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How to Be an Impromptu Movie Hero

Lessons from ‘Deepwater Horizon,’ ‘Die Hard,’ and ‘Space Jam’

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

By Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano

The plot of Deepwater Horizon is simple: A crew is working on a deepwater oil rig on the Gulf of Mexico. Some bad decisions are made and those bad decisions get multiplied by an overwhelming natural force and then the rig blows up, killing nearly a dozen of the people aboard and devastating all the rest. It’s a thrilling movie, and an entertaining one, mostly because of its call for impromptu heroism, which is to say ordinary people being thrust into situations where true valor and lionheartedness are required to preserve human lives.

I like impromptu heroism, but more specifically, I like impromptu heroes. I like when they are decidedly overmatched and woefully undertrained (for example, the kids from Toy Soldiers who have to take on the terrorists, or the kids from Red Dawn who have to take on the terrorists, or really any kids in a kids-vs.-adults situation). I like when they’re supposed to be bad guys but really they’re good guys (as with everyone on Dom’s team in the Fast & Furious franchise). I like when their plots are ridiculous and their movies are bad (Sam Witwicky in Transformers). I especially like when they have to battle nature and it seems like it’s something that could really happen (the old man from The Edge or the volcanologist in Dante’s Peak) or when they have to battle aliens and it seems like it could never happen (the drunk pilot who sacrifices himself in Independence Day is a sentimental favorite). I like when they do things I could never think of or do (the woman from The Room) and I like when they do things I think of and could do (Harold and Kumar in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle). I like all of these versions. They make for good stories and good movies.

They also make for good sound bites, which is why Jason Concepcion and I spoke with a handful of these characters to get firsthand advice on how to be an impromptu hero in just about any situation. — Shea Serrano

‘Shooter’ (Paramount Pictures)
‘Shooter’ (Paramount Pictures)

“I was supposed to be the fall guy in an elaborate setup to kill the president and now I’m on the run and need to make an IV for myself in a public bathroom because I was shot twice while fleeing the scene. What should I do?”

From the Marine Scout Sniper Manual for Impromptu Heroism:

  1. Have some cash on hand. (Don’t use ATMs because those transactions can be traced, but mostly don’t use ATMs because nobody has ever looked cool using an ATM, and the no. 1 edict of Mark Wahlbergism is to, above all else, look cool.)
  2. Knock out the power of a corner store so that it’s dark and the cashier can’t identify you. (Moving in the shadows is cool.)
  3. Buy a couple of bottles of water, some salt, some sugar, and a marinade injector. (Marinating something is easily the coolest, most chill way to season a thing.)
  4. Drive to another store. (One that’s closed, because stores that are closed are cooler than stores that are open.)
  5. Remove the radiator hose from your car.
  6. Break into the store’s exterior bathroom.
  7. Pour out some of the sugar and pack it into your wounds. (This will sting, but when something stings you get to grimace, and grimaced faces are cool.)
  8. Pour some salt into the water.
  9. Close the bottle.
  10. Shake it up. (Shaking things is cool. Top four things you can shake: [4] your tailfeathers, [3] a martini, [2] a stick at a bunch of something, [1] a saltwater IV solution you made for yourself.)
  11. Take the two marinade injector needles and stick one into each end of the radiator hose.
  12. Poke one of the needles through the lid of the water bottle.
  13. Turn the water bottle upside down.
  14. Take a band of some sort and tie off your arm at the biceps. (Biceps are super fucking cool.)
  15. Pull the band tight and then hold it in your teeth.
  16. Slap your arm where a vein might or might not be. It doesn’t really matter.
  17. Take the second needle (the one attached to the other end of the radiator hose) and jam it right the fuck into your arm.

Oorah, Marine Scout Sniper. You are healed.

Semper Fi,

Bob Lee Swagger

‘Jurassic Park’ (Universal Pictures)
‘Jurassic Park’ (Universal Pictures)

“I’m trapped on an island and dinosaurs are eating everyone. What should I do?”

Fucking run. Except when you’re supposed to stand still.

Prehistorically yours,

Alan Grant

‘The Grey’ (Open Road Films)
‘The Grey’ (Open Road Films)

“I survived a plane crash but now some of my friends and I are being hunted by a pack of bloodthirsty wolves in Alaska’s unforgiving wilderness. What should I do?”

Listen, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, because it’s bad news. The worst news, really. The kind of news you hope to never have to deliver to anyone. But the fact that I am even alive to tell you this bad news is, in itself, a hint of good news, I suppose.

All of your friends, they are going to die. No matter how hard you hope for them to stay alive, no matter how hard you fight for them to stay alive, they will die. Either the cold will kill them or the wolves will kill them. One of them is probably even going to drown in a river, if you can even believe that shit. Imagine that. Imagine all of your recently deceased friends meet up in heaven and they’re all standing around talking about which wolf it was that killed them and then there’s this dummy like, “Oh, nah, no, a wolf didn’t kill me. Water did. I was trying to run away and I ran into the river and then got my leg stuck in a crevice or something and I just drowned.” Imagine being that guy.

But so anyway: You can live. You can survive. You’re going to have to outwit the cold and then you’re also going to have to outfight a couple of wolves, but you can do it. Take a knife and tape it to your hand. Then take some tiny bottles of liquor that you found from the plane crash that you were carrying — take them and tape them in between your fingers and then break the ends of the bottles so your fist is like the thing in Kickboxer where they fight with broken-glass boxing gloves. Do that. Remember some shit your dad told you when you were a kid and then remember a time you were sitting with your wife while she lay dying in a hospital bed. Think about that, about those things, about your dead friends, and just let that rage bubble up inside of you. And then cross your fingers and just fucking fight a big wolf.

Good luck,

John Ottway

‘Die Hard’ (20th Century Fox)
‘Die Hard’ (20th Century Fox)

“I was intending to work things out with my estranged wife during the holidays, but then a group of terrorists took over the building she works in so now I have to kill them all. What should I do?”

There’s really only thing to do in this case: Kill them all.


John McClane

PS: Wear shoes.

‘101 Dalmatians’ (Disney)
‘101 Dalmatians’ (Disney)

“My children were kidnapped and are going to be killed and skinned so as to make a fanciful coat for a wealthy woman. What should I do?”

Can you even picture such a thing so terrible as this? Your children snatched away from you, and not just snatched away from you, but snatched away from you to be killed. And not just snatched from you to be killed, but snatched from you to be killed and skinned. And not just snatched away from you to be killed and skinned, but killed and skinned and made into a garment. It is the worst possible thing to have to stare down. But should you find yourself having to face such a situation, know this: There is hope.

First, you must first never give up, for the only way to ensure defeat is to quit, and you cannot quit. I read a quote one time that said, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” It’s always struck me. I don’t know why. I’m not a snail. Look at my paws. I’m a dog. Dogs have paws. Snails don’t have paws. Snails don’t have paws and they still made it onto the ark. Snails are fucking clutch, man. Anyway, that’s the first piece of advice.

Second, you must be courageous. “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” My man Sun Tzu said that. And it’s pretty good advice. It’s smart advice. But guess what. Sun Tzu never had someone tryna make a coat out of his children. So basically what I’m saying is sometimes you just gotta bite a motherfucker. That’s real courage.

Third, you’re probably gonna have to be in blackface for a disguise.


It is what it is.

Your four-legged friends,

Pongo and Perdita

‘Air Force One’ (Columbia Pictures)
‘Air Force One’ (Columbia Pictures)

“My presidential aircraft has been hijacked by Russian separatists. What should I do?”

I never imagined that an AF1 hijacking was even possible. Air Force One is the most secure aircraft in history — it’s protected by top-secret defensive countermeasures, and contains the most advanced mobile communications technology on Earth. That old bird can fly through a damn typhoon and your coffee wouldn’t even ripple. During the takeover, a KC-10 midair-refueling tanker exploded right on top of Air Force One, maybe 100 feet away, and she flew away from the fireball like a motion picture badass. By the way, my daughter, Alice, who now works for Médecins sans Frontières, never misses an occasion to remind me that this was all my fault. You know what she called me, yesterday, at Starbucks? A “bloodthirsty warmonger.” I was paying, by the way. You give these kids everything …

Anyway, here are my tips:

Step 1: Don’t let terrorists on Air Force One. It’s a shame that I even have to say this. You think the Secret Service has been shaky lately? Under my administration, the Secret Service was criminally negligent. The attorney general hates when I say that, because each time I do, a piñata filled with lawsuits cracks open, but it’s true. And, as Ally will no doubt point out next time I see her, the buck stopped with me. Terrorist leader Ivan Korshunov was well known to our intelligence services. Yet he and his men, without altering their appearances, managed to get onboard, hijack the aircraft, and cause the deaths of numerous members of my staff, nearly sparking a world war in the process. And the terrorists had help from a traitor in my own Secret Service detail. I’ll take some dunderhead losing his service weapon over what happened to our nation any day of the week.

Step 2: Stay fit. Retaking an aircraft from highly trained militants means you’re going to have to fight, and fight to the death. You think Big Billy Clinton’s Arkansas ass is winning a scrap against some stone-faced Spetsnaz burnout with nothing to lose? Depends on what your definition of “is” is, but hell no. I’m a workout nut — 5-mile run every morning, then boxing and strength training, followed by an hour of hot yoga. That saved my, and my wife’s, and, yes, Alice, my daughter’s, red, white, and blue bacon.

Step 3: Call your own shots. You are the president. Not Glenn Close. Not Dean Stockwell. Not William H. Macy. You. According to security protocol, the president was supposed to evacuate Air Force One in the presidential escape pod ASAP to preserve the continuity of government. I didn’t. I followed my gut. Did it get people killed? Maybe. Could be.

Good luck.

President James Marshall

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (Lucasfilm)
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (Lucasfilm)

“The First Order is chasing me because the droid in my possession contains a map to Luke Skywalker, who is possibly my dad. What should I do?”

This happens more often than you would expect. Especially if, like me, you live on a desert planet and make a living scavenging discarded imperial tech. You never know when you’ll find something containing top-secret plans or maps, or when you won’t have enough to eat. Unkar Plutt, a Crolute and a vile creature who runs a trading post on Jakku, used to say: “Ungh Ak’lkzgh hnggg chu.” Which translates to, “If there is an unclaimed egg pouch in a bog, any Crolute may leave his sperm sac there.” The meaning doesn’t quite line up, I know. But: Never trust amphibians who live on desert planets. Snitches, all. That’s racist, but I don’t care.

As I was saying, this type of thing is quite common. Luke told me he had been through almost the exact same situation way, way, way back, like, 20 years ago. Which is so far in the past that most people think that everything that happened then are just myths.

So: When dealing with the First Order, don’t concern yourself with stormtroopers. They haven’t ever hit anything they were aiming at, as far as I know. Luke told me he and Han and Chewie had a blaster fight with stormtroopers across a hallway — A HALLWAY! — and the stormtroopers never even grazed anyone. Chewie is, like, 8 feet tall; not even a patch of burnt fur. It’s crazy. Anyway, don’t worry about them.

Now, force-sensitive members are a different issue entirely. You can usually tell who these people are because they wear cooler-than-normal uniforms and get to choke people. Avoid them if possible. If you can’t avoid them, use your force powers. Oh! I almost forgot: Know how to use the force.

May the force be with you,


‘Home Alone’ (20th Century Fox)
‘Home Alone’ (20th Century Fox)

“My parents left the country without me and now burglars are trying to break into the house. What should I do?”

Oh boy. This will be the best week of your life. It was for me. Because I hate my family. They are all mean. My mom never has my back. My dad is a sap. My brother Buzz eats all the pizza  — eats it with his mouth hanging open so I can see my pizza in his gross mouth. I wish Buzz and the rest of my family were d — disappeared. Yeah. Disappeared.

What I did when my family disappeared for a week is I ate all the pizza I wanted. Plain cheese. No foul meats. All the pizza, just for me. If you have money to pay the pizza guy, go ahead and pay him. If you don’t, I found a good thing to do is make the pizza guy think that if he doesn’t leave the pizza, you’ll shoot him. Hahaha! Oh boy.

OK, so, the house. You want to make sure the house looks like it has lots of stuff for a robber to steal. That way they try to get inside, where you have all your traps and stuff set up. I like to use all kinds of traps. Broken Christmas ornaments on the floor; a clothes iron rigged to crush someone’s skull; red-hot doorknobs; flamethrowers that burn a robber’s head like the way I wish Buzz got his head burned. The furnace beast wants to eat your face like it’s pizza, Buzz, and I am going to help him. I am.

Kill for the beast,


‘Space Jam’ (Warner Bros.)
‘Space Jam’ (Warner Bros.)

“I’ve been kidnapped by aliens and forced to play them in a basketball game for the transitive talents of various NBA All-Stars. What should I do?”

Be the best who ever played. That’s it. Pshhh. You think I actually cared if Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy, and SHAWN BRADLEY ever played basketball again? Fuck them. The only reason I played the Monstars is I had $2 million on the Rockets (+7.5) over the SuperSonics and Chuck’s fat ass not being able to play would’ve blown the cover. Only reason. Please. I wouldn’t have lifted an ass cheek if farting would’ve saved Shawn Bradley’s life.


Michael Jordan

‘Forrest Gump’ (Paramount Pictures)
‘Forrest Gump’ (Paramount Pictures)

“I was an All-American running back, a Ping-Pong champion, a Vietnam War veteran, a shrimping magnate, and a symbol of the successes of the baby boomer generation. What should I do?”


When I, Forrest Gump, look at the things happening today, I am greatly confused. Everybody today seems so unhappy. It reminds me of Jenny, may she rest. Jenny always seemed to worry about everything, like the war. She was thinking too much, my mama used to say. She said, “Oh, Forrest, your brain ain’t for thinking good, no how.” Boy, was she right. It’s like Bubba, my friend Bubba, who died in Vietnam. He knew everything about shrimp. His mama cooked shrimp, and her mama before her cooked shrimp, and her mama before her cooked shrimp too. She, Bubba’s mama’s mama’s mama, was a slave, I guess, but I never thought too much about stuff like that. I didn’t notice that my university was segregated until someone told me. I thought, “Why not just let them in?” I never did find out what happened with that deal because I soon deployed to Vietnam, where I watched Bubba die. Boy, did I make a lot of money from Bubba’s shrimp idea, and how. I got lucky, I guess. It’s like Mama said: “Oh, Forrest, you lunkhead. Stuff just works out for folks like us!” Anyway, I don’t understand why everyone today seems so upset. I think everything is pretty good. Stuff just works out. When people ask the secret to my success, I say I listened to Mama, Drill Sergeant, and Lieutenant Dan, and I never worried or thought too much. I also didn’t do the things Jenny used to do, and, thank god, because look what happened to Jenny. She died because she had sex and liked to dance. I miss her.

— Forrest Gump

‘Deepwater Horizon’ (Summit Entertainment)
‘Deepwater Horizon’ (Summit Entertainment)

“I was working on a deepwater oil rig and it blew up and now it’s on fire and falling to pieces and there are explosions everywhere and my friends and I are trapped on it and I have a wife and daughter and absolutely cannot die because who’s gonna take care of them if not me. What should I do?”


With everlasting valor,

Mike Williams