WARNING the following list contains major SPOILERS from a variety of different films. Read at your own discretion.
Now, it was a very difficult process to pick my 10 favorite movie deaths. I left out some iconic deaths as well as some rather touching deaths. So before we begin, I would like to list my Honorable Mentions:
Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in Psycho
Brad Pitt as Chad Feldheimer in Burn After Reading
Joe Pantoliano as Teddy in Memento
Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas
Vincent D'Onofrio as Pvt. Pyle in Full Metal Jacket
Brendan Gleeson as Ken in In Bruges
James Franco as James Franco in This Is The End
Steve Coogan as Damien Cockburn in Tropic Thunder
Bill Murray as Bill Murray in Zombieland
Now, let's begin...
10. Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter in Fargo
To begin the list I have chosen what I believe to be one of the most memorable movie deaths of all time. In this dark Coen brothers film, where one bad decision leads to another, Steve Buscemi finds himself shot in the cheek after a ransom trade goes sour. After he tries to make off with the majority of the money, his partner murders him with an axe and then attempts to get rid of Buscemi's body using a woodchipper. This death belongs on this list due to its overall shock value and its gritty aftermath.
9. Paul Dano as Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood
In one of the finest performances of his career, Paul Dano plays a passionate preacher opposite Daniel
8. John Travolta as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction
In Quenten Tarantino's crime masterpiece, John Travolta stars as hit man, Vincent Vega. Now, the film jumps around in time, so you will see Vega murdered earlier in the story, but rest assured, he will pop up again before the credits roll. As tensions are heightened between Boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) and Vega's boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), Butch plans to flee Los Angeles, however his girlfriend forgets to pack his lucky watch. Butch heads back to his house (against his greater instincts) to retrieve his watch. Once in his apartment, he discovers Vega sitting, waiting for Butch's return. After a moment of silence is interrupted by a Pop Tart, Butch guns Vega down in the bathroom. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But that's Tarantino for you... This film belongs on this list due to its very high shock factor.
7. Michael Madsen as Vic Vega/Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs
Speaking of Tarantino, the next death on our list is none other than Travolta's brother in the Tarantino Universe, Vic Vega (a.k.a. Mr. Blonde). In Tarantino's Directorial Debut, Reservoir Dogs is centered around six thieves (each given a nickname based on a color) following a jewelry heist gone awry. With only four of the thieves left alive, one of whom is shot in the gut and passed out on the floor for half the movie, the remaining 'dogs' contemplate the possibility that one of them may be an undercover police officer. While the rest of the thieves are gone, with the exception of Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) who is passed out, Blonde tortures a police officer he had taken captive after the heist. After slicing at the cop's face with a cut-throat razor, and hacking off his ear, Blonde is about to light the officer on fire when-- BANG! Orange unloads his clip into Blonde's chest. This is such a great movie death sequence, and it definitely belongs on this list due to its severe grit and shock value. It is also the biggest reveal in the film. Orange is a rat!
6. Willem Dafoe as Sgt. Elias in Platoon
In Oliver Stone's exploration of the war in Vietnam, Willem Dafoe plays the friendly badass Sgt. Elias. After tensions rise between Elias and Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), Elias is betrayed by Barnes and shot in the jungle. After Barnes returns and informs the rest of the Platoon that Elias was killed by Charlie Co. they lift off in their helicopters, but just before they leave, out of the jungle runs a mortally wounded Elias on his last breath trying to reach his allies, followed by hundreds of Vietcong. He endures bullet after bullet until he falls to his knees and lifts his hands to the sky. This is perhaps one of the most iconic death sequences in film history. Its tragic tone alone is enough reason to give it its spot on this list. It is a beautifully directed scene, and a huge turning point in the film.
5. James Caan as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather
Alas, how can you have a list about the greatest movie deaths without mentioning The Godfather. In Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece, we see the vain firstborn son of Don Vito Corleone (played majestically by the legendary Marlon Brando), Sonny Corleone take up his father's mantle. And after he is betrayed by his own brother-in-law, as he rushes to his sister's aid, he is gunned down at a toll station on the road by a rival gang. This scene is so gritty and so intense that while you are watching it, you are begging for it to be a cheesy dream sequence. And even after he is shot full of holes, as Sonny scrambles out of his car, we hope beyond hope that he will somehow survive. But our hopes are smashed as Sonny is continuously shot until he is no longer moving... And then he is shot some more (for good measure)... And then kicked in the face. This scene is crucial to the film as it drives our protagonist, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) to pick up where his brother left off. It also has an extraordinary cringe and shock factor. RIP Sonny.
4. Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Of all the deaths on this list, this is perhaps the most touching. Yes, we've seen countless Christ figures in mythology and fantasy, but none of them hold a candle to Gandalf... Maybe Aslan. In this beautifully directed scene we see Gandalf challenge the great Balrog of Morgoth deep within the heart of the Mines of Moria. He stands centered on the narrow Bridge of Khazad-dum between the Balrog and the rest of the felloship. "You shall not pass!!!" McKellen delivers these fantastical lines with enormous ferocity. As he sends the Balrog spiraling to its doom, the demon's whip finds Gandalf's ankle and pulls him down. Gandalf utters his last bit of advice to the fellowship, "Fly, you fools," then falls to his demise (but not before a kick-ass free falling fight sequence which is revealed in The Two Towers). It is a touching scene followed by a moment of fleeting despair. The rest of the fellowship contemplate their quest, and the lead character, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) then comes to the realization that he must complete this quest on his own... I could go on and on about the sacrifice of Gandalf and the intensity of this sequence. But I doubt you want to read a full essay about a fantasy character. So lets just leave it at this; this is not only one of my favorite death scenes, but also one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema.
3. Ryan Gosling as Luke in The Place Beyond the Pines
Part of me did not want to include this scene in this list solely because of its shock value and it is the one movie I do not want to spoil for anyone. However, I couldn't resist its inclusion. This is such a beautifully orchestrated film, and Gosling delivers one of his finest performances as Luke, a motor-cyclist stunt driver who discovers he has a son. In an effort to prove he can support a family to the mother (Eva Mendes), he begins robbing banks. After one bank heist goes wrong, he finds himself in a car chase with rookie cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper), which ends in a random person's home. As Luke comes to terms with the fact that he has pushed his luck too far, he sits in a vacant bedroom and calls his lover. Avery, kicks in the door, and in a panic shoots Luke in the chest, sending him out of the second story window. This scene was so shocking. It takes place only midway through the movie, and up until this point, Gosling was the only protagonist introduced to us. Director, Derek Cianfrance, brilliantly shifts our support from beloved Luke to his assailant, Avery, a very tricky task to pull off as a story teller. Gosling's death in this film is a game changer, to say the least, and in my book will always be one of the most shocking and tragic movie deaths.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan in The Departed
There is nothing more tragic than watching our hero meet his/her demise (especially if that hero is Leonardo DiCaprio). This film is one of the most brilliantly directed and acted films to date. At the climax of the film, after undercover officer, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) discovers the rat within the Special Investigations Unit is none other than Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), he sets up Sullivan and urges him to meet him at an abandoned building. After beating the living s**t outta Sullivan, Costigan arrests him and takes him into an elevator to bring him in. Finally, we are about to receive justice, as our hero plans to destroy one of the most slimy, horrible, terrible, no good scumbags in film history, until they reach the bottom level on the elevator, the doors open and-- BAM!!! Costigan is shot right in the head by another rat within SIU. It is a tragic moment, and it is hard to watch. But it is by far one of the most shocking deaths in film history. Sullivan kills the other rat, and makes himself out to be a hero. Our world is destroyed... But if you stick around to the end of the film, you will finally find your justice as Mark Wahlberg sneaks into Matt Damon's house and shoots him in the head. Murder never felt so right.
1. Sean Bean in EVERYTHING
It is impossible to make a list regarding movie deaths without mentioning Sean Bean, who is the King of dying in movies. Whether he is laying down his life for his daughters' sake, or to save to vulnerable members of his fellowship, or finally meeting his justice as a psychotic hitchhiking murderer, no one dies quite like Sean Bean. And I genuinely mean that. Sean Bean is, in my opinion, one of the most talented actors around, and he can bring such emotion and angst to the scenes in which he meets his demise. I personally would like to see him live through his films, as he is a very charismatic actor and i enjoy his work... Nevertheless, Sean Bean tops this list due to quantity AND quality of all of his death sequences. Here is a little reel of all the times Sean Bean has met his end.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read my nerdy list. I hope you found it intriguing. Also, I must remind you, that all film is subjective. If you disagree with me on any points I made in this post, or feel like I left out any great movie death scenes, please comment. I love discussing films with my fellow audience members.