14 Underrated Movies Where Someone Gets Put Through The Wringer

List Rules
Vote up the movies that really make you feel like you're going through the wringer.

Dearest lovers of schadenfreude, we're unpacking the movies wherein a main character's life begins to wholly fall apart. They must hit rock bottom, and they (usually) do manage to claw their way back into the light. We have included exceptions to that plot rule, wherein they don't quite bounce back. In the moment, these descents can prove to be fairly stressful and anxiety-invoking to an audience. Sometimes, that extends to our heroes inadvertently being perceived within their own worlds as their stories' villains.

Pick your favorite and least favorite movies where someone gets put through the wringer below!


  • Cold, corporate investment banker Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) has lost touch with his humanity at the start of the David Fincher-helmed thriller The Game (1997). And things only get worse from there - or so it seems.

    Nicholas's little brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), buys him a mysterious interactive "game" from the innovative Consumer Recreation Services for the event of his 48th birthday, knowing that their father took his own life on his 48th birthday. Nicholas becomes convinced that his career, wealth, and even survival have been compromised in the service of this game. Intriguing server Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) tells him she too has been duped by "the game" and CRS. Nicholas subsequently gets his bank accounts seemingly drained by CRS, is drugged by Christine, finds himself buried in a Mexican cemetery, and is told that Conrad has been committed to an institution. 

    At wit's end, Nicholas arms himself. Christine returns at CRS headquarters to tell him that everything has been an elaborate ruse, but a bonkers Nicholas shoots the first person to greet him in celebration of his birthday atop the CRS roof. Deeply depressed, Nicholas decides to leap to his own demise - but lands on an air cushion instead, and discovers that his gun was a blank. The game was all a setup, designed to make Nicholas a more compassionate person. 

  • Prissy yuppy commodities brokerage firm managing director Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and down-on-his-luck hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) are the titular place-traders in this classic John Landis-helmed comedy. They find themselves unwitting pawns in a petty wager between Louis's bosses, Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche), who opt to use the duo (strangers to each other) in a cruel social experiment. They frame Louis as a pimp, drug dealer, and thief; they dupe sex worker Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) into smooching Louis in front of his fiancée and essentially breaking them up - and they then bequeath Billy Ray with Louis's job and home (which the Dukes own). 

    Billy Ray discovers that the Duke brothers screwed over Louis and intend to fire him soon, too, all over a $1 bet. When a freshly destitute and friendless Louis, who has been taken in by a sympathetic Ophelia, crashes the brothers' office Christmas party at gunpoint, attempts to frame Billy Ray, and then tries to end his life via an overdose, Billy Ray saves him. Louis, Billy Ray, and Ophelia plot a sneaky and satisfying financial revenge on the Dukes. But, my goodness, things get dark for a second there, huh?

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    Romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) feels constricted by the Victorian-era heroine he created whose various romantic adventures made his career, Misery Chastain. As Misery (1990) kicks off, Paul has put the finishing touches on what he intends to be Misery's grand finale, a tale in which she perishes in childbirth. Paul, a Bronx native, has written a more rough-and-tumble manuscript that he hopes can be the start of a grittier string of books.

    Unfortunately for Paul, he's about to meet his biggest fan, and she won't take too kindly to his post-Misery life goals. 

    That'd be former pediatric nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who was tried but never convicted for murdering babies at work. When Paul crashes his car in a blizzard while driving home to New York from a hotel in Colorado he likes to write in, Annie (who has been stalking him) is available to rescue him from the rubble. She begins to mend him back to health. Eventually, Paul discovers that Annie has yet to report his whereabouts to the proper authorities, and he is unable to call his agent or family. Furious that Paul intends to kill Misery off, she forces the still-bedridden author to write a new book, wherein Misery Chastain can be resurrected. Paul tries to store his painkillers with the intention of poisoning Annie one night, but his efforts are inadvertently thwarted when she accidentally knocks over her wine glass containing the painkiller's contents.

    Paul has been sneaking out of his room while Annie has been away from the house, trying to figure out a way to get help. When Annie discerns this, she penalizes Paul by "hobbling" him - she breaks his ankles using a sledgehammer. Annie, growing increasingly zanier and spookily smitten with Paul, decides that she will kill Paul and then herself. Local sheriff Buster (Richard Farnsworth), who has been investigating Paul's disappearance and suspects Annie, shows up at her property one day, and it appears that Paul will finally be saved - unfortunately, Annie offs the sheriff before he can rescue Paul.

    Paul eventually talks her down and convinces her to give him more time to finish the new Misery novel. Through a series of fortunate events, he is able to finally defeat his captor.

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  • Tony Scott's paranoid political thriller Enemy of the State (1998) very much presents a '90s spin on a classic '70s trope, right down to the inspired casting of Gene Hackman as the Edward "Brill" Lyle, a former NSA communications expert forced to go underground after the Iranian Revolution. Hackman of course had starred in some paranoid thrillers of his own in the 1970s, most notably The Conversation (1974) and Night Moves (1975). Like any good paranoid thriller, Enemy of the State is riddled with intricate plot minutiae, so we'll try to not dig too far into the weeds here.

    After labor lawyer Bobby Dean (Will Smith) is slipped a video containing footage of the murder of a congressman, he finds his life more or less destroyed by the man who ordered the hit, NSA official Thomas Brian Reynolds (Jon Voight) and his assorted goons. Reynolds's associates bug Bobby's clothes and home, then create fake evidence to incriminate Bobby. The evidence (falsely) suggests that Bobby's been colluding with the mob, money laundering, and cheating on his wife Carla (Regina King). Bobby is fired by his law firm, has his finances frozen, and is thrown out of the house by an understandably irked Carla.

    Of course, this all happens early on in Enemy of the State. Let's just say that this nadir is not necessarily the final level for our boy Bobby.

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  • Real-life San Francisco salesman turned stockbroker Chris Gardner had a life so incredible, he got to be played by Will Smith in an inspirational blockbuster biopic. Unfortunately, part of Gardner's metamorphosis involves a pretty depressing nadir. After Chris struggles to sell his supply of bone-density scanners, his wife leaves him and their young son, Christopher Jr. (played by Smith's actual son, Jaden), for a job on the opposite coast. With the sales work drying up, Chris decides to interview for an unpaid internship in the hopes of becoming a stockbroker. 

    The night preceding his scheduled interview, he is detained and ordered to spend a night in jail for unpaid parking tickets. He books the gig but is evicted from his home because, unfortunately, unpaid internships don't pay the bills. He and Christopher Jr. at one point wind up having to spend the night in a BART station.

    This wouldn't be an inspirational tale without Chris eventually succeeding in his gig, of course. But there is a moment when things look pretty darn bleak.

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  • In The Insider (1999), former Brown & Williamson tobacco company executive Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) begins receiving threatening missives (including a bullet in his mailbox) after Wigand consults with CBS for a 60 Minutes story on technical matters that should not violate the terms of the NDA he signed with Brown & Williamson. 

    When Wigand's computer is confiscated by the FBI after he requests help, Wigand tells CBS producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) that B&W fired him when he protested the company's decision to deliberately make their cigarette products more addictive. Wigand's wife (Diane Venora) leaves him and takes their kids with her. Wigand's recorded CBS interview is temporarily shelved after a 500-page hit piece is published to discredit him.

    This moment represents poor Wigand's nadir; his "punishment" for his candor. Eventually, CBS decides to release the interview following public pressure.

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