For most of us, moral victories, silver linings, and a game well-played are tough concessions when conceding defeat. But thanks to the eponymous palooka in the 1976 Oscar-winner Rocky, we’re reminded that just about anyone — from a plucky underdog to a conniving villain to a stalemated supercomputer — can find victory within a loss.
In honor of IFC’s Rocky movie marathon, cheer on 10 memorable characters who won by losing.
1. The Bad News Bears
Moviegoers in 1976 lauded another film where outmatched protagonists suffer a disappointing loss but still celebrate the hard-fought journey to get there. The always-great Walter Matthau corrals a ragtag group of misfits and miscreants into a wisecracking group of decent ballplayers. And while their 7-6 loss to the Yankees at the end should be devastating for how close they got to winning, the kids triumphantly douse each other with foamy beer and vow to get ’em next year. (Click here to see all airings of The Bad News Bears on IFC.)
2. Inside Out
Responsible for more sniffles and watery eyes than ragweed, Pixar has cornered the market on bittersweet endings. And just when audiences had gotten over the beginning of Up, the studio chainsaws their heartstrings with Inside Out where a young girl named Riley discovers the complexities of emotion via anthropomorphic feelings. Thrust into a new school, misunderstood by her parents, and on the verge of running away, Riley (along with her subconscious fleet) learns that waving a white flag and admitting defeat can still result in comfort, resilience, and growth. (R.I.P. Bing Bong.)
An out-of-control supercomputer nearly goes thermonuclear in this geeky 1983 classic, and it’s up to whizkid David (Matthew Broderick) to teach the mainframe that nobody really wins a war. And because this is a pre-internet, Reagan-era family film, this is somehow achieved by the computer playing tic-tac-toe with itself. After a quick succession of stalemates and losses, the computer concludes that, in war, the only winning move is not to play and subsequently cancels Armageddon. Here’s hoping the Singularity will be this morally proverbial.
Nobody likes to lose, much less a down-and-out bowler whose name is synonymous with screwing everything up. Roy Munson, played perfectly by Woody Harrelson, climbs his way out of drunken obscurity (which isn’t easy with only one hand) to match skills, wits, and combovers with dastardly villain Ernie McCracken, also played perfectly by Bill Murray. Unfortunately, Munson’s all-but-secured win is snatched away by McCracken’s lucky roll, and although Roy is denied the trophy and winnings, he earns a $500,000 endorsement from Trojan thanks to his rubber prosthetic hand.
5. School of Rock
In arguably his best “lovable loser” role, Jack Black plays a substitute teacher conning a group of gifted school kids into helping him win a Battle of the Bands contest. Antics and hijinks ensue, as Black and his merry band of kids rock the venue in front of a thoroughly entertained crowd. But it isn’t until the kids are deemed runners-up by the judges that the audience practically stages an uprising and inspires Black’s character to open a literal rock school.
6. The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix franchise gets downright biblical in its depiction of “Good vs. Evil” and how the fate of the world depends on the heroes’ win. And without getting too deep into the scrambled mythology (or diminishing returns) of the sequels, virtual messiah Neo sacrifices himself for the good of humanity (sound familiar?) and is assimilated into Agent Smith’s cackling clutches. However, Neo’s death allows the machines to locate the rogue agent, hit F5 on the bug-ridden Matrix, and perhaps create a better world for all the coaxial brains out there.
When it comes to serial killer movies, nobody murders just for the fun of it. There’s gotta be this whole grand scheme, metaphorically tying each death to a deadly sin or Walt Whitman poem or something. (And who really has the time for that?) At any rate, Kevin Spacey plays a killer with the patience of a saint who orchestrates a series of murders to highlight how nonchalant we’ve become to our own depravity. And for the sake of a poignant completion, his whole plan requires one final sin — his own death — for it to really drive the message home. All it takes is only small game of “What’s in the Box?” for him to succeed.
8. The Dark Knight
There’s no loss more infuriating than the one reluctantly taken for the greater good, as nutty billionaire Bruce Wayne could attest to at the end of The Dark Knight. After he’s broken his no-kill rule with the death of Harvey Dent, Batman takes the blame for Dent’s body count, ensures the criminals Dent convicted stay in jail, and preserves the illusion of Gotham’s noble White Knight — the true hero in their eyes. By losing, Batman becomes the hero that Gotham needs.
9. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
With their liquid-metal foe vanquished and spare Terminator parts thrown into molten lava, our exhausted heroes of James Cameron’s bombastic Terminator 2: Judgment Day surely can call it a day, right? Unfortunately, there’s one last computer chip that can still result in a machine uprising — and it’s in the head of baddie-turned-goodie T-800 played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. For the good of humanity, the Connor’s family cyborg lowers himself into the flaming vat, preventing Cyberdyne from orchestrating armageddon. Subpar sequels, alas, were still in the cards.
10. The Game
Typically, the moment you step off the edge of a building, you’ve lost whatever game you were playing. That’s what director David Fincher had Michael Douglas and the audience believe at the climax of 1997’s mindscrew The Game. But after nearly two hours of “Is this part of The Game or isn’t it?”, a rooftop plunge into breakaway glass and an inflated cushion prove Douglas didn’t accidentally murder his brother (played by Sean Penn) and the whole live-action roleplaying affair was a means to keep Douglas from killing himself like their workaholic father — despite how close he came to it.
Get pumped for IFC’s Rocky marathon!