Oh boy, here we go…
I don’t celebrate death and I don’t want to give people the impression that I do. Getting killed is horrible and in an ideal world it shouldn’t happen, but hey, accidents are real and so is moral inequality and self preservation, so people kill and get killed. Thankfully, one of the best ways we as humans deal with death is provide deeper meaning to it, or lighten up it’s context by giving it comedic levity. So with that being said (and because January is where movie releases go to die), I’ve decided to celebrate some of the most amazing and hilarious ways that people have gotten shwacked in movies in this top 10 list.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD (obviously). Since I’m not going to tell you the movies outright, proceed with caution.
10. The Nazis and Belloq, Raiders of the Lost Ark
My #10 slot is a no-brainer. This scene is so absurd and hilarious that it cannot avoid ending up on my list. I have no idea why such horrible and outdated effects somehow still feel relevant. Having re-watched this movie countless times, I feel certain that Spielberg could have chosen several equally horrifying yet 100% less cornball ways for these thugs to find their souls damned to hell by angels of death. But this is Indiana Jones. We’ve already watched a movie full of golden-age cinematic nonsense, why NOT have them melt away like Mr. Bill under a hairdryer? Its these amazingly ridiculous directorial choices that remind me of how awesome Spielberg is at making the movies fun again.
9. Eli Sunday, There Will Be Blood
I should be clear that I didn’t enjoy the death of Eli Sunday. He may have been a pathetic excuse for a human being, but the reason his death is on my list is because of it’s significance in completing Daniel Plainview’s anti-heroic journey. The sequence is like an explosion of Daniel’s consciousness. He can hardly contain the amount of hatred pent up in his greedy soul, an overt expression of his loathing for the idle and weak. It only took Eli’s pathetic begging to launch him into a murderous tirade. His final line, “I’m finished” has been interpreted in many ways, but to me, Daniel is telling us that he’s satisfied his inherent competition, which had driven nearly everyone in his path into the ground for his whole life. Beyond providing perfect closure for Daniel’s character, it’s such an iconic and resonant scene that it earned a well-deserved spot on my list.
8. ALL the Rebels, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
If you were to tell me you weren’t grinning when you saw this now legendary scene in theaters, I’d tell you you’re lying. I know because when I found myself grinning at how comically terrifying Darth Vader lays waste to the Tantive IV crew, I looked around to make sure there were others like me. I wasn’t alone. Never had I head cheers or laughing during such a horrifying sequence. Vader’s badass pose looking out as the blockade runner flees is the perfect final shot; for a scene shoehorned as a reshoot, it’s bloody fantastic.
7. Wash, Serenity
I think I’m cheating with this one. What I love more than anything else about Wash’s death in Serenity is everyone else’s reactions. I’ll admit although I really liked Serenity, I never cared for Firefly. I just never found any of the characters aside from Mal to be very interesting, and nearly everyone’s chemistry seemed to be lacking. It amazes me that everyone was so upset about Wash’s death. It seems to me that given he had a giant spike driven through his body for no reason, even Joss Whedon knew how boring Wash was (not to discredit Alan Tudyk’s great acting, I just thought his character to be weakly written). To me, watching him die was like finding out that there’s only one piece of white bread in the pantry to make a PB&J sandwich instead of two pieces. Bummer, but I won’t cry about it.
6. Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
“I have been, and always shall be, your friend”. This one pulls at the heartstrings. Who knew this [more or less] final interaction between an overacted Captain and a man with prosthetic elf ears could be so emotional. I accredit the impact of this scene to the surprisingly amazing character dynamic that developed gradually between Spock and Captain Kirk over the anthology of Star Trek episodes and films. I think Spock’s decision to risk his life to save the crew of the Enterprise is an interesting symbol for brotherhood; its ironic that the least emotional crew member was the one who gave the biggest sacrifice. For me, that kind of sacrifice is something that requires a deep sense of care and duty towards those closest to you. Spock proved through his herculean act that he had as much if not more love for his friends than perhaps anyone else aboard the Enterprise, which I think made the moment even more memorable.
5. Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
This one will take a lot of explanation. I currently have a running Insights series covering the symbolism of Apocalypse Now, so I’ll save the bulk of my reasoning for a later edition. But in simplest terms, talk about a powerfully shot sequence. The shadowed imagery of Kurtz being slashed by Willard superset with the sacrifice of the bull, all to the tune of The End by The Doors is somehow emotionally satisfying despite it’s shocking violence. Not to mention the infamous line “The Horror” breathed by the dying Kurtz, the entire scene is a fittingly poetic death for such a complex character.
4. Ivan Korshunov, Air Force One
Probably the most balls-to-the-wall death on this list. I know I’ve probably convinced all of you that I’m a psycho who’s way too obsessed with death (for what it’s worth, I promise you I’m not) but if you don’t laugh at this scene then you’ve got to lighten up. Gary Oldman plays the Kazakh terrorist with fire and fury which, combined with Harrison Ford’s natural tendency to be the coolest, saltiest ass kicker in Hollywood, makes his death so satisfying. His neck snaps after The President of the United States strangles him with a strap, opens his parachute, and bluntly says “Get off my plane!” I mean come on, that is truly amazing.
3. Hans Gruber, Die Hard
If you’ve seen Die Hard (and odds are you have) you know why this one is up here at #3. Hans Gruber and John McClaine had raised hell upon each other in their brutal battles in Nakatomi Plaza, and there’s nothing more satisfying than watching Hans fall to his death as he’s just about to shoot McClaine and Holly. Alan Rickman’s silly gasping face (caused by him being dropped on set before being given the cue) while falling in slow motion is the cherry on top of the perfect conclusion to the most heart pounding Christmas movie of all time.
2. Irina Spalko, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
My #2 spot will probably shock most of you. I’ve legitimately pissed people off before by telling them I actually LOVED Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I completely admit that it has some pretty stupid crap. This is why the death of fake-Russian (I’m sorry, Eastern Ukrainian) baddie Irina Spalko is so amazing. Watching her be killed off by literally learning everything there is to know about everything, then have her ashes get sucked into a portal to another dimension, all while a bunch of Alien skeletons combine into a big green man is breathtakingly absurd. The image is seared into my mind almost as badly as the knowledge of the universe is seared into Spalko’s. I can think of no other death quite as “so bad its good”.
1.Surly Joe, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Talk about a death out of left field. The Coen Brothers are no strangers to non sequitur dark humor, but the death of a scoundrel card player in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs definitely takes the cake. Prior to a mean lookin’ card player drawing his handgun to force Buster to play his hand at poker, we’ve seen that Buster is a zany but highly capable gunslinger. But given that he’s surrendered his firearms at the doors of the Saloon, the audience is given only a brief moment to envision how Buster will get himself out of this pickle. Kicking the card table into outlaw Surly Joe’s face causing him to fire his own revolver into his head repeatedly was the last thing I expected, but man was I dying of laughter when it happened. The death’s shocking hilariousness earns it the well deserved #1 spot on my list.