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Top 10 Great Movie Deaths

Movies love to kill people and we love to watch...

Photo: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Top 10 Great Movie Deaths

Movies love to kill people, and actors love to die (preferably slowly and with a great close-up). Yet, more often than not, film fatalities are an accountant's errand. Just another tally mark in the body count. This isn't a list celebrating the art of ludicrous squibs and exploding craniums. The following movie deaths deliver more oomph than henchmen #4 getting steamrolled by the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

These are the death scenes we remember long after the actors have screamed, slobbered, cried, coughed, wheezed, or drawn out to William Shatner-esque lengths their final words. They are a perfect combination of acting, writing, filmmaking, image and idea. Some are shocking. Some are sad or bittersweet. Others funny. Some deaths you cheer on. All are memorable.

Let's begin to experience ten (technically eleven) great ends, and considering the nature of this list, yes, there are spoilers, and if you haven't seen some of these movies you have some NetFlixing to do.

David Carradine walks it out in Kill Bill Vol. 2

When the film's name is Kill Bill, it's likely Bill won't be standing come end credits. And when it takes two films to reach the promised death, it damn well better be memorable.

Quentin Tarantino's ultimate achievement in Kill Bill isn't the fantastic sword play, but how he twists a straightforward revenge tale into a subversive, poignant love story during the movie's final scenes. We expect an action-packed finale between Uma Thurman's Bride and David Carradine's Bill. However, Tarantino delivers a climax pivoting on emotional conflict in lieu of bloody, drawn-out combat. Yes, we know Bill must die. He had it coming. Yet, Carradine saunters Bill out to his death with such dignity and warmth, we can't help but feel for the murderous SOB.

Henry Fonda eats a harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West

So your movie depicts a particularly nasty villain. Guess what? That bastard needs to die (hard). But for the hero to simply kill the baddie isn't good enough. A quick sucker death for a film's main evildoer never satisfies an audience's bloodlust, and I am thirsty. Before the villain departs (hopefully in agonizing pain), he needs to realize the hero has bested him.

Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West pulls off this ego-crushing deathblow to perfection. Not only does Henry Fonda's family-snuffing villain suffer a slow, gut-oozing demise after losing a duel to Charles Bronson's Man with No Name, Bronson finalizes his revenge with a symbolic gesture that shuffles Fonda off his mortal coil in utter humiliation.

Slim Pickens gets nuked in Dr. Strangelove and Bob Dylan-ized in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

This is my two-for-one cheat. We all know the scene from Dr. Strangelove in which Slim Pickens cheerfully bull-rides a nuke to the apocalypse. It's iconic. And it'd be a major mistake to leave it off this list. Yet, as far as I'm concerned Slim Pickens owns two brilliant death scenes in cinematic history.

The second and more obscure one (not to mention, the death that inspired me to compile this list) comes from Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Slim Pickens has a minor role as a sheriff helping Garrett search for the Kid. During a shootout he takes a bullet to the stomach. Yeah so what's the big deal? Cue Bob Dylan's “Knocking on Heaven's Door,” drop in the eerie setting sun, and the subtle range of emotion Pickens displays as he sits on a river bank dying while his wife mourns in the background. Peckinpah made a career off killing characters in violent, yet visually beautiful ways. Few were as haunting as this scene.

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  • Jacob

    Nice list!

    I'm a big fan of Giovanni Ribisi's death scene in Saving Private Ryan and Wes Studi's death in Last of the Mohicans, and like you mentioned Spock in ST2 is great.

    • CAPTJAG

      Nailed it. 2 excellent additions.

      • Freddie

        Thelma & Louise

  • Martian Army

    Great clip from The Princess Bride. I wish it was a little longer, though, so that Cary Elwes could have explained exactly why he won the battle of wits, because it wasn't just because Wallace Shawn's character died.

    Also, I must say that you compiled a great list, Brad. Definitely some of the best movie deaths out there. In honor of QT, I must say that he has two more of my favorites. I love the big shootout at the end of Reservoir Dogs, because of how it brings a final and conclusive end to the film. And also Vic Vega's death in Pulp Fiction, because it was so sudden, abrupt, and unexpected.

    • John

      Vincent Vega. Vic was his brother, in Reservoir Dogs.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

    @Martian Army: This list was actually made by David. He deserves the kudos, but I agree, I really liked his list. Loved the variety he has here.

  • Martian Army

    @Brad Brevet: Yeah, I agree about the variety. I have to give David props for not focusing on one genre to find the death scenes.

    One other death scene that I really loved was Kevin Spacey's death in Se7en. There is something about it that just sticks with you for awhile, and makes you think.

    • weetiger3

      I'd have to go with Kevin Spacey's death in LA Confidential. THAT one has truly stuck with me.

  • Nick

    10. Billy Costigan gets a bullet to his head in THE DEPARTED.
    This one I think deserves to be on this list for being arguably the most unexpected death in the history of cinema.

    9. Jack Sparrow walks into the Kraken in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST.
    Mixed feelings about the movie aside, that was one glorious, unexpected and truly memorable death, which as we learned just 10 minutes later, wasn't exactly "death", but all those 10 minutes had you asking yourself in disbelief, "Wow, did they really have the guts to actually kill off their main character?". Of course they didn't, but they almost convinced us so, and the impact of that scene was incredible when watching it in the theater for the first time.

    8. Walter Donovan ages in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. What way of leaving this world would be more memorable then aging rapidly? I can't really think of one. In a matter of seconds, Indy's main villain goes from being about 50 years old to being 100 years old to being a skeleton, and that was one truly unexpected and almost shocking death.

    7. Bill walks to his death in KILL BILL VOL. 2
    I'll just say, I totally agree with you on that, David.

    6. Kane gives birth to an alien in ALIEN
    Same here.

    5. Chrissie gets eaten in JAWS
    Steven Spielberg's classic has a handful of great deaths, but of course, it is the opening scene that will stand out forever. A young woman goes swimming at night, everything is good, and suddenly something tries to drag her down in the water. What follows is two minutes of wild screaming and dragging of the shark's victim that we will always remember. There's no need for us to see the giant monster, to see blood and gore, because our imagination can paint a picture more terrifying than anything the movie could offer us. Spielberg knows that, and lets our imagination do it freely.

    4. Randy The Ram Robinson goes out in a blaze of glory in THE WRESTLER
    Yes, it's not a matter of fact that The Ram actually died in the end of The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky left it to each viewer to decide whether he died or not, well, I think he did. The final scene of the film has so much power, strength, and drama, that it's almost impossible to properly express it in words. Let's put it this way: it just needs to be seen.

    3. William Blake embarks on his last journey in DEAD MAN
    Jim Jarmusch's 1995 western is one of only two his films I have seen, and I would never do so, had I one night not turned on the TV and watched it out of sheer curiousity. Now it is one of my 5 favourite films of all time. You can say the same things about both the whole film and William Blake's final journey to the place where all the spirits came... and where all the spirits return. Beautiful. Poetic. Moving. Dream-like. Powerful. Calm. Memorable. Absolutely brilliant and staying with you forever.

    2. Marion Crane showers with a knife in PSYCHO
    Again, David... you said it best.

    1. Marvin gets his head blown the f*ck up in PULP FICTION
    - Marvin! What do you make of all this?
    - Man, I don't even have an opinion.
    - Well you GOTTA have an opinion! Do you think God came down from heaven and stopped the...

    - OH WHAT THE FUCK MAN!
    - Aw man, I shot Marvin in the face...

    Do I really need to comment on this?

  • Rrs

    Hi nick,

    I agree with your selection of Billy Costigan's death scene.
    It really deserves a mention in the list

  • rattler76

    I think you can cheat with no. 5 as well.
    Again John Hurt. Again Xenomorph but this time followed by a song and dance.
    I'm of course talking about the diner scene in Spaceballs.
    To me just as memorable because it's just that funny and because the original was so memorable

    As much as the original impressed me as I had no idea what was coming, so much has the second one made me laugh. I still smile everytime I think of it.
    "Oh no! Not again!"

  • Sound Designer Dan

    The Godfather: Sonny getting blasted to bits at the tollway.

    Braveheart: The English want William Wallace (Mel Gibson) to beg for mercy so they dislocating his shoulders and legs. Nope, it doesn't work. They then try emasculating him in front of hundreds of people but he still doesn't budge. Well, you already know what happens.

    The Killer: After a remarkable church shootout, Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) and Li Ying (Danny Lee) try to kill Wong Hoi (Shing Fui On). Ah Jong tells Li that if he dies, he'd like him to take his corneas and give them to his blind girlfriend Jennie for a transplant. Well, fate has other plans. Wong Hoi pumps a few bullets into Ah Jong and shoots his eyes out as well.

    Blade Runner: The death of Roy Batty. 'Nuff said.

    Léon: After a huge shootout with police, Léon almost successfully escapes in a fireman's uniform until Stansfield shoots him in the back of the head. Dying on the cold tile, Léon says his with final breath, "This is from......Mathilda," and gives Stansfield something small in his hand. Stansfield opens his hand and sees a grenade pin. He opens up Léon's jacket to find his body wrapped in grenades. Stansfield, shocked at what he sees, can only say one word, "shit."

    Saving Private Ryan: Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) dies with a knife to the chest.

  • Adriano

    Nice list, David! So glad to see Once Upon a Time in the West here - it's one of the best moments in movie history. And King Kong (especially with you saying that you prefer Peter Jackson's ending - me too). Bonnie and Clyde is also a definitive Top 10.

    When I think of Movie Deaths, two scenes instantly come to my mind (besides several ones on the list): the barb wire-filled room in Suspiria (the most shocking and original movie death ever) and another death in Once Upon a Time in The West: when the train owner tries to reach for the "sea". No movie death has affected me as much as this moment.

  • Patricia

    I applaud your inclusion of the comedy, "The Princess Bride," also your nostalgic mention of "King Kong" (the original.)

    What a blood thirsty bunch we find on the Rope.

  • http://movienut14.blogspot.com Anna

    Um, did anyone forget the face melting Nazis from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

  • Bustray

    What!?!?! Where's the woodchipper scene from Fargo????

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/fadedreligion/ fadedreligion

      i thought i was the only one lol...that was a great scene!!! also sick and disturbing and awesome.

  • FumoSanto

    There is one particular scene in Titanic that stands out for me - As the ship is going down, some poor soul meets his demise tumbling endlessly through the air only to end his life by bouncing off a propeller the size of my house with a glorious echoing thud. In a theater full of awestruck sniffling viewers, I was the sole person who laughed out loud (it was like the theater lights came on and everyone looked straight at me). I still crack a smirk every time I see that shot.

    • Ben

      Titanic, the scene when the ship is underwater and hundreds of people just screaming and started freezing in the water, and then... silence...the vigor of life followed by the silence of death... it feels like part of me also died with them...

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @rattler76:

    I honestly considered including the Spaceballs clip for the piece and giving it props. Glad to know I'm not the only who adores that bit.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @Sound Designer Dan:

    Brando's death in The Godfather came extremely close to being included. However, I went with Apocalypse Now since the final words are one of the most quoted lines of all time and I already done a 2-for-1 cheat.

    The Killer did made it through several cuts. Great ending. And Roy Batty's death was seriously considered. In fact that was perhaps the last death I cut out (ultimately feeling that there were a couple of deaths more influential on cinema and it would have tilted the list too heavily for Sci-fi/fantasy when I was trying to keep a little balance between genres). But that was a tough one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @Bustray:

    Thought about Fargo. But technically Buscemi gets taken out with an ax, which few seem to remember b/c of the wood chipper scene. However that'd make a top entry on a Top 10 Body Disposals in Film list.

  • Jon

    I love the list, but I didn't personally agree with number one. Although iconic, The Wizard of Oz never intrigued me to any degree. I would probably have all these scenes in my list but rearranged. My top two would have to be Alien and Once Upon a Time in the West because these were two of my favorite movies and I loved seeing Henry Fonda as a villian and to see him get what was coming to him.

  • http://n/a Jezza

    What about the Toon Patrol deaths in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Talk about laughing yourself to death.

  • Brian Fallows

    What about Mufasa from The Lion King? And the death at the beginning as well as Robert Shaw in Jaws?

    Also, Brando in the Godfather, the lawyer that gets eaten by the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, R.P. McMurphy's death in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and even Boromir's death in The Fellowship of the Ring.

  • Eric

    That Cyclops from "Krull"?

  • Steve

    Let me throw a funny one on just because I see him sometimes at the place I work, Keith Loneker as White Boy Rob running up the stairs to kill George Clooney when he falls and shoots himself in "Out of Sight".

    And that dude in large!

    • shelley n

      fuckin' A!!! yes!

  • Skippy

    Hi David--were you not including suicides? Two of the greatest are Joan Crawford in "Humoresque" and Moira Shearer in "The Red Shoes."

    I admire your tackling of this endlessly discussable topic.

  • Zack Solomon

    @David Frank: How abut Michael's death in Godfather. That was great.

  • Zack Solomon

    @Zack Solomon: And a big one from the 70's that you forgot is Keith Carradine's death in McCabe & Mrs. Miller

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @Brian Fallows:

    Actually, I watch the Lion King last night right after I finished this list. The film stills to impress me all that much.

    See a previous comment regarding Brando and The Godfather.

    Robert Shaw's death is definitely a great. That was sadly one of the deaths that juuuust missed the cut.

    If I had to pick a death from Lord of the Rings it would be Gollum's. The shot of him falling into the lava is pitch-perfect (that was also another one that I had a hard time with not including on the list).

    • Seth

      No, Denathor's. That ones great. Or even Theoden's or Saruman's in the Special Extended edition of the Return of the King.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @Steve:

    If I was doing a Best Kills list (which to me celebrates the technique of kill characters off like henchman #4), that would definitely be on there. Absolutely hilarious. I like how Soderbergh foreshadows it throughout the film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @Skippy:

    Yeah the lack of suicides wasn't done on purpose.

  • MylesMan

    At the potential risk seeming morbid what about Brandon Lee in The Crow? While it may have been a fake death or a particularly "entertaining" one, I think the simple fact that he (Lee) dies on screen is enough for that to make my list

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @Zack Solomon:

    I'll take it you meant Sonny's death (or are you talking about Godfather III, which really, let's not). Either you're a Sonny's death or a Don Vito's death person. You can like both. But you can't like them equally. I fall on the Don Vito side. And as superb as the Sonny bullet buffet is, it wouldn't exist without the ambush in Bonnie and Clyde (which feels much more brutal and visceral than Sonny's scene).

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/stay-inside-and-watch-more-tv#comments David Frank

    @Zack Solomon:

    C'mon I have one of the Carradine's. That's gotta count for something.

  • Zack Solomon

    @David Frank: I ment sonny, my bad

  • Zack Solomon

    @David Frank: But that scene in McCabe is so good. That's my favorite death on screen

  • Badge

    "Oh, what I'd give to have seen the alien bursting from John Hurt's chest with an audience in 1979"

    I was there. I was 17. I was with a group of friends. It was opening night. It was the first horror film I'd ever gone to see (the SF element lured me in). None of us knew what would happen.

    When "that" scene hit us, it seemed the world of cinema-viewing as we knew had completely turned on its head, and from that point on, all bets were off. One of the single most memorable moments in my film-going life.

    • Hissyspit

      I was 16 or 17, too, and saw it with an audience. Your analysis is accurate. As I recall, the viewer response was stunned silence, although there were probably gasps initially. I knew it was a unique (up to that time) moment, but mostly what I took from the film, at the time, was that it was one of the most continually suspenseful movies I had ever seen.

  • Leonard

    The death scene that has stuck with me all these years is from the 1937 "Lost Horizon." The beautiful young woman, who is really 200 years old, gradually crumbles to dust when she leaves the protection of the utopian Shangri La and enters the harsh reality of the Himalayas.

  • http://entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com

    Im partial because its my all time favorite movie but I say Gene Hackman's Rev Scott in The Poseidon Adventure. There's something quite powerful with him hanging off that steam pipe and then dropping to his death. I just watched it again in Jan at a revival theater in NYC and its incredible they way they shot that scene especially when seeing it on the big screen.

    chuck

    • shelley n

      this just gave me a v8 headslap/"YEAAAAAAAAAAH!!!" moment like you would not believe...

  • Chuck Lipscomb

    How about the climactic scene in Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader decides
    to give the Emperor the shaft (literally) ?

  • Deanne

    Kill Bill was interesting, but David Carradine should be on the list for his death in "Boxcar Bertha"-crucified on the side of a boxcar!

    Of course he was also known for the way he died in an other Scorsese: "Mean Streets".

    Keith Carradine was noted for his death in the the little known "You and Me" directed by David C.

  • rattler76

    @David Frank:
    I adore the whole movie. Spaceballs is one of my all time favs.

    How about you make a list about great opening scenes and you can make up for not mentioning it here (hahaha).

  • http://www.fixfilms.com Paul L.

    Again - another fine list from a fine site.

    Likewise, I WISH I'd been able to see ALIEN without any knowledge of what was to come. I recall my parents coming back from the cinema visibly shaken by the impact of THAT scene.

    There are so many fantastic movie deaths - many already mentioned on the list. I like that the list avoided the more obvious horror movies such as the original DAWN OF THE DEAD. However, the scene where the zombies burst out of the lift was both shocking and memorable when I first saw it.

    David Lynch, in his time, has delivered some imaginative visual demises especially Bobby Perez in WILD AT HEART and the Yellow Man in BLUE VELVET - whose death happens off-screen - but he is found dead standing bolt upright. Very eerie image.

    A more subtle but also memorable death was that of Jack Vincennes in LA CONFIDENTIAL. The whole plot turns on its' head revealing the corrupt Police chief and Jack's final words, "Rolo Tomassi" eventually give Dudley Smith away.

  • Marcus

    Tombstone should have been up here, when doc holiday kills ringo, Great death scene!!!!!

  • Mike E.

    I'd submit the death by sunlight of the vampires; adopted mother and child in "Interview With A Vampire"; and Vivian Leigh's death on the tracks in
    Anna Karenina". Not to mention the death scene in "North by Northwest", in which the villian falls off Mount. Rushmore. Very iconic.

  • Alex

    not very iconic, but how about Brad Pitt in Fight Club? Edward Norton shots himself in the head and smoke is coming out of Brad Pitt's mouth.. how brilliant is that!

    nevertheless, great list! I really enjoyed it.

  • Actor

    The execution of Gasim in Lawrence of Arabia

    The girl who gets eaten by the shark at the opening of Jaws (Quinn getting eaten at the end does not have the same shock value)

    The cop who gets eaten by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (the guy who gets eaten by the tyrannosaur in Jurassic Park is a homage to this scene)

    The three guys showing the white flag to the Martians in War of the Worlds

    Michael kills the Turk and the cop in The Godfather.

    The hanging of Perry Smith in In Cold Blood

    John Cassavettes exploding at the end of The Fury

  • Dave

    William Defoe as Sgt. Elias at the end of Platoon.

    Classic.

  • Chris

    I know it's not a 100% death-type-death, but the deactivation of HAL in 2001 has to get some kind of love.

    Ben's death at the end of Night of the Living Dead is still one of my favorites, both for its allegorical overtones and also for its oh-my-God suddenness.

    Everyone's pimping the deaths in The Godfather, but I'm a little shocked that I'm the first one to mention Fredo in the second film. One lonely gunshot kills one man, and destroys another's soul.

    Quint in Jaws outweighs Chrissy in my mind. And Roy Batty has the best death speech ever, all the more powerful for having been improvised.

    Louie Del Grande's headsplosion in Scanners must have made the list before culling, right?

    Also, five words: "top o' the world, ma!" But then, you could probably do an entire separate list of Cagney deaths.

    I was wracking my brain for an iconic non-violent death, and then I had to smack my forehead, because freaking ROSEBUD, that's why.

  • Andy

    The death of Sarazawa at the end of Gojira 1953.
    The death of the Union Captain at the bridge in "The Good the Bad and the Ugly"
    Death of Doc Holliday in Tombstone
    The entire end fight in 'Magnificent Seven'
    King Lear's death at the end of King Lear (Lawrence Olivier version)
    Gracchus' implied suicide in Spartacus
    Biderbeck at theend of "Dr. Phibes Rises Again', aging away as Vincent Price is singing 'Somewhere over the Rainbow'

  • http://littlejunkies.wordpress.com Junkie1

    Noice!

    But I must say, no Donnie from The Big Lebowski, No Mr. Orange from Reservoir Dogs (aka longest build up to a death in movie history), or Bill Nighy in Underworld? Also, Paul Rubens in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pretty awesome, too.

  • RNB

    Hans Grubner in my favorite Christmas movie, 'Die Hard.'

  • scb

    I am a leaf on the wind...

    • Janna

      I was going to suggest this.

      How can you not include Wash in Serenity?!? That is an amazing scene!

    • shelley n

      you just made me whimper...

  • Terrill Lankford

    Bambi's mother

    Old Yeller.

    Two of the most traumatic deaths in any child's memory.

    • Coach Troy

      Thanks for the middle-aged perspective on movie deaths, Terrill! The death of Bambi's mother scarred my older sister, and the death of Old Yeller tore me up as a kid.

      I would add three other significant cinematic death scenes to include on the list would be James Caan's Brian Piccolo succumbing to cancer in "Brian's Song," Christopher Walken's character playing Russian roulette in "The Deer Hunter," and John Hurt's titular character lying down to sleep for the only time in his life in "The Elephant Man."

    • Seth

      Babar's mother in the television show. Rose of Noonvale in Redwall.

  • maw

    the girl that gets hit by a bus in final destination

    it was awesome the first time
    and copied so many times after

  • dribnif

    @Anna: I remember that Raiders scene! Freaked me out as a kid.

  • dribnif

    There's a Japanese film called Suicide Club.

    That early scene in the subway is shocking, gory and fantastic.

  • Reelgrrl

    Catch-22 - the small airplane -

  • Ron

    @Bustray: Re: Fargo woodchipper. Those weren't deaths; he was disposing of the bodies. Not to be anally-retentive, but when there's gazillions of film deaths to choose from, you have to draw the line at actual on-screen deaths.

  • Joey Bagadonuts

    EXCELLENT selections!

    Sure there are many more great movie deaths to choose from but this article is a "killer". heh heh heh.

  • dave

    Casino. Baseball bats. ok?

  • Jeff

    My god...how can there be so many posts and not one mention of the mercy killing of R.P. McMurphy by Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

    Also...the death, and cremation, of the younger sister in the Japanese film Grave of the Fireflies was such a psychic shock for me that I have been unable to watch the movie a second time...

    • Joe

      Good call Jeff on the Grave of the Fireflies, but for a few moments of the most horrific scene in an anime, the moment the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima from Barefoot Gen. Mothers trying to cover their children as their flesh is melted off their bones, dogs trying to unleash themselves even in their death throes, that was a scene that stays with you. Take whatever side of the argument you want on the need to drop the bomb, we were real bastards for doing so. The days after the bombing were terrible in their own way, as people who had never had to deal with a nuclear holocaust came to realize the hard way what they were getting themselves into.

  • Jester of the Apocalypse

    Aliens, 1979, my paents took me. I was 9 years old. Yeah, that scene freaked everyone out, but not unlike the characters on screen. We were dumbfounded as the actors! "What the F was that? What happened? "

    I remember the audience REAL quiet after the alien popped out trying to figure out what the hell just happened

    My suggestion for a really gut-wrenching movie death was the death of the little girl in "Pans Labyrinth" . . . when she died, it broke my fuckin' heart for about a week.

  • Lembas

    Dave, good call on Sgt. Elias from "Platoon." That death scene still haunts me. Even more so because some of it was accidental. Defoe wore squibs that didn't go off while filming the scene, yet he still jerked as if being hit by bullets, and it was somehow all the more effective, coupled with his reaching for the heavens. Unforgettable.

    Badge, I also was 17 when I saw "Alien" at the theater, and had no idea what was coming. As much of a jolt as it was, what hurt even worse was my girlfriend's nails digging into my arm when the chestburster made its appearance.

    One I'd like to add is the shooting of the little girl (Kim Richards) in John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13." She comes up to ask for ice cream from a vendor, not knowing that he's being shaken down by bad guys. One of the thugs nonchalantly shoot her in the chest and sets off the whole ensuing seige of the film. Just a very shocking, brutal, and unexpected moment.

  • GP

    A couple more really good, really FUNNY deaths first:

    1. Christopher Meloni in "Bound"... he gets fatally shot, wobbles for just a moment and says, flatly, "Don't shoot." Then falls flat to the floor.

    2. Dan Aykroyd as the Grocer in "Gross Pointe Blank." He ends up wearing a (now old-style) tube TV. A way better treatment than the original death by television in "The Lost Boys."

    As far as scary deaths go, I can't believe you left off the opening swimming sequence in "Jaws." No blood, no carnage... and yet one the scariest and most unsettling sequences ever filmed.

  • Kat

    What about the death in Full Metal Jacket? It's iconic and probably the best part of that movie.

    What about V's death in V for Vendetta? Always makes me cry, him dying in the arms of Natalie Portman's character.

    And I have to agree with the Jaws death, also.

  • David

    Just wondering if anyone can help me. I saw a movie back in the very early 80's where a little girl gets shot by police or national guard when she goes after her rabbit at the end of the move. I don't know the name of the movie (I was about 10 yrs old) all I remember is her getting shot and them singing "Give peace a chance". I was thinking it was "Strawberry statement" or the "Trial of Billy Jack" but not sure. Does anyone know by chance? I know its not much to go on. Thanks

  • Lembas

    David, it is indeed "Trial of Billy Jack," but it's a little boy who gets shot. And Billy Jack's girlfriend goes screaming into the line of fire and gets shot. Then the local Native American tribal leader comes in and tells the National Guard that they are illegally on Indian land. One soldier sees the shot little kid and throws down his weapon and crosses over. Then they all do the same.

    At the very end, there is a memorial, and they all sing "Give Peace a Chance." Sorry for all the details, I just happened to see this several times at the cinemas when I was a kid. I haven't seen it since, so I wonder if it still holds up. I hope that helps.

  • mmm

    Great list for starters. It depends on timing and anticipation as much as audience shock... nothing beats an uzi burst through a tiolet door (for timing!). typical QT.
    I'm also a huge fan of the Alien dinnertable scene (for sock!)

  • Adam M.

    Dennis Hopper's death in True Romance. The exchange with Walken is a master class in acting, screenwriting, editing, and directing.

  • Michael

    I agree with everything everyone else has listed. I'd like to add:
    Leonidas in 300. . .
    Arthur in Excalibur. . .
    LT Rorke in Act of Valor. . .
    Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls. . .
    Capt. Gates in Gray Lady Down. . .
    Capt. Karen Walden in Courage Under Fire. . .
    Spock in The Wrath of Khan. . .
    Theoden in the LOTR. . .
    and
    From Shogun Assassin - Master of Death: [his jugular fatally slashed] Your technique is magnificent.
    [voiceover]
    Master of Death: When cut across the neck, a sound like wailing winter winds is heard, they say. I'd always hoped to cut someone like that someday, to hear that sound. But to have it happen to my own neck is ridiculous.
    [dies]

  • Emile

    Hey, what about Bridget Fonda being very unexpectedly snuffed out by Bob de Niro for being annoying in Jackie Brown?
    Just as unexpected as poor Leo in The Departed.

    • shelley n

      harvey keitel by sportscar, after he tries to kill bridget fonda in point of no return...? :)

    • John

      Not if you read the book. But for those who didn't, I imagine that it would be rather shocking.

  • Raevn

    Scarface!!!! Best ever. Loaded on cocaine, taking bullets and talking shit at the same time. Best ever.

  • Bigguy

    And nobody mentions Russel Crowe's character in Gladiator. That one twists me up so bad every time I see it. Just the pure evil of it all.

    Also have to agree with The Departed. Simply the most shocking instantaneous death of a lead character I've ever witnessed. Caught me so totally off guard I wasn't sure I'd even seen correctly.

    • shelley n

      i don't find maximus' death in gladiator so harrowing, i like that he's reunited w his family, which was his fondest wish after killing commudus. and not even commodus' death, except for the fact that i cheered in the theater (yes! still!!). but one major shocker is the one golden-dressed female gladiator hewn in half by the horse drawn carriage-o-death during the "battle of carthage." an EXCELLENT pause-and-slo-mo point in the movie!!

  • Evelyn

    (contains spoilers)

    Haven't seen these mentioned yet:

    Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black - very unexpected, everyone in the theatre cheered :)

    Steven Seagal in Executive Decision - again, everyone applauded in my theatre. Prior to this film, I had never seen Steven Seagal actually get killed in a film.. but then again, can we really be sure his character actually dies as a result of being jettisoned from 50,000ft?

    American History X - "Bite the Curb" Guy.. Scarred me for life.

    "L" from the Death Note movies. But I suppose that could technically be considered a suicide.

    And my personal favorite: The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.. okay, he didn't actually die; Rather he's moved to Florida and works as a pool boy under his given name "Bob".

  • MrScorpio

    The exploding head guy in the beginning of SCANNERS.

    Really sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

  • Steve Taylor

    Bob Hoskins' bottling of Derek Thompson in The Long Good Friday; the unexpected ferocity of which seems to take both perpetrator and victim (and by extension the audience) by surprise.

    And Kevin Spacey in L.A Confidential which is not only a great death scene but should rank as an all time great movie twist also.

    • shelley n

      Kevin spacey, yes. thank you.

  • Pux

    Not a SINGLE mention of Murphy's gruesome end in RoboCop?

    Shame on you all!

  • Andy

    Two I had forgotten about for a long time:
    From "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly", The captain dying when the bridge was blown up and the unknown confederate soldier in the church afterwards.

  • Cleo

    I nominate the kid with the severed femoral artery in "Black Hawk Down". It's a violent, bloody build-up, followed by a relatively quiet, peaceful death. Gut-wrenching.

  • shelley n

    the opening scenes of ghost ship? a gaggle of dancers on the deck, songstress crooning in italian, then a thick wire is yanked thru the entire party (minus 1), slicing everyone in half in a split second??? it makes my eyes roll back at the thought!

  • shelley n

    another one-- resident evil. when the mercs are locked in the hallway w the computer grrrl sending lasers back and forth. as shade prepares to jump up or down during the next pass, the lasers turn into a chainlink pattern and he crumbles down into a pile of stew meat...

  • Trpko62

    What about non-american films.
    Mario dethi in Le Salaire de la peur, 1953
    Everybody is dancing valc including him with his truck on curvy road.
    totaly claic.

  • Grayceon

    Very nice list. Would definitely add the deaths of Wyatt and Billy at the end of Easy Rider. I'm fairly desensitized to that sort of thing, being such a seasoned movie-goer and gamer, but their deaths in that film shocked me, and that feeling stayed with me for several days.

  • Bark

    Sunshine's death in Little Big Man (damn you Custer!!!!)
    Robert Blake's death in Electra Glide in Blue
    Joe Pesci's death in Goodfellas (I never saw it coming)

    Honorable Mention: Flock of Seagulls' death in Pulp Fiction ("Oh, I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?")

    I soooo agree with Gene Hackman's death in The Poseidon Adventure (I remember thinking at the time "How is he gonna get back over to them??"

  • Joe

    Oh my God... no mention of the Lighthouse scene from Battle Royale? The manga really draws it out much better, but both that and the movie do a fine job of taking so much hope and flushing it down the toilet...

    I was always touched by Denzel's death in Man on Fire, besides the now-typical hymnal music to signal a significant death in Ridley Scott movies (same in Gladiator), how he went through so much to accomplish his final goal, yet his death merely warrants a number drifting across the page... I also think that Bill Paxton's dying words in Tombstone did a nice job, as in Battle Royale above, of breaking the final spirit of the characters dying. And for padding DeNiro's legend, the guy that literally gets whacked during the "Teamwork" pep talk in The Untouchables, though Connery's death probably got him the Oscar that year...

    Final mention, Wash's death in Serenity. I'm a leaf on the wind, watch how I... ugh!

  • Alanah

    V for Vendetta, little girl in V's mask gets shot OR V's death
    Interview with a Vampire when little girl and adoptive mother burn to death
    The Mist when that raving bitch gets killed at the end and I was like FINALLY
    The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent
    Lord of the Rings, Boromir, or his daddio... or even Smeagol/Gollum
    The Boondock Saints, their dirty friend who dies in the chair
    Silent Hill when the lady is slowly burned to death at the end... pretty horrific
    Underworld when Victor seems to take years to realize his head was severed.
    I have more but am too tired to function. BUT Good list!

    • Sethie

      Denathor definatly, and Smeagol.

    • Eve

      Rocco..... the name of the dirty Italian in The Boondock Saints was Rocco... There's also several VERY powerful deaths in the second movie, including one which prompts Rocco himself to return through the twin's dreams and make a little speech to get them back on track.

  • JT

    Um, sorry, WHY is Rutger Hauer's death scene in Blade Runner not number one? That pretty much blows all of these out of the water. All.

  • JSH

    The death of Ricardo Montalban at the end of the Naked Gun (falls off balcony, smashed by steam roller, marched over by marching band) made awesome by the police officer watching getting all broken up and saying "my father went the same way.!"

  • jimmy

    How about Rutger "Time to die" Hauer in Bladerunner?

  • Sethie

    I like Denathor's death in the Return of the King, you can't get much better than jumping hundreds of feet while in flames.

  • Sethie

    Rose's death in Martin the Warrior from the Redwall series is the greatest cartoon death ever. Or take another one from the Redwall series, Mattimeo, when Slagar pushes that ferret of the cliff, what was his name?

  • susanb

    In 1979 I was 16yrs old and went to see Alien opening weekend. That movie was so intense, and John Hurt's chest bursting scene was so shocking, that my 14yr old sister was afraid to sleep alone for days after the movie. The audience let out a gasp so loud that I still remember that moment! It was an instant classic in my book, and I love that it was followed by an even better sequel.

  • Seth

    Saruman's death in the Special Extended Return of the King is a shock.

  • http://www.autodevis.fr devis

    The death in Psycho may not be as graphic but today's standards but the mix of music with the build up makes it one of the most thrilling deaths i have ever seen

  • Bart

    Bambi's mum!!! Haha.

    Seriously though cannot believe no one has said Brad Pitts death in Burn After Reading. Pitt plays the character so well and the look on his face for the initial 2 seconds when he gets busted made me piss my pants, only to almost shit my pants once the bullet turns his smile blank... Was amazing...

    • Jef Roberts

      Glad Bart mentioned Pitt's death in Burn After Reading. That was a sudden, shocking and went from comedy to horror in a matter of seconds.

  • cdiasmd

    1. Bambi's Mom: Bambi
    2. John Wayne/SGT John Stryker: Sands of Iwo Jima
    3. Samuel L. Jackson: Deep Blue Sea
    4. Vincent D'Onofrio/Leonard Lawrence (Gomer Pyle): Full Metal Jacket

  • Elbow

    I would have included Willem Dafoe's death scene in Platoon

  • Andrew

    Quint being eaten in Jaws is a glaring omission.

  • matt

    how about sir Alec Guinness death at the end of Bridge on the River Kwai after his " What have i done" moment and (spoiler alert for those who never saw it) falling on the plunger and blowing up the bridge. Just the look on his face tells you that he knows he screwed up.

    • Will

      It's Halloween. The boy in the mask lying on the floor with bugs scurrying away.k from his head.Gross,

      • Matt

        Halloween III! I think it gets a bad rap. It's creepy and the bit you're talking about is pretty horrible. What about the woman in the next room who fiddles with the badge with hair pin? Gets zapped in the mouth and a spider crawls out. Gughhhh

  • Catherine

    This may just be because I've studied Tudor history for years but Natalie Portman's portrayal of Anne Boleyn pretty much killed me just because of the pure terror and desperation on her face as she looks to her sister (Scarlett Johanson) for a pardon that never comes.
    Hey! What about Natalie's death scene in "Black Swan"?

  • Kurt

    The silent murder in the kitchen in Hitchcock's "Torn Curtain" (an otherwise forgettable movie).

  • Todd Clark

    Two words mentioned above- Roy Baty. A few more, maybe not as iconic but they stay with me; Richard Crenna in "Marooned". M. Emmett Walsh in "Blood Simple"- "I don't know the man, but if I see him when I get there I'll give him the message." And in a wonderful little under-rated piece called "Sorcerer", the gut-shot Hit Man With No Name laughing in Roy Scheider's head long after he died.

  • Sparky

    There are quite a few comments... but did anyone mention Keith David's death in The Quick and The Dead? It's hilarious, but also just... incredible.
    Also, Dennis Nedry and Gennaro's deaths in Jurassic Park are just way too memorable to pass up. "When you gotta go, you gotta go" was the quote of the mid-90s and beyond.

  • Anthony Poole

    I was in the house for Alien, and still remember jumping out of my skin when the chest burster pops from John Hurt's chest-literally the entire audience screamed as one!

    FYI-may not have been a death scene, but has anyone else seen "The Entity" with Barbara Hershey?? The scene where she is soaking in the bath, and is violently attacked by the entity, is one that will cause heart failure!!!

  • http://SFCrowsnest.org.uk Geoff Willmetts

    Interesting choices but what about the multiple murders that percolate through '2001: A Space Odyssey'. If it isn't Moonwatcher killing a rival gang leader then its the dispassionate way that the HAL 9000 turns off the support systems to the three hybernauts.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/jonmih/ jonmih

    Bubba in Forrest Gump....and thats all i have to say about that

    • Jer

      "Forrest... Why'd this happen?"

  • ceallaig

    Not sure if this has been mentioned and I missed it, but how about the final scene in the original "All Quiet on the Western Front"? Lew Ayres' young soldier -- scared, disillusioned and sickened by what he thought would be a glorious war, sees a butterfly hovering over the trench he's in. We see his hand reaching up for this spot of beauty in the middle of horror and chaos .... and there is the crack of a rifle. The hand stiffens and falls. If that doesn't encapsulate the futility of war, nothing does. Anyway, great list, and lots of good additions!

  • Sweatyanal

    i like the part of fuck some titties 2 revenge of the swedish cocks where george Washmycock died because his tits fell off when he had hot sweaty anal with Abraham Lincum SUCK MY TITS.

  • Patchman

    1. Leo's death scene in the Departed, definitely the most unexpected for me.
    2. Wash's death in Serenity, one of the most unexpected.
    3. One of the hardest to watch scenes ever for me was John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan, RIP) at the end of The Green Mile, very emotional.
    4. Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) in the Patriot with a bayonet blade to the neck courtesy of Mel Gibson. Such a well deserved death to one of my favorite actors' character.
    5. Practically the entire unit wiped out at the end of Glory, very emotionally charged scene.
    6. Television to the head that Dan Aykroyd's Grocer character at the end of Grosse Point Blank was an entertaining end.

    I thought of a few more while reading this, I'll have to add them later. Most that were mentioned on this post were quite memorable though.

  • Patchman

    Oh man... quick addendum....

    Deep Blue Sea!!! Samuel Jackson's character chomped during his epic speech. Hysterical!

  • Jamesw2

    Hanable Lector cut the skull off his victim and fried it, and there was Scanners head explosion

  • DaddyzGirl

    Can't believe no one has mentioned for Jaws: the shark! I was 10 when I saw this in the theater & everyone clapped!

    Also, Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon in All That Jazz. That has to be one of the most awesome death scenes ever!

  • Tony B

    Jim Caviezel death as Jesus Christ in Passion of the Christ was quite memorable. *Spoiler Alert!!!* Jim Hutton's death as SGT Petersen in The Green Berets has to be the all-time saddest death scene. A successful raid, spirits are high, and suddenly Petersen is killed by a trap. Hamchuck the little Vietnamese orphan searching for his Peter-san, crying his eyes out, going helicopter to helicopter. Dangit I am crying right now writing this!

    • Danno

      michael keaton,in MY LIFE,Rocky Dennis in MASK just a couple of sad deaths,I also liked Ms Voorhees in Friday the 13th

  • Nina

    Ahhh, all wonderful moments, but I would add to (not replace) your list with these:

    Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean. While it's technically a "villain gets shot, hero/antihero wins" scene, Geoffrey Rush's delivery of his final line is PERFECTION. Even as he dies, Barbossa is glad to feel again, even if only for a moment: "I feel! . . . . cold." There's also Jack's expression in that scene--it speaks volumes. He's sorry it had to come to this. There's even a little remorse as it hits him--this man was once his friend and now he will die. He's already grieving, but doubly so--not for the man dying, but for the man dead ten years ago when he first touched that cursed gold. Very complex, very beautiful use of shots and dialogue.

    V, from V for Vendetta. The most awesome part isn't his death--it's the quick cut to his funeral. But before that we are treated to a man, become idea and now in his final moments returning to man. It's a moment of character development even as he dies that (comic purists will wanna hurt me here) the original comic could have done with: in which hope, liberty, and desire are all again given a human characteristic, removed from the lofty "you can't kill an idea" and returned to just a man and a woman in a subway tunnel.

    Rue, The Hunger Games. Not epic in the same terms as the rest of this list (for the most part, at least), but still, it and its surrounding circumstances are most decidedly the stuff of movie legend. I attended the midnight showing of The Hunger Games and at the moment Katniss saluted District Eleven in Rue's name, you could hear people all over the theatre bursting into tears (I did not cry, that was simply highly localized rain on my face, thank you). Sure, lots of us were book fans who had plenty of time to love Rue, but there were newbies there, too.

    Dobby, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One: when I read the book, I'd been promised a handful of heart-wrenching, tear-your-guts-out-sobbing deaths. And while I mourned for many of the deceased characters (before anybody here gets all righteous about that, please remember I'd "met" Harry and his crew when I was ten and the series didn't finish until I was 22), only three made me cry and only two of those three made me actually shove my book to the side, put my head down, and sob, as a good book should. Dobby's was one of those two, and it was done to PERFECTION in the movie. It was also a moment of artistic genius that it was used as the stopping-off place between the first and second movie--killing Dobby was so much more heinous, somehow, than killing any of the human characters. I cared more at that moment that Harry was sitting in the sand with Dobby in his arms than I did that Voldemort had just gotten hold of a weapon with which he could destroy the world--not in some lofty archvillain kind of way, but in a very real, very Nazi-esque, very horrible kind of way. Dobby summarized and memorialized it all.

    and

    Snape, same series, Deathly Hallows Part Two. This is the other scene that made me shove my book aside and bawl on my first readthrough--but not til I'd gotten two pages past his final words, "Look . . . at . . . me." It was 5am, I'd been in Borders since 4pm the previous day and it just didn't click until the mention of Lily. In the movie, there's that little extra nudge, seeing as we haven't seen her for three or four installments: "Look at me. You have your mother's eyes." It's especially potent because all through the books and movies both, people harp on James--Harry looks like James, James was such a good Quidditch player, James' friends, James' duties as a prefect, James' this and that and blah blah blah I got so sick of James. Early on in the series it's mentioned that Harry's mother was Head Girl, but you never hear anything more of her--her hobbies, her friends, her job, NOTHING. At that moment, right before Harry goes to sacrifice himself as his mother once did, he is reminded of her, her love and her strength. The death itself is simple and perfect in its simplicity.

  • fred

    How about the headmaster getting shot through the head at the end of "if".When that guy falls out the window in "o lucky man".In Brazil when Michael palin gets shot through the head in the torture scene.

  • beeduuict

    Butch Cassidy and the sundance kid keeps the legend alive by having them die but we only see a freezeframe of them imortalised with the words in spanish great ending
    Jean de florette too so poingnant and tragic especially the final scene

  • Mark

    The best movie death scene for me is Edward G. Robinson's suicide scene in "Soylent Green" from 1971. E.G. knew he was dying when the scene was shot and it shows in his and Charleton Heston's performances.