[Caution: contains spoilers]
A Place Beyond the Pines pulled a trick that often splits audience opinion over a film. The unexpected movie death can shock, repel or intrigue – sometimes it can do more than one of these. We’re not talking about an ensemble Tarantino picture where anyone could die (although John Travolta’s toilet gunshot blast in Pulp Fiction is worthy of a mention). It’s when the death leaves you awestruck for a brief moment, coinciding with a plot revelation or twist. The manner in which a person is bumped off also contributes to the shock factor (Colin Farrell in Minority Report, for example), or simply something you weren’t expecting of a minor character at the time (teen splattered by a bus in Final Destination). There’s no escaping this in TV shows either, as not even Sean Bean’s star power could save him from the chop in Game of Thrones.
So with these things in mind, we run through the Top 10 unexpected movie deaths:
10. Alan Tudyk – Serenity
TV show Firefly was a cult smash thanks primarily to the actors getting along off screen as well as on. To those who only saw the feature film, the sudden end of Wash probably went over their heads but fans of the show were definitely – and rightly – upset to have a much-loved member of the group slain so abruptly, and in mid-speech of one of his catchphrases no less.
9. Ellen Page – Super
After her sweet and innocent turn in Juno – and keeping this sweet, innocent turn in Inception – Ellen Page goes all hyperactively annoying and psychotic in James Gunn’s Super, underrated and overlooked (thanks to Kick-Ass, released the same year) about superheroes in the real world. While it’s arguable her alter-ego Boltie deserved a bullet to the face, it was just one of the many surprises this film had.
8. Kevin Spacey – LA Confidential
If you consider that there was an arrogant air of invincibility about Spacey’s detective Jack Vincennes, it’s no wonder that his murder is still remembered for being out-of-the-blue. You honestly don’t expect the chief of police in his pyjamas to be such a sharp shooter, hitting Vincennes’s heart with unerring accuracy after calmly making a cup of coffee.
7. Nicolas Cage – Kick-Ass
Watching Nicolas Cage burn would normally be agreeable to those who have seen any of his recent B-movies. However, given that he was portraying a Batman-type father figure in an excellent film, it was a bit of shocker to see him do precisely that in Kick-Ass. The build-up makes us believe he’d be saved, but alas, much like Cage’s career, he goes up in smoke…
6. Brad Pitt – Burn After Reading
A film starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney that isn’t any of the Ocean’s is surprising in itself, but watching Pitt get a bullet between the eyes courtesy of a stunned Clooney was definitely a highlight in this Coen brother’s comedy farce. Despite being a total buffoon, it was still quite startling to see him leave with a bang – literally to the head.
5. Julianne Moore – Children of Men
One of the best actresses of her generation, you would’ve thought Julianne Moore would’ve lasted more than ten minutes in this bleak futuristic tale. Her abrupt end doesn’t impact the overall story but it’s still an eyebrow raiser that her role wasn’t long enough to make more of an impression.
4. Samuel L Jackson – Deep Blue Sea
Before Thomas Jane made it big, Samuel L Jackson was the only real star name in this ‘Jaws on steroids’ horror (LL Cool J doesn’t count). So when he starts giving a big dramatic speech about staying alive to the survivors in an underwater laboratory, the last thing you would imagine is for him to be immediately ripped apart by huge sharks. But that is exactly what happens – and comically.
3. Steven Seagal – Executive Decision
Back when Steven Seagal actually had some star power, action fans were amazed when he dies 30 minutes into Executive Decision – even more astonishing given that his face covers half of the film poster, as well as being top-billed with Kurt Russell. Uncharacteristically, he sacrifices himself for the team and gets blown out of an airplane. Regardless of the unexpectedness of his departure, it’s always fun to see the big man fly off to his death.
2. Drew Barrymore – Scream
Forget the terrible sequels, this was the first and best Scream, changing the genre in the way Psycho did by having its biggest star mercilessly slaughtered in the opening segment. Drew Barrymore’s career may never hit these exploding popcorn heights again.
1. Janet Leigh – Psycho
Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane has the honour of having her demise ranked as one the most memorable screen deaths of all time (shower, music, knife). Killing off the leading lady halfway through had audiences everywhere in disbelief and Hitchcock’s ingenuity shows why this is, and forever will be, the mother of all unexpected deaths.