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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What are the best death scenes ever?

Psycho Janet Leigh

Recently I posted a YouTube clip of what the Internet has decided is the worst movie death scene ever — it certainly the funniest one I’ve ever seen. (You can watch it here.) And it got me thinking about this:
What are the best death scenes ever?

Talking about the upcoming Hitchcock — about the making of Pscyho — is an obvious prompt, too. Because many film fans, including me, would say that the slashing death of Janet Leigh in that classic is among the best death scenes ever. It retains its power even today, when we’ve become quite jaded about onscreen violence. We’ve all seen far more graphic murders depicted in movies, but the starkness of the black-and-white cinematography, the anonymity of the killer, and the sheer intimacy and vulnerability of the setting represent an elegance in the depiction of something horrific that no other filmmaker has come close to replicating.

Your turn…

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Ide Cyan

    The worst movie death scene is no longer viewable, btw. You’ll have to explain what it was.

  • Joanne

    Boromir. Oh I cried.

  • Isabelle May

    woman gets stabbed in the shower

  • Daisy….

    daisy….

    give me your answer do….

    (I’m afraid, Dave).

  • LaSargenta

    The end of King of New York. It was filmed beautifully. 

  • PJK

    Game of Thrones, season one, episode 9.

  • Captain_Swing666

    Lots of spoilers below

    Being of an existentialist bent my choices would be ones where the participant chooses  the place, time and, reason for their death. John Voight’s for instance in the Runaway Train.

    Then there’s ones where the characters are such unremitting bastards that they have to die –  Hans Gruber in Die Hard is an example.

    Another good death scene for me is the Harvey Keitel character in The Duellists . He doesn’t die, but is “declared dead” by the hero and has to conduct the rest of his life as a dead man – painful irony and a fitting end.

    Then there’s the “death of death” scene at the end of Cocteau’s Orphee – that sends shivers up my spine.

    Having said all that I also like grown up films where no-one is killed  – I wonder how many of your readers could name more than 5?

  • Tangeu

    Pulp Fiction; Marvin, back of the car.

  • Danielm80

    “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”

  • bitchen_frizzy

    “Death by stereo!” (Technically, though, he was already dead.)

    Victor’s death in La Femme Nikita. Quiet and anticlimactic.

    All of that said, my $0.02 is that Hollywood seldom does death realistically.

  • “Sean Bean death scene”. I’m with you. Any scene of Sean Bean dying is the one of the best death scenes ever. Bean is the man you hire to die.

    Sure, he’s good at it, but he can do so much more…..

  • bitchen_frizzy

    In the majority of comedies, nobody dies, especially rom- coms.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    It was a clip from what is reportedly an Iranian movie from the 70s. A man in a bedroom is shot several times by a woman, but in between each gun shot, he goes into ridiculous fake slo-mo convulsions, tossing himself around the room. At one point he breaks open a (visible) blood squib in his hand and smears the stuff over his stomach. All the while, the same sound effect of a scream (and not even a Wilhelm Scream) is dubbed over the soundtrack. Honestly, it’s like watching a 10 year old reenact a death scene.

  • Bongwater

    Private Stanley Mellish.  I’ve only seen Saving Private Ryan once, back when it was in theatres, and the death of Adam Goldberg’s character HAUNTS me.

  • Danielm80

    If you define “death scene” loosely, then Harold and Maude has a great death scene about every ten minutes.

  • Hmmm. Tough one.

    – When Ingo Montoya finally kills the Count?  “I want my father back, you son of a bitch!”
    – Arnie at the end of Terminator 2
    – Darth Vader – duh
    – Jurassic Park – The dude hiding in the toilet

    I’ll add more later if I think of them.

  • “All those memories gone… like tears in the rain. Time to Die.”

  • Absolutely agreed with the death of the Count. 

    I actually prefer Obi-Wan’s death over Vader’s. 

  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    “I’m a leaf on the wind. Watch how I -”

  • Killara29

     I hope that’s not a hostage

  • Killara29

    Rollo Tomasi was pretty cool

  • bitchen_frizzy

    The Mechanic (1972)

    “Bang, you’re dead!”

  • Bastard totally deserved it: Game of Thrones, “A Golden Crown.”

    Unexpected, and unexpectedly moving: Nathan Stark’s demise in Eureka.

  • I wonder how many of your readers could name more than 5?

    Um… twenty-six readers? I’ll say twenty-six! Final answer. ;-)

  • MisterAntrobus

    Wow, nobody’s mentioned John Hurt in Alien yet? I’ve seen it dozens of times and it still packs a punch. It’s a perfect combination of editing, effects work, and acting. All the reactions of the crew really sell the horror of the moment, especially Veronica Cartwright’s complete freak-out.

  • madderrose74

    Pretty much every kill the Bride makes in Kill Bill 1-2.

    The T-800 sinking into the smelter while giving a thumbs up in T-2

    And classic Orson Welles deaths: the “Rosebud” scene from Citizen Kane and Harry Lime’s hand reaching through the sewer grate in The Third Man.

  • Rob

    Satine’s death in Moulin Rouge. Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web. Drew Barrymore’s at the start of Scream. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) in The Prestige. The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Roy Batty, for the enigmatic nature of it.

    Sam Jackson in Deep Blue Sea

    Sean Connery in The Untouchables

    Giovani Rabbisi in Saving Private Ryan

  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    oh yes. that scene in deep blue sea was a keeper. i have a soft spot in my heart for that ridiculous movie.

  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    Frank in ’28 days later’.  an absolutely haunting scene. and while i’m at it, Frank in ‘dawn of the dead (2004)’. you want every second.

  • Brian

    The self-sacrifice of Spock from Star Trek 2 – a very moving scene even if you have little background in Star Trek.  But if you grew up with those characters like I did, it’s a moment that leaves you stunned speechless.

  • I’m a sucker, but I cry when Boromir dies in Fellowship of the Ring.

  • David N-T

     True dat, but I can’t help but feel that the scene is most potent when you see the movie for the first time and don’t know what to expect.

  • Captain_Swing666

    Grown up films! Rom-coms do not count as  films for adults (with a few notable exceptions)

  • Captain_Swing666

    Hardy har har :)

  • bitchen_frizzy

    Well, golly gee! Here I wuz thinkin’ Moonstruck was a movie for grownups…

  • beccity98

     Would rom-coms not count? how about just roms? Or just coms? no one usually dies in those. Well, I guess often in roms. (The time-traveler’s wife, PS I love you, Premonition, etc.)

  • beccity98

    Are you doing a worst death scenes QOTD tomorrow? Cuz The Master’s death in Last of the Time Lords was lame.

    Not mentioned yet, probably because no one’s seen it except me: Joey Mazzelo’s death in The Cure, my favorite movie.

  • Yeah. He had a rough time of it for most of the flick, but he was a badass when it mattered.

  • How about Steven Seagal as Cortez in Machete?

    “Even now [with a machete in his guts] I could kill you right now very easily. This is nothing! This ain’t shit. But I know you’ll just be waiting for me in hell. So, I guess I’ll say goodbye. Fuck it.” [commits seppuku]

  • Captain_Swing666

    I did say there were exceptions :)

  • Hank Graham

    “Odd Man Out,” by Carol Reed. James Mason plays an IRA agent who gets wounded and separated from his gang after a robbery. The entire movie is his death as he wanders through the city, getting passed from person to person who don’t want to be involved. It’s a classic by Reed, not as well-known as the more crowd-pleasing “The Third Man.”

    Honorable mentions for the ends of “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Spartacus.”

  • Hank Graham

    Oh, and the surprise ending of Alec Guinness’s “The Last Holiday.” It’s my favorite of the comedies he made when he was younger that made his reputation.

  • Hank Graham

    And Don Corleone in “The Godfather.” (How did I forget that?)

  • MisterAntrobus

    That one moment drives home the ethos of the true and noble warrior more than all two hours of slow-mo beefcake in 300 – if your friends need you, no matter what the odds, you will go down fighting for them. It moved me to the core in the book and makes me all blubbery every time I see it in the film.

  • Captain_Swing666

    See below – Modern Rom Com’s are Mills and Boon for people with reading difficulties

    p.s. see my tongue? – note how deeply it’s pushed into my cheek

  • Tonio Kruger

    The older I get, the harder it becomes for me to find elegance in any cinematic death scene, even Hitchcock’s. However, if you wish to ask which cinematic death scenes I find most memorable, here’s a short list:

    1. Piper Laurie’s death in Brian DePalma’s Carrie.
    2. Susan Backlinie’s death in Jaws.
    3. The death of you-know-who in Blood Simple.
    4. The two deaths at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
    5. The death of a certain female character in Chinatown.
    6. Last shot in Gallipoli.
    7. Emily Browning and her siblings’ reaction to the death of their parents in A Series of Unfortunate Events. One of the few scenes I’ve seen in the movies that got that type of bemused reaction right.
    8. “What a world! What a world!’ from the one 1939 musical that almost every American kid has seen at one point in his or her life.

    As for those of you who prefer camp:

    1. Jon Voight’s death scene in Anaconda.
    2. “Frankie’s” death scene in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
    3. The infamous slo-mo death at the end of the original Friday the 13th. (Kinda scary how much applause that got in the movie theatre from the people around me.)  
    4. Cushing and Lee’s final confrontation in Horror of Dracula.
    5. The swordsman’s death in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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