15 Saddest Movie Deaths of All Time

There is a scene in Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’ where a 4-year-old kid asks his sister what death means. She replies him by saying that it simply means when a person stops living. The little kid, intrigued, now asks her how it happens and whether it would happen to everyone and does death have to do anything with his mom’s disappearance, to which his sister replies positively. The kid then throws the plate away in anger, denial and seething disbelief. I think that same fear of a 4-year-old is buried deep inside our subconscious somewhere and it is that fear which makes us both vulnerable and stronger in our fleeting survival of years on this beautiful planet. Death is uncertain and happens in the most unlikely ways and unimaginable situations. I am here today to talk about some of the most surprising, or rather, shocking deaths in cinema. Needless to say, the article contains major spoilers to the movies. With that said, here is the list of most sad and surprising movie deaths in cinema:

15. Zombieland (2009) – Bill Murray’s Death

An absolutely memorable, hilarious cameo that has a sad end to it. Bill Murray’s turn as himself in ‘Zombieland’ is one of the funniest and most surprising deaths you’ll ever see. ‘Zombieland’ tells the story of a group of people, fighting a Zombie-torn America. Fearing a land full of Zombies, a fatal prank goes horribly wrong as Murray, disguised as a Zombie, is shot dead by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg). Murray signs off with a hilarious speech in his signature numb, laid-back attitude that hardly makes any difference even with a bullet on to his chest.

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14. Deep Blue Sea (1999) – Russell Franklin’s Death

Not the finest of films for this list but ‘Deep Blue Sea’ does a fairly good job for its genre with all the classic sci-fi horror ingredients blended well in its imperfections. But the stand out moment in the film is Samuel Jackson’s death which comes off as rather shocking yet terrifyingly funny as he, in one of his absolute badass moments, gives an inspiring speech about the need for unity among the survivors before a shark bursts out completely out of the blue, dragging him and killing him right then and there. It’s a bold move as one would hardly expect the shark to be more badass than Jackson himself and as hilarious as it may sound, works precisely for that reason.

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13. The Departed (2006) – Billy Costigan’s Death

‘The Departed’ has garnered a lot of undeserved hate over the years with many even deeming at as Scorsese’s worst movie. Ironically enough, the main reason behind the hate it received was its famous, or rather, infamous Oscar win back in 2007. However, ‘The Departed’ still works brilliantly thanks to Scorsese’s intense direction and superlative performances from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson and almost surpasses its Hong Kong original. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, arguably the hero of the film, faces the most shocking death as he gets hold of his villain and attempts to expose him but ends up getting shot as he steps out of the elevator, causing immense shock and heartbreak to viewers.

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12. Gran Torino (2008) – Walt Kowalski’s Martyrdom

No! How could Clint Eastwood ever die? In ‘Gran Torino’, Eastwood plays the classic cynical, old man who has nothing but utter contempt and hate towards the world and the people around him. Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is a Korean War veteran who forms an intimate bond with his neighbourhood kid, Thao, and his family but is angered by the street gangs of the neighborhood who kidnap and rape the family’s daughter and injures Thao. In an absolute shocker of a scene, Kowalski goes to the gang members’ house, unarmed, and provokes them into killing him in public so they get arrested. He asks the gang for a light for his cigarette and then puts his hand in his jacket as if he were about to shoot them which causes the gang members to open fire at him, killing him instantly.

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11. Burn After Reading (2008) – Chad’s Death

In one of Coen Brothers’ weaker efforts, features a bizarre, almost comical yet shocking death that you never saw coming. The film is quintessential Coen Brothers with their delicious blend of dark humour and violence, further elevated by the performances, especially Brad Pitt who is in an unusual comic avatar. The film tells the story of two gym employees who discover a CD containing memoirs of a CIA agent. In one of the most bizarrely comic scenes you’ll ever see, George Clooney’s character opens his closet to find Pitt hiding in it. Pitt smiles at him and tries to walk out before getting shot by Clooney straight in the head. A truly unforgettable scene that further manifests the directors’ abilities to evoke laughter in the most disturbing moments.

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10. Inglorious Basterds (2009) – Shosanna’s Death

Shosanna was unquestionably the hero in ‘Inglorious Basterds’. Tarantino is a director who knows the pulse of his audience and this is most evident here in his writing as he etches out one of the most memorable female characters in cinema who literally does what we’ve all wished for in real life; Killing the Nazis. As she plans for her epic Jewish revenge, Zoller gets in her projection room only to be rebuffed by her which agitates him and makes him aggressive. She pulls out a gun from her bag and shoots him. As she gets closer to him to have a look, Zoller quickly gets his pistol and shoots her as they both die in the projection room, making it a very shocking death in one hell of a bloodied scene.

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9. Se7en (1995) – Tracy’s Murder

Maybe a surprising entry. But to understand the impact of the final reveal in ‘Se7en’, we might have to go two decades back in time. ‘Se7en’ did not go well with audiences during its time and is a deeply depressing experience that you wish could ever forget. But the brilliance of a young, roaring David Fincher ensures that you’re not likely to forget the film in the very near future. Few filmmakers come close to Fincher’s intensity when it comes to raw tension build up and his ability to disturb and shock his viewers is masterfully put into play here as we head towards a nerve-racking finale where Spacey’s icy cold, diabolically charismatic psychopath emotionally toys with Brad Pitt’s character, revealing details of his wife’s brutal murder. It’s a truly disturbing piece of cinema as one would not expect a thoroughly grim finish to the film and it’s that moment when the good guy loses and the bad guy ends up winning with a triumphant smile on his face.

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8. Children of Men (2006) – Julianne Moore’s Death

Alfonso Cuaron is a genius. Plain and simple. Touching a wide variety of themes and genres, Cuaron has come a long way in becoming one of the finest directors working in cinema today. His dystopian sci-fi masterpiece, Children of Men’, is known to have featured one of the most horrifying deaths in cinema. A master of long takes, Cuaron intensifies the tension in the film’s famous car sequence as a gang ambushes the team, causing Julianne Moore’s character to get shot in the neck, killing her instantly as the group manages to escape while the shot goes on with no splits in between. A staggering piece of filmmaking; one that lingers long in your minds due to the sheer power of its director’s awe-inspiring repertoire of directing skills.

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7. Pulp Fiction (1994) – Vincent’s Death

Much like his idol Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino’s approach to his characters’ death has been similar except that Scorsese shows you death while Tarantino romanticises and stylises it to make it an entertaining affair. ‘Pulp Fiction’ has the quintessential Tarantino death scene towards the end of the film where we Bruce Willis’ Butch returns to his older house in order to get his precious ring but finds out that someone has sneaked in. Vincent comes out of the toilet and Butch instantly shoots him to death. What works well here is the non-linear narrative approach that Tarantino has adapted for the film and seeing how the lives of various people get entangled in a brutal tale of violence, betrayal and redemption. Events in the film do not follow chronological order, which makes the plot-line and the characters’ fate a lot more dramatic and anticipating suspense.

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6. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Jack Vincennes’ Death

Among the slew of thrillers churned out by Hollywood in the 90s, ‘L.A. Confidential’ stands tall thank to its taut writing, edgy direction and stupendous performances from its cast. The film explores corruption in the city of Los Angeles in the early 1950s. Three cops with starkly contrasting attitudes take up a murder case that apparently has some connection with the corruption that is consuming the city’s police force. Kevin Spacey’s character closes in on the case with some rough but crucial evidences and goes to his boss’ home to have a discussion only to be killed by him there as we are revealed the face of the villain in an absolute shocker of a scene that is both terrifying yet heartbreaking at the same time.

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5. Goodfellas (1990) – Tommy Kills Spider

In Martin Scorsese’s world of distorted morality plays, death weighs less than a feather. Death, in his cinema, happens during the funniest and most innocuous moments, triggering shouts of laughter than shocks of disbelief. ‘Goodfellas’, probably, has the most shocking death among all of his films. When Joe Pesci’s character (Tommy) has a go at Spider in the bar, he impulsively shoots him in the leg. Later when he returns with a stitched up leg, Tommy and his friends mock him when Spider throws a stunning comeback at him which triggers Tommy’s infamous temper and ends up killing him right on the spot. The killing hardly does anything to the plot but is vital to Tommy’s character development as his ruthless, psychopathic traits get firmly established in this scene and we realise that he is the most impulsive guy among the lot.

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4. Chinatown (1974) – Evelyn’s Death

This genre redefining classic by Roman Polanski is a film that subverts all your expectations and leaves you in a state of utter despair and misery by the end. The film follows Detective Jake, played by Jack Nicholson, investigating a murder and gets entangled in a distressing web of violence and deceit. Jake gets embroiled in a relationship with the victim’s wife and gradually learns the complexity of truth. He lets her escape from the city, letting himself detained by the cops, but is shot down by the cops right in front of his eyes. It’s an absolute shocking moment of truth and realisation; a realisation that things happen in lives and trying to look for answers are way beyond us.

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3. No Country For Old Men (2007) – Llewelyn Moss’ Death

This 21st century Coen Brothers magnum opus is the epitome of subtle intensity. ‘No Country For Old Men’ is the maverick duo directors’ most philosophical and darkest work that saw them tone down the level of humour which permeated their previous works. ‘No Country For Old Men’ is quite literally the opposite of “good guy wins and bad guy loses”. Our protagonist plays a cat and mouse game with the villain in what turns out to be an intense psychological play of morality, greed and violence. However, the most surprising element in the film happens when the protagonist is killed all on a sudden not by the villain but by the group of Mexicans from whom he has stolen the money and has since been on the run.

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2. Psycho (1960) – Marion Crane’s Murder

Even an average movie goer could recognise the image above and it speaks volumes of the kind of impact that it had on cinema. Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is the holy grail of suspense thrillers and paved the way for a lot of what we consume today as mainstream cinema. In one of the most shocking moments in cinema history, Norman Bates, creeps on to the shower and stabs Marion Crane, leaving a generation of cinefreaks in a state of mind-numbing shock from which they hardly seem to have recovered. The scene is now among the most parodied scenes of all time and is almost synonymous with the terms “shocking” and “twists”.

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1. Cache (2005) – Majid Suicide

Violence in Michael Haneke’s cinema has rarely been graphic. He disturbs you with what he doesn’t show and it’s the sheer emotional power of violence that haunts you in your sleep. In ‘Cache’, however, it’s just a culmination of nearly every aspect that shapes up Haneke’s philosophy on violence. The film follows a couple who starts receiving anonymous surveillance tapes of their daily life activities at their doorstep. The husband, Georges, is soon led to his childhood friend, Majid, whom he suspects may have been sending the tapes and brutally accuses and threatens him despite the latter denying his accusations. On fine day, Majid calls up Georges to his apartment and further confirms his innocence before slitting his own throat bare open right in front of Georges. Haneke’s unflinching gaze on the scene and a surprisingly graphic depiction of raw physical violence ensure that this is a scene that burns right into your psyche.

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