Pioneering movie sleuth Charlie Chan once referred to death as “the one appointment we all must keep … and for which no time is set.” Unfortunately, in the years since, Hollywood has too often forgotten the second part of the equation.
We’ve all had to sit through boring blockbusters knowing that Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie and most other A-listers always make it out alive — at least, until the end of the movie. With that in mind, we wanted to take a moment to remember a few of our dearly departed movie characters who took a bullet (or a knife, or a shark bite) simply so that we’d have that tiny voice in the back of our heads saying, “Yeah, maybe Jason Bourne could die after all!” If death really is an appointment, here are 10 shocking demises that have made the waiting room worthwhile (of course, spoilers ahead!).
“Deep Blue Sea” (Samuel L. Jackson)
Movies like “Shaft,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Snakes on a Plane” made money by putting the A-list star into phony danger, teasing the audience with deadly situations that everyone knew he’d escape. But at the risk of placing the words “Renny Harlin” and “genius” closer together than they should ever be, it was the flashy Finnish filmmaker who had enough guts to kill off Sam the Man just as the “Blue” plot was getting going. “You’ve seen how bad things can get, and how quickly they can get that way,” Jackson says during the scene, taking charge of the imperiled characters. “So we’re going to pull together and find a way to get out of here!” Then, out of nowhere, a genetically enhanced shark jumps up behind Jackson, making a meal of the monologue-ing megastar.
“Smokin’ Aces” (Ben Affleck)
It’s easy to kick the “Gigli” star while he’s down, but give credit where it’s due: Affleck took a role in Joe Carnahan’s bullet-ridden action flick that was so small it wasn’t even David Schwimmer-worthy, and then got killed off quicker than a chubby chicken at Colonel Sanders’ house. To a nation of filmgoers still smarting from “Surviving Christmas,” watching him die was as cool as it was therapeutic.
“Psycho” (Janet Leigh)
Like so much else in cinema, you have to credit Alfred Hitchcock with blazing the trail. After starring in films such as “Little Women,” “Angels in the Outfield” and “Touch of Evil,” the beautiful Leigh was well-known to audiences as a Hollywood leading lady. For “Psycho,” Hitch cast Leigh hoping that fans would fall into the trap of thinking she was safe. Then he killed the sweet-smiling actress off with a shower scene so brutal that it still shocks today. But Leigh would get the last laugh: For her 45 minutes onscreen, she was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe.
“Executive Decision” (Steven Seagal)
It may be hard to believe now, but there was once a time when Steven Seagal was a major Hollywood A-lister. So imagine the shock of buying a ticket to this 1996 thriller and barely having the time to dig into your popcorn before seeing the star get sucked out the door of a fighter jet. In any second, we’ll cut to the shot where he’s flying through the air, deploying his parachute, right? Right? Um, congratulations, Kurt Russell, you’ve just become the default hero of the movie.
“Pulp Fiction” (Phil Lamarr)
He’s the only non-star to make this list, although there have been dozens of other brilliant nameless-actor deaths over the years (White Boy Bob from “Out of Sight” comes to mind). But when “Pulp Fiction” was in theaters, one of the reasons it was worth seeing multiple times was because you’d know to sneak a peek at the audience as Vincent Vega (John Travolta) looked into the back seat to ask his freaked-out associate Marvin for an opinion. “Oh, man, I shot Marvin in the face!” Remember how high you jumped the first time you saw it?
“Final Destination 2″ (Ali Larter)
Not only did she have to suffer through the worst character name in the history of movies (that’s a subject for another article), but Clear Rivers was also one of the unlucky souls who made “the list” after avoiding Death in the first installment of the “FD” horror series. As the only survivor from the first flick, and a recognizable actor, the soon-to-be “Heroes” star seemed to be the human face of the franchise. But no sooner had a new group of death-dodgers convinced her to help them than Clear emerged from a self-imposed stay in a rubber room and blew up all over the camera! Oh, and a Best Death honorary mention also goes to Amanda Detmer, the actress hit by a bus in the first flick’s most shocking moment.
“Return of the Jedi” (Yoda)
To an entire generation, the physical manifestation of wit, wisdom and warmth was not Plato or Mark Twain, but a 3-foot-tall, 900-year-old Muppet. George Lucas introduced the breakout Jedi master with “The Empire Strikes Back,” and years later he resurrected the character with mixed results for his prequels. But for millions of young fans, the little green guy’s heart-tugging “Jedi” death was a moment of national mourning. Meanwhile, our parents watched, wondering if we’d cry half as much when they passed.
“Doom” (The Rock)
We know, you didn’t see it. In fact, you might even still think the Rock was the star of this movie. But the film did pack one truly joyous punch: When the action escalated, the “Walking Tall” hero suddenly went from ass-kicker to alien appetizer. The Rock also gets major points for shooting a great wink to the crowd before he bites it, screaming, “Wait! I’m not supposed to die!”
“L.A. Confidential” (Kevin Spacey)
For a few years, Kevin Spacey had a lot of fun exploiting audiences’ perceptions of his star status. First came “The Usual Suspects,” which had him listed seventh on the movie poster to maintain a doozy of a secret; next was “Seven,” in which he was unbilled so he could sneak unannounced into an early scene. Following his “Usual Suspects” Oscar win, the detective drama “L.A. Confidential” was hyped up as his first true leading-man role. All that changed in a matter of seconds, however, when Spacey’s Jack Vincennes was shockingly rubbed out just as the mystery was beginning to unravel. Some guy named Russell Crowe then jumped in to pick up the slack.
“Scream” (Drew Barrymore)
When Wes Craven set out to spoof the horror sub-genre he had helped create, the director also wanted to pay tribute to his own inspiration, Alfred Hitchcock. Appropriately enough, he started “Scream” with a terrifying phone conversation between a movie-savvy killer and Drew Barrymore. It was the perfect setup for a generation that had preferred “Freddy 3″ to “The 39 Steps” and, sure enough, unsuspecting audiences fell hook, line and slasher. Forty years after Hitch had pulled his “Psycho” stunt, Barrymore was dead 10 minutes and 53 seconds into her own movie. The perceived star had pulled a Janet Leigh — and another classic was born.
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