Right before the hero faces the villain for the final battle in Act III, he or she hits rock bottom. That usually occurs at the 90 minute mark where the following happens:
- The hero is isolated from others (where the mentor often dies)
- The hero admits a fatal flaw
- The hero gains inspiration from the mentor somehow
- The villain appears on the verge of victory
In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the hero hits rock bottom in the following ways:
- He’s trapped in an alternate universe where he didn’t exist so nobody knows him, even his own wife
- After seeing the horror of life without him, he finally realizes that he did so much good without having to leave town like he thought he would have to do
- Clarence, the hero’s guardian angel, takes him back to an alternative universe where he doesn’t exist and constantly reminds him that this is what life would be without him
- Mr. Potter, the villain, has taken over the town in the alternate universe and has created a hell on Earth in the hero’s eyes
In “Die Hard,” the hero hits rock bottom like this:
- The hero is isolated in a bathroom, yanking glass shards out of his bare feet
- The hero admits that it’s his fault for being a jerk to his wife and causing her to leave him
- The black police officer tells the hero that he’ll be around to tell his wife that he loves her
- Hans, the villain, is about to lead the hostages on the roof to blow them up so he can escape in the chaos
The rock bottom moment puts the hero in the lowest point in the entire story. This is where the hero’s quest appears hopeless and the villains’ quest appears on the verge of success. Just when life looks bleakest for the hero, the mentor helps the hero and the hero gains courage to face the villain for the last time.
The rock bottom moment is essentially the ending of your story in reverse. In a typical story, the villain loses and the hero wins. So the rock bottom moment at the 90 minute mark typically shows the hero losing big and the villain nearly winning big.
Remember, contrast make the story more compelling. By putting your hero in a rock bottom moment, the hero’s eventual victory will suddenly seem more glorious and amazing at the end.