15 Movies Where The Characters DON'T Learn A Lesson

List Rules
Vote up the films where the main character never truly "gets it together."

All movie protagonists face some kind of problem. That's the fundamental basis of fiction. Without a hurdle to overcome, there is no drama, no suspense, no pathos. For audiences, watching the heroes get around these problems is cathartic. When they learn a lesson from their trials, viewers can learn something vicariously. The depiction of personal growth in films is often incredibly inspiring.

Every so often, though, a protagonist doesn't learn a lesson. They don't grow. They don't change. They don't become a better person in the end. This presents a unique challenge for filmmakers, as it's important to still get the audience on the side of a character who fails to get their act together. Done correctly, pictures of this sort offer their own form of impact. They can be cautionary tales, or they can just earn laughs by giving us a hero who mentally doesn't have the wherewithal to learn from their predicament. That's precisely what happened in the following films. 


  • Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a young attorney with big aspirations. The hero of The Devil's Advocate, he gets a job offer at a fancy New York law firm run by John Milton (Al Pacino). His wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) begins having terrifying hallucinations not long after he starts. She begs him to leave the firm so they can go back to their old life, but he refuses, even as he comes to suspect that Milton isn't entirely who he claims to be. Kevin is too caught up in taking on cases and working his way up the ladder.

    In the end, it's revealed that Milton is, in fact, the literal devil, and he's been seducing Kevin the whole time. The temptations of money, power, prestige, and even sex have done the trick. Milton has essentially stolen Kevin's soul - or at least coerced him into giving it over willingly. The dramatic conclusion finds Kevin overpowering Milton, but in the last scene, a reporter offers to make him "famous" via an interview. Kevin agrees to sit down and talk. The lure of fame and power are still there. Milton perhaps continues to have a slight grasp on him. 

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  • In White Men Can't Jump, Woody Harrelson plays Billy Hoyle, a white guy who pulls a specialized con in which he challenges Black basketball players to a game of one-on-one, assuming they will underestimate his hoops capabilities. He successfully pulls that scam on Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes). Although initially angry, Sidney sees an opportunity. He proposes an alliance in which they team up to do a variation on the ruse at various Los Angeles basketball courts. Billy agrees, since he owes a lot of money to some mobsters. 

    Taking part in this scheme causes Billy to lose his girlfriend, Gloria (Rosie Perez), after he gambles some of her money on one of the games. He also comes uncomfortably close to getting whatever punishment the mobsters intend to dole out when he and Sidney play a high-stakes game against two local legends that they very nearly lose. Despite these consequences, White Men Can't Jump ends with Billy and Sidney approaching a bunch of guys on a basketball court, presumably getting ready to pull off their con yet another time. 

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  • Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) are, as the title Dumb and Dumber suggests, not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. The two buddies make a mishap-laden trip from Rhode Island to Colorado after Lloyd's crush, Mary (Lauren Holly), leaves a briefcase full of money at the airport. He foolishly believes that she will fall for him if he heroically returns it to her. What he doesn't realize is that she left the cash there on purpose, to be picked up by the men who kidnapped her husband. 

    The guys have a run-in with some bad dudes on their trek and have to navigate a series of comic complications. Once they finally reach their destination and give the cash back to Mary, she reveals to Lloyd that she's married - and happily so. Despite his benevolent actions, he doesn't get the girl in the end. You'd think going through all this would make Harry and Lloyd a little more worldly. Nope. Dumb and Dumber ends with them just as clueless as they were at the beginning. As they begin their return trip home, they decline the chance to be "oil boys" for a busload of bikini models. As Forrest Gump would have said, "stupid is as stupid does."

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  • 4
    47 VOTES

    Game Night stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie, a married couple who have people over to their house every weekend for an evening of games and fun. During one such night, Max's brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) unexpectedly shows up, claiming to have organized a mystery game that will require them to solve a kidnapping. Before that happens, real kidnappers show up and abduct Brooks. Max and Annie, thinking they're playing a game, start working to find him. 

    Eventually, it becomes clear that this is not a game at all. Brooks is actually a black marketeer who has stolen a valuable Faberge egg, with plans to sell it off. That's why he was snatched. When all is said and done, Max and Annie face off against the real kidnappers by chasing down the airplane they're trying to get away in. Brooks is saved, although placed under house arrest for his crimes. Game Night's final scene has Max saying he's sure this experience will make Brooks a better man. But Brooks informs him that he's still selling sensitive items on the black market. The potential for a big payday is too much for him to walk away from. Max doesn't even bother trying to talk him out of it.

  • The Social Network begins with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by his girlfriend. Part of her reason for giving him the deep-six is that he's self-centered and casually cruel. From there, he goes on to create a website that allows students at his college to rate girls according to their attractiveness. With help from friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer), he evolves that into the social media phenomenon that is Facebook.

    In the process of doing this, Zuckerberg betrays everyone, Eduardo in particular. He also gets sued for his shady business practice of taking other people's ideas and essentially claiming them as his own. The character is just as big a jerk at the end as he is at the beginning, pointedly never accepting responsibility for anything he's done or anyone he's hurt. In the film's final moments, he even sends his ex-girlfriend a friend request and narcissistically hits the refresh button every few seconds to see if she's accepted it.  

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  • 6
    23 VOTES
    Uncut Gems
    Photo: A24

    Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems. Howard is a New York City jeweler who specializes in selling to notable figures like rappers and athletes. He's just gotten his hands on a rare black opal, which he plans to sell off for a million dollars so that he can pay back his increasingly impatient debtors. When NBA star Kevin Garnett asks to borrow it, Howard unwisely agrees. The hoopster then refuses to give it back, seriously putting the plan in jeopardy.

    As all this happens, Howard artificially drives up the auction price on the opal and ends up the winning bidder, meaning he has to buy something he already owns. He's also repeatedly threatened by a mobster and his goon, who are ready to be paid back. Even after finally convincing Garnett to return the opal, he doesn't do the sensible thing. Instead, he falls victim to his gambling problem, betting the cash he gets for it on the outcome of a basketball game. His team wins, but the mobsters have become sufficiently fed up that they fatally shoot him anyway, just for stringing them along.