By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist March 7, 2013 at 4:17PM
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.
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.
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).
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.