jackie says, "I like the third choice: I keep the disk and throw you both off." (During the ensuing fight scene, nobody actually gets thrown off.)
  • Subverted in The Rundown, when Beck first confronts Travis. Beck offers Travis two choices: Option A (come quietly back to LA) or option B ("Pretty much the opposite of A. But I wouldn't recommend that one.") Travis decides to go with Option C, and attempts to beat up Beck and escape; considering that Beck is the hero of the movie, and is played by The Rock, while Travis is played by Stiffler from American Pie, you can guess how that goes. Afterwards, Beck quips, "Like I said, there is no Option C."
  • In 1408, John Cusack's character is given the option of reliving the past hour forever (an hour he described as "the deepest level of hell"), or "taking advantage of our express check-out service" (read: killing himself.) He ultimately decides to burn down the haunted hotel room with him in it .
  • Subverted by The Proposition, in which outlaw Charlie Burns is given a Sadistic Choice: find and kill his older brother Arthur, or his younger brother Mikey will hang. He and Arthur attack the jail and rescue Mikey, but because of a meddling Smug Snake, Mikey dies soon after. And then Charlie ends up killing Arthur anyway, but for a different reason.
  • Spoofed somewhat at the end of the Peter Sellers comedy I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! Faced with the choice of confining-but-stable upper-middle-class marriage or free-spirited-but-superficial hippie life, Sellers' middle-aged hero runs away from his second attempt at marrying his fiance from the former group. When asked by a passerby where he's going, he admits he doesn't know, and he doesn't care. He is determined to find a third option - the one that will bring him happiness.
  • In Star Trek II, it's not entirely clear whether Kirk is using this or the Dungeon Bypass tactic when he reprograms The Kobayashi Maru into a winnable scenario. This flows into a central theme of the film: Kirk has made a career on taking the third option, so when situations finally arise where there and definitely is no third option, he's completely unprepared. However, it's ultimately played straight in the climax when Kirk Takes A Third Dimension to defeat Khan.
  • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Federation has a tiny problem at the end: they need to punish the crew of the Enterprise for their actions in the last film, but they can't just out and out punish them after they got through saving the Earth. The third option? Drop all charges except for one, which ends up demoting Kirk down to captain. Then, give him a new Enterprise.
  • In a slight subversion in Willow, the main character and two others are asked by the village's High Aldwin (town wizard/leader), holding up his hand, which finger contains the power of magic. Each chooses a finger, and the Aldwin declares that they're all wrong. Later, in private, Willow tells the old man that he had thought of choosing his own finger, but rejected the idea. The Aldwin confirms that this was, in fact, the correct answer.
  • In Snatch., Irish Traveller character Mickey is given two choices: perform in a fixed Forced Prize Fight that he has to lose by knockout in the fourth round, or watch as the gangsters forcing him to do this murder his entire clan. (And just to prove they will, they set fire to his mother's caravan — with her inside.) Instead, they decide on a third option. Mickey and the entire clan bet a shitload of money on Mickey knocking out his opponent, which he does, and before the gangsters can do anything about it the clan kills all the gangsters assassins and the head of the mob as well. Moral of the story: don't fuck with Irish Travellers.
  • In the first Iron Man film, Tony Stark is given a choice of building a Jericho missile or getting his head blown off. Stark instead uses the parts to build a suit of Power Armor and fight his way out of the base.
  • Fox Mulder did this in The X-Files: Fight the Future. When he followed the not-so-mysterious government trucks he came to a T-intersection and didn't know whether they went left or right. He then decided to drive straight ahead through a field road. Needless to say, being Fox Mulder, he was right.
  • Subverted in Punisher: War Zone: the villains trap Frank in a Sadistic Choice that forces him to kill one hostage to save another. Frank instead elects to take a third option, killing one hostage taker to release his captives, consequently sacrificing the other captive to the other hostage taker. However, since the hostage had already offered his life to Frank beforehand to save the others, Frank essentially made a choice that accomplished the same result, but without the hostage's blood in his hands.
  • Star Wars:
    • In The Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian is forced into a deal with Vader - he betrays his old friend so Han will be bait for a trap, and afterwards the crew will be safe on Cloud City, and the city itself will then be ignored by the Empire, which will kindly not destroy it. But the deal gets altered repeatedly. So Lando made plans to free the crew of the Falcon and get the citizens to flee, though he could only execute them after Han had been frozen in carbonite. The third option was only partially successful, but things turned out all right in the end. Even Cloud City apparently escaped harm - the Star Wars Expanded Universe tells us that it fell under Imperial control, but never got destroyed (perhaps the gas mines were too profitable), and eventually the New Republic got it back.
    • When Vader cuts off Luke's hand and reveals he is his father, telling him "join me, it is the only way" (the alternative being capture and/or execution), Luke instead jumps off his perch and falls down the cavernous reactor shaft, escaping out an exhaust tube. He may have expected to die in the fall, but through fortune or fate, he found a third way.
    • In Return of the Jedi Luke has the option of either killing Vader and Palpy or joining them. What does he do? He chooses to die, and in the process inspires his father to save him, killing both Sith in the process and bringing balance to the Force.
    • Revenge of the Sith has an ironic echo of the above and a rare negative outcome of this trope. When given the choice between supporting Mace Windu and killing Palpatine or supporting Palpatine and killing Mace Windu, Anakin chooses to disarm Windu. This immediately leads to Mace's death by Force lightning.
  • In the 1999 movie Wing Commander, Maniac offers Hunter the option of either kicking his ass, or drinking the booze that Maniac brought. Rosie suggests a third option: kicking Maniac's ass, then taking his scotch.
  • In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage's character is given a choice by the feds; do nothing and go to prison, or help the feds rescue the stolen Declaration of Independence from Ian and still go to prison ("But you'll feel better on the inside"). Initially, Cage accepts the second option but when the plan goes south, he declares, "Sadusky, I'm still not against you. But I found door #3, and I'm taking it." He then makes his escape via diving in the Hudson river.
  • Occurs in the film The Red Shoes (1948). The main character Vicky is forced to choose between Julian, the man she loves, and dancing ballet, which she considers as important as living. At one point, she has a relationship with him, but keeps it a secret. When they are discovered, things get more complicated and in the end she decides to commit suicide by throwing herself in front of a moving train.
  • In The Princess Bride, the third option was planned ahead of time: "They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocaine powder."
  • Played with in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, when Will is trying to decide between killing Jones in order to save his Dad, which would mean he would become the new undead captain of the Flying Dutchman or remaining alive and marrying Elizabeth, Jack proposes that he "avoid the choice entirely. Change the facts" by letting someone else kill Jones. In the end, this doesn't work out, because Jones stabs Will, and in order to save his life, Jack helps Will stab Jones' heart.
  • In the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, Bond and General Gogol confront each other over possession of the ATAC nuclear weapons transmitter, after killing the Big Bad, Kristatos. Bond then destroys the ATAC by throwing it over a cliff, then comments, "That's détente, comrade. You don't have it, I dont have it."
  • In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Holmes' final confrontation with Professor Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls is something of a variant in that Holmes isn't strictly being forced into a making a choice so much as he believes he's locked into a scenario that has one inevitable outcome. As they stare each other down, he and Moriarty start mentally mapping out their tactics and counter-moves in their imminent fight, and as the scenario plays out in their minds, they both conclude that it could only end one way: with Holmes dying at Moriarty's hands. Thus in the name of protecting Watson and his wife, Sherlock applies some quick, outside-the-box thinking and subverts the fight entirely; he disorients Moriarty by blowing cigarette embers into his eyes, clamps his arms around him and throws them both over the ledge.
  • Coach Halas does this in Brian's Song when he can't decide if Brian Piccolo or Gale Sayers should start. He decides to switch Piccolo to fullback so he can have both players in the starting lineup.
  • In the 1985 version of Brewster's Millions Brewster's "None of the Above" political campaign results in neither of the two candidates wining thus forcing another election.
  • Referenced in The Avengers. Steve lectures Tony that he isn't a real hero because he would not be willing to lay on a wire to help his fellow soldier over it. Tony counters that he'd prefer to just cut the wire. This exchange becomes somewhat ironic as Tony later proved willing to sacrifice himself for the team and the city of New York, without trying to Take a Third Option.
  • In Wargames, Joshua, a.k.a. WOPR, realizes the futility of playing "Global Thermo-Nuclear War" after utilizing every scenario and gambit in the book without altering the game's outcome. In the end, it says "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play." Amen.
  • In Curse of the Golden Flower, Prince Jai must either give poison to his mother and thus help to kill her or let himself be executed for treason. What's his solution? Commit suicide.
  • Bridget Jones, from the first movie Bridget Jones's Diary: Bridget has two options. She can either accept a permanent state of spinsterhood and eventually eating by Alsatians, or NOT. Bridget chooses vodka. And Chaka Khan.
  • Towards the end of The Bank, Wayne, who blames the bank's CEO Simon for his son's death, bursts into Simon's office with a shotgun with the intention of killing him. Simon tells Wayne that while his son's death was tragic, he doesn't consider himself responsible, but to go ahead and do what he thinks he has to do. As Wayne contemplates whether to go through with it and spend the rest of his life in prison or forgo his revenge and possibly still do some time, the phone rings. Simon insists on answering it. Wayne realises Simon would rather die than miss the call, so he shoots the phone, then goes outside and shoots the fuse box.
  • Played for laughs in Diner; Eddie is bugging his friends by asking them whom they prefer, Sinatra or Mathis. Boogie answers, "Presley." Eddie is not amused.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness:
    • When Carol tells Admiral Marcus he can't destroy the Enterprise with her on-board, he simply beams her onto his ship, then prepares to re-open fire.
    • Khan threatens to attack the disabled Enterprise unless he gets his crew back. When Spock points out destroying the ship will also kill Khan's crew, Khan replies that he'll just destroy the life support and cut the oxygen. Since his crew are in cryosleep, they'll remain unharmed as the Enterprise crew suffocates.
  • In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Valentine's plot is this - rather than let humanity be wiped out by global warming or allowing global warming to rise to such an extent that Earth's ecosystem is destroyed and humanity dies anyway Valentine tries to wipe out nearly the entire population allowing humanity to survive and global warming to stop.
  • In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt is trying to stop an assassination of the Chancellor of Austria, but discovers that The Syndicate has sent multiple assassins. He kills one hand-to-hand, but then ends up in a Sniper Duel with the other two and only has one bullet. He solves the problem by shooting the chancellor in the upper arm so that his bodyguards will pull him out. Unfortunately The Syndicate planted a bomb in the chancellor's car as insurance and he dies anyway on the way to the hospital.
  • The Hunger Games: At the end, Katniss and Peeta are the only tributes left. If one of them doesn't kill the other, then the game-makers will keep sending out predators and disasters until one of them dies. Instead, they decide to both take poison berries, depriving the Games of their victor. Fortunately, the game-makers capitulate before they do.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: After most tributes have died during the 75th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are among the few still alive. They both know one of them would have to kill the other if they survive to end like in the previous Hunger Games. Katniss chooses to destroy the force field of the arena, thus enabling both of them to leave the arena alive.
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 2: After the war is over, Katniss and the other victors get offered to send some of the Capitol's children into a Hunger Games in lieu of executing hundreds or thousands of torturers, game makers and Peacekeepers of the Capitol. Katniss chooses to kill president Coin instead, thereby preventing any further violent deaths afterwards.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men: Magneto is using Rogue as a Living Battery for his machine (which will kill her) in his plan to turn humans into mutants (except the machine accidentally kills humans instead). Cyclops states that just shooting the machine would likely also kill Rogue, so Wolverine tries to manually tear it apart to pull Rogue out, only to be stopped by Magneto. When it looks like their only options are to sacrifice Rogue to save the city or let the machine run its course, Cyclops takes a third option and shoots Magneto.
    Cyclops: I have shot. I'm taking it. (fires)
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past: Erik asks Mystique, "Are you still Charles' Raven... or are you Mystique?" (What Magneto is truly referring to with the latter is if she's still his soldier.) In the end, she chooses her own path. She doesn't adhere to her foster brother's pacifism, and she rejects her former lover's warmongering.
    • X-Men: Apocalypse: The eponymous villain offers Professor X a Sadistic Choice: if Charles immediately surrenders (which would fulfill Apocalypse's plan for world domination), then the lives of the "weaklings" (Mystique and Quicksilver) will be spared, or if he continues to hide, then Apocalypse will murder both mutants, and it's only matter of time before Apocalypse finds out where Xavier is. Professor X decides to initiate a Battle in the Center of the Mind instead, which distracts Apocalypse, and thus Mystique's and Quicksilver's executions are delayed.
  • In Stuart Little 2, George doesn't want to let Stuart leave the house alone, but Stuart needs George to cover for him. Then they realize that they can ask Snowball to do the former.
  • In Fright Night (2011), when Charley and Vincent make their final stand against Jerry, they end up getting trapped in a beam of sunlight in his basement with Vincent starting to turn into a vampire. Jerry tells Charley that he can’t stay there forever and that the sun will eventually set. Charley chooses instead to set himself on fire and chain himself to Jerry before staking him.
  • In Minority Report, PreCrime Chief John Anderton reveals that Director Lamar Burgess is guilty of murder and will murder Anderton to cover it up. Anderton reveals Burgess' dilemma: if he kills Anderton, PreCrime (which arrests people who commit crimes in the future) will be validated but Burgess will go to prison for murder; but if Anderton is spared, PreCrime will be discredited and shut down due to its ultimate flaw: once people are aware of their future, they are able to change it. Burgess kills himself instead.
  • In Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version), Fred's Courtroom Antic of claiming Kris is sane because he is the one true Santa Claus initially puts the prosecutor in the position of admitting before an open court and his own son that there is no Santa Claus or dismissing the charges and letting Kris off. Instead, the prosecutor puts Fred on the defensive by conceding the point that Santa Claus is real, but pointing out that that doesn't necessarily mean Kris is Santa Claus.
  • In Escape from L.A., Snake Plissken (who has revealed that he has the real Sword of Damocles arming device) is faced with the choice of either allowing the U.S. to destroy the Shining Path (thus ensuring that the Crapsack World quota is maintained stateside) or wiping out the U.S. infrastructure grid and validating Cuervo Jones' plan to invade and take over the country.
    Snake: Shut down the third world, you win, they lose. Shut down America, they win, you lose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
    President: So what are you going to do?
    Snake: Disappear. (proceeds to shut off the entire world's electricity)
  • Deewaar: When faced with the decision to either visit his mother in the hospital and get arrested or turn his back on her, Vijay instead goes to the Shiva temple and asks that her life be spared.


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