"Don't be a hero!" are famous cinematic words that are almost never taken to heart. Tropes in media exist for a reason: They work. Leading the pack, the good ol' Heroic Sacrifice often plays an important role in movies that toe the line between tolerable and terrible.
Directors and screenwriters can use tropes to evoke emotions in their audience. Sometimes, this works beautifully and audiences are left awestruck. Other times, a misused trope can really bring a film down. Case in point: When our noble protagonist ends themselves for the sake of drama - and little else. Check out some of the dumbest heroic sacrifices in the history of cinema.
Gravity is a two-hour-long panic attack that doesn't stop until the end credits. Following a debris shower that sends astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) flying into space, Stone's only link to their space station is a tangled mess of ropes that snags over her boot. And the only thing keeping Kowalski from drifting into the void of space? A bit of rope gripped in Stone's hand. Unfortunately, Kowalski is being gradually pulled away, forcing him to make the ultimate sacrifice.
In order to save the civilian Dr. Stone, Kowalski lets go of the rope. Without him holding her back, Stone at least can survive... or so the film would have you believe.
Like most space movies, the physics behind this situation are a little wonky. As astronomer Phil Plait points out, "Clooney doesn't have to die!" This is because, in the film, the gravitational force working on the two astronauts is effectively zero. In reality, nothing would be pulling Kowalski from the tether, and a slight tug from Stone would send him right back into her arms.
Titanic's bona fides are indisputable. Not only did it take home 11 Academy Awards, it was also the highest-grossing film of all time before James Cameron topped himself with a little film called Avatar. However, the 1997 classic proves that even the most celebrated films can end with one massive plot hole.
After the Titanic sinks, Jack and Rose share a rather large piece of wreckage while they wait to get rescued. Jack, perhaps in an effort to be chivalrous, opts to give Rose the entire piece of wood while he succumbs to hypothermia in the icy water. There is plenty of room for them to share the wooden door and avoid the dangerous chill, but as James Cameron says in the very episode of Mythbusters that proves this, "If the script says Jack [perishes], he's going down."
X2: X-Men United is arguably the best of the 20th Century Fox X-Men films, and for good reason. It takes inspiration from two outstanding comics, God Loves, Man Kills and Return to Weapon X. The film was not only a box office success but also a critical darling, and proved that comic book movies had a future in Hollywood. Pound for pound, X2 is basically the perfect comic book movie - despite Jean Grey's sacrifice at the end of the film.
The problem here is that Jean's powers aren't handled consistently. Earlier in the film, a set of missiles are launched at the X-Jet and Jean uses her telekinesis to stop them. She's able to do that from within the aircraft, and without a clear line of sight on the objects. If that's the case, why does she need to leave the very same jet to save her team from the oncoming flood in the film's climax? It's clearly established that her powers work very effectively from a distance.
In fact, Jean uses her telekinesis to simultaneously perform three different tasks: Protect the jet from the water, launch it into the air, and prevent Nightcrawler from teleporting her to safety. Additionally, she uses her telepathy to hijack Professor Xavier's brain and tell her boyfriend, "This is the only way." If she'd stayed on the jet to focus all her energy on one objective, she might have realized her mistake.
This one is Joss Whedon's fault, because it's a tried-and-true formula he returns to again and again. The debut of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron is bookended by the idea of what a hero is and is not. To the siblings, Iron Man and Stark Industries are at the "not hero" end of the spectrum, whereas they - fighting to save both their country and the world - fall squarely on the opposite end. Over the course of the film, their views gradually shift.
During the climactic battle in Sokovia, we see Hawkeye interacting with the twins, telling them to get off their behinds and save some lives. Quicksilver does this incredibly well, and instead of Hawkeye perishing with an innocent bystander, Pietro takes the hit. The silver speedster leans into the heroic sacrifice trope almost as hard as Elizabeth Olsen leans into that ambiguously Eastern European accent.
The issue with Quicksilver's demise isn't so much the sacrifice as the set up. The way the sequence is filmed, and the way the characters trade stereotypical Whedon banter instead of anything approaching realistic emotions, undermines the significance of the sacrifice. Does Quicksilver's selfless act feel earned, or is it actually a cheap "fridging" for the sake of his sister's character development?