Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their Head

The plan that seems so simple. The athlete who thinks he’s invincible. The bad ass who meets his match. These are just some of the people and situations you will find in Hollywood movies. And here are ten times where characters had no idea what they were in for.

10. Sheriff Teasle in First Blood

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadThis guy woke up one morning, had a giant breakfast to fill his fat belly and started his day off by picking up Green Beret drifter, John Rambo, who just wanted something to eat. Teasle arrests him for vagrancy and generally gives him a hard time. His deputies beat him up a little and are generally asses to him. Rambo, having had enough of their cruelty, escapes from the jail and proceeds to kill a deputy, injures about a dozen others and brings Teasle on a ride he won’t soon forget.

9. Apollo Creed in Rocky

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadHere’s the world heavyweight champion giving an unknown a shot at the title. He only does this because his opponent had to back out because of injury. Apollo thinks it would be a great idea to give a local Philly boxer that shot. While Rocky Balboa trains by drinking raw eggs and beating the hell out of slabs of beef, Apollo checks his stock portfolio and worries about his hair. He has no idea that the man coming for him is hungry and sees this as his one shot at glory. When Apollo gets in the ring, he is knocked down for the first time in his career. It’s only then that he realises that the match is not just a show, but an actual fight.

8. Quint, Hooper and Brody in Jaws

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadWhen the mayor of Amity finally agrees to pay Quint what he wants, three men embark on a journey to kill a Great White. Quint has an idea of what they are up against, but even he is way off. As he says to Hooper upon first seeing the great animal, “25 (as in feet), and three tonnes of him.” And then of course you have Brody and his famous declaration of needing a bigger boat. When the three of them set out to do what needed to be done, they had no idea what they were up against and it cost one of them his life and almost the other two as well.

7. Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadJerry is married to a woman with a rich father. Jerry needs money and he thinks the best way to do this is to fake the kidnapping of his wife so that his father-in-law will pay the ransom. He hires thugs he hardly knows, steals one of his own cars from his dealership, trusts people he shouldn’t and basically does everything incorrectly. He thought it would be quite simple to hire someone to kidnap his wife, set the ransom, have it delivered, return his wife to his father-in-law and keep most of the money. None of this goes as planned and then, well, the wood chipper makes an appearance.

6. Dillon from Predator

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadDillon decides to tag along with Dutch and his rescue team to pick up some abducted Americans from behind enemy lines. Dutch is not happy about this because his team works alone. Reluctantly he agrees to let Dillon be part of the mission. Upon reaching the jungles, strange things begin to happen. They find soldiers who look to be skinned alive, one of the members is then killed by an unseen entity and they find his body in the trees. The other members of Dutch’s team know that they are up against something they have never faced before while Dillon, right till the end believes they are being tracked by two or three soldiers. Ultimately, Dillon pays the ultimate price, but he does finally learn that “there’s something out there, and it ain’t no man.”

5. Johnny Ringo from Tombstone

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadJohnny Ringo and Doc Holliday hate each other. Both are the fastest gun slingers of their respective groups. Ringo is also an educated man, which causes more friction between he and Holliday as Holliday is a dentist by trade, also very educated. There is obviously an imminent showdown brewing between these two and Ringo being the cocky, arrogant cowboy he is, at first thinks nothing of Holliday. Then it gets the shock of his life when he thinks he’s going to meet one on one with Wyatt Earp, and a deathly ill and dying Holliday shows up and reminds Ringo that Holliday is indeed his huckleberry.

4. The marines from Aliens

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadRipley is brought along to LV-426 in an advisory role to help edify the marines about the alien life form. None of them really have much of an interest in what she is saying. At the briefing, they seem more interested in ridiculing each other with friendly banter and then acting full of bravado by saying things like, “I just need to know one thing, WHERE-THEY-ARE.” Ripley tries to tell them that they are no match for the aliens, but they simply don’t care. All of this changes when the team has their first encounter with the species and they lose several members of their team which then causes Hudson, one of the more colourful marines, to remark, “maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events but we just got our asses kicked pal.”

3. Mike, Heather and Josh from The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project, Top 10 Films, Found Footage HorrorWhen the three young documentary filmmakers venture off into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, they do so with the intentions of making a picture about local legend The Blair Witch. This is a simple and straight forward venture and they plan on being back to work by Monday. Soon they start to hear stories about men disappearing while camping, 7 kids going missing because of a man named Rusty Parr who would bring kids into a basement and kill them two at a time, but placing one in the corner while killing the other. Heather and Josh and Mike also hear stories from several different people about a woman whose feet don’t touch the ground. They really don’t believe much of it until Josh goes missing, weird stick figures are placed all around their camp, they seem to be walking in circles for hours and late at night they hear really strange noises. Finally everything becomes clear to them as they find a cabin in the middle of the woods and one of them is made to stand in a corner.

2. Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars - Iconic Moments - Top 10 FilmsLuke is still very raw and hasn’t learned everything he needs to from Yoda. While in the Dagobah System, Luke feels the presence of Darth Vader. He enters into some kind of mental battle with him and upon decapitating Vader, the mask disintegrates and Luke sees his own face under the mask. He tells Yoda and Obi Wan that he must go face Vader and that he feels ready to do so. Yoda knows he is not but cannot prevent him from going. When Luke finally meets Vader, Vader feels the force is with Luke, but reminds him that he is not a Jedi yet. He then proceeds to torment Luke and shows him how much he still has to learn. When Luke finally loses his hand to Vader’s lightsaber, his failure is complete.

1. Rocky from Superman II

Top 10 Film Characters In Way Over Their HeadHere’s a man who picked a fight with Superman. This is perhaps the dumbest thing one can do. While it’s true that when he picked a fight with Superman, he was no longer Kal-el, but just good old Clark Kent, minus the Superman abilities. We the audience know that won’t last for very long. Rocky is a trucker who frequents the diner that Clark and Lois stop at for some dinner. Rocky starts to make advances at Lois while Clark is in the bathroom. When Clark comes out, he asks Rocky to step outside. Rocky then sucker punches him and then hits him in the stomach doubling over the former Man of Steel. Rocky is a cocky and arrogant jerk who refers to himself as Mr. Wonderful. When Clark finally finds a way to get his Superman abilities back, he returns to the diner and meets up with Rocky once again. This time, he does to Rocky what you expect him to. The waitress looks at Clark incredulously and Clark just tells her that he has been working out. Superman, even though he wasn’t at the time, is the last person on the planet that you want to pick a fight with.

Written & Compiled by Dan Grant

Your turn? Name your fave characters in over their head…

Read more from Dan Grant:
Top 10 Films About The Oppressed Taking Their Revenge
Top 10 Embarrassingly Cringeworthy Moments In Film
Top 10 Supporting Actors Who Always Bring Something Special To A Movie

About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

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  1. Dan Reply

    Great read Dan. What I love about the inclusion of Jaws is that it’s the two so-called shark experts who are in way over their head and it’s left to the guy who hates the water to save the day!

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Thanks Dan. Glad you like it. And that’s a terrific point you made about Brody being the inexperienced one who ends up saving the day.

      • Dan Reply

        This is beginning to inspire a new list idea, and perhaps going off topic, but speaking of characters that end up saving the day but aren’t, initially, the most equipped at playing the heroic saviour, how about Ripley in Aliens? Like Jaws, where Quint and Hooper get in over their head only to be saved by Brody, the marines end up being salvaged by Ripley, beginning with the atmosphere processing station escape when Ripley drives the APC into the alien lair.

        • Dan Grant Reply

          Great idea for a list. I think perhaps you have your next topic. That would be a fascinating read.

  2. Sarah Mitchum Reply

    Fun list. Some great selections.

    For me, if anyone gets “in over their head” in cinema it has to be Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Not only does she fail to get away with it, she meets the motel owner from hell!!!

    • Dan Reply

      I was thinking the same. Great addition! Hitchcock had a few of his characters get in over their head. How about James Stewart in Rear Window!

    • Dan Grant Reply

      That’s a terrific entry. I never even thought of Psycho. I should have. Maybe there will be a part two to this down the road. Crane would definitely be on it.

  3. Jane Douglas-Jones Reply

    Toby Jones in Berberian Sound Studio? 🙂

    • Dan Reply

      Good one Jane. A very strange, unnerving film.

  4. Kuldos Reply

    Great nod to Superman II! Love that movie.

    • Dan Reply

      An underrated sequel definitely. Loved the film as a kid and still do today.

      • Dan Grant Reply

        I personally feel that Superman II, even with all it’s quirks and strange plot pieces, is the best of all the Superman films, including Snyder’s films. General Zod and his two buffoons just made the film for me.

  5. Sean Reply

    Most of Hitchcock’s wronged men would fit the bill – my suggestion would be Cary Grant in North By Northwest.

    Definitely applaud the inclusion of the marines in Aliens, all that bravado and they end up getting their asses kicked. Jaws is great too, as are the two Carl Weathers roles.

    • Dan Reply

      Carl Weathers is forever getting in over his head – just think of Rocky IV! Oh the tragedy!

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Yep, lots of good Hitchcock films could be here.

      Another one I just thought of is all the bad guys in Under Siege. They think they are simply dealing with a cook, little do they know that Ryback is a decorated SEAL.

      • Dan Reply

        That’s a good one. It flips this concept on to the bad guys – you could throw in Die Hard to the mix…they didn’t consider they’d be up against John McClane!

  6. Paul Townsend Reply

    Love that scene in Superman II where Clark gets his own back.

    • Dan Reply

      It’s such a cathartic scene – the bullied getting their own back on the bully.

  7. ArchE Reply

    Ahoy there said a bespectacled Matt Hooper to his ship mates. Have you ever seen a fish do that before because I sure as hell haven’t! Failing wetting himself I’m sure Mr Hooper is more than a little terrified by the time he’s lowered into the sea to be shark bait to save Amity Island. Thank goodness for the Chief and his sharp-shooter capacity to hit a needle in a haystack.

    As you’ll guess, mention Jaws and I go weak at the knees.

    Good read Mr Grant.

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Thanks ArchE. We both have a love for JAWS no doubt.

  8. Michael Scoates Reply

    I’ve always had a spot of sympathy for Sheriff Teasle in First Blood 🙂

    • Dan Grant Reply

      He’s more of an empathetic character….SLIGHTLY…in the book, in the film he’s just a bigot and an ass of a sheriff that takes his authority too far.

  9. Ruth Reply

    Awesome top 10 Dan! I agree w/ the ones from the movies I’ve seen. Ha..ha.. love that last pick of Rocky in Superman 2!! He gets what’s coming to him when he messes w/ Superman. It’s a classic scene to be sure!

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Yea, Rocky from Superman 2 is such an ass lol. Seeing that last scene was a perfect way to end the film.

  10. CineGirl Reply

    Good idea for a list. I like characters that somehow find a way to overcome great obstacles and win. This kind of works the opposite way here but is still cool.

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Good point. Most films like the hero to overcome from great odds. As you said, this is definitely the complete dichotomy to that.

  11. Courtney Reply

    All great choices on this list that it’s hard to pick a favorite! If I have to chose, I’ll go for the marines in Aliens. Those poor bastards had absolutely zero clue as to what they were getting into!! Great post!!!

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Thanks for chiming in. And yes, they were really out matched. They were so cocky and so full of bravado. And they really got the snot kicked out of them lol.

  12. Mark Fraser Reply

    Another good read Dan …

    For what it’s worth, some possible additions:

    Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – this thuggish private eye arrogantly thinks he’s on top of it until he discovers what’s really in the suitcase, by which time it’s way too late.

    Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) in the Coen Brother’s No Country For Old Men (2007) – the trailer trash Vietnam vet is confident he can get away with the drug dealers’ stolen cash, not realising he is being chased by one of the most vicious bastards on Earth (Javier Bardem).

    The three African American heist men (Paul Benjamin, Antonio Fargas and Ed Bernard) in Barry Shear’s 1972 crime opus Across 110th Street, who stupidly think they can steal from the mob and get away with it.

    The pair of idiot thieves (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) who also think they are clever enough to pull off a mob heist in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly (2012).

    Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as the reluctant fugitives in Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991).

    Brad Pitt and Francis McDormand as the wannabe extortionists in the Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading (2008).

    The four suburban guys (Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronnie Cox) who naively venture deep into the heart of redneck country in John Boorman’s 1972 Deliverance.

    The arm dealing brothers (Nic Cage and Jared Leto) who underestimate the brutal intent of one of their African customers in Lord of War (Andrew Niccol – 2005).

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Incredibly detailed response there Mark. So many great choices here. For me, I’m just not as well versed in films pre-1970. But Deliverance is definitely one that could have and perhaps should have made this list. Great mention. I also see a big Coen’s theme here. And I couldn’t agree more.

  13. Rory Reply

    Great top 10 Dan!

    Ten great films here and some classic characters. Love that number one choice. You’ve given Rocky the stage he deserves as cinema’s biggest “a-hole!” 😉

    A couple of mentions of Carl Weathers reminds me the “in over his head” guy was a regular in his career. Whatever happened to him. I just looked at his filmography and apart from some bit-parts in Adam Sandler films his career nosed-dived after Predator.

    Nice left field choice with Jerry from Fargo. He just keeps making things worse for himself. William H Macy is brilliant in that role.

    On the Coen Bros theme, they have a number of characters who get in over the head: No Country For Old Men springs to mind most recently.

    Another I just thought of: John Travolta in Blow Out.

  14. Will Goodchild Reply

    Great list. Am also thinking maybe Tuco in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly?

  15. Gordon G Reply

    Deliverance springs to mind.

  16. Dan Grant Reply

    Yes, Deliverance should have made this list. Another excellent choice. I think the ten I mentioned are worthy of the list, of course, but Deliverance could have been on here as well….no doubt.

  17. Lee Hicks Reply

    Good list. Nice to see such a unique top 10 but I’ve come to expect that from you guys.

    • Dan Grant Reply

      Thanks Lee. There are definitely a lot of unique lists here. Glad you enjoyed this one.

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