March 14, 2007


This is a clever enough idea but I can think of five off the top of my head that are better than any of theirs:

(1) Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles

(2) Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke

(3) Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

(4) Sean Connery in Man Who Would be King

(5) Edward Woodward in Breaker Morant

Of course, you'd have to grasp that the death can be both cool in cinematic terms and rich in meaning...

N.B. The obvious winner in their tourney should be Slim Pickens

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2007 9:02 AM

Cooler and richer in meaning than the Ark of the Covenant killing an entire amphitheatre full of Nazis?

Posted by: Matt Cohen at March 14, 2007 9:41 AM

It's fairly debatable whether Sean Connery or Saheed Jeffrey (Billy Fish, the Gurkha) has the better finish in The Man Who Would Be King.

Posted by: Mike Morley at March 14, 2007 9:43 AM

How can both of you leave out the happy ending to Easy Rider?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 14, 2007 9:45 AM

Cagney's death on the church steps at the end of "The Roaring Twenties" after he's killed Bogart. Just as this sort of sequence was impossible after the war, the "Made it Ma, top of the world!" scene in "White Heat" would have been unimaginable in 1939.

Posted by: George at March 14, 2007 10:11 AM

King Kong beats Slim Pickens though.

Bambi's mom would have won, other than the fact that it is never actually portrayed on screen.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at March 14, 2007 10:29 AM

I'm partial to the Wicked Witch melting myself.

Posted by: Brandon at March 14, 2007 10:45 AM

I tried to put them in chronological order:

Spencer Tracy in Captain's Courageous...
John Ridgely (Eddie Mars) in The Big Sleep...
Gregory Peck in Moby Dick ("From Hell's heart I stab at thee.")...
Nigel Terry and Robert Addie in Excalibur...
Al Pacino in Scarface...
Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket...
Jack Nicholson in Batman...
Mel Gibson in Braveheart...
Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan...
Sean Bean in Fellowship of the Ring...

Posted by: Bartman at March 14, 2007 10:52 AM

Agreed. Thelma and Louise is a sentimental favorite due to Susan Sarandon.

The Best Death in a non-human category might be the T-X in Terminator 3. Persistent cuss...

Posted by: Rick T. at March 14, 2007 10:57 AM

Peter Finch in "Network"

And there's no way I'd vote for Debra Winger in "Terms of Endearment." I remember watching the movie and wishing the whiny bitch would die faster.

Posted by: ken at March 14, 2007 11:06 AM

How about Old Yeller?

How about Capt. Quint (Robert Shaw) in Jaws?

Posted by: at March 14, 2007 11:28 AM

Lewis Ayres as Paul Bäumer in the original All Quiet on the Western Front

Posted by: Chris B at March 14, 2007 11:46 AM

The female VietCong sniper at the end of Full Metal Jacket.

Posted by: BJW at March 14, 2007 11:57 AM

Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai. Optimus Prime in Transformers the Movie.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at March 14, 2007 1:45 PM

I don't think it's the best, but Charlton Heston in Omega Man should make the to 50 at least.

The there's Passion of the Christ...

Posted by: bruno at March 14, 2007 1:49 PM

Thank you for remembering Edward Woodward in Breaker Morant; it is a beautiful moment when then two condemned men hold hands for their final 20 paces to the chairs set up on the firing line.

Rutger Hauer's death, his "Time to Die" speech at the end of Bladerunner comes to mind.

Withnail turning and leaving the rainy park following his Hamlet soliloquy in Bruce Robinson's "Withnail and I"

I also like McReady and Childs freezing to death at the end of John Carpenter's "The Thing".

Somehow I don't get the idea that the people at Slate know what a death scene is really about ...

Posted by: Qiao Yang at March 14, 2007 3:22 PM

I ended up with Alec Guinness and Slim Pickens in the final. Slim won. He had the bigger bomb.

When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince hits a screen near you, Dumbledore's death will make the tourney. How well it does will depend on what was happening there, which we don't know yet.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at March 14, 2007 3:58 PM

Tim Robbins in Jacob's Ladder
Jack Nicholson in The Shining
Vasquez and Gorman (?) in Aliens
Bud in Repo Man
Leon in The Professional
Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas Moore in A Man For All Seasons
Charles Bronson in The Mechanic
Emma Thompson in Wit
Donnie Darko
The Mom in Muriel's Wedding
Neo should have died in the first Matrix

Ali: Optimus's second death in the TV show was better (or so I like to remember).

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at March 14, 2007 4:12 PM

What about HAL 9000's termination?

"Daisy, Daisy..."

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 14, 2007 7:15 PM

Since there haven't been many old movies mentioned...Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din in the 1939 flic.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at March 14, 2007 9:45 PM

It's actually quite fascinating ... on this "theo-conservative" site, this enjoyable spill of readers comments might be thought of as a yearners' club of "how I'd like to die" ... what might be said to truly suck about human life is that apparently one almost never gets to decide or even influence that detail ... sorry.

Posted by: Qiao Yang at March 15, 2007 12:19 AM

Not true. How you die is often up to you. Why isn't.

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2007 7:08 AM