Final Destination 3 (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Some minor spoilers:

Let me cut to the chase. Final Destination 3 is a genre masterpiece. It really is the Citizen Kane of slaughtered teenager movies, and I do not mean that in the same ironic sense in which I contend that Rock 'n Roll Nightmare is the Citizen Kane of evil oven mitt movies, or that The Item is the Citizen Kane of naugahyde slug movies. Final Destination 3 really is a good movie, a slickly-packaged film written with imagination and humor, directed with technical skill and a knack for maintaining the suspense, photographed with exceptional competence and a real feel for atmosphere, and filled with characters who manage to say things worth listening to once in a while. There have been many popular films in this sub-genre, including all the Friday 13th movies, all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, The Scream series, Final Destination 1 and 2, and a host of less successful imitators of varying degrees of inspiration. With the exception of the first Freddy Kruger movie, the first Scream, and the first installment of Final Destination, none of them are in the same league as this one. It is just about as good as a film of this type could be.

Like any series, the Final Destination movies have certain characteristics that form a template for each individual film.

The following characteristics make up a Final Destination Movie:

  • A major fatal catastrophe is avoided by a small group of people because one member of the group sensed the impending doom and pulled the others from the situation. Many people die in the catastrophe, but those who withdrew and lived have not really been spared. They were meant to die, and death will not be cheated, so they must die soon, and in the same order in which they would have died in the catastrophe they avoided.

  • Each of the individual deaths is foreshadowed in some way, and when it occurs it is gory, gruesome, and often involves a fortuitous concatenation of circumstances that work in harmony to create sort of a Rube Goldberg device.

In the specific case of Final Destination 3:

The catastrophe is a doomed roller coaster ride, and it's a real nail-biter. Of course, there are only so many ways to handle a scene like this - cut to bolts coming loose, cut to roller coaster, hydraulics leaking, roller coaster, wires and cables separating, roller coaster, wheels coming loose, roller coaster, track twisting and separating, roller coaster - all the while with people screaming. At first, the screams are the sounds people make on amusement park rides, then they turn terrifyingly real. There's really no other way to present that scenario, I suppose, but it is presented here with consummate skill. The photography is clear. The editing is expert. The carnival is garish and colorful. The heights are dizzying. The action is frenzied. Heads are severed unexpectedly, but there's no time for audience shock because more people have survived temporarily, and we follow their fates. Most important, the audience is on that coaster with the actors, experiencing what they experience. The fourth wall is never broken. Every bit of it, from the POV of the kids on the cars to the objective POV from outside the cars, looks completely real.

Then there are the deaths. They are gory, macabre and clever, as expected, but they are also fused with maddening tension because the characters have clues about how each death will occur, but the clues are frustratingly symbolic, and it seems that a character can avoid death permanently if he or she can thwart his fate a second time, so there is always the possibility that a character may not die. On the other hand, if one of the kids avoids his fate, another may die only seconds later, having had no time to prepare and study the clues. Because the premise is constructed this way, the audience doesn't know precisely what the kids need to avoid, or if the next one on the list might beat the odds. It's an involving game!

The film has other plusses as well.

  • The lead actor and actress are not boyfriend/girlfriend. Each of their lovers was killed on the doomed coaster. The survivors are simply two kids who used to hang out in the same crowd, but never really liked each other that much. This allows them to approach their situation from very different perspectives, while it involves the audience in the possibility that they might bond and become true friends, or even more. To the film's credit, it resists the easy solution of having them come together eventually, thus maintaining the sexual and dramatic tension throughout the movie.

  • The film was a pleasant watch even when there was no action because I liked the main characters, and enjoyed most of the dialogue between them and the others who survived the ride. The other survivors fall into easily classifiable teen archetypes, and some of them are uninspired, but others are quite entertaining. I especially enjoyed the cynical, intellectual rebel who didn't buy into the whole "can't cheat death" premise.

  • The film managed to avoid the various mistakes made in Final Destination 2, which tried to explain the entire thing with some kind of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and added a gratuitous spooky character (played by Tony Todd) who was contacted by the teens because they needed a death consultant, whereupon he muttered some spooky gibberish and made some serious pronouncements as if circumstances like these could be countered with formulaic rituals. The idea was that these ostensibly incomprehensible circumstances could actually be comprehended by a scholar with the specific human learning appropriate to the task, as if the entire mystery could be unraveled like an archeological research project. The death-guy can only mutter some arcane crap like "only a new life can thwart death." Whatever that means. Todd is always a scary dude, but he was totally out of place in the teen horror genre. He seemed about as real as one of those late-night "Monster Chiller Horror Theater" hosts like Dr Ghoulardi or Count Floyd. (Arooooooo!)  In Final Destination 3, the kids are regular kids who don't really understand their circumstances, but try to piece it all together as best they can. The story stays entirely with the kids and other realistic characters. That's a good thing, because it makes the concept more real to the viewers. After all, there are no specific rules which pertain to fate, and if there were, no mortal would know them. By eliminating fate's human translator, the filmmakers eliminated a barrier between the characters and the audience. Because the characters don't know the rules, they feel exactly what we would feel in their circumstances.

  • The producers might have picked up a financial windfall by creating some kind of physical representation of "death" or "fate" that they could license for costumes and action figures, but that would have been bad for the movie itself, and the filmmakers wisely avoided that trap and made the quality of the film their first priority. Fate here is just a concept - "a force" whose presence is represented by a sudden chill on a hot night, or a breeze in a still room, or a flickering of lights - something which any of us could see, but would ignore unless impending doom was on the top of our mind. This made "fate" far more frightening than if it had been represented by some cartoon flesh-and-blood character, or if it had a ghoulish (and silly) human interpreter as it did in the earlier installments of this series.

  • Thrills and macabre humor are not the film's only guilty pleasures. Three words: hot topless bimbos. Very hot. In more ways than one.

  • Finally, the DVD does justice to the film. Not only is there an entire disk full of special features and a full-length commentary, but there is also a special interactive version of the film in which the viewer can choose the character's fates at about a half-dozen points in the film. Great fun - and a source of additional nudity. Or, if you're a boring dude, you can watch the regular old theatrical version.

This movie is really fun to watch, and that's doubly amazing because it had a very difficult birth. First the director was unhappy with the original cut, which was "ready" in 2004, so he went back and shot the roller coaster sequence. Then the test audiences hated the original ending, so that also had to be re-shot. The changes were well worth his time. I think it's the best "slaughtered teens" horror film since Nightmare on Elm Street, and is just a cut below the best genre films of the new millennium like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Sin City. The print critics generally did not agree with me, but then again, their judgments tend to be skewed against lowbrow "guilty pleasure" movies. They seem to feel that praising a lurid movie like this would somehow pollute their pristine reputations and render them incapable of analyzing Peter Greenaway's next opaque masterpiece. Fuck 'em. Let 'em sit through Babette's Feast a few more times while I wait for FD4.



  • Commentary by: filmmakers
  • "Choose Their Fate"- interactive feature lets YOU decide the fate of the characters
  • Additional scenes
  • Alternate endings
  • 10-part documentary "Kill Shot: The Making of FD3"
  • Featurette: "Dead Teenager Movie" - in-depth look at a sub-genre of horror films
  • Original animated short "It's All Around You"
  • "Planned Accidents" a look at the making of the rollercoaster


Chelan Simmons shows breast in both versions of the tanning bed scene.

Crystal Lowe shows only breasts in one version, but breasts and buns in the other.

Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic Ebert/Berardinelli average IMDb Box Office
Final Destination 30 36 2 6.6 $53m
Final Destination 2 46 38 1.5 6.4 $47m
Final Destination 3 45 41 2.25 6.0 $54m

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus:  two and a quarter out of four stars. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 2/4.

  • British consensus:  fewer than two stars out of four. Guardian 6/10, Observer 6/10, BBC 1/5.


The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $24 million for production. It grossed $54 million in the USA and a bit more than that overseas.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+, top-notch genre fare.

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