This week, we use the excuse of the ‘Flatliners’ remake to give some thought to our favorite movie or TV death scenes. This may well be the only useful thing ‘Flatliners’ is ever good for.
It should go without saying that this article contains some SPOILERS. Lest any of these famous scenes come as a surprise, you might want to scan through the highlighted titles before reading.
I don’t think any actor dies on screen more than Sean Bean (although I’m pretty sure Dermot Mulroney is a very close second). It should come as no surprise that the non-Rowan Mr. Bean has mastered the fine art of memorable character demises better than anyone. Between the death of Ned Stark on HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones‘ and Boromir’s final valiant moments at the end of Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring‘, Sean Bean is the reigning king of dramatic snuff.
Given that this week’s topic allowed us to pick from both movies and television, there were a lot of good options. Should I go with Bobby Ewing’s dream death on ‘Dallas’? The heart-breaking passing of Bobby Simone on ‘NYPD Blue’? Or even something more entertaining like Quint getting eaten by the shark in ‘Jaws’?
But as George Costanza once said, “It was a hell of a thing when Spock died,” and it sure was. I wasn’t much of a ‘Star Trek’ fan back in 1982. (I was 12 at the time, for the record.) I’d seen the show on TV, but never could get into the episodes and was left unimpressed by ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’. However, I was still a big sci-fi fan, and on Father’s Day of that year, my parents dropped me off at the theater (keep in mind this was in a time where you could drop your 12-year-old at a mall and not worry about him being abducted) and I sat down to watch ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan‘ alone. I had already read articles in a few magazines that suggested Spock would die in this movie, so I was prepared to see that character offed. However, when Spock dies in the simulator room in the first scene of the movie, I thought, “Oh, they tricked us!” and didn’t worry about the character’s fate from that point on – which, of course, made the conclusion so much more effective. The film turned me from a casual ‘Star Trek’ viewer into a die-hard fan, and I’ve loved (most of) the franchise ever since.
It takes nearly four hours and two movies to finally get there, but I find the final death in ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2‘ to be one of the most satisfying on-screen demises of all time. Given that the movie mentions the character’s death in the title and ads for it showed The Bride declare, “I’m gonna kill Bill,” I don’t think my pick is going to be a spoiler for anyone.
The reason for this kill being at the top of my list starts with everything the precedes it. We’ve watched The Bride go on a “roaring rampage of revenge” that’s an absolute blast – but then we’re thrown a curveball. She arrives at Bill’s location in a south-of-the-border hacienda and the tone shifts. Instead of a giant, bloody and seemingly impossible climax, our heart strings are tugged. We meet BB and see her touching interactions with her loving mother and father. After a beautiful tucking-in sequence, we hear a troubled couple talk about the reasons why their relationship fell apart and their disappointments with one another. For more than just a few minutes, we’re left wondering whether The Bride is going to go through with it or not. For some time, I actually didn’t want to see her following through. But then it happens. She had to do it.
I’ll not spoil how it’s done, but the method by which she takes his life is brilliant. I didn’t see it coming. The moments that follow the coup de grâce are just as sweet and tender as those that came before. The way in which he finally dies still puts a little smile on my face.
I’ll select the original ‘Conan the Barbarian‘. From the slaughter of Conan’s village through to the tremulous final cult-rattling beheading, the movie has lots of violent fantasy-strewn deaths. The death of Conan’s mother is an early stand-out that really helps set the film’s tone. It’s a world where the strong rule and take from the weak, and yet there are good guys and there are bad guys. Conan, the pit-fighting barbarian mercenary thief, is a good guy, while the malevolent and refined Thulsa Doom is, despite his pervasive charm, evil.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
It kind of goes without saying that the best thing about the ‘Final Destination’ franchise is its penchant for demented, gloriously elaborate, Rube Goldberg-style deaths. Over the course of five movies, the series has delivered everything from a head-crushing Buddha statue to fiery tanning bed coffins. They’re basically live-action cartoons, and ‘Final Destination 2‘ delivers one grisly death that’s straight out of the Chuck Jones playbook.
Too bad Wile E. Coyote couldn’t order one of these from the Acme catalog.
“I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe.” Roy Batty’s “tears in rain” speech at the end of ‘Blade Runner‘ is one of the most beautifully written scenes in all of science fiction, which makes it all the more amazing that it was partially improvised by star Rutger Hauer. The moment brings unexpected pathos to a character who had been, up to that point, the villain of the story, reorienting the entire narrative from his perspective not as a tale of vengeance, but a simple struggle for survival. Batty’s realization that his death means the loss of his memories, perhaps the only existing record of the wondrous and horrible things he’s seen in his short life, as if they never happened at all, is heartbreaking and even profound. That he imparts this knowledge to Deckard before dying allows Deckard to see this synthetic being as a real person, and reawakens Deckard’s own humanity as well.
Whether sad or triumphant or perhaps even comedic, what are your favorite movie and TV death scenes?