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?
For me, nothing tops Dave’s complete 6 minute evisceration of HAL-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Haunting…
Vito’s death chasing his grandson around the garden with that orange in his mouth in ‘The Godfather’ is such a well played scene. It’s such a different side of the character and the playful tone really sets it apart from every other scene in the series.
“The Grey”. When Liam Neeson talks that guy thru his death.
I’m going to have to go with Charlie’s death on ‘LOST’. I think it is the most emotional moment of the whole series. It is the perfect payoff to the story of Charlie, as well as an excellent and jarring plot twist reveal. As the series went on, it double down on craziness, while leaving many mysteries unaddressed. Charlie’s death occurred while the plot was the most cohesive, and as such he ended up with the best story of the whole series.
Great call. “Not Penny’s Boat” was exceptionally strong.
Adam – Whenever I’m behind a van or truck that his carrying long objects on it’s roof or bed (like pipes or lumber), I change lanes because (as I say it to myself in my own mind) I don’t want to get Final Destinationed.
I always think the same thing. Now I know what to call that feeling!
I always think the same thing too! In fact, I’ve even snapped pictures of log trucks and sent them to my college buddies who watched that series with me.
Ha, I do the same thing when there’s a surfboard on top of a car because of Lethal Weapon 2.
I can’t pick just one.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the Karateci Kiz scene. It brings joy to my heart. I’ve never seen the movie, but if it ever is released on blu, I will have it.
Stripe’s demise in Gremlins was pretty awesome.
Magua’s death in Last of the Mohicans was epic.
Veronica Lario’s death scene in Tenebrae
Samuel Jackson in Deep Blue Sea
Wow.. I’ve seen so many onscreen deaths over the years, how possibly to quantify the ‘best’? I guess two that stick with me as being especially memorable.
1. The Omen, when David Warner gets decapitated. I was 6 or 7 at the time and totally didn’t see it coming lol.
2. Nightmare On Elm Street 4, when Freddy turns the chick into a cockroach and crushes her in a roach trap always stuck too. 🙂
It’s good to see Conan getting the love it deserves (possibly my favourite movie, along side Casablanca). And of course Josh’s choice of Bladerunner is a great one.
I’d also like to add Ripley’s death in Alien3. Accompanied by Goldenthal’s incredible score, it’s not only a fitting and tragic character scene, but superb visually and musically.
For TV, I’d like to add the ‘death’ of Babylon 5, in the series of the same name. I defy anyone (even those who aren’t fans) not to shed a tear as the station reaches its end, along with the death of Sheridan in the same episode.
The scene when Dr. Robert Romano in E.R. finally succumbs to his helicopter allergy, must be one of the craziest deaths in television history.
Of course, Mark Greene’s death in the same series was very emotional.
On the subject of Romano, I ust looked it up. Pretty crazy. Almost as good as his Robocop death!
The final death montage in Titus Andronicus –
Anthony Hopkins as Titus killing snapping his own daughters neck, revealing that he had killed the goth queen’s sons and served them in the Pie to everybody to eat, a knife in the Queens neck, a three-pronged candle stick in his chest, followed up by a spoon down a throat (not to mention the following assumed death of the moor buried to his head!).
Wish schools let us read Titus instead of Romeo and Juliet!!! Ultimate revenge!
Good call on Conan. His mom was smokin’ hot, which made her death that much more tragic. A similar fate was met by the Warrior Woman in Mad Max 2. The hottest babe in the wasteland offed for no good reason. What a world!
One of the most unexpected on-screen deaths I remember seeing in the theatre was William Petersen’s character in To Live and Die in L.A. Was not ready for that!
Bill Murray in Zombieland. No one else can die like that
That one crossed my mind too.
“Do you have any regrets?”
Robert Duval and Tommy Lee Jones gave heart-wrenching performances in “Lonesome Dove”. The two life-long friends saying their last words to each other is one of the most powerful scenes ever on film.
One of my favorite death scenes was actually cut out of the theatrical release of the movie and can only be found in the deleted scenes. It is Old Biff’s death in Back To The Future Part 2. To me, it felt like justice was served. Of course, if it was left in, it would have probably have lead to spoilers for first time people seeing the movie, as you would have known that something was changed bad enough to lead to Biff’s death.
2 of my favorites happen in the same movie – Yoda and Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Well, and I guess the Emperor as well. These are some of the best known death scenes in film history.
Lion King. Come on, nuff said there
Jurassic Park – did anyone else cheer when the lawyer got eaten? That is like the best way to get rid of an annoying character ever.
I got to throw in one of the worst as well, though. Tasha Yar. Not only is it one of the worst Star Trek episodes ever written, the death had no meaning. It was like the script was thrown together in a single afternoon to kill the character off.
Yar — nearly as pointless as Wash in Serenity. Only difference was Denise Crosby wanted to get out of the series.
What about John Doe’s death in Se7en? One of the few movies I’ve seen that had the balls to go that dark at the end.
I agree with Josh. ‘Tears in rain’ is the most moving, most expertly executed and finest death soliloquy in cinematic history. It brings tears (in rain, or not) to my eyes just thinking about it. What a wonderful scene. One for the ages. I hope Roy Batty, the Tannhäuser Gate or his tears in rain get at least a shout-out or a passing mention in ‘Blade Runner 2049’.