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The Ending Of Tropic Thunder Explained

It's been nearly 14 years since Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder" first hit theaters, and to this day it endures as one of the most unique comedies ever made. The film follows a group of fictitious celebrities during the filming of a movie called (you guessed it) "Tropic Thunder," which is based on the memoirs of Vietnam war veteran Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte). The stars of "Tropic Thunder" include struggling action film star Tugg Speedman (Stiller), popular rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), drug-addled comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), and intense method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) — the latter of whom famously refuses to break character until after the DVD commentary is recorded.

Due to the conflict among all of these massive personalities, the film-within-a-film is months behind schedule. Fledgling director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) decides to simply drop all of these actors into the middle of the Golden Triangle (at the borders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand) and complete the movie through the use of hidden cameras, as the actors wander through the jungle and improvise scenes. Unfortunately, the actors are accidentally dropped into the territory of a militant gang known as Flaming Dragon, and they are quickly forced to fight for their lives in a real-world survival scenario.

"Tropic Thunder" continues to stand the test of time as one of the most inventive comedies ever, blurring the lines between a ludicrous parody and a genuinely thrilling action film — and like all great action films, it has an incredibly exciting ending.

The cast escapes the jungle in a helicopter (with the help of Matthew McConaughey)

In the film's climax, Tugg Speedman (who has been captured by the members of Flaming Dragon and forced to reenact his role from the fictional comedy "Simple Jack") is rescued by the other actors, who infiltrate the Flaming Dragon camp in disguise. The actors all flee the camp in a hail of gunfire and destroy a bridge using the film's excessive pyrotechnics, cutting off the pursuit of the Flaming Dragon gang members.

The actors all manage to board a helicopter and are on the verge of escaping when Flaming Dragon's 12-year-old gang leader Tran (Brandon Soo Hoo) fires an RPG at the vehicle. In perhaps one of the funniest examples of "deus ex machina" in film history, Tugg's agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey) suddenly emerges from the forest holding a TiVo DVR. Earlier in the film, we learned that Tugg's contract for "Tropic Thunder" entitled him to a TiVo, which producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) never provided. The implication here is that Peck flew all the way into the Golden Triangle and braved an entire war-torn jungle just to provide his client with said TiVo. As the RPG is about to collide with the helicopter, Peck throws the TiVo box into the air, where it blocks the oncoming RPG and explodes.

Thus, the TiVo ends up saving the day, and the actors fly off to safety as Peck cheers from below. This final escape scene manages to capture everything that makes "Tropic Thunder" so great: pulling off a thrilling action climax in an absurd, absolutely hilarious way.

Tugg helps Kirk discover who he truly is

One of the greatest strengths of "Tropic Thunder" is that, despite its absolutely ludicrous premise, the film manages to create a host of genuinely touching emotional moments. One such moment comes just before the cast escapes to the helicopter, when Kirk Lazarus runs back to help an injured Tugg Speedman get on board. As the two sit beside a puddle, Tugg tells Kirk, "I know who you are ... you're my friend. You're my brother."

Throughout the film, Kirk has been shown to have a generally tenuous grasp on his own identity — unable to differentiate between his acting roles and his own personality. This conflict culminates in an earlier scene where Tugg ridicules Kirk for being "a dude who has no idea what dude he is," and the latter ends up breaking down, switching between a host of different personalities, and crying. As such, this moment at the end of the film helps to reconcile the rift between Tugg and Kirk, while also helping Kirk accept who he truly is. He is Kirk Lazarus, not just some actor but a true person with friends and family, and one who has made a genuine difference in the world outside of his film performances.

Like most of the scenes in this movie, the subtext is absolutely ridiculous (concerning a method actor who is unable to differentiate between his award-winning roles and his own persona) though the moment is touching nonetheless.

Tugg finally wins his award for Tropic Blunder

Following the group's climactic escape from the jungle, we cut over to the Academy Awards, where it's revealed that the team used the hidden camera footage to create "Tropic Blunder: the true story behind the making of the most expensive fake true war story ever." Kirk Lazarus, now using his natural Australian accent, presents the Academy Award for Best Actor to Tugg Speedman – his first Academy Award ever.

At the beginning of the film, we learned that Tugg was once the highest-paid actor in Hollywood for his role in the fictitious "Scorcher" franchise and that he had recently fallen on hard times due to a series of box office bombs (including the aforementioned "Simple Jack"). Fearing that his career was in jeopardy, Tugg only took on the role of Four Leaf Tayback in an attempt to save his dying career, which is why completing "Tropic Thunder" was so important to him early on. Thus, watching him win this award completes his character arc from a Hollywood laughing stock to an award-winning, well-respected actor.

A final victory for Les Grossman

Despite the fact that "Tropic Thunder" manages to hit so many of the same beats as a typical action blockbuster, at the end of the day it is still a spoof of those movies, and a satirical take on movie-making in general. Indeed, the film is constantly poking fun at Hollywood as a whole, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the heinously greedy studio executive Les Grossman.

Les is the epitome of Hollywood sleaze: insulting his subordinates with reckless abandon, denying even the smallest accommodations for cast and crew, and even opting to let the cast of "Tropic Thunder" die just to take advantage of the insurance payout. Yet, in the film's closing scene, Les' part in "Tropic Blunder” is heralded as a resounding success. His assistant, Rob (Bill Hader), lists the film's extensive accolades to Les before departing. Les, alone at last, turns on "Get Back" by Ludacris and dances as the credits roll. Despite his complete mismanagement of the film and its cast members, Les is praised by everyone around him, and absurdly celebrates his victory with a series of profane dance moves.

The closing scene is the film's final jab at Hollywood absurdity — showing how a studio executive as narcissistic and horrible as Les Grossman can still come out a winner despite being horrible at his job.