Everybody loves a movie tough guy or gal – powerful characters with a reputation for being able to win virtually any fight. Yet a surprising number of these iconic fighters have actually lost almost as many battles as they’ve won (at least based on what we see on screen).
Of course, a large part of this is down to the way that films work. In order for a story to be compelling, our heroes need to struggle – and even occasionally lose! – despite their incredible martial prowess. Similarly, in most instances, villains need to be defeated before the credits roll – which means that they are predestined to be second best, no matter how many times they've beaten the hero throughout the story.
That’s why most movie powerhouses earn their street cred by mowing down unfortunate redshirts, only to end up on the wrong end of a brutal beatdown when faced by an opponent at least as skilled as they are: because they’re really only as good at fighting as the story needs them to be at any given moment.
But even taking into account the mechanics of storytelling, you’d be amazed by just how patchy the win-loss record for some of cinema’s most well-known heavy hitters really is.
Don’t believe us? Then check out this list of 15 ‘Tough’ Movie Characters Who Always Get Defeated – we promise you: you won’t believe who made the cut!
We know what you’re thinking: Wolverine kicks plenty of butt across his many appearances in the X-Men franchise. And you’re right, he does – but a lot of his confirmed kills have been hapless henchmen. Take a gander at his performance against proper, big name combatants and Logan’s legendary status is deflated somewhat.
Need proof? In the first X-Men film, Wolvie get comprehensively schooled by Mystique (only taking her down later via sneaky stab attack). Then in X2, he barely holds his own against Lady Deathstrike, nearly losing outright until quick thinking – and a handily placed syringe of molten adamantium – lets him off the hook. Next, Juggernaut uses Logan as a football in X-Men: The Last Stand – and let’s not even bring up his humiliating losses when facing off against Magneto over the course of the series.
Admittedly, Wolverine has a respectable record when facing off against archenemy Sabretooth – we count two wins and a draw. Even so, for a guy who claims to be the best there is at what he does, Logan sure does seem to get his butt handed to him a lot!
14 Boba Fett
Boba Fett is walking (or should that be “jet packing”?) proof that a cool outfit and an enigmatic vibe can take you a long way when it comes to fan popularity. This fan-favorite bounty hunter has built a fearsome reputation as one of the baddest dudes in the Star Wars galaxy – which is inexplicable, given his onscreen track record.
It turns out that the majority of Fett’s most impressive victories take place in the expanded universe of novels, comics, TV series, and video games. On screen, his major accomplishments mostly boil down to failing to kill Luke Skywalker and getting caught-off guard by a blind Han Solo, which led to him being ignominiously dumped into the Sarlaac Pit for his troubles.
By comparison, his dad Jango puts in a far more creditable showing, fighting Obi-Wan Kenobi to a standstill and taking down Jedi Master Coleman Trebor. In Boba’s defence, though, he is an unaltered clone of Jango, so it’s safe to say he’s at least as good a warrior as his old man – it’s just a shame we never get to see it!
Batman is widely regarded as one of the greatest martial artists in the DC Universe – so why has his cinematic equivalent had so many brutal thrashings over the years? Sure, the DCEU version of the Dark Knight has yet to take a licking and the campy 1960s incarnation also acquitted himself well in his one movie. But focusing in on the Burton and Nolan films, Bruce Wayne’s fighting skills start to look rather overrated.
In Batman, he gets beaten within an inch of his life by a burly member of Joker’s goon squad, and resorts to outfoxing (rather than outfighting) his attacker. Moving on to the Dark Knight trilogy, and Batman suffers a severe thrashing at the hands of the Joker and is later left a broken man (literally!) by Bane.
Admittedly, in all of these scenarios, mitigating factors apply. When facing off against the Joker’s enforcer, Batman had just survived a plane crash – so it’s fair to say he wasn’t exactly fighting fit. By the same token, when overpowered by the Joker, Batman’s vision was seriously compromised. Finally, Bruce’s humiliating failure against Bane can be chalked up to his advanced age, plus his 10 years of retirement!
Before anyone objects, we’ll just come out and say that we know Sauron isn’t exactly what you’d call a “tough guy” – he’s closer to a fallen angel capable of assuming a humanoid form. However, near enough is good enough in the Lord of the Rings villain’s case, given that he’s not afraid to mix it up on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, this eagerness to enter the fray himself hasn’t always ended well for Sauron. Despite swatting aside entire legions of Men and Elves in the opening moments of The Fellowship Of The Ring, he is swiftly subdued once Prince Isildur relieves him of the One Ring (and several fingers along with it).
Centuries later, Sauron sets up shop in the Dol Guldur fortress and begins to recharge his dark powers, only to be driven away by Galadriel – although in fairness, the Lady of Lórien was backed up by her own ring of power and the mystical light of Eärendil.
11 The T-800
For robots designated “The Terminator”, the T-800 series – better known as “The Kind That Looks Like Arnold Schwarzenegger" – sure do spend a lot of time flirting with the scrap heap! Indeed, regardless of whether it’s pitted against a human soldier or a fellow killing machine, a T-800 can at best hope for the narrowest of victories, and at worst, the most crushing of defeats.
Setting aside the dilapidated model that appears in Terminator Genisys, there’s plenty of evidence to back up our jaded view of the T-800’s combat capabilities. For starters, the original T-800 introduced in The Terminator is taken offline by two ordinary humans – Resistance grunt Kyle Reese and a pre-chin ups Sarah Connor.
Then, in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the next T-800 off the assembly line proves no match for the more advanced, liquid metal-based T-1000. By the time Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines rolls around, yet another T-800 – hopelessly outgunned by its rival, a “Terminator terminator” T-X series – opines “I’m an obsolete model.” No kidding, buddy…
Part of Spider-Man’s charm is his underdog nature: his willingness to go toe-to-toe against bad guys whose threat levels far outstrip his own. In fact, outside of Spidey’s penchant for cheesy quips, punching above his weight is maybe his defining attribute. That said, even taking this into account, he’s still one powerful dude – if not quite at the level of someone like Thor – so he really should win more often!
Of the different versions of Spider-Man that have appeared on the silver screen, it’s the Peter Parker of the Sam Raimi trilogy who is arguably on the receiving end of the most hidings. He’s left battered and bloodied by the Green Goblin, is continually outmanoeuvred by Doctor Octopus, and is very nearly squashed like a bug by Venom and Sandman.
Before kung-fu messiah Neo came along, Morpheus was the baddest dude the inhabitants of the Matrix had ever known. An imposing figure, his mastery of virtually every martial art coupled with his physics-defying powers make him more than a match for any opponent, human or otherwise – unless they happen to be an Agent, that is.
There’s no shame in this, of course. Outside of The One, none of The Matrix’s cyber warriors – not even an ardent true believer like Morpheus – stands a chance of besting one of these security programs in a fair fight. Even so, it’s hard to watch someone as revered as the captain of The Nebuchadnezzar being manhandled by Agents (and Agent-like entities) on at least three separate occasions during the trilogy.
Given his reputation as one of the mightiest heroes in the DC Universe – heck, any fictional universe – Superman has put in a remarkably uneven fighting performance on the big screen. Most recently, the Last Son Of Krypton made a decent fist of things in Man of Steel (shame about all that collateral damage, though) and mostly held his own in Batman v Superman (final kamikaze assault notwithstanding).
But casting our gaze further back to the films starring Christopher Reeve – and their spiritual sequel, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns – and the Man of Steel’s scorecard takes a bit of a dive. Setting aside the climactic showdown in Superman II – where our hero fights three equally powerful, Kryptonian enemies to a stalemate – there’s his two losses against ridiculous foe Nuclear Man in Superman IV, which are as embarrassing as the film itself.
Most disappointing of all is how this run of films perpetuates the myth that Superman, when stripped of his powers, is barely capable of putting up a struggle, and it’s frankly upsetting to see the greatest superhero of all-time used as punching bag!
Picture this: you’re an immortal, shapeshifting fear monster with vaguely defined, reality-warping powers. Now imagine that you’ve come off second best not once, but twice, to seven misfits– you’d be ashamed, right? This is the situation It, the child-eating creature haunting Andy Muschietti’s horror film of the same name, is facing, and we can only hope It's sense of disgrace is suitably immense.
Not only does It – in the unsettling guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown – wind up with a fence post through the head courtesy of young Beverly Marsh. But the deranged beastie is later forced to retreat indefinitely after barely withstanding a withering onslaught from the rest of Bev’s friends in the “Loser’s Club”. Suddenly, the harlequin-inspired get-up starts to make sense: it’s fitting for a movie monster who qualifies as a laughing stock!
6 Optimus Prime
Optimus Prime isn’t just the leader of the Autobots owing to his leadership skills and unshakable moral code – he also ranks as one of the series most formidable warriors, too. Yes, it’s impossible to argue that Prime hasn’t brought an impressive amount of ruckus to both the animated and live action Transformers movies. Yet at the same time, there’s no getting around the fact that Prime has faltered on the battlefield repeatedly, even dying more than once!
In Prime’s defence, his demise in Transformers: The Movie is largely Hot Rod’s fault, as Prime has Megatron on the ropes until his brother-in-arms decides to “help." Likewise, Prime can hold his head high with regards to his last stand in Revenge of the Fallen, where he goes down swinging against several Decepticon powerhouses. Even so, dying – even in service to a greater cause – still technically counts as a losing a fight, which is why everyone’s favorite two-fisted semi-trailer truck made it onto this list.
5 Rick Deckard
On the one hand, it seems a bit harsh to include Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard on this list. After all, the poor guy is just an average Joe tasked with “retiring” replicant humanoids far stronger, faster and often smarter than himself. Even if you do subscribe to the theory that Deckard is himself a replicant – and it’s pretty hard not to – it’s clear that he wasn’t designed with the same physical enhancements as the rest of his kind.
So yeah – on the face of it, it seems more than a little unkind to bring up the multiple occasions when Deckard has his butt handed to him in both Blade Runner movies. But that’s letting Rick off a bit too easy, because after all, he was treated as a living legend during his career, and even rates his own abilities when he first encounters K in Blade Runner 2049. You might have been good, Deckard – but you weren’t that good!
4 Mad-Eye Moody
Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody was renowned in his day as the finest Auror – or Dark Wizard catcher – on the block. Regrettably, it seems that by the era that the Harry Potter flicks take place in, Mad-Eye was a bit past his prime. What else could explain a wizard of Moody’s calibre being overpowered and taken captive in Goblet Of Fire, other than him being over the hill?
Don’t forget that Moody would go on to be killed in battle with the Death Eaters in Deathly Hallows – Part 1. Admittedly, in the book he was murdered by no less than Lord Voldemort (and while distracted to boot), but as this takes place off-screen in the film, we’re left to wonder if Mad-Eye died simply as a result of being too old to cut the mustard.
In the near future, the criminal underworld is kept in check by RoboCop. They fear his cybernetically-enhanced crimefighting abilities. Indeed, this unsavoury fraternity is largely convinced that this man/machine hybrid is unbeatable – so fingers crossed they never find out the truth!
Alas, RoboCop has nearly been permanently shutdown several times over the course of his policing career, as seen in both the original and reboot continuities. He just barely escapes his first run-in with ED-209 – a robot, we remind you, that couldn’t even climb stairs – is hacked to pieces by a gang of drug runners, and is nearly blown away by heavy weapons fire repeatedly. So while RoboCop certainly can lay claim to nailing more than his fair share of perps, he can’t be said to have done so with ease!
Unhinged detective Rorschach is not what anyone would call a soft touch, and as the events of Watchmen make clear, he’s both a fierce and resourceful fighter. Compliments aside, however, the stark reality is that this inkblot-visaged vigilante is outfought more than once during his “mask killer” investigation.
Granted, Rorschach does better than expected when confronted by an entire SWAT team – especially given the story’s quasi-realistic setting. Then there’s the humbling beating he receives from former colleague Ozymandias, who makes short work of both Rorschach and Nite Owl at the same time.
That said, we won’t count Rorschach’s last defeat against him – being vaporized by the god-like Doctor Manhattan – as this was as much a suicide by proxy as it was a “no-win” scenario!
1 The Devil
The Devil (or demonic forces representing Team Satan) crops up as the baddie in more horror films than we can count, and with good reason – as villains go, you can do a lot worse than the very embodiment of evil! Over the years, ol’ Beelzebub has racked up the occasional spectacular win – Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and The Witch spring to mind – but these have been relatively few and far between.
Yes, despite his almost limitless diabolical might, the Devil has been trounced on the big screen more times than we have space to enumerate, losing out in films as such as The Devil’s Advocate, End Of Days, Constantine and Devil. The reasons for the Prince of Darkness’ many downfalls are as varied as the movies he features in, but he tends to succumb most often to faithful mortals, benevolent divine forces and – most of all – Hollywood’s obsession with happy endings!
What other tough movie characters keep being beaten? Let us know in the comments!