I found myself lost with what to write about today, so I posed to question out on the official GmanReviews Facebook and Twitter pages. I got a few interesting responses (which I will probably get around to writing about in the future) which included my Top Ten Greatest Death Scenes. I immediately began scouring my memory (and Wikipedia) for ideas as to what would make the list. As I started to populate a nice little text file with all my nominations I soon realised that I had written down almost fifty titles. With fifty being a nice round figure I thought why not just leave it there? So here are my 50 Great Cinematic Death Scenes:
This list was inspired by the idea that Halloween is around the corner, but with horror films being one of my massive cinematic blind spots I hope you will all forgive me for a few obvious omissions from this list. Also, I’d like to place a massive spoiler warning here at the top. Since I’m discussing deaths of characters in movies, which can be a massive spoiler for some films (and not that big for others) I’m going to let everyone know here that you should move forward at your own risk. The list is in order of when the film was released, since I don’t want to try and rank all of these scenes just now. Anyways here we go:
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939) – The Wicked Witch of the West
Who doesn’t know the scene where Dorothy has to defeat the witch and by accidentally throwing some water on her the witch begins to melt. It’s one of those moments that everyone knows but not everyone’s seen it I’ve realised. I don’t know what more to say than it’s what kept me going through this movie that I watched over and over when I had no cable/satellite television for a year as a child when we were extended our house.
2. The Third Man (1949) – Harry Lime
Even though I was underwhelmed by the movie when I first saw it, I cannot deny the sheer awe that the movie’s ending chase sequence had me in. The sequence takes place in the sewers where Harry Lime is running away from the law and ends in his inevitable demise. The film has brilliant cinematography that made every moment count.
3. Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Opening Scene
As we see the opening credits come up on the street of the film we see the police go by and begin to hear the narration by our main character who’s found dead in the pool. It’s our introduction to the film with our protagonist facing down in the water being photographed by the press, a man that’s always wanted to be covered by the press and has finally gotten his chance.
4. The Gunfighter (1950) – Jimmy Ringo
He’s the fastest draw around and he gets killed by a young hot headed kid who decided to shoot while Ringo’s back was turned. It isn’t honourable but when you see Ringo keel over and give his short speech before he passes on as to how he’s going to make sure the kid gets exactly what he’s been asking for all day long I just fell in love with the movie that I already loved.
5. Paths of Glory (1959) – Execution Scene
It’s about a commander trying to defend these three innocent soldiers from the charge of cowardice which is punishable by firing squad. Well unfortunately they lose the case and these soldiers are now to be executed. We follow them as they walk them to the site and eventually end their lives. It’s a scene that won’t be forgotten and should never be.
6. West Side Story (1961) – Bernardo & Riff
It’s the musical adaptation of the classic Romeo & Juliet. I know that it would make more sense to highlight the Romeo character, but personally the knife fight between Bernardo and Riff always struck me as a more intense death than anything else in the film.
7. Dr. Zhivago (1965) – Dr. Yuri Zhivago
If you manage to make it to the end of the more than three-hour runtime you get to see Yuri Zhivago have a heart attack and keel over after chasing after the love of his life that he manages to see accidentally after all those years of being alone. It’s a tear jerking moment that I love.
8. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – Bonnie and Clyde
If you ask ten cinephiles what their favourite death scene in the entire history of film is, I’m sure that at least nine will respond with this scene. I’m not too sure about the precedence but I believe this might be the most violent death on screen ever at the point that this film was released. Another film that I wasn’t a huge fan of, but I can’t deny the effectiveness of this scene.
9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch and Sundance have had their run of Bolivia and the army ahs them cornered. They have no choice but to go out guns blazing. Even though this is a death that’s never really shown to us explicitly the film ends with the shot of them running out of cover with gins cocked ready to face an entire army of Bolivian soldiers. It’s pretty much implied that they don’t leave this one alive. It’s maybe the only death scene on this list that you don’t actually watch the characters die.
10. The French Connection (1971) – Pierre Nicoli
The French hitman is out doing his boss’ dirty work when he’s out trying to kill Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle. Unfortunately for him Popeye isn’t that easy to hit. It involves not only a sniper shooting but also the hijacking of a train, a car chase in which Popeye tries to keep up with the train and then Pierre’s inevitable end. If the chase didn’t get you then the final shot of Pierre falling over on the stairs will.