Ernest Hemingway said, “Every true story ends in death.”
40.The Last Samurai–Katsumoto’s Death
“If The Emperor wishes my death, he has but to ask. “
The Last Samurai did have the potential to be a poor mans “Dances With Wolves”, but for the saving grace of Ken Watanabe. The deliberate intricacies of his portrayal of Katsumoto made me believe he was this Samurai, and even though his fate was sealed, in my heart I longed for him to somehow change the fate of history. The dedication he portrayed the truth of The Samurai with is what made his death so powerful. His persona and being was so strong it stopped an entire battle. Without question a memorable death.
39. The Omen
I intended on straying away from the horror movie genre because most death scenes in those movies are so substantial that they don’t always stand out except in the horror genre. However, I could not overlook the shock the death of the cursed photographer David Warner (Keith Jennings) suffered. The moment when a sheet of plate glass flew off the back of a braking truck and sliced cleanly through his neck decapitating him and sending his spinning head flying through the air is unforgettable.
What Scottish rebel William Wallace endured before his eventual death is one of the most difficult scenes to watch in film history. Stretched and being hung with a rope by his neck, stretched by ropes attached to his hands and feet in mid-air, disemboweled, he still defied his oppressors yelling, “FREEEEEEEDDOOOOM”. In response he was beheaded.
37. King Kong 1976
I chose this Kong death as opposed to Peter Jackson’s or the 1938 version because Jackson’s Kong had a more epic message, and I’ve still yet to see the ’38 adaptation as of yet. With the amazing creative force of Rick Baker, this Kong managed to look realistic even by today’s standards, and because of his life like qualities, there was a massive pity and sadness in the eyes of the captured Kong. When he’s on top of the skyscraper being brutally shot to bits, I remember bawling hysterically as a kid, my mother unable to console me because she too was crying. When his lifeless body falls and his eyes go blank it’s a moment of clarity as we see man killing and destroying what it doesn’t understand. It still hits hard.
36. The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
Gollum’s death at the beginning of the many endings of Return Of The Ring is powerful because it represents an end to thousands of years of evil oppressiveness, and about ten hours of movie watching. The ultimate evil “Ring” has finally been destroyed, along with the one who so desperately spent his life trying to get it, even though it killed him in more ways than one. The shot of him falling to the molten lava of Mount Doom with his bright enormous eyes gleaming with joy is resounding. When his hand still holding his “precious” after the rest of him is gone,Gollum has finally met his end, along with the thing that enabled his long and tortured life.
Leonidas’s death has a deep resonance because so many emotions come together at his end. The conclusion of a long arduous battle for the freedom and humanity of his people, but also the satisfaction of proving the evil Persian ruler Xerxes wasn’t a god, but the real sorrow comes when he is covered so many arrows you can’t see him, and all that’s left is his last thoughts of his Queen. His sacrifice and the sacrifice of his men was not lost, but his inner strength and what he was willing to give for the freedom of his people is what made him a hero and his death so powerful.
34. Thelma and Louise
Two women on the run from the law are finally backed into a corner…..or a cliff. The tragic drive toward their doom and making the choice to end things on their terms makes this female version of a bromance nearly impossible to overlook. The embrace of a hands solidifies the power and commitment of their feminist choice making it an unforgettable moment in cinema. People that haven’t even seen this movie recognize that trademark shot and because of it Thelma and Louise is infamous.
33. 12 Monkeys
This is a strange movie, widely revered in the Sci-Fi community that delves into time travel. In order to save humanity James Cole (Bruce Willis) must discover certain things to help understand why humanity perished. The climactic shooting by airport security, filmed in slow-motion, of James at the end of the movie is perceived through a young incarnation of himself (Joseph Melito) watching witnessing his own death. Talk about twisted.
32. Sin City
The silent and freaky cannibalistic serial murderer Kevin, played by Elijah Wood has a violent and brutal death given to him by a vengeful man named Marv, played by Mickey Rourke, for killing the prostitute named Goldie that he had fallen in love with. After the two duel till Kevin’s eventual end, Marv saws off his arms and legs dismembering him. He keeps him alive by using tourniquets and allows Kevin’s pet dog or wolf to eat him alive. Frustrated with his victims lack of reaction Marv saws his head off and then says in reflection:
“He doesn’t scream, not even when the mutt’s had its fill and the killer’s guts are lyin’ all over the place – somehow the bastard is still alive, still starin’ at me, not even when I grabbed the saw and finished the job.”
31. Return Of The Jedi
Darth Vader’s (David Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones) death is a heavily impacted scene at the end of the original Star Wars trilogy. After an epic battle to the death, good vs. evil, the most wicked big bad of the universe decides to stop the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) from murdering his son, Luke Skywalker ( Mark Hammil ) who has refused to turn to the dark side. The conflict finally overpowering him, Vader lifts the Emperor and throws him down an energy shaft, giving him his death. Mortally wounded in the battle, Vader has Luke remove the iconic mask so he can look at Luke with his own eyes. When Luke tells him he will die, Vader responds, “Nothing can stop that now” . Vader dies and Luke takes his body back to Endor and gives him a proper Jedi burial (never-mind that he kills hundreds of Jedi younglings………just saying). We see the ghosts of Yoda and Ben Kenobi watching over. It’s a powerful moment and gives the ultimate conclusion to one of the greatest film trilogies ever made.
30. Saving Private Ryan
Tom Hanks death as Captain John H. Miller at the end of this epic movies tragedy lies in all that was sacrificed for Ryan and what Miller’s eventual sacrifice brought to save his men and to save Ryan. In his last lines, “James, earn this….. Earn this….”, the full extent of that sacrifice becomes clear not only to Ryan, but to the audience as well, and gives a moment of reflection about the loss and pain of war. The final scene where an elderly Ryan stands over Miller’s grave is one of the most genuine and powerful scenes in movie history, and some of Spielberg’s best work. No one will ever forget Miller giving his life at the end of one long and perilous journey.
29. Romeo And Juliet 1968
Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey play the two young star-crossed lovers from the different houses of Montague and Capulet. We all know the story and most kids have been forced to watch this version in their required English or drama course in high school, but hopefully it gave them an appreciation for the tragedy of Shakespeare. There tragic death by poison and dagger with Juliet yelling, “Oh, happy dagger” is gut wrenching, maybe because a dagger in the gut is an ouch thought.
28. The Princess Bride
The battle of wits game with Wesley (Cary Elwes) and Vinzzini (Wallace Shawn) with the poisoned wine tasting. Vinzzini makes the mistake of thinking he is far smarter than his opponent and it is his arrogance that does him in. Sure when he realizes he’s drank the poison it is shocking, but the real kicker is when Wesley reveals that each glass contained the poison and he had built an immunity to it. He is still prattling on that he is smarter when he suddenly keels over. Hysterical and cool death.
27. Pulp Fiction
The accidental death of Marvin sets the face for the insane flick that is Pulp Fiction. Vincent Vega accidentally fires his face off sending brain-matter and blood all over their car. This is a death that is definitely memorable because of it’s situation and because of the shock of it. Who could forget poor Marvin’s brains flying in the back of the car or the Wolf cleaning it up. Marvin never even saw it coming.
26. American Beauty
Lester Burnham’s death in American Beauty is powerful because we are told at the beginning that one year from that point he will die. From the events that follow it’s difficult to perceive that actually happening and the story is so cleverly written it becomes a shock that he actually does. When the moment finally comes and and Chris Cooper enters the house it’s shocking and just wrong, but so good.
25. Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan
After being exposed to massive amounts of radiation to save the Enterprise and her crew the dramatic death scene of Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is an unforgettable moment. Before he went to his death, Spock transferred his katra — his memories and experience — to Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) with the word “Remember”. He reassured Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner)that his death was logical and the needs of many outweighed the needs of one. This one is a tough ending, even with the knowledge that he comes back in “The Search For Spock” and the other following sequels.
“I have been, and always shall be, your friend. Live long, and prosper.”
24. The Professional
I love this movie and the wicked finale where hit-man Leon (Jean Reno) finally bites it is worth every moment built up to that point. His sacrificial death to Stansfield (Gary Oldman) after being shot in the back is the ultimate retribution. As he is dying, he hands a note to Stansfield reading: “This is from Matilda” with a grenade pin. It sets off a dozen or more grenades that he had strapped to himself dying on his terms.
23. The Terminator
The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) became nothing more than his exoskeleton frame when the oil tank-truck that he commandeered was blown up. In the fire, his skin and human features melted away leaving the frightening robot underneath. Living up to the hype of being impossible to kill, it survives, though with a limp. He follows Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) into a factory where she lures him to a hydraulic steel press machine and crushes his face and remaining body. Connor yells, “You’re terminated, F**ker!” Lightening bolts explode and the cyborgs glowing red eyes darken and since has been one of the most iconic shots in film.
22. Golden Eye
This choice may not be widely known or remembered but it comes from the James Bond film “Golden Eye”. It is the death of Alan Cummings who plays a crime operative and programmer named Boris Grishenko who often made outrageous claims and would shout out “I am invincible!” Immediately following his last claim of invincibility he was frozen solid by liquid nitrogen that erupted from ruptured tanks. At least he died happy. It was and still is hilarious.
21. The Departed
Pretty much everyone bites it in this movie, and all tragically and violently, but the best and most memorable death in The Departed is the death of Matt Damon at the end. When Mark Wahlberg knocks on the door you see that Damon still has the inclination to talk his way out of out his predicament, and almost in that same second you can see he accepts his fate and the bullet from Wahlbergs gun connects with his face. Utter brilliance.
20. Bonnie And Clyde
Going into Bonnie and Clyde you know what eventually is going to happen, but the film is so enigmatic and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker teamed with Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow the story was cast perfectly. The two doomed outlaws give each other one last look before the inevitability graphic ambush of each of them being shot to death. Even knowing what happens, you hope it’ll end differently each time.
19. Legends Of The Fall
Legends Of The Fall seems to be all about death and tragedy, but the closing, mystical, shuttered freeze-framed death of wild, reckless, now old and weathered Tristan (Brad Pitt) grappling with the grizzly bear he wounded as a teenager is one of the best finale’s in a film. With Native American One Stab’s (Gordon Tootoosis) narrating the film, he closes the tale by saying:
“It was a good death”
After years of serving Rome the greatest general it ever knew Maximus (Russell Crowe) has been deemed a traitor after the son of the now dead Caesar takes over rule. Surviving his assassination attempt, Maximus returns home to find his family brutally murdered. He vows vengeance and in the process somehow becomes a slave only to work his way to battle his nemesis. After killing Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) he falls over from a mortal would and envisions himself walking through the wheat field to meet his wife and son.
17. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Without question one of the most memorable scenes in cinema and it turns out it was basically an accident. Harrison Ford was scheduled to have a massive duel with his whip and the giant sword master guy. Apparently Ford and most of the cast got very sick from the food in Cairo, Egypt and being so under the weather Ford was unable to do the entire whip battle scene, so instead after the sword master puts on his show of talents, Indy just shoots him. Talk about happy accidents.
The scene that began a series of nightmares to people throughout the world boasted the tag line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” If that forewarning isn’t terrifying enough, the scene where the alien burst threw Kanes (John Hurt) stomach during dinner not only shocks the audience, but the brutality of it breaking through his stomach and chest tearing away was just freakishly awesome. What could be more terrifying than the aliens gestating inside your own body? The subsequent deaths of the crew after are noteworthy, but nothing in comparison to this scene that launched a new way of looking and science fiction.
Gremlins may not be the most notable film ever made, though it certainly has a campy and almost disturbing comedic appeal, but it does have many moments of hysterically wicked death scenes via the little green monsters themselves and the humans they terrorize. The lead Gremlin can be distinguished by his Mohawk as was referred to by Billy as “Stripe”. Traveling throughout the small town he finds himself in the towns meanest, richest, and most awful excuse for a humans home. Getting on with age she has a electric chair that goes up and down her winding staircase. The devilish creature
14. Star Wars: A New Hope
In Star Wars: A New Hope the old Jedi Master faces his former apprentice gone wicked evil. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) and Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) face one another for a long awaited light saber duel. Obi-Wan Kenobi suffered a sacrificial death and a mythical demise when he deliberately lowered his weapon in order to let Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the others escape, and suffered a fatal blow to the head.
“You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”
Janet Leigh’s murder by being stabbed to death in the shower was one of the most shocking moments in film at the time it was released. This might be another film recognized in the horror genre, but this particular scene resonates so strongly I can’t simply ignore it. Even Janet Leigh herself was so disturbed shooting the scene that for nearly twenty years later she took baths instead of showers. You can’t fake that kind of realism. Darn Norman Bates.
People that haven’t even seen Fargo know about the brutal axe attack on the character Carl played by Steve Buscemi. He is murdered by Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), but it’s more Carl’s messy ‘burial’ in a wood-chipper that is the trademark of this film more than his death. Even so, how many years later people still talk about this scene in this brilliant film by the Coen brothers. Who else could be that brilliantly demented?
11. The Lion King
Disney just hasn’t made a film with the impact Mufusa’s death had since The Lion King was released. Disney didn’t shy away from darkness and even murder. Mufasa was set up to save his young son Simba from a stampede of wildebeests. In the process his own brother Scar tossed him off the side of the cliff yelling “Long live the king” and watching as his brother was trampled and killed. Simba vainly attempted to awaken his father, shed some tears, and then cuddled up next to him. It was heart wrenching and Disney at it’s absolute best.
10. Kill Bill
Like The Departed and Se7en I could easily pick any of the scenes in these movies. In the first I love the epic battle before “The Bride” meets O’Ren Ishi, and the battle between her and Vernita Green. In Volume II the final showdown with Bill is the scene I would point out. They literally have a battle across and table while sitting down, and in that brief exchange “The Bride” delivers the five finger death trick. After hours of her vengeance being sought, even though Bill turns out to be incredibly likable, his graceful five steps to his death are classic.
9. Jurassic Park
The scene where the T-Rex cocks his head to the side as though to decide whether or not a blood sucking lawyer will in fact be a worthy meal, and then violently tears his massive head down on Gennaro lifting his body off the toilet and swinging his prey to death. This scene is evokes a sense of karma in the universe, a bit of comedy, and a lot of terror. In one moment and one death there are a lot of emotions going on. I saw this in the theatre and after the shock of his death wore off, the crowd erupted in applause. That’s what he got for leaving the kids alone. This is a personal favorite of mine.
8. Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
How can I not add the Thugge sacrifice/torture scene to this list? It was a scene so disturbing that Hollywood changed it’s rating system adding a — PG-13 — rating to it’s options. The insane and obsessed Hindu priest Mola Ram played by Amrish Puri placed his hand across the Thuggee’s (Nizwar Karan ) chest where his heart was and ripped it from him while it was still beating. He held it up as though it were a prize and his victim remained alive screaming as he was lowered into a deep pit of lava where he was incinerated, along with his flaming heart still in Mola Ram’s hand.
Like other movies on this list Se7en has at least “seven” noteworthy deaths in it’s film. Making the fat man eat till his stomach exploded for gluttony, or the awful torture of the lazy child molester, and even worse the brutal murder of the prostitute for lust, were just deaths that are beyond comprehension. It was the psychologically disturbing death of John Doe that was the most resounding of the heavily impacting film. When Detective Mills realizes John Doe has murdered his beloved wife and cut her head off and mailed it to him, his mind goes into a flutter of inconceivable insanity. I remember watching this for the first time and trying to keep the chunks from rising in my throat, the idea was so incredibly appalling. When he shot John Doe it wasn’t shocking he did it, but being the finale of his well thought out symphony was maniacal and utterly genius.
It still surprises me how dark Disney went with the story Bambi. If Thumper wasn’t in the film, it would be almost as dark as “Watership Down” Though Bambi’s mother isn’t murdered onscreen, the traumatic resonance of it’s impact on Bambi when he’s searching for her crying, “Mother, where are you?” during a raging snowstorm is tormenting when she doesn’t respond. A child’s loss of a mother doesn’t get more enigmatic or powerful that the death of Bambi’s mother.
5. The Wizard Of Oz
There is no question the twisted, melting death of the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West, played by Margaret Hamilton, from a bucket of water thrown by Dorothy in an attempt to put out the fire on the burning Scarecrow is iconic in the movie world. Her screams of:
“I’m melting! I’m melting. Who would have thought that some little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?!”
is one of the most memorable moments in movie history.
4. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford), criminal companions who happen to be best friends on their day off. They share a job money, taste in women, hobbies, and even a knack for trouble. When things in their wild world goes awry the two have so much devotion to each other that they face their imminent doom together without even blinking. When they burst through the door to face an essential firing squad it’s not only one of the most compelling death scenes, but one of the most iconic moments in cinema history.
3. American History X
American History X is a profound movie, that anyone who appreciates movies should be required to watch, but what the film is more widely known for is the infamous remorseless and merciless curb-stomping scene in where former neo-Nazi skinhead Derek Vinyard , played by Ed Norton, forces a black man, played by Antonio David Lyons)that he accuses of being a car thief, to bite down on the sidewalk curb and then stomped on the man’s head to snap his neck in half. After killing him, he spit on his body
2. The Godfather
James Caan as Sonny, the hot headed son of The Godfather made a lot of bad guys angry, but finally made someone angry enough to have him taken out. The scene begins with him driving angrily and quickly and in his attempt to reach his destination he is stopped by a toll booth. The clerk disappears and suddenly another car appears with men and guns a blazing. His car is shot so much you barely even tell what color it was before, he falls out of the drivers seat while his body in attacked by a slew of bullets. He falls to the ground and it’s over. No one forgets that scene.
1. The Deer Hunter
To me the most memorable and resounding death scene of all time is none other than the Russian roulette scene in a gambling den in Saigon when Nick (Christopher Walken) blew his brains out and was cradled in the arms of buddy Michael (Robert De Niro). The story that built up to his inevitable end was a tragic story, but his ending was just insanity.