Sign up for the
and get $50 off Final Draft 12
By Renee Stock · May 3, 2015
“It’s always good to kill movie stars.” -Steven Soderbergh
Sure there have been countless unexpected plot twists that involve deaths in movies, but it’s never as shocking as when the person being killed is the person getting top billing. The other ingredient is pulling off a jaw-dropping death seems to be when the death occurs. Hitchcock may have started this trend when he famously killed off Janet Leigh in the first half of Psycho, but others have pulled the same trick — and when it works — it’s still unforgettable.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
10. Burn After Reading (2008)
Not a great film, but a great comedic performance by Brad Pitt (Rewatch the blackmail scene when he’s on the telephone, he is really going for it and it’s hilarious). He is so doofy and harmless that it comes as a shock when another seemingly harmless man, George Clooney, opens that closet and shoots him in the head.
9. Meet Joe Black (1998)
I only remember two things about this movie, how beautiful Brad Pitt’s face was and that he got run over by a taxi. He’s not looking while walking because he’s too busy staring back at a beautiful woman he’s just fallen in love at first sight with. He almost gets hit by a car, but phew, it misses him! But then five seconds later he’s struck and then thrown into the windshield of a taxicab. It’s violent and graphic and totally unexpected.
8. My Girl (1991)
Home Alone debuted the year before My Girl came out and Macaulay Culkin became one of the most famous faces on the planet. The movie starred Anna Chlumsky who was a complete unknown, so it seemed pretty safe to assume Culkin was going to be hanging around. Plus, My Girl was marketed as a kid’s movie. Those are usually death free. So for all of those reasons it was pretty shocking when Culkin’s character died. Not only did he die, he died violently. If you’ve somehow forgotten, he was stung to death by a swarm of bees. So there are two lessons to be learned from watching this movie: leave bee hives alone and never trust kid’s movies.
7. Jaws (1975)
No one in the water is safe. That’s the premise, the tagline, the thing that is so scary about Jaws. No one is safe. But then you figure okay, well, the star is probably safe. And the man who is the guru of the sea, the philosopher of the ocean, the man who has survived a shark attack that took place during a war, that guy is probably not going down, right? Wrong.
6. Scream (1996)
Here we have, again, the most famous person in the cast killed off. Not only that, but she’s killed within the first FIVE MINUTES. And so brutally. Sure it was a clever and self-aware movie with an appealing cast, but I doubt it would have had the success it had without that opening death scene.
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
What Tarantino giveth, he taketh away. Please recall, that before 1994, John Travolta was the dude from Grease. Sure he had made some good movies, but those were largely forgotten. So here was the dude from Grease in the coolest movie of 1994, wearing the hell out of a wig and firing off some of the best dialogue to come along in years, becoming reborn as a seriously good actor before our eyes and them BAM, he’s murdered during the toasting of a Pop Tart.
4. Se7en (1995)
Se7en was filled with horrific deaths, but this one managed to overshadow them all. I mean, kill the cop’s partner, maybe… but his innocent wife? Cops usually take their jobs personally, but rarely is the psycho killer getting personally involved with the cops life, let alone killing his wife. I still remember the audible gasp in the theater when Brad Pitt’s (who knew he would feature so prominently here?) character got the answer to his question about what exactly was in that box. The answer is still surprising twenty years later (The other good surprise in the movie was who the killer was. Smart to keep Spacey’s name out of the opening credits. And all this still doesn’t reveal the other surprising thing about the ending of this movie).
3. The Departed (2006)
It’s not shocking when movies stars die at the end of a movie (especially almost all of them!). Sure it was sad when Leo went down with the Titanic, but it wasn’t a surprise. It was, however, completely shocking when he got his head blown off in The Departed. The whole movie had been set up for the young undercover cop to triumph and save the day. We as audience members have been trained to expect our heroes to prevail. But we should know better. As a matter of fact we did know better if we saw Infernal Affairs. But even if we did, we were still stunned by the perfectly executed execution.
2. L.A. Confidential (1997)
This one only requires two words: Rollo Tomasi. Remember? So good, right? Anyway. It’s important to remember that Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce were relative unknowns so Kevin Spacey was the biggest heavyweight in the cast. To kill him was a surprise. More surprising was the man who pulled the trigger, the sweet old farmer from Babe! The actual death itself is a master class in acting. Watch Kevin Spacey’s eyes. From one blink we know somehow, some way, he’s still going to save the day, even after he’s dead.
1. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock invented the shocking death with that scene. The scene. You know the one. To kill the star of the movie in the first half, to do it on screen, to do it when she is in such a vulnerable position, no wonder it leaves it’s mark on our collective memory. He did it first, and it’s still the best.