15 Movie Characters Who Have One Big Mess To Clean Up Before Retirement

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Vote up the wildest situations thrust on characters just as they're about to call it quits.

It has become a common trope in film to have characters on the verge of retirement who are given one last mission or assignment. Often these are protagonists in the crime genre, with the law enforcement hero letting the audience know that they are “too old” for the conflict, before proceeding anyway. Whether they survive or meet their demise, the final assignment often proves to be one of the craziest of the character’s time on the job. This may be a straightforward assignment that goes terribly wrong or a threat more dangerous than faced in the past, leading to a tense situation in the final days, weeks, or cases of the character’s career.

It may be a detective investigating a particularly severe series of murders or an astronaut on a mission with extreme complications, but the situations these characters face prior to their retirement tests their abilities and resolve. Sometimes, the retiring character is joined by a younger partner, whose inexperience contrasts with the veteran's time on the job. The retiring character could provide a parallel for the younger partner that is actually the focus, or the senior character may take the lead and provide guidance for the foolhardy rookie. When the character intending to retire ends up dead instead, this trope is often referred to as “retirony,” though they commonly survive thanks to the years of experience on the job. In some cases, they even outlast the younger partner.

Vote up the characters who face the biggest obstacles just before retirement!

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!


  • Detective Lieutenant William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is on the verge of retirement when he is put on the case of a serial killer using the seven cardinal sins as inspiration. Somerset is partnered with the young Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), whose idealism and eagerness contrast Somerset’s cautious and occasionally cynical outlook, developed over years of witnessing cruel crimes in the city. In the end, Somerset’s bleak perspective of society proves correct, with the serial killer goading Mills into being his final target as a representation of wrath.

    Somerset outlasts his new partner and is presumably able to retire after the final case, but not before his grim opinion about society is confirmed. The detective ends the film by saying, "Ernest Hemingway once wrote 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."

    19 votes

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  • Sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall) is on his last day on the job, which also happens to be the hottest day in the history of Los Angeles. When a series of incidents occur, Prendergast comes to the conclusion that they have all been committed by one man, recently laid-off defense worker William Foster (Michael Douglas). Faced with conflict on his journey across the city to see his daughter, Foster becomes increasingly aggressive in his responses, especially after obtaining weapons intended to be used against him by a group of gang members.

    Prendergast is able to deduce where Foster is heading, resulting in a showdown and the culprit’s demise. In the end, Prendergast’s involvement in the case convinces him to postpone his retirement.

    9 votes

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  • LAPD Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is a week away from retirement when he is demoted to uniform duties with his impulsive partner, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). As luck would have it, the partners witness an armored car robbery while on patrol, pulling them into a case involving an arms smuggling ring run by former LAPD officer Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson).

    Murtaugh and Riggs are able to take down Travis and his illegal operation, with the help of internal affairs agent Lorna Cole (Rene Russo). After the threat is eliminated, Murtaugh changes his mind about retiring, allowing the partners to return for a third sequel.

    9 votes

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  • Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is the Marshal of Hadleyville, a small town in New Mexico, though he plans to retire having recently married Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly). Before the newlyweds can leave town to start their new life, Kane receives word that the outlaw Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is heading to town, having been released from prison. As the person who sent Miller to prison, Kane feels an obligation to stay in town and face the foe, despite his wife’s pleas for pacifism.

    With nobody in town willing to help the Marshal, Kane prepares to face Miller and his gang on his own, only to be aided by his bride in the final moments. After taking down the bad guys, Kane tosses his badge in the dirt before departing with his faithful wife, presumably to live happily ever after.

    9 votes
  • Texas Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) responds to a break-in, leading to one of the most vicious cases of his career. The home belongs to Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a man who stumbled across a drug deal gone wrong and took a briefcase of money. This mistake comes back to haunt him, as Moss is hunted down by a hitman named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).

    Bell investigates and traces their conflict across Texas, though he is always one step behind. The violence of the case inspires Bell to retire, even though he was unable to catch the man responsible.

    6 votes

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  • The Pledge begins with Nevada police detective Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) attending his own retirement party before the celebration is interrupted by news of the body of a young girl being discovered. Black takes the case along with younger detective Stan Krolak (Aaron Eckhart). Although a suspect is quickly apprehended and confesses, Black suspects there is more to the case and abandons his retirement plans to keep digging for answers.

    Black nearly catches the real killer before fate intervenes, killing the culprit in an unrelated car accident. The Pledge ends with a disgraced and retired Black still obsessing over the killer he believes is still alive and free.

    9 votes

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