A man washes up on the beaches of an unknown, exotic destination. The crystal clear water surrounds him on all sides. It’s so beautiful, looking at it sparks instant curiosity and thirst. In the background, there are tall, fruitful palm trees. In fact, the island is abundant with food and beautiful women who are wearing next to nothing. They all wish to give him a tour of the island. If this man is in a movie, he’s basically doomed. Chances are high that these women and every other thing of beauty in sight, is out to kill him in a way that’s almost impossible to watch. Notice I said almost impossible. None of the viewers will be looking away. Even the scared ones who covered their eyes will eventually peek through the holes between their fingers to watch this guy get ripped to shreds.
Hollywood sure knows how to lure us in. Their elaborate sets are stunning by design, not by mistake. But viewers should always beware. Anything that looks too good to be true, or just looks good at all, is guaranteed to get you killed in a movie. Readers should probably beware too because this post contains spoilers so if there’s a film you haven’t already seen on this list, you might want to skip on to the next entry. I fully intend to explain in detail these scenes that suck us in to spit us out. Here are 15 movie utopias that were death traps in disguise.
15. Willie Wonka’s Factory
Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp both walked us through a beautiful world of true and pure imagination that was as deceptive as it was beautiful. Whether you saw the 1971 marvel or the equally delicious 2005 follow up, you know about the Chocolate Factory. It’s a realm made out of rippling chocolate rivers, gingerbread bridges, swirling candy cane trees and everlasting gobstopper delights. It sure does look sweet and at the onset of the tour, it seemingly only gets better. While aboard the infamous chocolate factory boat, you find out that in the Chocolate Factory, pretty much anything is possible. It isn’t until a little later down the line, when children are turned into blueberries and miniature workers sing songs of doom, that you realize what you’ve really gotten yourself into.
While touring the factory, any child who follows their hearts’ desire is punished in a most brutal way. Even Charlie himself is nearly ripped apart by the razor sharp edges of a fan on the ceiling. Veruca Salt is presumably singed in a furnace while the poor little chubby kid, Augustus, is left to drown. The children who were invited into the factory are not even safe on the street. There, Wonka’s creepier looking cronies harass them at every turn. One horrifying fan theory suggests that the factory actually makes the candy out of the children who die there.
I too, have a dark, twisted fan theory about the factory. I suspect that the children who come there are actually turned into Oompa Loompas and forced to live out a life where they sing songs about other children who come there to be turned into Oompa Loompas as well. This theory would explain why the Oompa Loompas are so small (children that never grew up) and why they’re all painted to the point of being unrecognizable (so their families will never find them) and why all the songs are essentially about Oompa Loompas- as if that isn’t incredibly creepy. There in the factory, they spend their days toiling in a death trap that they mistook for a wonderland in their youth. They never get to indulge in the candy or even the profits from the candy sales. They begin, eventually, to delight in the destruction of other children simply because misery loves company.
Regardless of what you believe the chocolate factory stands for, there’s no denying the fact that the children on its tour are in danger and the Oompa Loompas are not permitted to leave. In the final scene, young Charlie and his bedridden relative are catapulted into the sky in a rocket-like elevator that eventually has to land. The elevator does not have wings or parachutes or any other safety features to my knowledge but the laws of physics state it must come down. Be careful what you wish for when holding a golden ticket.
14. The Great Beyond
Another food related paradise where things are not what they seem is Sausage Party’s notorious Great Beyond. The protagonists of the movie have been singing about this place since the beginning- which is never a good sign. It’s notable to mention that these particular protagonists are food and the Great Beyond is, well, a kitchen. They believe this kitchen to be a place where all of their wildest fantasies are realized. What they don’t realize however, is that because they’re food, they’re somebody else’s fantasy and they’re all doomed to be devoured.
Upon arrival, the Great Beyond gleams with promise. The picture perfect kitchen fixtures however, are torture devices in disguise. The flowing faucet brings them one step closer to certain death, the refrigerator is a place to hold them hostage and even the hands of the humans they once worshipped are transformed into weapons of destruction that gauge, plunder and mutilate. Be very wary of a place referred to as “great” in any motion picture.
13. The Great Gatsby’s Mansion
What more could you ask for than the beautiful, ornate mansion that sat at the edge of the pier in the film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel The Great Gatsby? In order to bring this 1920’s New York tale to a 21st Century audience, renowned set creator Catherine Martin painstakingly painted the luxe interior of the Gatsby mansion by hand over the course of fourteen weeks and then filled it with glamorous people donning Miuccia Prada attire while bobbing back and forth to custom cuts of jazz/ hip hop fusion. Kinda makes you wanna party, doesn’t it? By the way, that’s a line from the films’ signature soundtrack, in case you missed the reference.
Unfortunately, all the glamour of the mansion is a facade designed to lure in the somewhat dizzy, adorably confused love interest of the infamous Gatsby. One Daisy Buchanan, a married temptress who’s unsure of who, or maybe of how, to love in the first place winds up entranced. When Daisy ultimately chooses her husband over her admirer, the mansion becomes a death trap for the man who built it in her name. Love kills in the 3D fantasy, Art Deco-inspired abode, proving that money can never mend a broken heart.
12. Terminus On The Walking Dead
It’s not every day that a handwritten sign that reads “Sanctuary For All” and leads people to a gated cult-like community in the wilderness is referred to as a utopia. However, in a land where the dead are walking and the living are running out of food, a neat bed and a hot plate are about as close to comfort as you’re likely to get. But what if the food is people and you’re next on the menu?
In the Walking Dead series, we notice a bit of a play on words. A place they call a sanctuary is really a death trap in disguise run by cannibals who claim they “used to be human.” A man they call the governor is really a militant dictator whose warm, inviting smile is a prop used to mask his cruel intentions. The only true sanctuary is a prison. This explains how upside down the world can be when a few apocalypse survivors are tasked with repopulating the planet.
11. Fifth Avenue In The Devil’s Advocate
Who could pass up the opportunity to live on Fifth Avenue in the City That Never Sleeps? Well, according to this 1997 thriller that features a young Charlize Theron and an even younger looking Keanu Reeves, even the devil wouldn’t miss out on the chance. In fact, the devil’s residence is right there on that famous street. Throughout the film, attorney Kevin Lomax (played by Keanu Reeves) is tempted with all of the finer things in life. He’s shown an amplified version of Continental Plaza’s Wall Street rooftop which has been digitally enhanced to show off features that aren’t even on the real building (like the breathtaking water garden). He’s walked through iconic settings, given wins on all his cases and is handed the proverbial silver spoon. All of this, of course, is in exchange for his soul. Once his wife loses her mind, we figure out that the devil’s Fifth Avenue address is not at all what it’s cracked up to be.
10. The City Of God
In hindsight, a city that doesn’t sleep probably isn’t the ideal place to tour in a movie about the devil. But what of a city named after God adorned with swaying trees, sandy beaches and beautiful women with full figures and slim waists? That would have to be a safer bet right? Wrong.
In the City Of God we come to learn how poverty and gang violence can cripple even the most stunning of communities. The picturesque views and captivating scenery make an intriguing set for the film which, appropriately, is about an aspiring photographer. As the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that crystal clear waters and warm ocean breezes simply are not enough to end the violence claiming the lives of the impoverished youth across the globe. To make matters worse, this cinematic depiction is based on a true story taking place in a real shanty in hauntingly beautiful Rio de Janeiro.
9. The Beach from Lost
The sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro aren’t the only beaches you wouldn’t want to be washed up on. The seemingly perfect desert island that served as the set for Lost was equally dangerous, despite the fact that it’s fictional- at least to our knowledge. An entire book or blog post could easily be dedicated to deceptive beaches like the one seen in Leonardo Dicaprio’s The Beach and the surf-inspired locations used to bring films like Jaws to life. Check back for something like this in my future posts by the way. For now, let’s focus on the Beach they found in Lost.
This place is everybody’s secret fantasy and not just because it’s about being stranded on a desert island either. The beach on the series Lost didn’t just leave a group of beautiful people washed up on a beautiful shore in a place where food and shelter were ample if you knew where to look. Oh no. The waters were deeper than that. The desert island was a place that transported people out of their hapless situations. It cured them of illness, freed them from obligation, saved marriages, built friendships and turned “lost” people into fearless leaders. The island on Lost was, to quote Bill Murray in the iconic movie What About Bob, “a vacation from your problems.” Sadly, all of this was at a grave price. The island, a dark and almost haunting locale that took on demonic characteristics, demanded sacrifices of the human variety. Yikes.
8. The Wonderful World Of Oz
You have to be very wary of anything movie producers refer to as wonderful, particularly if it’s a land that’s covered in candy, flowers, gemstones, tiny people and/or magic. The Land of Oz contains all of these features and that’s how you can tell it’s a death trap. So here you have a young girl being lured to a witch’s house via a winding, colorful road. She is given new shoes and told she possesses magical powers along with the ability to conquer an evil green witch who intends to kill her. She is also told that she can return home unscathed just by clicking her heels together.
The grim reality is that none of this is true. When Dorothy dreams of Oz it is because she got caught in a twisting tornado, bumped her head and was sent into a coma-like state. It’s entirely probable that at this point in time, her mean, bicycle riding neighbor’s house fell on her. Whether she made it home at all is debatable given the fact that the entire series takes place in Oz rather than Kansas, where Dorothy is actually from. The horrible truth? Children who follow the yellow brick road into Emerald City never wake up. Dorothy is dead and buried in a field of poppies, dreaming up a life that doesn’t exist.
7. Amazing Amy’s Marriage In Gone Girl
Sometimes as viewers, it isn’t a utopian setting we crave, but rather, it’s a utopian situation. In this film, based on the award winning novel of the same name, Nick and Amy Dunne’s marriage looks picture perfect on the outside, despite the fact that it’s a death trap internally. There’s a reason why this fictitious reality was so easy to build for the psycho in the story.
Amy Dunne learned early on, through her parent’s literature, that perception is reality. She mentions this when explaining the origins of the books her parents wrote; books that were supposed to be based on her life. When real life Amy quit playing the violin, Amazing Amy carried on the tune. Throughout the film and novel, you see real life Amy struggle to compete with her fictional counterpart, Amazing Amy, a flawless character who never quits or loses- ever. As such, when this psychotic bride enters into a marriage, she does so as Amazing Amy, not Amy Dunne.
And so, her perfect life is a great big sham that’s ripping her and her ill-fated spouse apart. Her husband is cheating. Her trust fund is almost entirely spent. Her husband’s bar isn’t making good on its return. The only man who ever truly loved her was a stalker. The list goes on and on. Out of desperation, she does what she’s always done best. She builds a fictional universe where she’s the victim and the hero at the same time. Unfortunately, even in her fantasy, Amy Dunne never gets to be herself for that would shatter the perfect world she built from her own imagination; a world that silently crushes everything she loves.
6. Jurassic World
A futuristic theme park that brings the past into its present through the genetic modification of dinosaur DNA emerges. This fourth installment is possibly the prettiest of all the parks brought forth in the series. Its crisp, modernistic lines combined with the realistically depicted dinosaurs, 4D simulators and jaw dropping floor to ceiling windows beckon for attention. The transparent sphere-shaped vehicles gliding through the lush green forest situated behind the massive Indiana Jones-inspired gates are pretty easy on the eyes as well. Everything about Jurassic World, from the scenery to the technology, from its colossal size to its vast selection of reanimated animals reels you right in. So what, in this high tech, “safarian” world could possibly go wrong? If your guess was dinosaurs escape and eat people then you’re beginning to finally see the light. Hollywood builds these massive, visually enticing utopias to satisfy our senses and then wipe us off the face of the Earth.
5. Landing Your Dream Job In The Firm
Lawyers really can’t catch a break when it comes to cinema. They just keep getting tangled up in the pitfalls of their own careers. In the psychological thriller The Firm, one highly ambitious law enthusiast haggles with the bigwigs for a contract that’s not exactly the barter he expected. While the price of the high life in the case of Tom Cruise’s character Mitch McDeere might not be his soul, it will cost his freedom and his reputation. The cozy little community he finds himself in is actually bugged and his friendly bosses, who turn out to be employed by the mob, are watching his every move. Scene after scene of this climactic cinematic production transports us to multiple exotic locations. It has beaches, sensual, bikini-clad women, secure employment, elevated social status, a devoted wife, a seductive mistress and every other fantasy you can imagine rolled into one. In the end, Mitch McDeere is being chased through a busy train station, his life in one hand, his briefcase in the other.
4. Elsa’s Ice Castle In Frozen
Poor, poor Elsa. She’s only the latest in a long line of Disney princesses who’s been blessed with the curse of magical powers that she doesn’t know how to control. As you might have guessed, this dilemma causes the need for her to be locked away in a royal palace until she reaches marrying age. Once released, she lets her powers loose, causing a frozen blast and building a castle made from ice. Not only is the castle she builds spectacular and beautiful, it’s also a testament to Elsa’s freedom, self-expression and creativity. Building it made her okay with being herself and she’s finally ready to face the world.
Too bad the castle’s construction caused a deadly avalanche and a storm so vicious that it put the ice vendor out of business and the entire kingdom in the hands of a power hungry, good for nothing prince. The castle is so formidable that even Elsa’s sister is unsafe between its walls. It could be argued that the palace they grew up in was also a death trap in disguise. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the haunted Overlook Hotel from the Shining.
3. The Overlook Hotel In The Shining
At first glance, who wouldn’t want to live in the lavish, chandelier adorned Overlook Hotel from The Shining and get paid for it? Remember, Hollywood is cashing in on our wildest fantasies and turning them into our worst nightmares. So, here you have the run of a royal building, the size of multiple palaces strung together. The formally sculpted hedges outline the acres and acres of ground. You’re elevated in the midst of the mountainside with nobody around to bother you for miles. This is anybody’s dream come true but for a writer? Well, put it this way, I’ve already packed my bag.
Of course, there has to be a sinister twist, an excuse to paint these lavish stairwells and masterfully decorated walls the shade of blood. Your blood. But how, you might wonder, since nobody is around for miles? Well, dearie, at the hands of your own possessed family members. The Overlook Hotel of course, is haunted by children, creatures, and other people who’ve murdered each other. In fact, once you come here, you never get to leave.
2. The Hunger Games Arena
Probably the only thing worse than unwittingly entering a beautiful, however haunted hotel, is entering a beautiful place with full knowledge that it’s a death trap. According to the Hunger Games books, year after year, the game arenas were designed to spark intrigue with their beauty. During the year that Haymitch won, the arena was a beautiful garden where everything pretty was equally deadly. As you can imagine, this struck the survivors with unprecedented fears when they returned home. Of course, their homes in Victor’s Village were mental traps, serving as a constant reminder of their time playing the Games.
While the arena Katniss stepped inside of was said to be mundane in comparison to Haymitch’s arena, it still had Hollywood written all over it. From the towering trees that filtered in sunlight to the beautiful but deadly animals the game makers dreamed up, it all came with a price. The plush acreage was enough to captivate any nature enthusiast; at least until they figured out what was lurking behind each corner—death at the hands of another tribute or worse, death as a result of the bewitching scenery itself.
1. The Suburbs In Every Horror Movie Ever
For a long time, we humans dreamed up this small and almost achievable fantasy. We dreamed up houses in the suburbs. Not the kind that are attached to one another and feature tiny patches of grass as back yards like the suburbs in real life. No. We dreamed up residency in the motion picture version of the suburbs, a place where three and four-story homes with white picket fences wrapped around colossal green yards was the norm. The suburbs of cinema have trees on each street and beautiful people who always bake pie. The suburbs of cinema are a thing of sheer beauty. Good thing for us, they’re not actually real.
That’s because the suburbs of cinema are where all the serial killers, monsters, zombies, and vampires live. They wait there in the wings for hordes of screaming, scantily clad teens to show up. They chase these young beauties through their impeccably landscaped yards and the forests that surround them, sawing them in half in their own doggy doors, drowning them in their shimmering backyard swimming pools. Dare to dream a little dream of comfort and see if Hollywood doesn’t just rip it right apart with Freddy Krueger clawsÉ After all, how else would they get us to go to the movies?