When a movie's narrative isn't straightforward, fans sometimes drum up their own theories to explain its inconsistencies and plot holes. Although a majority of these theories are far-fetched, there are quite a few that make the movie they're about feel more relatable and understandable.
1. The Theory: In The Dark Knight, The Joker was a War Veteran
In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, The Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger, is a charismatic and insane villain, who some fans believe was a veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The theory comes from a story The Joker tells Harvey Dent in the second half of the film about a truckload of soldiers being blown up. This might also explain the character's disdain for the establishment and his proficiency with explosives, a bazooka, and automatic assault rifles.
2. The Theory: James Bond is a Codename
Since 1962, six actors—Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig—have played Agent 007 James Bond. A popular fan theory explains why the character’s appearance and age have changed over the last 52 years: “James Bond” is not one man, but rather a codename used for various MI6 agents. The theory leaves the door open for female actors and minorities to play Agent 007 in future James Bond movies.
3. The Theory: Grease is Sandy’s Elaborate Fantasy Before She Drowns
At the end of the movie musical Grease, we see Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) fly off in a red convertible as they wave goodbye to their friends on the solid ground below. This weird ending led movie theorists to the conclusion that the flying car was the final result of Sandy’s fantasy.
During the song “Summer Nights,” Danny and Sandy recount how they first met and started a summer fling. The line, “I saved her life, she nearly drowned,” suggests that Sandy actually did drown and the whole movie is an elaborate musical fantasy due to the lack of oxygen getting to her brain. The flying red convertible also suggests that Sandy is happily being whisked away to heaven at the end of the movie.
4. The Theory: Childs is The Thing
The final moments of John Carpenter’s The Thing are one of the most ambiguous endings to a major Hollywood movie. After a violent melee with the shape-shifting alien invader, the film’s hero MacReady (Kurt Russell) is exhausted as he re-unites with Childs (Keith David) and the pair wait to “see what happens.” The question remains: Is Childs or MacReady the monster?
The popular theory is that Childs is The Thing at the end of the movie. There are a few clues that point to this conclusion. One, you can’t see Childs’ breath in sub-arctic weather; two, Childs takes a swig from a molotov cocktail that is believed to be made by MacReady as a test; and three, John Carpenter cues the audience with Ennio Morricone’s theme for The Thing before the film cuts to black and the credits roll. MacReady smirks and quietly laughs, acknowledging that Childs is The Thing because he didn’t react to drinking gasoline.
5. The Theory: Jack Never Existed and Rose Suffers from Psychotic Depression in Titanic
There’s a popular belief that Titanic's male lead, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), was a figment that Rose Dewitt Bukater created due to having an abusive fiancée. Rose made Jack up to muster enough courage to finally stand up and leave Cal for good. This theory explains why there are no records of Jack and why the elderly Rose said, Jack “exists only in my memories.”
6. The Theory: RoboCop is Jesus Christ
The story of a man who is wrongfully executed, only to return to life as the savior of a dying world seems somewhat familiar to Christians. Only we’re not talking about Jesus—we're talking about the hero of the 1987 action film RoboCop.
Just look at the movie's story: Alex Murphy is violently murdered while patrolling the means streets of Detroit, only to come back to life as a part machine and part human “RoboCop.” He later goes around Detroit saving the lives of its citizens. There’s even a scene in the movie where RoboCop, walking through very shallow water, appears to be walking on its surface.
Director Paul Verhoeven validates this theory. “The point of RoboCop, of course, is it is a Christ story," he told MTV in 2010. "It is about a guy who gets crucified in the first 50 minutes, and then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes, and then is like the supercop of the world, but is also a Jesus figure as he walks over water at the end." Verhoeven also refers to RoboCop as “the American Jesus."
7. The Theory: The Ghostbusters Died When They Crossed the Streams
At the end of Ghostbusters, the team crosses the streams of their proton packs to defeat Gozer and save New York. Afterward, they are celebrated by the city. But some movie fans believe that the Ghostbusters actually died when they crossed the streams. Why? Because of Dr. Egon Spengler's (Harold Ramis) assertion that crossing the streams would be “very bad ... try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.” As soon as the Ghostbusters crossed the streams, they died a quick death, and the celebration was a fantasy.
You might think that the sequel discredits this, but theorists have an explanation for that, too: The Ghostbusters are in purgatory during Ghostbusters II. That film repeats the events of the first movie, but they're slightly skewed, and it seems that everyone in New York has forgotten the events of the first film, namely the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attack.
8. The Theory: The Golden Briefcase in Pulp Fiction Contains Marsellus Wallace’s Soul
The golden briefcase is the driving narrative force in Pulp Fiction. While it’s not important to know what’s inside of the briefcase to fully enjoy the film, there have been numerous theories out there relating to the case’s contents since the movie’s initial release in 1994. Although Quentin Tarantino has flat out said that nothing is in the briefcase and it’s merely a McGuffin, the popular belief is that crime boss Marsellus Wallace’s soul is inside of the briefcase.
This one you've probably heard. The theory is that Marsellus Wallace sold his soul to the devil and sent Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) to get it back. The glowing orange hue that shines upon Vincent Vega’s face when he opens the case, one of the characters calling the briefcase’s contents “beautiful,” how Jules and Vincent survived getting shot, and the adhesive strip on the back of Marsellus Wallace’s neck are just some of the reasons why this movie theory has persisted over the years—plus the fact that the combination for the briefcase’s lock is “666,” the mark of the beast.
In Roger Ebert's Questions for the Movie Answer Man, Pulp Fiction co-author Roger Avery said the briefcase originally contained diamonds, but that was "too boring and predictable." So they decided the contents would remain unseen, so "each audience member would fill in the blank with their ultimate contents."
9. The Theory: Stan Lee is Uatu the Watcher
Comic book icon Stan Lee has appeared in almost every Marvel movie based on the characters he has created—including Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and The Avengers. While Lee’s cameos are considered fun for Marvel fans, many others believe that the comic book writer is playing the character Uatu the Watcher, but in human form. Uatu is part of an extraterrestrial species that is responsible for monitoring and cataloging the activities of other species on Earth and across its solar system.
10. The Theory: Bill Murray is Our Savior
In an essay entitled “Groundhog Day The Movie, Buddhism and Me,” Spiritual Cinema Circle co-founder Stephen Simon calls the film “a wonderful human comedy about being given the rare opportunity to live several lifetimes all in the same day. Of course, that's not how the film was marketed but, for our purposes, I believe that concept is at the soul of the story.” In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Angela Zito, co-director of the NYU Center for Religion and Media, noted that the film illustrates the Buddhist idea of samsara, or continuing rebirth. “In Mahayana [Buddhism], nobody ever imagines they are going to escape samsara until everybody else does,” she notes. “That is why you have bodhisattvas, who reach the brink of nirvana, and stop and come back and save the rest of us. Bill Murray is the bodhisattva. He is not going to abandon the world. On the contrary, he is released back into the world to save it.”