3 PG Ways to Get Rid of Bad Guys

Bad guys – can’t live with ‘em, can’t write a story without them! Most stories have a main antagonist, a head bad guy to lead the minions on their dastardly mission; this is especially true of classic fantasy, which often features an evil overlord bent on lording over the world with evil.

As his name implies, this antagonist opposes the quest of his polar opposite, the protagonist. As such, it is usually necessary during the course of the story to dispose of this bad guy so that he can no longer interfere with the triumph of good. (Generally the minions aren’t a problem – if any of them live to the climax, they usually surrender or convert following the defeat of their leader.)

While occasionally it is convenient to lock the antagonist in jail, it is often necessary to imply the bad guy’s death and officially remove him from the picture. This ensures that he won’t continue to cause trouble for our protagonists. (Unless, of course, the author writes a sequel, in which case the bad guy can often be creatively resurrected.)

Unfortunately, such termination isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a myriad of ways to dispose of characters, but many of them are just too gruesome, especially for family-friendly movies. Therefore, it becomes necessary to remove the bad guy in a clean, safe way.

Thankfully, Hollywood has addressed this problem nicely. Thanks to watching a lot of family-friendly movies, I have come up with three G- and PG-rated ways to kill bad guys. These methods have been tried and proven successful on countless antagonists, so they are fail proof (while still allowing for resurrection for sequels in some cases). If you’re having trouble getting rid of your bad guy, try one of these tactics – they’re guaranteed to bloodlessly wipe the antagonist from the picture.

1 – Have your bad guy fall from a height. This is tactic works wonderfully because you never see the death; the bad guy simply plummets out of sight. It works especially well if you have the bad guy fall because of his own foolishness (rather than being pushed); it leaves the audience with a good moral. (Plus it takes the pressure off the protagonist if he happens to be unconscious or wounded at the moment.) Any height will work – a castle (Beauty and the Beast), a cathedral (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), an airship (Up), a mountain (Snow White). Bonus – all these locations make for epic settings for the climatic final battle.

2 – Have your bad guy get eaten. Why kill a bad guy when something large and hungry will gladly take care of him for you? It doesn’t matter whether it is realistic (like a grasshopper getting eaten by a bird – A Bug’s Life) or fantastical (a mayor getting cornered by a giant mole – City of Ember); nobody seems to be bothered by the idea of a bad guy becoming lunch as long as the camera tactfully turns away. Sometimes you can even play it up that the bad guy’s own henchmen take him down (The Lion King). Just be careful; you have to make sure that whatever ate your bad guy doesn’t eat your good guy as well, so don’t leave anybody important unattended during this sequence.

3 – Have your bad guy explode in flashy-color-magical-things. If you must kill a bad guy on-screen, having them disintegrate into sparkles or light waves is much preferred over more realistic effects. Unfortunately, to pull this off you usually need the assistance of magic or mysticism. This works great if your bad guy is a wizard (especially one that is currently taking the form of a ferocious beast) – just stab him and his powers will melt (The Swan Princess, Sleeping Beauty). Otherwise, you might have to resort to your good guy pulling some weird secret move that will cause the bad guy to vanish in a blinding wave of special effects (Kung Fu Panda). It’s worth noting that this disintegration doesn’t always have to be colorful; some bad guys are so old when they die that they apparently simply crumble into dust (Tangled).

I hope these safe and family-friendly methods have given you a few ideas. Remember, if writers were able to successfully defeat villains like Gaston and Scar, so can you. There’s no writing problem that a few movie tropes can’t fix. After all, if Hollywood has done it a hundred times, it must work well, right?


3 PG Ways to Get Rid of Bad Guys — 17 Comments

  1. Ahahaha! Love it! (Especially since I know several of the movies you referenced. :dieshappy: )

  2. A villain crumbling into dust is not necessarily “family-friendly.”

    Just remember [SPOILER] Walter Donovan at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He chose foolishly about which cup was the Holy Grail, and drinking the wrong cup will be the opposite of eternal life. For melting, just go with “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. [SPOILER END]

    About number 2, did Aslan eat the White Witch at the end of LWW?

  3. True, you can crumble in a non family-friendly fashion. (I thought about Indiana Jones when I wrote that…) Of course, you can get eaten in a non family-friendly fashion, also. All of these tropes have to be done right to be family-friendly, but they are easily done in a family-friendly way, as Hollywood has proved multiple times.

    No, he just killed her. How it isn’t clear – he pounced on her, and then she was lying there, dead.

  4. If a person dies by falling of a cliff, being devoured, or turned into mystic floating wisps of light; they are still just as dead as if you would use a more visceral method.Death is death, and no amount of tropage can change that.Why try to make death something “family friendly” when it by its nature is not?Why not show it for what it is?

  5. This is hilarious, Aubrey–and you’re completely right. I’ve often struggled with how exactly to make the bad guy die! How much should the protagonist be involved in the death: not at all, involved through inaction, or directly delivering the killing stroke? Each of these scenarios raises different questions about how to portray the death in a PG-worthy way. Excellent, thought-provoking post!

  6. So cool! :dieshappy:
    I hope you don’t mind adding… to make your readers respect your Main Character, it would be good to make this disaster, that happens to your antagonist, be somehow caused by your hero.

  7. Thanks so much for the great comments, everyone! I’m very glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

    Sockpuppet, I agree that death should not be portrayed as fanciful, but I think there are times when it needs to be shown in a non-frightening manner. Depending on the target audience and application, sometimes it is better for the death to be bloodless and quick, so as not to disturb the tone of the piece. “Family-friendly” movies are one of those applications. Whether not Hollywood has gradually dumbed down the reality of death is another topic altogether; the purpose of my article was mostly to poke fun at tropes.

  8. Thank you for being respectful with one who disagrees somewhat.I too enjoy poking at tropes.
    In my childhood (which was abnormal) I was used to seeing people in movies and games die.My little sister dying as a baby while I was young familiarized we with death.I think we were more aware how close death is, how finite and mortal we are, we would probably live better.I believe death should neither be glorified nor dumbed down.Thank you again for being respectful, and know that I meant no disrespect.

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