Full disclosure: I hate clickbait titles. BUT… I wanted to complement Mr. Sculpin’s top 10 deaths article with my own, and I’m too lazy to think of a better name for the post. Lucky you! Also, be sure to check out his article, because the idea was originally his.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD! However, unlike Mr. Sculpin, I’ll tell you the movies first. Then you can decide whether to read further. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, or morbidly fascinated, you can try and predict the specific death beforehand. Or not. I don’t actually care, so long as you enjoy the post.
10: Cabin in the Woods
9: Blade Runner 2049
8: Source Code
7: Ex Machina
6: Donnie Darko
5: Dead Man Walking
4: Stranger than Fiction
3: Harold and Maude
2: Twelve Monkeys
1: Seven Psychopaths
10: Curt in Cabin in the Woods
As laugh out loud funny as the entire film is, few moments are as consistently hilarious as Chris Hemsworth crashing his mountain bike into an invisible wall of death. My first time viewing, I lost it – not only because of the gag itself, but because I should have seen it coming. It wasn’t as if the wall came out of left field, it was clearly established early on, and yet it still caught me and my friends completely off guard. Every other viewing since, that scene still garners a symphony of laughs and cheers, as well as the occasional “OH NO WHAT WILL THEY DOOOOO???” Hence, it’s on the list.
Also, be forewarned that the rest of these are serious deaths, not comical ones – Curt’s was just particularly memorable.
9: K in Blade Runner 2049
But did he actually die? Maybe?? The fact that ‘Tears in the Rain’ is playing makes me think he did. But apparently there’s disagreement… That’s why it’s listed as number 9, because it might not have been a real death. Either way, that ending shot is beautiful, both as the closure to K’s character arc, and as an homage to the original film.
8: Colter Stevens in Source Code
Again, we have a death that’s a tad ambiguous. My interpretation is that Gyllenhaal’s character died in one reality, but was able to live on in another, i.e., he jumped to a world in which he actually did stop the bomber. It could also be that everything after the moment of his death was a mentally constructed afterlife, much like the room he imagined in between repeats of the eight minute memory. In any case, the frozen shot of everyone on the train having a good laugh is heartwarming, as Colter finally realizes that he was able to save them, even if only in his mind.
7: Caleb in Ex Machina
Whereas Oscar Isaac’s death in the film is sudden, quick, and inevitable, Domhnall Gleeson’s is excruciating – being locked in a room and left to die. In fact, no other movie deaths have polarized my friends quite like this one. Some of us, myself included, find it to be a powerful commentary on the cold inhumanity of AI. Why would they care about a human dying? If the human is in their way, the logical step is to remove them, right? We see the movie as a cautionary tale about how an unchecked algorithm could easily wreak havoc. And yet, some of my friends unequivocally hate the ending, with a zeal reserved for the truly controversial. They argue that abandoning him is beyond heartless, and depicting something so torturous is repulsive to an audience’s sensibilities. Wherever you land on the debate, you can’t deny the gravity of his demise, and the implications it has not only for the future of AI, but our overly hysterical fears of said future.
6: Donnie in Donnie Darko
Apparently Jake Gyllenhaal is keen on sacrificing himself. The song “Mad, Mad World” fits perfectly with the montage of the people that Donnie impacted throughout the movie. It’s sobering to realize that because of the time loop, none of the post-jet-engine scenes will happen. None of the lessons Donnie taught people will carry over in this timeline (i.e. freeing them from Jim Cunningham). Then again, Gretchen won’t die in this timeline, and that makes it all worth it. Donnie has realized that dying for the people he loves is the most effective way to bring change, so he willingly abandons his chance at a normal life, and instead embraces his death as a destructive/creative act (much like Jesus – did you notice the movie theater playing ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’?).
5: Matthew in Dead Man Walking
I’ll do a full review of this movie at some point, because it’s gorgeously shot and deeply compelling. But, as you can guess from the title, it ends with a death, specifically of a death row inmate. His death, while expected from the start, is nonetheless jarring. The cinematography equates his ordeal to that of his victims, while also serving as a striking commentary on the death penalty and its inhumanity. It’s uncomfortable to be sure, but unflinching and necessary if we’re to realize that his life is valuable, and that he’s not just another criminal we can discard.
4: Harold in Stranger than Fiction
The movie in no uncertain terms tells us that Harold will die, so I’m not ruining anything. In fact, the whole plot of the movie is largely about the internal turmoil an author experiences when killing off characters. Harold is part of a story, but he can hear the narrator, even when she foreshadows that he will die. It’s this knowledge that drives his search for meaning, and culminates in a final death that succeeds on a number of levels. Not to mention the music strikes the perfect balance of sorrow and beauty.
3; Maude in Harold and Maude
Speaking of Harold… Maude’s death is memorable mainly because it’s a beautiful suicide. I know it’s risky to call suicide beautiful, but her decision completely erases the black and white line of ‘choosing to die is always the worst choice’. First, she has deliberately lived life to the fullest, yet realizes that there’s a time to live and a time to die. She recognizes that life is as natural and inevitable as death, so rather than fight it, she surrenders to it. Second, her death is the final step Harold needs to break out of his isolated obsession with faking his own suicide. It’s one thing for him to toy with the idea of death, but another to lose somebody he loves, and it’s this loss that pushes him out of the darkness and into the real world. Like any Christ figure, her death is a painful but necessary step in teaching others how to live.
2: James Cole in Twelve Monkeys
If you haven’t seen Twelve Monkeys, I highly highly highly recommend you do so. In fact, I’ll steer as clear of spoilers as possible. I’ll just say that James’s death is at once mind-bending and tragic, both for himself and for the others who witness it. It’s a demise the likes of which only exist in the realm of the hypothetical – do yourself a favor and watch the movie.
1: The Monk in Seven Psychopaths
The ostensible goal of Seven Psychopaths is similar to Harold and Maude, namely, to show that violence and death can be beautiful. I could actually reference a few of the movie’s deaths on the list – the comic deaths and tragic deaths are equally memorable, no small feat. But few stick out as clearly as the Buddhist monk who lights himself on fire to protest the war, which is both a reverent piece of history and a truly somber moment to anchor the film. Every viewing of the movie is hysterical, to be sure, but my friends and I are always perfectly silent as the monk sacrifices himself. That’s why I consider it my most memorable movie death.