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20 Iconic & Memorable Movie Death Scenes

Features
by The Playlist Staff
March 7, 2013 4:17 PM
26 Comments
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"Bonnie & Clyde"
You're hardly spoiled for choice when it comes to death by gunfire in the movies. There's James Caan's Sonny Corleone being cut down in the tollbooth in "The Godfather" or Willem Dafoe's Christ-like demise in "Platoon." Offscreen, there's Butch & Sundance, there's Christopher Walken, via Russian Roulette with a single self-inflicted shot, in "The Deer Hunter." Hell, you could even count Sean Bean's heroic pin-cushion last stand in "The Fellowship Of The Ring." But the one that really changed everything was the final moments of the title characters in Arthur Penn's 1967 classic "Bonnie & Clyde." Happily hiding out at the home of accomplice C.W. Moss, the criminal duo (Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway) don't know that his father (Dub Taylor) has given them up to the authorities. Sharing a Garden Of Eden-ish apple, they stop to help Moss Sr. fix a spare tyre, and are ambushed by unseen cops. The pair share one last look of love before they're positively riddled with machine-gun fire. Lasting a full twenty seconds, it's the first true bullet ballet, the pair dancing like marionettes (Penn cannily cutting between slow-motion and normal speed) as their life is blasted out of them. It's grisly (the early shot of Clyde's scalp being blown off was inspired by the assassination of JFK), unsentimental, and a fitting conclusion to the picture that reinvented the crime film.

"Cache"
The brutal turning point of Michael Haneke's 2005 thriller might not be the most iconic movie death on this list, but it's one that's inexorably seared on our memories. For much of the running time of the film (which might be Haneke's most accessible, to some degree at least), Georges (Daniel Auteuil) has been menaced by mysterious videotapes of his home, tapes which initially seem to lead to Majid (Maurice Benichou), an Algerian-born man of his age, whose parents worked for Georges' wealthy family. Majid denies any involvement, but later invites Georges back to his apartment. He politely invites him, and then calmly, and shockingly, slits his own throat, causing a giant spurt of blood up the wall. It's a giant and unnerving surprise (one that caused the audience we saw it with, and we suspect audiences worldwide, to gasp in unison), and even once Georges explains to his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) the history between him and Majid, it still seems unfathomable in its violence, and all the more so for being the pressure valve on Haneke's creeping pressure cooker of a film.

"Deep Blue Sea"
A schlocky parable about the dangers of playing God, "Deep Blue Sea" is a movie which only really exists to give us gruesome deaths of scientists at the hands of the genetically-engineered uber-sharks they helped to create, and to showcase the somewhat shoddy visual effects. Still, there's one canny shock moment that's ensured it'll live on in cinema lore. Once the sharks have broken out, but before the bloodshed really gets underway, Samuel L. Jackson gives a speech to pull the team together. Hinting at a terrible incident in his past after an avalanche, it's a knowing nod to Quint's Indianapolis speech in "Jaws." But before Jackson can finish up: BANG. A shark leaps out of the water, and pulls Jackson (or, more accurately, an unconvincing CGI facsimile of Jackson) back in with him, turning the water blood red. It's a cheap trick but, in killing off the most recognizable face without so much as a warning, an effective one, leaving theater audiences in nervous laughter, and with all bets off as to who else might survive the super-sharks (Spoiler: it's Thomas Jane and LL Cool J, test audiences having hated Saffron Burrows' nominal lead so much that they demanded that she be offed in reshoots).

"Dr. Strangelove"
Most of the films on this list deal with a single death (even if the person or people responsible have already killed, or will do so again). To some degree, that's true of our pick from "Dr. Strangelove," but it's also notable in that that one death also turns out to cause billions, by all intents and purposes. After General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) loses his marbles and orders an attack on the Soviet Union, the President (Peter Sellers, in one of three performances) and his War Room desperately try to order them back. They manage to recall most of them, but one is left without a radio -- the bomber commanded by Major T.J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens). He reaches a new target, in Kodlosk, but the release mechanism fails. Determined to wreak A-bomb wrath on the Soviets, Kong climbs aboard the bomb, fixes it, and plummets out with it as the bomb doors open. Kubrick's camera follows Pickens down, as he waves his cowboy hat, bomb phallically placed between his legs. It's a potent (pun intended) picture of American machismo and nationalism, and the costs that come with it, and damn funny to boot.

 

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26 Comments

  • Valerie | May 25, 2014 7:49 PMReply

    Cleo (Queen Latifa) in Set It Off

  • Katniss Everdeen | March 15, 2014 10:56 PMReply

    The first death in Scream

  • Erin Denise | August 11, 2013 1:36 PMReply

    The end of Resevoir Dogs.

  • chris | June 30, 2013 6:29 PMReply

    List needs The Wrath of Khan and 2001.

  • Mike | March 21, 2013 5:31 PMReply

    Drew Barrymore - Scream

  • Karl | March 9, 2013 9:56 PMReply

    Immediately coming to mind is the opening scene in Goodfellas when the mobsters hear the thumping noise from the trunk of the car. (Not to mention the "funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?" scene later on.) Also the SS machine-gunning the floor of the house in the opening scenes of Inglourious Basterds, and the Bear-Jew "playing baseball" with the intransigent German officer later in the film.

  • FITZCARRALDONT | March 8, 2013 1:39 PMReply

    Hallorann in The Shining!~

  • atovich@aol.com | March 8, 2013 12:56 PMReply

    Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone

  • oliver | March 8, 2013 11:06 AMReply

    Sean Bean - Lord of the rings

  • Jason Donald | March 8, 2013 11:02 AMReply

    Two that really struck me as very cinematic and emotional driven.
    From genre Korean film: the two major plot deaths in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
    From recent independent film: the first death in Van Diemen's Land.

  • david goldman | March 8, 2013 8:32 AMReply

    Thelma and Louise!

  • nechoplex | March 7, 2013 7:39 PMReply

    Um... Bambi over The Lion King? That's ridiculous.

  • spassky | March 8, 2013 9:40 AM

    ^^ 90s kid.

  • don johnson | March 7, 2013 7:10 PMReply

    rosebud?

  • Travis | March 7, 2013 6:45 PMReply

    I agree on Throne of Blood, but I'm curious about All That Jazz's location. The tap dance as he goes though the five stages, his final heaven image, and the final shot as the dance ends and his body bag is zipped up? Classic

  • Duddi | March 7, 2013 6:35 PMReply

    Chad Feldheimer in Burn After Reading ??? ... Willem Dafoe in Platoon ... and hey Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained ... Anybody agree !!!

  • carmen | March 7, 2013 6:14 PMReply

    Leo DiCaprio in The Departed. I remember watching it in the theater and the audience gasping when it happened, and no one made a sound for the rest of the film

  • Sheila M.Brown | March 7, 2013 5:39 PMReply

    As far as Bonnie and Clyde: It was a pear, not an apple...

  • zach | March 7, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    you missed throne of blood

  • don johnson | March 7, 2013 5:02 PMReply

    rosebud?

  • don johnson | March 7, 2013 5:02 PMReply

    rosebud?

  • don johnson | March 7, 2013 5:00 PMReply

    rosebud?

  • atovich@aol.com | March 8, 2013 12:50 PM

    agree!

  • earienroud | March 7, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    Hans Gruber death in "Die Hard"!

  • ap | March 7, 2013 4:40 PMReply

    It's not really on screen but I've always loved the way gwyneth paltrow's character was killed in seven. That infamous scene with the box can is amazing.

  • James | March 7, 2013 5:30 PM

    A very worthy addition, one of the most memorable deaths in cinema history and it happens entirely offscreen and we never even see the aftermath, we only get told about it.

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