One of the unfortunate realities in action movies is that there is often quite a bit of collateral damage. And in a lot of cases, we’re not supposed to think about it. But think about how many times a hot dog vendor gets his entire livelihood destroyed by a car chase that wrecks his corner, and how many cars are squashed when we’re watching an ultimate fight between good and evil play out. These are meant to be passing scenes of unmitigated violence between our protagonists and their adversaries, but it’s safe to say that innocent lives often get caught in the balance.
Though some innocent deaths are blatant, there are also some that we need to consider that happen off-screen. We’re not trying to be a buzzkill here, but even the most noble of action heroes take out innocent victims in their ongoing pursuit for justice. On this list, we’re going to cover some obvious (and not-so-obvious) instances in which our heroes accidentally kill innocent people.
10 Luke Skywalker – Star Wars (1977)
If you follow Clerks logic, then it’s safe to say that the destruction of the Death Star took out quite a bit of independent contractors. In fact, according to Star Wars reference books, the population of the Death Star was well over two million people. Sure, a hefty bunch of the population of the Death Star was military personnel, but you have to consider the quarter million civilians, the independent contractors, as well as the catering staff.
Make no mistake, we’re not saying that blowing up the Death Star was the wrong thing to do considering the threat it posed to the galaxy, but there was by no means zero collateral damage either. After all, if Princess Leia was held captive on the Death Star as a prisoner of war, then there’s no telling how many other innocent people were also on board against their will.
9 Cameron Poe – Con Air (1997)
Though Cameron Poe is full of nothing but good intentions in Con Air, he’s responsible for a substantial amount of collateral damage. If he just stayed in his seat at the beginning of the film, then the undercover agent on the plane wouldn’t have been shot dead by Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom during his attempted hijacking. In other words, by attempting to distract Grissom, Poe inadvertently tipped him off to the agent on board.
To add insult to injury, Poe begs the FBI to not shoot down the plane when it’s flying over a deserted area. But things take a turn for the worse when the plane crashes violently on the Las Vegas strip. Though Cameron Poe only has four confirmed kills in Con Air, we can safely say that the plane crash caused the death of several innocent bystanders that were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
8 Bryan Mills – Taken (2008)
On its surface, 2008’s Taken is a satisfying story about revenge and justice. But if you take into account how many innocent bystanders are taken out during Bryan Mills’ rampage, you have to question his moral compass just a little bit. When Mill’s Daughter, Kim, is kidnapped, he delivers the iconic line, “I will find you and I will kill you,” that we all know and love, and we’d be lying if we said we weren’t excited about the upcoming bloodbath. But we all know by now that high-octane chase sequences often take place in city streets during business hours, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary deaths.
Now listen, we know that Mills is on a time crunch, and has to act fast to save his daughter. But we can’t help but wonder how many innocent people need to get mowed down in the process. Though never fully addressed on screen, it’s safe to say that several innocent bystanders succumbed to injuries, or death, in this film.
7 Dominic Toretto – Fast Five (2011)
The Fast and Furious franchise is well known for its over-the-top action sequences, and more often than not they keep us at the edge of our seats. After all, Dom and his family are the ultimate anti-heroes. But during the vault heist in Fast Five, it’s safe to say that innocent families and bystanders were absolutely squashed into submission by Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner while pulling off this one.
If you just think about it for a second, there’s no way that Dom and Brian can have a clean conscience after whipping an 80 thousand pound vault through the city streets on a wire tether that has a substantial amount of slack on it. Every time they turn a corner, that vault is whipping into buildings, parked cars, and onto sidewalks. The most alarming part about this sequence is that it happened in broad daylight, when they could have at least made the conscious decision to steal the vault outside of regular business hours.
6 Tony Stark – Iron Man (2008)
Though Tony Stark feels an overwhelming need to use his technology for the better good of humanity in Iron Man, the military application of Stark’s innovations before Iron Man lead us to believe that he’s responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of deaths across the world. And that’s why Tony Stark has a change of heart (see what we did there?). The film begins in war-torn Afghanistan, when Stark is demonstrating the potential devastation of his new “Jericho” missile. And this missile is in no uncertain terms an absolute killing machine. If the ambush he survived didn’t make him rethink his career path, there’s no saying how many more people in war-torn countries would succumb to fatal injuries at the behest of his inventions.
Luckily, Tony Stark’s new role as Iron Man is to use his weapons technology to protect innocent people instead of blowing them up. But we can’t help but wonder how much damage was already done in the past.
5 Neo – The Matrix (1999)
In Neo’s quest to save humanity from the machines in The Matrix, a lot of innocent people are caught in the crossfire. But there’s some moral ambiguity that we need to consider as well. When Neo and Trinity are on their mission to save Morpheus, they take out so many guards and cops in the process. On one hand, these are just regular people doing their job, who do not deserve to die.
On the other hand, Morpheus tells Neo early on that anybody who is a part of the system that they are trying to destroy is in fact an enemy. Though this is certainly a moral dilemma that needs to be faced, we have to look at the bigger picture, and what Neo is trying to accomplish.
4 Paul Maguire – Rage (2014)
2014’s Rage takes a page from the Taken playbook when Nicolas Cage’s Paul Maguire is trying to exact revenge for his daughter Caitlin’s kidnapping and death. But as the film progresses, he gets more and more unhinged in his actions, and is willing to take out anybody he thinks may be involved. This all comes to a head when Maguire assumes that his friend Danny was somehow involved.
Maguire kills Danny with a knife, but later finds out that he actually had nothing to do with it. Though Danny often ran with the wrong crowd, in this case, he was an innocent victim of Maguire’s misguided wrath in the heat of the moment.
3 T-800 – Terminator 2 (1991)
In Terminator 2, we learn that although the T-800 is designed to follow orders; it’s capable of overriding its mission objectives when told to do so by the appropriate party. When John Connor tells the T-800 that he no longer wants him to kill innocent people, the body count drops significantly. But up to that point, everybody was fair game. In other words, the T-800 was programmed to complete a mission, and the mission in Terminator 2 is to save John Connor… so he better listen to what John Connor has to say.
Throughout the rest of the film, we see the T-800 being very careful to take down anybody who’s in his way, but through less lethal means. However, it’s worth noting that when he was concealing a shotgun in a box of roses at the Galleria, it’s safe to say that he killed the shopkeeper to obtain said box. Though this isn’t necessarily an “accidental” killing, it’s worth noting because if the Terminator had already met John Connor at this point in the film, it’s certainly an off-screen death that could have been easily avoided.
2 Danny Ocean – Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Power outages can have some serious consequences, and we’re about to talk about the one in Ocean’s Eleven. We’re talking of course about “the pinch,” which is said to unleash an electromagnetic pulse that shuts down any power source within proximity. Though Danny Ocean and his crew use this technology to rob a casino, there is a clear shot in the film that shows the entire city of Las Vegas in a complete blackout. Okay, we know that this one isn’t necessarily an action movie, but it’s an excellent example of what could go wrong during an elaborate heist.
Now, if we only focus on the plot, there are no innocent deaths, but you need to consider the consequences of blacking out a major metropolitan power grid. If we take what Basher says literally, and the pinch does, in fact, take out every single power source, then you have people on life-support, and with pacemakers that need to be considered. Though we don’t see any of this on screen, it’s safe to say that there was at least some collateral damage in the form of innocent people dying in Ocean’s Eleven.
1 Superman – Man of Steel (2013)
2013’s Man of Steel is by far the most egregious example of collateral damage on this list. When Superman and General Zod have their epic showdown in Metropolis, they destroy at least seven buildings, and Zack Snyder has even gone on record stating that there were around 5,000 innocent people who were taken out by the carnage. And this death toll was meant to symbolize disaster in a mythological sense. But mythology aside, we simply cannot gloss over how many families are torn apart by this battle.
But one thing to consider is how much more damage could have been inflicted on Metropolis, and the world, if Superman wasn’t there to intervene. That’s the problem with collateral damage; even though it’s safe to assume that nobody is happy about 5,000 accidental deaths, we need to consider how much worse things could have turned out if the World Engine was fully utilized in this context.