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Top 10 Deus Ex Machina Moments

VO: Dan Paradis
Script written by Nathan Sharp. Sometimes a climax can be so complex and exciting that a clever solution is just way to far out of reach for the writers. When that happens a story often relies on a device called "deus ex machina" or "god from the machine" and a previously unseen or obscure force comes in out of nowhere and saves the day. More than just getting the characters out of danger deus ex machina can also serve to tie up loose plot threads and resolve a conflict in as little time as possible. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 deus ex machina moments. Special thanks to our users Marco Rosato, slackerman, Marlon Jacques, Arthur Aubert, David Anthony Gilmer, p.diablo, Enrico Lienig, StaticOrgy, Andrew A. Dennison, Torkel Svenson and redeye1419 for suggesting this idea on our Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Nathan Sharp.

Top 10 Deus Ex Machina Moments


These characters certainly have God on their side. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 deus ex machina moments in movies.

For those who are unaware, a deus ex machina moment, meaning “God from the machine,” is a moment in storytelling when the characters solve or escape an otherwise inescapable situation due to an intervention by something beyond their control or from completely out of nowhere. It’s often considered a lazy and cheap way to solve problems and tie up loose ends, but today, we’re counting down our favorite big screen instances of deus ex machina.

#10: The Wildlife Suddenly Takes an Interest
“Avatar” (2009)

In this James Cameron epic that broke box office records, humans have set up a mining colony on an already inhabited planet named Pandora. Tensions boil over, leading to a climactic battle with the local aliens, the Na’vi. Just as the Na’vi are being overwhelmed by the humans’ superior technology and strength, the movie literally has the God of the planet send its wildlife to attack the human army. The characters speak of literal divine intervention and answered prayers, so at least the movie is aware of its own cheap device, but it still doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

#9: The Military Saves the Day
“Shaun of the Dead” (2004)

Sure, it may be a goofy comedic zombie movie, but an easy out for the characters means an easy out for the writers. When Shaun and his friends go to the pub to wait for a zombie apocalypse to “blow over,” it goes as well as you’d expect – which is, of course, very poorly. But luckily, Shaun and Liz are saved just in time by the until-now unseen military. Seeing the army save the day in a zombie movie is actually a little satisfying, and we could make the argument that this is – in fact – an ingenious way of satirizing the whole Deus Ex trope.

#8: An Easy and Lucky Death
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

Even this all time classic is not without its storytelling copouts, as evidenced by the ridiculously easy way that the Wicked Witch is dispatched. When Dorothy and her group are trapped by the Witch, the green-faced baddie sets fire to the Scarecrow, only to be hit by a stray splash of water when Dorothy douses him. This in turn kills her, ruining what could have been an otherwise memorable confrontation. While her famous “I’m melting!” scream is legendary, the events preceding it are dictated entirely by luck, resulting in a largely unfulfilling death.

#7: The Sword
“Pacific Rim” (2013)

Don’t you hate it when movies suddenly spring a character’s new ability on you simply to solve a problem? Such is the case in this scene, when one of the last Jaeger mechs protecting Earth from an invading Kaiju is taken for a ride into space. It seems all hope is lost, until the Jaeger suddenly uses a sword and cuts itself free. Why have we not seen this before? Because it looks a lot more effective than everything else you’ve been using so far. It’s bad when even your character says, “We’re out of options.” It’s a simple case of an exciting action scene that needed a quick and easy resolution.

#6: Seven Primes
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009)

This Michael Bay series is filled with deus ex machina moments, like when Optimus got a jet pack; but we think robot heaven is even worse. This is scene gives us three for the price of one, as the evil Megatron kills Sam, who is then revived by the Seven Primes. Not only that, they also restore the destroyed matrix, which in turn allows Optimus Prime to be revived. The movie solves three problems all in one by divine intervention, so at least it’s meta like “Avatar,” but it shows lazy storytelling at its absolute worst.

#5: Death by Alligator
“Adaptation.” (2002)

In this semi-autobiographical film about Charlie Kaufman’s battles to adapt “The Orchid Thief,” he is almost killed by the poacher Laroche (luh-roe-sh) while hiding in a swamp. Luckily for Charlie, an alligator suddenly appears out of nowhere and kills Laroche before he can get a shot off. Not only is it an extremely lucky break, it also comes at a perfect and opportune moment, effectively proving that luck is often a major force in both our lives and in the films we love to watch.

#4: Literal God of the Machines
“The Matrix Revolutions” (2003)

Oh, we get it: God of the Machines. Deus ex machina. These Wachowskis are so clever. In what is perhaps the most meta deus ex machina ever, Neo meets a literal machine god, and asks it to end the war that has been going on for centuries. Not only does the God obey and end the battle in an extremely anticlimactic fashion, it also gives Neo a connection in order to go back into the matrix to finish off Smith. It’s an incredibly convenient end to the trilogy, and one that left fans fuming with disappointment.

#3: Alien Spacecraft
“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” (1979)

Perhaps one of the most famous – and definitely the funniest – deus ex machina ever, this scene is legendary among comedy and film lovers alike. When Brian falls off a tall tower, it seems to be the end of him… until a UFO carrying grotesque aliens catches him in midair and drops him off safely! It’s a completely ludicrous scene and makes no sense at all, but then again, it is Monty Python, and ridiculous humor is their specialty. It’s a deus ex machina done right, as it draws attention to its outrageous contrivance.

#2: Reversing Time
“Superman” (1978)

Remember when we said that we hate it when a character pulls a new power out of his bright red underwear? Well… when Lois Lane is killed in a landslide, Superman revives her by flying around the world so quickly that he reverses the rotation of the planet and thus rewinds time. Putting aside the fact that this makes absolutely no sense, it’s ridiculous that the movie has to resort to Superman using his powers in an otherwise completely unheard of way to solve the problem.

Before we miraculously present to you our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Deus Ex Hulkina
“The Avengers” (2012)
- Bird of Prey Saves Kirk
“Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989)
- The Lion
“The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear” (1991)
- The Spanish Explorers
“Apocalypto” (2006)
- Angels on Our Shoulders
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

#1: Bacteria Kills the Aliens
“War of the Worlds” (2005)

This Spielberg remake of the 1953 classic that everyone pretends they’ve seen was full of big action and explosive set pieces. As the situation got bleaker and bleaker, audiences were expecting a fantastic and climactic closer, but instead, we’re treated to voice-over narration explaining that the aliens basically got colds and died due to their lack of immunity to Earth’s bacteria. While we can’t blame Spielberg entirely, as the ending was written by H.G. Wells, it’s still a disappointing finale to a summer blockbuster. With such a lame conclusion, it’s no wonder this movie received such extensive criticism. The lesson here: audiences hate being cheated.

Do you agree with our list? What deus ex machina moments do you think stood out? For more godly top tens published every day, be sure to subscribe to Watchmojo.com.
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