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Unfulfilled potential: Movies that deal with failure

It could be worse.

The college commencement season is upon us. College students around the country get to bask in the glory of their youth one more time before many of them are forced to admit they have reached their peaks. Thankfully, there are some great movies that will remind them the world is full of people who never lived up to their potential.

The Killing (1956)

You would think bank robbers would know they are in for trouble when they come across the chance for one last heist. This Stanley Kubrick classic is another tale of a last big job gone wrong. What happens in The Killing is not as much Johnny Clay’s fault as it is the team he puts together. The robbery even goes off successfully. However, things go so badly after the robbers get their millions that he ends up not even trying to escape from the police.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

It is hard to define how much potential Joe Buck truly had, but things certainly did not turn out how he planned. As a would-be male prostitute, he ends up paying the client after having sex and has performance issues before eventually losing the only friend he has. Life in Texas was far from perfect, but his choices in New York nearly destroyed him.

The Last American Virgin (1982)

High school sex comedies of the 1980s all followed a similar plot. A group of friends want to hook up with anyone who is willing. One of the friends pines for a girl who is seemingly out of his league. He wins her over after many wacky failures. The one time it did not happen is an emotional gut punch with a fantastic closing shot.

Fargo (1996)

Marge Gunderson is one of the best heroes in movie history. She is an excellent police officer, always knows the right thing to say, and ends up solving the case. She is a person who exceeds expectations. Jerry Lundegaard on the other hand, is a complete failure. No one respects him, all of his schemes backfire spectacularly, and his one success is he lives to go to jail. 

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

The Coen brothers are masters of delivering somber and powerful stories. Oscar Issac stars in the title role as a folk singer who keeps getting in the way of his own success. The movie is a series of bad decisions and what might have been moments, with each one seeming more painful than the last. This is all punctuated by a masterful ending.

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