Developing Doomed Characters

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Mike: You're about an hour late, monster.
Kevin: We're only 18 minutes in, Mike.

Mike: I stand by my statement.

All right, you and your friends are hitting up that new monster movie at the theater. You're ready to see some carnage. Some death. Some crazy special effects. The film is sure to be packed full of it.

Except you have to wait 20 minutes to actually get to that part. No, the director has decided to introduce you to a ragtag bunch of hip kids aged 16 to 27 who are all experiencing relationship drama and personal issues and family problems which they're going to clumsily cover in 20 minutes. The idea here is to use Character Development to try to make the audience identify with the future victims more, so the audience will be more affected when they die.

Problems often arise when the audience simply doesn't care about their personal issues. Some viewers are Just Here for Godzilla, in which case they have to sit through the tedium of introductions for characters they know are going to start dropping like flies. (After all, viewers are going to be able to guess which characters won't make it through anyway so why should they care about them?) Other viewers might actually like to see some character development, but they tend to be disappointed too, because the development here is usually pretty sloppy and rushed.

This trope is not confined to film, however, and can frequently be seen in the likes of mystery literature or television series.

Often overlaps with Just Here for Godzilla, and, in video games, Black Mesa Commute. Averted with Starring Special Effects, which puts the thing everyone's here to see front and center as the star.

Examples of Developing Doomed Characters include:


Films - Horror[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Hostel is more like 60 minutes with jerks as it's pretty much only the very end that has any horror at all.
  • Cabin Fever, also by Eli Roth, uses the trope, though it doesn't take that long for our canon fodder to get The Virus due to a classic case of old school horror movie Idiot Ball.
  • A good chunk of the premise behind An American Werewolf in London is the judicious application of this trope, and part of the reason it's so funny.
  • A common complaint about Cloverfield.
  • The Prom Night remake had some murder, then twenty minutes of Developing Doomed Characters, then a murder, then another twenty minutes Developing Doomed Characters, then a murder, then... The killer was picking off the characters while they were alone and the incompetent police didn't see a need to raise the alarm, so the protagonist only realized something was wrong near the end of the movie. It's even worse in the original.
  • The remake of Sorority Row seem to try to make almost all the central characters so eminently hateable the audience is left rooting for the killer.
  • The Friday the 13 th series of films falls into this trap a lot, due to its general style. Each of the teenagers is hunted down one by one, with none of the others generally being the wiser as time goes by. Thus, the effect becomes a series of murders, interspersed with five minute segments of jerks.
  • Freddy vs. Jason shows the audience warmed-over teenage drama for a large part of the movie, instead of Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees fighting each other.
  • Taken to an absurd degree with Death Proof which had 45 minutes with jerks... and then 30 minutes with some simply more Badass (and thus entertaining) jerks.
  • Neil Marshal's The Descent, made this work with some good tension between the characters and some genuinely scary scenes of spelunking.
  • It takes a very long while for an actual alien to appear in Alien, but it all works because the characters are interesting and interact in a setting that's interesting even before the alien.
  • Predators has the audience wait 45 minutes to see a Predator. But like Predator (which also took long to reveal the alien), it tries to develop the characters, and has both Scenery Porn and some tense scenes (e.g. an attack by "hunting dogs") to make the waiting worthwhile.
  • The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies takes it a step further. Only in the last ten minutes of the movie are the eponymous zombies even seen... the lead-up to which consists of some relationship stuff between some unlikeable people and shitloads of singing.
  • The 2006 horror movie Turistas spends so long setting up the eponymous tourists' predicament (and, in the process, establishing how incredibly whiny, arrogant and unlikeable they all are) that by the time the Mad Scientist shows up it's surprisingly difficult not to think that breaking them all down and selling them for spare parts is really the best thing to do with them.
  • Averted in Feast: while the 99% Red Shirt cast are indeed an assorted bunch of jerks, time that would otherwise be wasted introducing their personalities is supplanted by a quickie on-screen caption for each.
  • Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds opens with an extended soap-operaish romance. While many agree that it works, being Hitchcock, the viewers who know the basic plot can be a little anxious for Hitchcock to get on to the bird attacks.
  • The first Evil Dead movie, with its 30-minute buildup to the horror, is sometimes given the dubious honor of creating this horror trope. The sequels, however, avert the trope in increasingly drastic ways: Evil Dead 2 recaps the first movie's plot in about ten minutes before jumping straight into the action, while Army of Darkness starts In Medias Res, followed by a quick flashback sequence explaining how Ash ended up a prisoner in the middle ages.
  • It's at least 45 minutes into Alien vs. Predator before either an alien or a Predator is seen, except in momentary flashbacks.
  • In Cujo, there is a half-hour wait between Cujo geting bitten and going rabid. In the meantime the audience gets to watch two families with problems that will soon be minor in comparison. This was at least honest to Stephen King's story.
  • Played straight in the Final Destination series.
  • The Happening spends its time split between the protagonists running from a mysterious suicide epidemic and bickering about whether or not Zoe Deschanel's character is cheating on her husband. At least when that particular thing is resolved, the movie has the grace to acknowledge how dumb it was.
  • The House of Wax remake has an agonizing twenty minutes with its jerks.
  • In Skyline, the aliens take a long time to just attack already.
  • Audition is all about this trope, spending most of the film very slowly drawing back the curtain of horror until the big finale.
  • Wolf Creek and Wrong Turn, two movies that give the lie to the idea that good horror depends on character development: they feature characters who are more or less unlikable, faced with horrors that one would not want to see inflicted on anyone.
  • May, in which the eponymous character is much more sympathetic than likable; and is largely sympathetic because she's so surrounded by jerks.
  • Catacombs hasn't just 20 Minutes with any Jerks, but with french Jerks! And P!nk...
  • Spoofed in Shaun of the Dead. The Zombie Apocalypse has actually started right from the opening scene, but no one notices due to either self-absorption, idiocy or the fact that the zombies staggering around the streets aren’t incredibly different from everyday people doing everyday things, making it hard to tell the difference between a coffee-deprived nine-to-fiver and an undead monster or precisely when the former has become the latter. This also actually works to foreshadow both the main character’s Character Development and his at-that-point dormant potential and leadership qualities, as numerous times he notices something very odd and seems be just on the verge of working out exactly what’s going on... only for something to distract him before it clicks and make him lose his train of thought.
  • While the earlier Halloween movies aren't so bad, the later ones revolve around the typically unlikable, rebellious teens with teen issues that are standard in many slasher flicks. In fact, Michael Myer's killings come off as more of a background issue to the love-triangles and teen angst of the protagonists.
    • In the 2007 remake it takes about 20 minutes for Michael to kill a human, and this is before we get to the present day.
  • Lockjaw takes this to the extreme. How? Well, the trigger incident is them running over someone's wife and not even knowing what they hit, let alone knowing if they hit anything at all. This makes the person sicking the eponymous monster to kill them much more likeable compared to these Asshole Victims.
  • Hobgoblins spends its first forty minutes on a set of thoroughly despicable people who show no Character Development aside from Amy getting sluttier.
  • The Ruins follows this trope to the letter, taking almost exactly 20 minutes. And goes above and beyond when it comes to the "jerks" part.
  • The Cabin in the Woods subverts the whole "jerks" aspect of the plot, which is standard in slashers. Curtis's introduction makes him look like a typical Jerk Jock, only for him to make a joke and give some helpful academic advice. Overall, the main characters are all likeable people.


Films - Other[edit | hide]

  • Gosford Park is both an extreme example and proof that Tropes Are Not Bad—it's a two and a half hour murder mystery where the murder doesn't take place until nearly two hours in, but the screenplay won an Oscar.
  • Many Transformers fans accuse the 2007 Michael Bay movie of this with everyone who isn't Lennox or Epps. However, this is generally par for the course in the franchise. The sequels were even more slammed for this.
  • Neil Marshal's Dog Soldiers does this by necessity, considering the budget limitations on showing the werewolves too often, but actually makes the squaddies pretty likeable.
  • Battle: Los Angeles uses this, but lessens the annoyance by taking the time to get us acquainted with the main characters. For example, a Marine getting ready to retire, New Meat having a good time, an officer saying goodbye to his wife, and a soldier remembering his fallen brother.
  • Brutally averted in Re-Animator. The crew thought it was taking too damn long to get to the good stuff, and so filmed what would be the first scene after the rest of the movie was already done to set up the proper tone of the movie. Two minutes in we see a reanimated corpse go berserk, and then its eyes swell up and explode all over some poor woman's face. Incredibly, this is one of the less outrageous scenes in the movie.
  • Peter Jackson's King Kong spends a full hour and a half just getting to the island where King Kong lives. The more interesting half of the cast are the ones that die.
  • While the 1998 Godzilla movie does present a few scenes of Godzilla sightings at the beginning, it still takes a good half hour until he shows up, and until then you had to watch a spineless New Yorker complain about her career. And once Godzilla shows up and then keeps 'hiding' during parts of the movie, guess what? More of a spineless New Yorker, except now you get to watch her screw everything up and have an awkward re-kindling with her ex-boyfriend.
    • In fact even in the Japanese Godzilla movies, the first act of whatever movie one happens to currently be watching often falls into this trope.
  • Twister shares half its plot with gigantic tornadoes and the other half with a divorced couple constantly arguing over every little thing before inevitably getting back together. And a smaller fraction devoted to the Designated Villain Jonas, because apparently a tornado movie needs a villain.
  • One of the criticisms of the Doom movie is that it has too many talking Space Marines followed by too little demons for about 20 minutes.
  • 2012 may take the cake.
  • The Michael Bay version of Pearl Harbor has the attacks as the setting for a drama story, rather than the actual subject of the film.
  • Every disaster movie either done or inspired by Irwin Allen. The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, The Swarm, and every one of the Airport movies, all featured a random group of people who would be trapped together in the disaster, which usually didn't happen until past the mid-point of the movie.
  • Done well in Iron Man, as it opens with the attack on Tony Stark's Humvee, then flashes back to twenty minutes of how he got there. This works due to how fun it is to watch Robert Downey Jr. act like a dick.
  • Hulk (2003) takes about forty minutes to actually turn Bruce Banner into the Hulk. This really pissed off people who were only watching for the green guy.
  • Deconstructed in From Dusk till Dawn, where the first act feels like a totally different movie involving a pair of crooks kidnapping a family while evading a manhunt. By the time the actual vampires show up, it completely transforms into a slapstick horror-action film. This works because both are compellingly watchable for their own merits and remember to include gratuitous explosions rather than exclusively indulging Quentin Tarantino's foot fetish.
  • Minor cult hit Outpost manages to pull this off: The characters are all badass anti-hero mercenaries from various walks of life, making them actually interesting in their own right. They could've gotten away with double the time spent developing the characters before the inevitable grisly death and it wouldn't have been boring.
  • My Soul to Take. To quote from this review: "The first half of the movie is devoted to the weird hierarchy at Bug’s high school, where a mean girl named Fang (Emily Meade) rules with an iron fist and doles out punishments to lesser students -- none of which has anything to do with anything."
  • Everyone knows that It's a Wonderful Life is about a guy who hits rock bottom, wishes he'd never been born, and is shown how much worse the world would be without him by a Guardian Entity. But if you haven't seen the movie, and just think you know what happens in it, you may not know that those events don't happen until roughly ninety minutes in. Everything up to that point is just to reinforce that George really is a wonderful guy, lay the contents of a small armory on the mantelpiece, and hammer home the premise.
  • Batman Begins does something like this—it's about an hour before Batman even shows up, and most of the preceding time spent watching Bruce Wayne angst about his parents and gradually develop the skills that will enable him to become Batman.
  • Reservoir Dogs basically begins as a funny comedy set in a diner about the mores and opinions of a bunch of easy-going-looking guys. Then, jumpcut to Tim Roth shot in the gut and it's off to the races...
  • The Perfect Storm takes much time to show the regular life of the Andrea Gail before the storm actually starts. This trope is far more excusable with stuff Based on a True Story, since it helps you get to know a little bit about the people who actually lost their lives for real.
  • 'Terkel in Trouble spends a lot of time establishing the characters in Terkel's life, despite the fact that the Narrator has already introduced us to his mother, father, sister, and best friend. As a result, a lot of the film before Terkal sits on the spider is Non Sequitur Scene after Non Sequitur Scene - songs, a pointless scene where Terkal gets spooked in the toilets (which only really serves to show how easily scared he is, something we definitely see firmer evidence of later on), a pointless scene where Terkal and his friend watch a gory horror film (which serves to establish how spineless Terkal is, which we see firmer evidence of later on), and so on. It's not until after the wedding scene half an hour in that the plot really starts, and once Terkal is doing things it's a lot easier to care about him.
  • Melancholia treat us to 125 (first) minutes of dialogues and evolving characters angstyness, and to 5 (last) minutes of actual disaster.
  • There Will Be Blood is a very literally example of it. Despite the title and the presence of a fair amount of violence, we actually get a clear shot of blood only in the last few minutes.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • It takes about 700 pages for the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, to show up. It takes about 400 pages for some of the instigating action to take place. That first portion of the book is taken up with introducing the characters, establishing just how bad the "looters" are and setting the stage for their truly awful deeds.
  • The first half of The Great Gatsby is mostly composed of episodic chapters that serve to introduce us to the main characters. The actual plot is kicked into gear when Gatsby requests that Nick set up a private meeting for himself and Daisy. Arguably justified in that Fitzgerald is aiming to paint these characters in a negative light and does so quite successfully.
  • As pointed out in the film section, Stephen King can fall into this. Sometimes creating an Anyone Can Die atmosphere requires giving enough attention to everyone that they look like they could be the main characters - however, this means a good deal of pages are spent on the not-relevant-to-the-plot-in-any-way life stories of people who only exist to become Redshirts not too far down the line.
    • King himself acknowledged that he hardly ever plans out a plot for his novels or stories in detail (The Dead Zone is the most notable exception), preferring instead to place a group of characters in a situation and see what happens.
  • Jack McDevitt loves to do this, often interrupting the action to do so. In Moonfall, as a shuttle is doomed he takes a moment to give a minor character's back story - then he dies and isn't brought up again.
  • Harry Turtledove is noted for this, especially in his Timeline-191 series, where multiple characters are developed over several volumes only to be killed by random events (some of them quite mundane such as blood poisoning or heart attack), their deaths not affecting the plot in the least.
  • Dan Abnett does this a lot, especially in the Gaunt's Ghosts series, both with the Ghosts themselves to establish that Anyone Can Die and with one-off characters to humanize people who are about to die horribly, regardless of which side they're on. War Is Hell, anyone?
    • Actually, now that I think about it, the entire point of the Gaunt's Ghosts series is that EVERY developed character is doomed...


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Some Power Rangers seasons have the Rangers get their Powers in the First Episode, but others wait for the second while they build the story up. Maybe not the worst offender, but when you're a little kid, chances are you're more interested in seeing the super heroes in the colorful suits than seeing the story set up.
  • Similarly, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger also pulled off what RPM did and have the characters already having their powers by the time the show starts, and as it progressed, it showed the backstories and how the heroes became pirates. Well... Except for Doc.
    • Gokaiger really spaced things out; we didn't find out how Ahim joined the crew until Episode 41 out of 51. Overall it works, mainly because the characters are fun and interesting even without getting into their backstories, especially Doc.
  • The TV adaptation of the Agatha Christie story Dumb Witness forces the audience to sit through 40 minutes of nothing but wall-to-wall upper-class twits bickering about breaking the water-speed record before the first of the resident jerks has the decency to die. And then Poirot wastes another half-hour attending seances and dicking around with the murder victim's dog before the next corpse shows up.
  • The Walking Dead is a notable aversion. There's only one expository conversation, a shootout, an Impairment Shot, and then zombies.
    • This aversion could, in a way, be considered an aversion to an aversion. While it remains to be seen how the TV adaptation plays out, the comic is in no way about the zombies or awesome head-blasting action, but rather is focused on the characters and how they deal with the new world they find themselves in. Many issues have no zombies at all.
  • Dead Set. Partially justified as the story is set in a Reality TV Show Mansion and so the characters really are jerks, being the contestants selected deliberately to antagonise each other to make better television. However, this trope arguably works better for establishing affection towards the contestants (like Brainless Beauty Pippa, Wholesome Crossdresser Grayson and Deadpan Snarker Joplin) than it does for The Determinator Kelly, for whom we are introduced to her love life, friends, work-related woes, Pointy-Haired Boss, celebrity friends, etc., long before she does any of the actual Determinating which makes her so awesome.
    • Also partially justified in that this is a Necessary Weasel for Reality TV in general. After all, someone will be eliminated first, and we're supposed to be sorry (or in some cases gleeful) to see them go.
  • Pretty much standard operating procedure for TV mystery shows like Perry Mason and Murder, She Wrote. We're introduced to the eventual victim and suspects in order to establish why the person dies and why everyone wants him/her dead.
  • Done cleverly in the 2005 adaptation of Bleak House, with the character Nemo. He is played by John Lynch, and has several scenes in the first episode that give the impression his story will be developing alongside the other main characters introduced, so it comes as a bit of a shock to viewers new to the story when he drops dead at the end of episode one. This is in contrast to the book where he starts out essentially as a Posthumous Character.


Music[edit | hide]

  • At many concerts, the opening act or the band on a double bill playing before the one you wanted to see can seem like this if you're not a fan.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • Theater example: the musical Jekyll and Hyde. There is no romantic subplot of any kind in Robert Louis Stevenson's original story, but thanks to Lost in Imitation this version has two. Early on there is a lengthy scene at Jekyll and his fiance Emma's engagement party ( the Board of Governors members there, save for Emma's dad, will all be killed by Hyde by show's end, as in the previous scene they didn't support Jekyll's work); after that he pays a visit to a seedy nightclub and encounters performer/prostitute Lucy. Thus Hyde doesn't show up until about 13 songs into Act One. The show continues to focus more on the two women's relationships with the protagonist and his alter ego than his murderous rampage. Talk about a Romantic Plot Tumor!


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Colonel's Bequest (and its sequel) opens up with a long list of unlikeable stock characters and their cliched interrelation dramas, affairs, blackmails and so forth. You get points for discovering every little detail about these through spying on them; however, none of it matters even one bit as soon as people start dying like mayflies. By the end of the game, all of the cast except two are dead, and none of that can be prevented.
  • Quest for Glory V also does this. The game plot opens with a contest between five candidates (including the protagonist) who have to take a series of trials so that the best of them will become king. Most of the other candidates prove to be irrelevant as they end up dying in a way you cannot prevent, and the trials turn out to irrelevant when the hidden enemy starts summoning the titular dragon. By the end of the game, you become king by virtue of having slain the dragon, and the whole trials are quietly dropped.
  • The beginning of Xenogears does not even attempt to hide the doomedness of Fei's Doomed Hometown, but all the same the first couple hours are spent exploring the sleepy farming village of Lahan, speaking to its quirky inhabitants, doing tutorials and meeting Fei's friends and adoptive family. Thanks to the charming dialogue, colorful art design and delightfully catchy background music, this works surprisingly well, so that when the inevitable catastrophe rolls around the average player will feel a genuine sense of loss.
  • Most of the first half of Ultima VII Serpents Isle is spent traveling through the three towns of Monitor, Fawn, and Moonshade, with lengthy plots in each one exploring their politics and relationship to both the Britannian and Ophidian virtues. Great effort goes into making you care about the Non-Player Character residents and sympathize with their problems. Then virtually everyone on Serpent's Isle gets slaughtered offscreen by the Banes. According to Word of God, it was the only way they could get the game on store shelves by the deadline.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Zoe's college friends fill this role in the Sluggy Freelance horror spoof "KITTEN." Surprisingly, about a third of them end up surviving (at least until KITTEN II), though only main characters Torg and Zoe escape without being mauled, going catatonic, or becoming Satan's concubine.
  • Xkcd proposes an alternative. And then later inverts it.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • This YouTube video makes good use of the phenomenon by adding a laugh track and musical cues from The Beverly Hillbillies to the pre-Jason scenes of Friday the 13 th Part III.
  • The Survival of the Fittest 'Pregames'. A variation in that its purpose is to establish relationships and set up storylines for the island itself - as well as flesh out the characters. However, ultimately Pregame amounts to a delay between the start of the next game - something which a number of handlers dislike. They want to skip straight to the killing!
  • Unskippable mocks video games that start out with five-to-ten minutes with jerks before pressing buttons starts to matter.
  • Everyman HYBRID has a weird take on this. At first, it looks like Marble Hornets-lite, with the Slender Man making painfully obvious background appearances while the cast talk about diet tips and workout routines. Then someone else wearing a very convincing Slender Man outfit shows up, and you find out that it was an in-universe ripoff that has now been gatecrashed by the real deal. The rest of the series is more dialogue-heavy than any other Slender-story on Youtube, but from that point on the characters are actually talking about relevant stuff.
  • Heta Oni plays with this trope in that the development is largely done ahead of time in the parent series.