For the main character’s story to be interesting, they must have a lot of bad luck
Misfortune and personal tragedies can provide the basis for compelling stories. A tragic event in a drama can create a compelling narrative in which a problem is overcome. In a comedy, a fictional character’s constant misfortune is amusing.
Not all fictional characters are equally unfortunate, and the universe sometimes appears to go out of its way to punish some more than others. The characters in the following films and television shows all go through a great ordeal in their respective works of fiction, and they are ranked below from super unlucky to cosmically cursed.
The following will contain some spoilers for the movies listed.
10 Paul Hackett from ‘After Hours’ (1985)
Martin Scorsese is best known for his gangster films and historical dramas, but the cult classic After Hours proves he also has a knack for dark comedy. It’s a film that’s equal parts hilarious and nightmarish, centering on a man named Paul, who goes on a series of misadventures one night in New York City after trying to meet up with a girl for a late-night date.
It’s the kind of movie where every scene serves as an escalation, and the pacing proves relentless. It’s an anxious but very entertaining watch about an exceedingly unlucky young man, with Paul’s survival of his crazy, dangerous night the only thing that stops him from ranking even higher on the karmically cursed scale.
9 James Bond from the Daniel Craig ‘James Bond’ series (2006-2021)
Every iteration of James Bond goes through some tough times, but the character was often one who still felt like a power fantasy. Physical pain was something James Bond tended to be able to shrug off, and on the occasion that someone he knew died violently, it didn’t often seem to impact Bond too much emotionally.
Things changed when it came to the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. He was still tough, cool, and charismatic, but suffered more physically and emotionally than other versions of 007 before him. The death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale was more devastating than any other comparable death, he lost M in Skyfall, and he became the first Bond to die in the ironically titled No Time To Die, making him easily the most unlucky 007 so far.
8 Tora-san from the ‘It’s Tough Being a Man’ series (1969-2019)
The Japanese film series It’s Tough Being a Man spans 50 installments across 50 years, with all but the last focusing on a bachelor named Tora-san. In just about every movie, he falls for a new woman, though because of either terrible luck or one of his own mistakes, he doesn’t end up with her, and so sets off looking for someone else by each film’s conclusion.
It’s a very formulaic series, but seeing Tora-san and his family mature and grow as people keeps it compelling. Tora himself might be the least lucky character in romantic-comedy history, but as he grows older, he pursues new potential partners less regularly and less chaotically, showing that towards the end of his life, he may have been at peace with his status as Japan’s unofficial eternal bachelor.
7 Lawrence “Larry” Gopnik from ‘A Serious Man’ (2009)
The Coen Brothers love writing movie protagonists who have a string of bad luck that gets them in deeper and deeper trouble as the story goes on. Few characters demonstrate this better than Larry Gopnik, the lead character from their bleak/sad dark comedy A Serious Man (2009).
It’s a film that takes the Old Testament story of the Book of Job and places it in a modern context, showing a man being stripped of all his finances and most of his relationships, and the ways this tests his faith. The Coens do put a darkly comedic spin on the story, yet the fact Larry suffers so much – and is so unlucky – can make this film overall quite the downer.
6 Jack Bauer from ’24’ (2001-2014)
Few TV show protagonists have gone through as much as Jack Bauer’s gone through in 24. The counter-terrorism agent has been on the front lines for countless world-ending threats, has taken hundreds of lives, has been tortured on numerous occasions, and has lost just about everyone who was ever close to him.
The only reason Bauer isn’t the least lucky character of all time is that he seems to be invincible, seeing as few fictional people have cheated death as many times as him. Of course, it could also be argued that once someone’s suffered as much as Bauer, an eternity of living to fight another day might be a curse more so than a blessing.
5 Ripley from the ‘Alien’ series (1979-1997)
It’s pretty terrifying to think about how much Ripley’s lost throughout the Alien films she’s appeared in. She’s the sole human survivor of the original 1979 film, and survives with some other characters in the 1986 sequel… yet it’s revealed in 1992’s Alien 3 that they actually died between films. Then almost everyone in Alien 3 ends up dying, including Ripley herself.
She comes back as a clone in 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, only to have to deal with more carnage and horror. Even death can’t seem to spare Ripley from constantly facing Xenomorphs, making her perhaps eternally cursed to continue fighting them until the end of time, all the while everyone she knows dies around her.
4 Sam Lowry from ‘Brazil’ (1985)
A science-fiction classic that time has been kind to, Brazil takes a look at a truly terrifying dystopian future. In it, terrorism is a constant threat, the government interferes with just about every aspect of everyone’s lives, and bureaucracy has spiraled out of control to the point where no one can really change anything.
Brazil’s protagonist, an ordinary man named Sam Lowry, is stuck in the middle of it all. When he gets roped into a strange conspiracy, every moment of his life becomes a waking nightmare, with each minute being worse and more confusing than the last. He’s in a similar situation to the aforementioned Paul from After Hours, yet Sam’s ultimate fate at the end of Brazil isn’t nearly as lucky.
3 Peter Parker from the ‘Spider-Man’ series (2002-2021)
While Peter Parker might not face quite as much personal tragedy as Black Panther‘s Shuri (and not in such a short space of time), he still stands as perhaps Marvel’s least lucky hero. This is mainly because of how multiverse crossovers shown in films like Into the Spider-Verse and No Way Home depict Peter as an unlucky, tragic figure in every single conceivable universe.
Whether it’s loved ones dying, relationships falling apart, constant new arch-nemeses arising, or simply failing at school and work, Peter Parker is doomed across all universes and timelines to suffer. Yet he always fights back and deals with his rotten odds, meaning that even if he is cosmically unlucky, his determination and good heart ensure he usually achieves at least a minor victory in each film he features in.
2 Buffy Summers from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1997-2003)
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, every main character has to process a great deal of trauma, yet few face as much constant bad luck as the title character. Buffy Summers starts the series as a high school student who can’t catch a break, and ends it as a young adult who can’t catch a break.
It makes for compelling television, but it is genuinely sad to see Buffy lose loved ones, fall in and out of love, feel alone and misunderstood, and have to constantly be the sole person who saves the world, again and again. She thankfully ends the series alive, and hopefully with a promising future ahead of her… but the journey there was brutal.
1 Forklift Driver Klaus from ‘Forklift Driver Klaus – The First Day on the Job’ (2000)
An absurd parody of instructional safety videos mixed in with Evil Dead-style violence, the title character from Forklift Driver Klaus is shown having the worst first day at work of all time. On his first shift, carelessness and bad luck lead to him injuring and/or killing most of the people inside the factory he works at… Klaus himself included.
Everything that can go wrong for Klaus on his first day at work does go wrong. Driving a forklift can lead to accidents in real life, but never to the extent shown here, where no one makes it out alive. This ensures Klaus is arguably the most unfortunate character in the history of fiction.
Sarah looks after corporate enquiries and relationships for UKFilmPremieres, CelebEvents, ShowbizGossip, Celeb Management brands for the MarkMeets Group. Sarah works for numerous media brands across the UK.
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