In our cinematic present it's fair to say that the "they were dead all along" plot twist is totally and utterly played out.
Only the cleverest of movies can get away with such a thoroughly overdone "surprise," because in 2021 audiences are just too savvy to the conceit of a dead protagonist walking around as if they're alive.
But cinema is nevertheless littered with memorable examples of heroes who, for one reason or another, were actually dead or living out their final dying breaths for most of the movie.
In some cases the movie itself is the dying dream of a mortally wounded person, or perhaps their consciousness has been somehow preserved after they've been declared physically, clinically dead, or maybe they're just a straight-up ghost doing their thing the whole time.
Whatever the explanation, these 10 movies featured central, heroic characters who were goners as soon as the movie started.
More often than not, what remained was their quest to complete unfinished business, finish an existential odyssey and, if they were lucky, ascend to a higher plane of existence...
10. Jacob's Ladder
Jacob's Ladder opens with the titular protagonist (Tim Robbins) serving in the Vietnam War, where during a sudden attack he's stabbed with a bayonet by an enemy combatant.
After this, Jacob wakes up on the New York City subway apparently several years later.
For the rest of the movie Jacob encounters a series of increasingly unsettling, demonic visions, seeming to suggest he's suffering the effects of PTSD since returning from war.
But it's ultimately revealed that Jacob never actually made it back from Vietnam, and the movie's events have in fact been his brain making sense of everything that's happened to him as he expires.
As it turns out, Jacob was stabbed to death by one of his own teammates after their squad was dosed with an experimental drug called The Ladder, causing them to violently turn on one another.
The final scene cuts back to Vietnam where Jacob lies dead in a medical tent, though in his final moments he at least seems to have found some fleeting sense of peace regarding his young son's (Macaulay Culkin) death, a vision of whom leads him into a bright light as he dies.