With all of the multi-dimensional shenanigans going on in the world of TV hit Fringe lately, culminating in a season finale that left us dangling between universes, it got us thinking about other existence-hopping heroes and villains.
Sticking with big screen tales, here are the top 10 world-colliding characters’ attempts to make an exit from their current locations, from bloodthirsty assassins to post-human messiahs.
These films aren’t ordered by worst to best or least to most favourite, but by how successful – or not – each escapee was.
There are spoilers for the films listed, so skip any you haven’t seen yet.
10. Hellboy (2004)
The intended escapees in Hellboy are the least successful in our roundup. They never even got a peek into our world.
Despite the dark magic efforts of Grigori Rasputin and his minions, and forcing Hellboy to open the gates of Hell (a gigantic crystal in space) with his specialty key hand (the Right Hand of Doom), the Seven Gods of Chaos never make their way to Earth to create their Eden, an existence in which all life on Earth would be destroyed, as Hellboy, born a demon, proves he’s more human than a lot of beings native to the planet.
9. Freejack (1992)
Another hopeful releasee who doesn’t make it out of confinement, rich, powerful, but inconveniently deceased McCandless’ consciousness is being stored in the big computer known as the Spiritual Switchboard, awaiting transfer into a healthy body that’s been plucked from the past for the purpose, just before a fatal accident.
Where he went wrong was in choosing the former boyfriend of the woman he loves in the hope she’ll love him back in his body, but as his stolen-to-order replacement escapes and is still alive and kicking, he never does make it out of his virtual existence and, in fact, his entire fortune goes to the man he wronged, as does the woman he desired.
8. The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985)
Downtrodden, depression-era Cecilia, escaping an abusive husband and miserable existence in repeat viewings in a seat of the local cinema, somehow wills the screen character of Tom Baxter right out of the movie and into her life.
Although she experiences a brief relief from the drudgery of her days, it’s a short-lived love affair in our world and his that ends sadly for Celcilia when the actor who plays Tom cons her into choosing him and the real world, only to ultimately dump her, and Baxter, devastatingly heartbroken, returns to the film alone.
7. Virtuosity (1995)
In a perfect example of not properly thinking a plan through, a virtual reality villain is constructed from over a hundred serial killers, intended as practice for law enforcement officials to try out their Miranda rights readings and arrests.
The latest and most evil software upgrade, SID 6.7, figures out how to escape by another ill-conceived and conveniently close program that puts virtual consciousnesses into artificial bodies, and with all his killing powers and cunning fully intact.
Sid manages to add to his death count while he’s out, but he’s ultimately destroyed, in both his hardware bodily representation and his software multiple personas, with no chance of a reboot.
6. Last Action Hero (1993)
The magic cinema admittance ticket lets young Danny Madigan meet his action hero, Jack Slater, by going into his movies. But when it gets into the hands of Benedict, a screen villain with an extensive glass eye collection, Benedict sees a way to travel between worlds, doing whatever illegal activities he wants without getting caught.
Benedict uses the ticket and finds himself in a world where the bad guys can actually win, and decides to let loose other film baddies and kill Arnold Schwarzenegger (who plays Jack Slater), eliminating his screen nemesis once and for all.
Slater travels to our world too, though, and takes him out, though not as effortlessly as in his films. Still, Benedict hardly had time to visit a single Big Apple tourist attraction on a very short trip out of his alternate world.
5. Cool World (1992)
In another of those inexplicable ‘anything can happen in a movie’ moments, curvasious cartoon, Holli Would, escapes her inky ‘interworld matrix’ by having hand-drawn sex with her creator, Jack Deebs, and she has no intention of going back, even if she jeopardises both the noid and doodle worlds.
Detective Frank Harris, a human refugee in the doodle world, goes after Holly, who hopes finding the Spike of Power and Vegas Vinnie, a successful doodle runaway, will grant her permanent residence. She launches a sort of cartoon apocalypse in our world, which the cartoon version of Jack stops, sending Holly back.
In a reverse happy escapee ending, Frank Harris dies in the real world, returning as a cartoon to the doodle world and his doodle girl.
4. The One (2001)
Yulaw is the most well travelled of the alternate universe residents. In fact, he’s been to over a hundred various versions in the multiverse, each with a slightly altered duplicate of himself, all but one of which he’s killed, adding their energy and abilities to his own and becoming beyond human.
He may get the frequent universe hopping miles, but it ends badly for the next-to-the-last one, when he’s captured and transported to a rough prison universe where he’s doomed to perpetually fight all comers in a never-ending onslaught of violence.
3. Dark City (1998)
Existence in the dark city wasn’t exactly an alternate universe but may have been well beyond our solar system. An alien race inhabiting the bodies of dead humans construct an always changing sunless city where new buildings squeeze in between old and kidnapped people’s memories are constantly swapped between the residents, in the aliens’ search for the human soul and individuality.
Although John Murdoch, who has evolved to use tuning (the thought control power of the aliens), has no hope of returning to his home planet, he can use the force of his will to change the dark city to anything he can imagine.
After killing off the aliens, he creates a world where all the humans at least have a chance at a happy future in a setting of their choosing, with a sun and a sea, both of which the aliens couldn’t tolerate and denied their unknowing captives.
2. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
A bartender in a virtual reality world reads a letter intended for someone else, discovering his own world doesn’t exist, and makes his escape when his user dies.
This is just a small part of a bigger story involving murder and mystery, and the barman (a bleached blond Vincent D’Onofrio) it turns out, has killed his way out of his simulated existence only to enter a world which is also fake, one of thousands, but the first to develop a virtual reality program of its own, within its programming.
But although the fugitive doesn’t achieve freedom, the hero (a good version of a killer from the real world) does, by being saved by the killer’s wife and brought back to her ideal existence in the real world, when her husband, controlling the hero, is shot dead. Not a very straightforward journey, but on the trail to a happy ending, perhaps.
1. The Matrix (1999)
Neo is unquestionably the most successful of the escapees. Although his leaving the artificial world of the matrix wasn’t his choice, he did make the decision to stay unplugged.
He then developed the power to come and go freely between either world, and to have total control over the matrix, an alternate existence in which he could stop bullets, defeat limitless enemies, and fly.
He even managed to forge a peace treaty with the tyrannical machines, making the future bright for both the robotic race and mankind.
Hard to top that, especially for a guy who started out as a gooey battery.