15 Times A Movie Character Has A 'My God, What Have I Done?' Moment

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Vote up the most devastating moments of realization.

In their classic song “Once in a Lifetime,” Talking Heads frontman David Byrne sings, "You may say to yourself, 'My God, what have I done?'" The following movie characters have all been in that exact situation. Few things in life shake you up as much as the realization that you've made a colossal mistake or misjudgment that has had the effect of hurting someone important to you or screwing up something you'd worked hard to achieve. Such moments fill you with a unique sense of dread.

Watching fictional characters go through such things provides intense drama. Movies are designed to get us rooting for the protagonists - to make us feel like we're on their journey with them. When they experience terrible consequences for their actions, it can affect us almost as emotionally as if we'd been the one it happened to. For a movie to get the full effect of the phenomenon, its story has to be carefully calibrated, allowing the audience to understand what the hero wants to achieve and why the repercussions of their actions are so dire.

Which of these movie characters who had a "My God, what have I done?" moment paid the heaviest price for what they did? Vote up your picks. 

  • 1
    173 VOTES

    The Mayor After Another Shark Attack At The Beach He Insisted On Keeping Open In 'Jaws'

    In Steven Spielberg's Jaws, Brody (Roy Scheider) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) know there's a very large, very hungry shark in the water off Amity Island. They've seen the proof. Even worse, they're extremely confident the shark will attack again. That doesn't deter Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton). The lucrative July Fourth weekend is coming up, which means a lot of business for the town. He therefore ignores their pleas to close the beach, even after they provide him with evidence of what that shark can do. 

    The mayor's decision proves extremely unwise when the shark does indeed strike again while Amity Island's beaches are full of unsuspecting vacationers. It kills a boater and creates a full-fledged panic, with people practically trampling each other to get off the beach. That's the moment when Vaughn realizes he has blood on his hands. He cared more about money than safety, and the cost was human life. His guilt leads him to apologize to Brody. He also provides the cash to hire shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to slay the beast.

    173 votes
  • Terminator 2's Miles Dyson is a good guy and a family man. He's invented a sophisticated neural-net processor. Working with a team of fellow scientists, his intent is to create new forms of artificial intelligence. He certainly doesn't intend to use these technological developments for any nefarious purposes. 

    His big indication that something is wrong comes when an armed Sarah Connor storms his house, shoots him, and nearly ends him before backing off. Then she informs him that his work becomes the basis for Skynet, directly leading to the future rise of the machines and subsequent near-extinction of mankind. Miles is horrified to learn that something he's done will have such a catastrophic impact in the future. That runs entirely counter to his desires. In an attempt to make things right, he accompanies Sarah, her son John, and the Terminator to Cyberdyne, where he plans to destroy his work. Cops arrive before this can happen, so while the others escape, he detonates an explosive that largely does the trick. 

    176 votes
  • 3
    127 VOTES

    David Drayton When The Military Arrives At The End In 'The Mist'

    The ending to Frank Darabont's The Mist changes the ending of Stephen King's novella slightly. Whereas King offered a glimmer of hope, however tiny, Darabont went for full-fledged nihilism. Thomas Jane plays David, a guy who goes to his small-town grocery store with his son, Billy. While inside, a mist envelops the building. It quickly becomes clear that monsters are hiding in it, and they waste no time striking anyone who ventures out of the supermarket. 

    In the end, David hops in a car and escapes with Billy and three other people. Things look endlessly bleak out there. To prevent them from the certain-to-be-deeply unpleasant death at the hands of those monsters, David uses a gun he obtained earlier in the film to mercy-kill everyone else. There are only four bullets, so he chooses to sacrifice himself to the creatures, if need be. During the movie's final minutes, he sees something coming through the mist. It isn't a monster, but rather a military vehicle, loaded with flamethrower-wielding soldiers. They're coming to save the day. Also on board are people who have been rescued, including a woman he had previously declined to help find her own kid.

    David realizes that if he had waited just a few minutes longer, his son would still be alive, along with the other three passengers. He has senselessly slain his own child. The Mist ends with him dropping to his knees, screaming in anguish as soldiers approach him.

    127 votes
  • The incredible thing about Fatal Attraction is that its moment of realization is subtle, as opposed to overt, as most movies do it. Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a happily married man. Nevertheless, he has a quickie fling with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). Or at least he thinks it's a quickie fling. When he tries to cut things off, Alex starts to get clingy. In an effort to keep him, she claims to be pregnant from their affair. Dan responds by changing his phone number, believing this will end their contact.

    For that reason, it's a massive shock when he comes home from work one day to find his wife Beth (Anne Archer) talking to Alex. They're selling their apartment, and Alex is pretending to be a potential buyer, just to reinforce that she's got the upper hand on him. The look on Dan's face says it all. Although he outwardly holds his composure, his eyes betray the fear inside. This woman is crazy, and she might burn his whole life to the ground if he doesn't acquiesce to her. His lack of fidelity in his marriage might just be the thing that causes him to lose everything he's worked for. There's no level to which Alex won't stoop. Her behavior after this moment - which includes pouring acid on his car and boiling his daughter's pet rabbit - proves that fact. 

    96 votes
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai centers around a group of POWs in WWII. They've been captured by the Japanese army and are forced to build a bridge across the titular river. Meanwhile, Allied forces are carrying out a plan to destroy that bridge, weakening the threat of their enemy nation in the process. Alec Guinness plays Colonel Nicholson, the British commander who leads those POWs. When his men do a shoddy job, he insists they make improvements. In his eyes, he isn't helping the enemy, he's creating something that will stand as a testament to the fortitude of British soldiers. A layer of narcissism is sprinkled in there, too.

    Nicholson's hubris catches up with him in the end, as he witnesses the efforts to destroy the bridge he demanded be built to exacting standards. Good men perish all around him, and the realization strikes that the British government definitely does not want this thing to exist. Had he allowed the bridge to go unfinished, as the Japanese were willing to do, none of this would be happening. Overcome with shame, he says to himself, "What have I done?" In the ultimate irony, he's immediately wounded, then falls dead onto the plunger, blowing up the bridge he so foolishly championed. 

    101 votes
  • They say love makes you do crazy things. So does the One Ring. Nobody exemplifies that better than Boromir, played by Sean Bean. An otherwise faithful member of the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings, he eventually falls prey to the wicked power of the ring. In that moment, claiming only to care about protecting his people, he tries to convince Frodo to hand it over. Frodo refuses, sensing his friend is under the ring's influence. He therefore refuses to let it go.

    Boromir responds by losing control and attacking his colleague. Frodo escapes by putting the ring on and making himself invisible. Boromir abruptly snaps out of his trance, realizing not only that he ambushed Frodo, but also that he would have gone a lot further had the hobbit not gotten away. The scene makes a big impact in The Fellowship of the Ring, as it shows how the One Ring has the power to turn allies against each other. 

    101 votes