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payoff  .

Definition: Scene in which the villain is caught or killed.

History: In “The Thin Man Goes Home” (1945), Myrna Loy defines payoff as detective William Powell’s reward for outwitting the villain. “Suddenly the guilty party cracks up,” she says, “and starts trying to shoot his way out.” Today payoff remains the scene in which the villain is either effed or offed. However, it is the audience’s reward for spending hours either trying to answer whodunit in a mystery or frothing at the mouth over the villain in an action movie.  


Not all murderous villains must die. Most in mysteries don't unless the solution to the puzzle is weak and bloodletting is needed for the audience to feel paid off.

In action movies, the one rule is the villain must die if his henchmen have died—and die more miserably than they did. For instance, all was good in “Firewall” (2006) as Harrison Ford whacked kidnappers. But then, Ford grabbed a rusty pick and swung it back over his shoulder to strike the kidnappers’ ringleader, Paul Bettany, in the back. Even the greatest stuntmen couldn’t make this 2-second gymnastic look lethal. Plus Bettany dies instantly. Audience's reaction: "Gypped!"

By contrast, in “Under Siege 2” (1995) villain Eric Bogosian is clinging to the bed of a helicopter when Steven Seagal slams the door shut, severing Bogosian’s fingers and causing Bogosian to plummet hundreds a feet through a fireball of exploding locomotive fuel. Audience’s reaction: “Sweet!”

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