'Breaking Bad' Fans Believe the Series is a Longer Version of the 1993 Crime Thriller 'Falling Down'
Breaking Bad is a true original, but that doesn’t mean showrunner Vince Gilligan wasn’t influenced by other TV shows and movies. As a lifelong entertainment enthusiast, especially Westerns, Gilligan used his depth of knowledge to inform the story of Walter White sacrificing his family to become a drug kingpin.
There are several works fans can point to as examples of inspiration for Breaking Bad. But one of the best examples is the 1993 crime thriller Falling Down.
‘Falling Down’ depicts Michael Douglas losing his composure
In Falling Down, protagonist William Foster (Michael Douglas), an average middle class guy, feels robbed of the American Dream and lashes out in a flurry of bullets and a baseball bat. Audiences were stunned by his dramatic overreaction to seemingly normal events, though on some level they could relate. It made people question if they too were one bad day away from snapping and going on a rampage.
“Having a bad day? Going nowhere fast? The economy making you tense? Afraid to walk the streets? Life in the ‘90s got you down? What are you going to do about it?,” the trailer queries.
It’s easy to see how Falling Down would never get approved in modern day America, especially with the prevalence of school shootings and other gun violence. But at the time, the film served as a social commentary that made people question how much they deserved versus how much they received.
‘Breaking Bad’ includes a different yet similar character downfall
Like William Foster, Walter White felt like he deserved more out of life. He founded a company, Gray Matter Technologies, along with his college friend Elliot Schwartz. But then he sold his share of the company for $5,000 and went on to become a high school chemistry teacher. His pride gets hurt watching Gray Matter became a multi-billion dollar, highly respected business while his life stays average.
The last straw for Walt happens when he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He becomes obsessed with making money for his family to live on after he’s gone and refuses Elliot’s offer of financial assistance. As Breaking Bad progresses, mild-mannered Walt transforms into a bona fide criminal, murdering anyone who gets in his way. The similarities between him and William Foster are striking.
Other dramas that might use ‘Falling Down’ as inspiration
Breaking Bad is an iconic piece of television, but it’s not the only antihero drama that has parallels to Falling Down. Tony Soprano of The Sopranos also has similarities to the lead in Falling Down. Like Walter White, Tony lashes out after being denied what he believes he deserves. His character reaches depths of depravity that most people don’t think they’re capable of.
In a way, every white suburban patriarch on a downward spiral shares traits with William Foster. It’s part of what made Falling Down such a critical success. Is the main character the hero, the villain, or a bit of both?
“This guy is you, the movie suggests, and if not you exactly, then maybe the guy you’re one or two bad breaks from becoming,” a Washington Post reviewer wrote of Douglas’s performance.
“Douglas neither demonizes nor canonizes this flawed character. Marching across a violent urban landscape toward an illusory home, this shattered Everyman is never less than real … ‘I’m the bad guy?’ he asks in disbelief,” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote.
That’s the eternal question that we may never know the answer to.
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